Sometimes when we go on a walk we stop traffic. Seriously. People will slow their cars down and rubberneck with some misguided thought that staring is going to answer their questions. Two adults, four kids. Adults are Irish-looking, kids are African-looking. But just to mix it up even more, all of our kids appear to be the same age (and in reality are pretty close – two 3-year-olds and two 2-year-olds). Conversations only complicate matters: not only do we have 4 Ethiopians that are being raised by Americans, they are going to be raised in Cameroon, in a village, where no one except their parents speak English.
Most Americans who have heard anything about adoption have heard stories of kids struggling to understand who they are. Curious about their birth parents, some even run away to find them. And so, a common sentiment in these conversations is that people assure us that our kids are going to have issues. And they may be right (I even get confused sometimes when I try to communicate our situation to people). One time at Costco we spoke with a young woman who had placed a child for adoption. She said that if she could say anything to the family that adopted her child she would ask them to teach the child about their culture. She then asked that we make sure to teach our kids about their culture (by which she meant African American culture as she assumed they were from Texas). I was kind of at a loss for words. I have no idea what we are going to teach them about. Should we try to give them bits of Ethiopian culture? Or American culture? African American culture? Cameroonian culture? French culture? (yeah, we are going to live there for a year too). I am having identity issues just thinking about it.
As I was considering this today, I had three reactions:
- I have identity issues. When people ask me to tell them about myself, I usually say I am a Bible Translator. So much of my world is currently in training for, blogging about, and looking forward to translating the Bible. And it is easy to consider that to be my identity. But then when I think about it, when the end comes, I am one of the few people that I am absolutely confident will be without a job. I can envision carpenters building houses on the New Earth, but there is no need for a Bible translator. So, if I cannot ground my identity in my work, perhaps in my country of origin. In fact, when I am overseas, I usually start my conversations by saying I am an American. But again, Revelation talks about the New Jerusalem, not the New America. It would be odd to walk the streets of gold carrying an American flag. No, my identity is not in any of these things. I am a stranger here, an alien. My citizenship is to a higher country. And all that is around me is really a temptation to ground my identity here on earth, instead of where it belongs. So, even though my birth parents raised me, I have identity issues.
- I am adopted. I was speaking to some parents that were in the process of adopting an African-American boy who asked how I respond when people ask us questions about our kids. They said they did not want their son to have an identity founded on adoption. I really did not know what to say at the time. But as I have had time to reflect on it, I realized that when I am struggling with my own identity issues, the identity that I ought to seek is that of an adopted child. Though at one time I was “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and [a stranger] to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12), Christ came and died so that I might have the right to become a child of God. I wrestle because I consider myself an American, and a Hare, and a Bible translator, but in reality my identity is bound up in the fact that I now belong to a new family, God’s family. My real identity is that I am an adopted son of God. I think that all of my ties to this present world blind and confuse me, creating identity issues. I pray that my kids will have less of these struggles being that their connections to this world are so much more transient, which brings me to my third point…
- I envy my kids. I don’t doubt that my children will have identity issues. I was not adopted, looked like my parents, and grew up spending time with several generations of my family and I have identity issues. But, it seems to me fortunate that my kids will in many ways feel like aliens on this planet. They were not made for this world, but for another. I don’t think that America will feel like home to them, nor really Cameroon. No matter how much we do tell them about it, they will never remember Ethiopia. I pray that this will drive them to looking for another home. I pray that it will make them long for Heaven. “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). I know that the only way that this can be a reality in their lives is if they find their identity in Christ, so I pray that the Lord would save my kids and give them home in Him. I pray that they might be a part not only of my family in this world, but in the world to come.
I know that the struggle to find identity in Christ and not in this world is common to all of us. It was even common to those in the time of Jesus:
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:47-50).
Everything natural tells us to think about our family as those who are biologically related to us. But what Jesus reminds us of in this passage is that our true family is spiritual in nature. Having black children is a very visual reminder that family is more than blood. And I hope that it will be a reminder to our kids to look for divine family. And perhaps a reminder to me that my identity is not in what I do, or where I live, or even what family I was born into. At my core, my identity is that of an adopted child, son of a king, child of the light.