A few weeks ago my wife and I attended a “meet and greet” event for potential adoptive families, where adults get to meet and interact with a few dozen children who are ready and able to be adopted from the state of Indiana. Our event was attended by 8 sets of adults–some couples, some individuals–and 25 children. We had several good conversations with the half-dozen teenagers present, mingling small-talk with heartbreak, having already read the “files” on many of the children present, knowing the epitome of tragedies that led them to this moment. Knowing the more than challenging situations that led them to be taken to an event where they are introduced, like puppies at an animal shelter, to potential adoptive families.
As we sat and interacted with the children, I could not but think of the tragic statistics on youth in US foster care: Of the 25 children present, 5 will be homeless by age 18. 6 will end up in prison. Half will be unemployed by age 24. And only one, of all 25, will complete college.
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In both my current and previous jobs, I have largely worked with children from privileged backgrounds, the majority of whom will attend and graduate college. But there they were, sitting in front of me: intelligent, curious children, so much more deserving of a shot at life than so many children of wealthy parents, and the odds are desperately against them.
I don’t understand what it means to be a Christian for many people. I mean, logically, I think I do, but my heart cannot accept my philosophical backflips to describe the general Christian mindset of this civilized country. I have studied theology for many years, and for every answer twice as many questions remain open. This is, I think, the way studies are supposed to go, but it does not leave me satisfied. It leaves me very knowledgeable, and often very heartbroken. Stepping into the foster system means entering a world where every theological truism is challenged daily. In this world of pain, abuse, neglect, and suffering, liberation theology, or something close to it, becomes not a philosophical argument with which to encounter postmodernity but the only damn way to survive.
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The state child services system is undoubtedly disorganized, prone to frustrating bureaucracy, and helpless to assist in countless difficult situations…but it also rescues children from abusive homes; it steps in when no one else can to remove children from harm’s way; it tries, through limited resources, foster parents, and a plethora of corporate-owned orphanages, to place the children in safe spaces.
I understand that some problems are large, and large problems–like the election–are popular. They make me angry too. But some problems are very small, very detailed, very serious, and very simple. They require vast sums of energy, but mostly, and above all, they require love. I write today, after a summer hiatus from blogging, to ask again a common refrain.
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It angers deep within my soul that sometimes
I fret over theological discrepancies of intricately framed arguments when
right around the corner there is a
in need of a family
and what am I but a man with a family and love to give.
But of course I am limited
and there are more children than I can possibly adopt and
care for and
give the attention they need.
Black children, white children, latinx children, contemplative children,
laid-back children, active children,
children who have been beaten, raped, abused, neglected,
and find themselves, as a reward for living through such horrors,
devoid of any semblance of a family.
You who are Christian, who claim to follow the one called Christ, who
died to bring the good news of Divine Love into the world,
the pain of children rejected
and see the tangible hope that you may offer.
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Editor’s Note: This post comes from my friend John Slattery over at Daily Theology. To John’s powerful reflections, I would only add this: The motivations for considering adoption are as many, unique, and complex as the parent/s who consider it. As an adoptive parent myself, I’ve found that my own motivations have shifted through the years, with age and experience — and, of course, as our two adopted children have changed me and our family. If my image of adoption was “idealistic” or even “naive” as a younger man, today I remain idealistic and committed but also more “realistic” and “sober” about the potential challenges. As John makes so beautifully clear, adoption is not for the fainthearted, and will carry you inevitably, sometimes painfully, often beautifully, into the realm of prayer, grace, struggle, and thanksgiving (perhaps like the disciples? see Mark 10:38).
John’s experience of the bureaucratic system surrounding foster care and domestic adoption is quite different (though also similar) from ours of international adoption. And while my wife and I share with him the core experience and motivation — coming face to face with children in desperate need — we also came to adoption through several experiences of reproductive loss. I share this to reiterate my first point: the motivations are as many, unique, and complex as the parent/s who consider it. Yet the faith and impulse to love which John identifies as the very center was, is, and, I expect, always will be for us, the generative wellspring.
My deepest thanks to John for prompting these reflections.