Like every great story, there is a hero and a guide. There are key characters. There is a crisis and a resolution. For every story as old as time, the core tenants of story writing don’t change.
However, even if these key attributes don’t change, it feels a little different when the story is so closely intertwined with your real life.
First, let me introduce you to the characters. The hero of the story is a little boy. When I first met him, he was 4 months old with really wide eyes and very few facial expressions. This whole story is about him.
The next character is a teen girl. She is scared and hurting. She grew up in and out of the system. I could tell you more about her. Stuff that would fill your heart with frustration, anger, and overwhelming empathy all simultaneously. But that’s her story, and this story really isn’t about her. It’s about the little boy. Her son.
The last character I will highlight for you today is myself. I am a piece of this story too. But this story really isn’t about me, it’s about the little boy. Now also my son.
In the three characters I just highlighted you have the complete adoption triad. An adoption triad is represented by the birth mother, the child, and the adoptive mother. I love the triad, as it always represents to me the key characters of the story. This story is never actually a story without remembering my son’s first mother - the one that chose life for him and gave birth to him. It is also not solely about me or my journey - in fact I am just one piece of a much larger story - his story.
Was I always interested in adoption? No actually, not at all. Growing up, one of my best friends was always passionate about adoption and dreamed of adopting. I kind of always thought, well that is fine for you, but I want a traditional family. I thought I would get married kind of late (23 is the number that I had in mind), wait for a few years, and then start having biological children; complete with a house in the suburbs, maybe a family dog and a two car garage. During those years prior to being married, I imagined that I would spend time overseas or in some other form of ministry. As the years passed by, I was active in overseas ministry in orphanages and traveled teaching photography and leading photojournalism teams. I specifically remember on one particular trip one of my close friends mentioned interest in adopting one of the children we all grew to love and the sentiment surprised me. The thought had never once crossed my mind.
Well, continue to fast forward, and I was wrestling with the fact that my life “plans” were not shaping up quite the way that I imagined. Since I wasn’t getting married, I figured I should be in full time overseas ministry… maybe even living at an orphanage in another country. But the few opportunities I pursued were always closed doors. Here I was, living in the States, working full time and leading a relatively “normal” life. I felt restless and like I was missing something. Yet every time I tried to pursue something different, God clearly kept me where I was.
In 2014, I traveled to Myanmar, and during my time there I worked on photographing and documenting stories of some of the children at a local orphanage. During that process I learned that many of these children were not orphans, they were actually children in foster care. That orphanage was completely run and facilitated by the local church. Now I could go into more of Myanmar’s history that makes this even more impressive, but even apart from all of that, it left a deep impression on me. When I got back to the States, I couldn’t get that out of my mind. Around this same time a coworker I really respected began to foster, and I became more aware of the foster system in the US. Here, foster care was run by the government and seemed like something that the Church was largely unaware of or turned a blind eye to. The stark comparison of the US vs Myanmar weighed heavily on me. During the next several months, this burden grew, and I began to pray earnestly that God would light a fire in the hearts of the Church in North America to carry the weight of the orphans and vulnerable children; to own their cause. One night in early January of 2015, I woke up around 3am with the call to pray so strong that I couldn’t shake it. As I was begging God to start this revival in the Church, I felt Him clearly answer with “It must start with you”. The next day I started the process to become a licensed foster parent in the state of South Carolina. At the time I had no idea that this is the same timeframe that DSS (the Department of Social Services) began to become involved in my little boy’s story. His mom was 7 months pregnant with him at the time. Over the next two months I started the process of moving. Once I finalized my new address, I officially filled out the foster care application. Again, unknown to me, this was only a few days after the birth of my son.
Throughout the process of becoming a foster parent, and even after getting my first placement, many people would ask me if I planned to adopt. My resounding answer was always “no”. I would explain that my plan was still to get married and that bringing a child into a marriage may be a lot. I was still stuck on "my plan” of what I thought life would look like for me, and even though I was now in my late 20s, I still had a picture in my head of what marriage and family would look like - of how my story would unfold. Fostering was the intermediate plan. It was how I wanted to be faithful to use my single years well and be obedient to step into what God was calling me to do. It wasn’t my forever plan.
In July of 2015, I received my foster care license and the day after getting back from a missions trip to Guatemala, I picked up my first placement, a little 4 month old boy. Throughout the summer I had become frustrated with the licensing process and the delays, however, in hindsight, if my license had been finished sooner, I likely would’ve said “yes” to another placement and never met this little boy who would change my life forever.
Well, of course, a few months into fostering, again the road took a sharp and unexpected turn. Social services began to explore the idea that the little boy I was fostering may need an adoptive home. In December of 2015, they mentioned adoption for the first time. I walked away from that meeting feeling rattled and unsettled. This wasn’t the plan. So for the next 30 days I wrestled with God in prayer. At the end of that time, almost a year after being called to foster, I told God that if this little boy needed an adoptive family — I was willing. That could be me.
If you’re familiar with the foster care system, then you know what followed was a few years of the craziest roller coaster ride. At first he was going home, then he was transitioning home. Then he wasn’t. Then he was. Finally, on November 19th of 2018, the wild instability stopped and I legally adopted my son, Malachi (Kai) Paul Ours.
That day was amazing and happy, and it was heavy and sad. Adoption is a result of trauma. It is a result of loss. But adoption is also a tangible reminder to me of the Gospel. I needed new life, I needed an eternal family, I needed a new name — and God adopted me into His spiritual family. This is what adoption signifies. Adoption is representative of choosing someone to love. Forever. Choosing someone to be your heir. Choosing someone to be your family.
For an Adoptee, their story doesn’t end or begin the day that they get adopted. It is simply a piece of their story. A large one to be sure, but it is not their identity, or their label. I didn’t save my son from anything by adopting him. I am not the hero of this story. He is. This story is really about him. Today, I am sharing with you how in His great mercy, God redirected me and allowed me to be part of Malachi’s story. To have a role in this great narrative. But my role is that of a guide, of a coach, not of the cornerstone of the story.
So many times in adoption, the focus gets shifted to the adoptive parents instead of the Adoptee. But this is their journey and their story, their experience. Being adopted doesn’t suddenly teleport you into a story of happy endings and skipping through fields of wildflowers in the spring time. Adoption is a lifetime of work. It is me, learning for the rest of my life how to be the Mama that my son needs. How to help him develop appropriate racial identity. How to create a safe place for him to process big thoughts and emotions. It is Kai learning to live within the reality that he has two families that love him. One that gave birth to him, and one that will raise him. It is his birth mom learning how to be a part of her son’s life in a healthy way. It is Kai learning how to respond to his birth parents and navigate the tension that they are in his life, but not part of his day to day. It is all of us learning together how to dance this delicate triangle of relationship. How to embrace the truth that we are all equally connected, and here for the same purpose - to love, pursue, support, and hold up the person at the top of the triad. Kai.