[In 2012, my wife Jill and I (then 32 and 30 years old, with no children) participated in a Hosting Program for older children from Colombia eligible for Adoption. We were matched with then 15-year-old Liliana (Lili), who spent 3 weeks in our home in December of that year. We spent the next 18 months finalizing the Adoption, finalizing in May 2014, shortly before Lili’s 16th birthday]
I was recently asked to summarize the adoption in one word. The only one that seemed sufficient, the only one that came to my mind was “radical.” The person who asked quipped that he agreed with the word, and then began reciting back the specifics of the adoption (the age, the language barrier, the international component), eventually offering his affirmation that “radical” was appropriate.
But that wasn’t really what I meant. I wasn’t speaking to the uniqueness of the adoption. I was speaking to something much deeper; something inside me that was forever, radically changed.
I - Radically Idol-Smashing
Radical is defined as “affecting the fundamental nature of something.” Prior to the adoption journey, my collective nature revolved around enjoying a relatively ordinary Western Christian existence, punctuated with fine dining, fine golfing, taking vacations, and obsessing over my bank and retirement accounts. One hand focused on spiritual disciplines, the other polishing golden calves of comfort, pleasure, and financial security. Inserting a 15-year-old Colombian orphan into the meticulous spreadsheets that I used to micro-manage my life, finances, and anxiety caused a critical cell error.
I never realized the grip idols had on my heart until a Kingdom calling rubbed up against it. I prayed. I needed clarity.
“Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me…” – Luke 9:48. Jesus with the mike drop.
I can recall reading this verse one particular day, staring at one such life managing spreadsheet, contemplating the adoption and whether to move forward. I just recently finished reading Kyle Idleman’s Not a Fan – Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus. I was “Christian who just read a great book” guy. Burning hot like a cruise missile with no guidance system. I wanted to be a Completely Committed Radical Spurgeon-Bonhoeffer-Stinziano-esque Follower of Jesus. But I waffled. The flesh was willing; the spirit was emaciated. I had an impressive arsenal of “We can’t because X” retorts prepared, side holstered for any attack to my idol worship. I knew that to move forward, I needed radical smashing of the idols in my life. Honestly, I was on milk, and wasn’t ready for solid food.
Fittingly, the Spirit (and my Wife) revealed to me an idea that was quite elementary, yet eluded me. The idea that the “X” in every I can’t, wasn’t “counting the cost”. (I used Excel to count rather effectively.) It was an idol. We can’t because [we want biological children first]. We can’t, because of [money]. On and On.
Turned out - God smashing idols was rather simple. He simply turned “We can’t because of Idol C”, into “We can, because we believe his ways are greater than ours.” For the moment, for the season, the mustard seed of belief in that, was enough to say Yes.
II – Radically Refining
I had read, and heard, and knew about the “issues” with adoption – especially adopting older children with significant trauma in their history. As all three of us began to adjust to our shared new reality, things began to get difficult. Really, really difficult. I defaulted to white knuckling it. I committed that I would never succumb like the “immature” people who I would see post with venom about their failed adoptions. I would be able to power through. I would be able to hold it together, no matter what was said, or what happened. I would succeed, where others had failed.
I was mistaken. And I had developed a lethal case of PEB – Pride, Expectations, Bitterness.
I’m accustomed to succeeding in the challenges that I set for myself. At work, in my personal life; achievement is always a driving factor. Naturally, I expected to be excellent as a father to Lili (Pride). I expected her to be a grateful, obedient, perhaps even reverent, daughter. (Expectations). And when she wasn’t those things, but was hurtful, disrespectful, disobedient, and ungrateful, I became (Bitter).
I few years ago I was in one of those meetings, doing one of those cringe inducing “icebreakers”, where you talk to someone you don’t know at all for 5 minutes, and then they get up and introduce you to a whole bunch of other people that you don’t know. The guy who introduced me, when describing my general traits, told the group that I was “altruistic.” I had never heard that word, so I recall looking it up later. When I read the definition, I was pleased: “altruism is the practice of selfless concern for the wellbeing of others.”
It didn’t happen in a single moment, it happened over time. I began to believe that the adoption was a story of my personal Altruism. I started believing that I was so selfless for pouring myself and my beloved finances out to complete the Adoption. And when my Altruism was met with the reality of Lili’s brokenness, it provided enormous space for bitterness to grow. And it did. I was bitter. The enemy was stealing, killing, and destroying my joy. I was cognizant of the issue; aware of the sin; but the enemy had me trapped. I felt helpless to change how I felt. And I felt this way, for a long time. I needed radical refinement. Radical re-alignment of my thoughts and desires.
God showed up. He reminded me that Altruism is perpendicular to the Gospel. He reminded me that only one has ever truly poured out for others. He reminded me that I can’ be truly self-less, because He promises that my nature is to be truly self-ish. And he introduced me to a word that I was only vaguely familiar with: Repentance.
I broke down. I can recall sobbing to my wife, sobbing in Church, overwhelmed with my sin, overcome with shame. I prayed for forgiveness, with an intensity I can’t put words to. I went to Lili and told her that I had sinned against her and singed against God. I asked her for forgiveness. Like Him, Lili was gracious with me.
Pride, to Expectations, to Bitterness, to Repentance. AKA Refinement.
The band can come back up….
III – Radical Dependence
“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” – 1 Corinthians 3:7
No verse has confused me more along the adoption journey than this one. I have leaned on these words when I’ve felt frustration. When I’ve felt rejection. When I’ve felt that I’m not achieving. If I can’t give any growth, why even try? Why try and share the word, or pray over her, or frankly, do anything? At times, I felt completely powerless, and just as hopeless. During intense flare-ups of my PEB – I’m thinking: “I’m doing a dang good job. She is the problem.” I’ve used this verse to self-righteously justify the moments when I “write off” Lili in my mind.
“as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one” – Romans 3:10. Paul with the mike drop.
It’ been a radical lesson, to learn and understand that she’s not the problem. She’s never been the problem. International adoption isn’t the problem. Raising a teenager that I didn’t really “raise” at all isn’t the problem. Her sin isn’t the problem.
A lack of worship is the problem. An un-right view of the King is the problem.
A distorted understanding of the calling is the problem. So often I forget that God called me, called my wife, before the formation of the world, to become this child’s parents on earth. He set in motion his plan, and left no detail unresolved. He entrusted us to honor him by loving, shepherding, and reflecting who He is, to a child he has fearfully and wonderfully made. And for no other reason than His Name, His Renown, His Glory. Because he is good.
He’s taught me radical dependence in a world that worships the idol of fierce independence. And I am grateful for it.
This is where I find myself today, and God willing, where I will find myself every day moving forward. Identifying where my worship and view of the King, and understanding of the calling is out of whack. Continually praying for radically clear eyes to see it. Continually praying for a radically pure mind to respond to it. And continually praying for a radically dependent heart to continue in love, faithfully walking through it.
- Mark Hindley