behind the eyes.


my eyes.

NOTE: This is a post in response to the Facebook conversation about the pictures so many places use in the adoption/foster care/orphan care communities. My prayer is that I will be a voice – an adoptee voice – who is cheering you on.

Oh, those eyes, in those pictures, of those babies…those deep, mysterious eyes. There’s something that gets stirred in us when we look at them, into them. Maybe our hearts feel moved by their tenderness and vulnerability and innocence. Maybe we sense their longing to feel loved, known, maybe even seen.

Those pictures, of children, alone, do something to us, for us.

Most of us love observing kids – the energy, the wonder, the belief that the world is a good, safe, wild and thrilling place to live. It makes us smile watching life unfold right before our eyes. Yet, as parents, we know how hard life with these lives can be – the sleepless nights and tantrums, the self-centeredness and neediness, the emotional dis-regulation and limited cognitive maturity. You get what I mean. I often wonder if we would’ve known all the challenges and heartache that came with parenting, would we have still willingly stepped into it? There’s a lack of experiential understanding for new parents that feels protective and good. When we hold our newborn and look into his/her eyes, what we see is beauty and possibility. What we anticipate is joy and shared love. In that moment, we don’t want to know or feel or see, or maybe even believe, that there will be struggle or heartache or distance.

But, there is…there is both joy and sorrow. One doesn’t come without the other.

So, when those pictures are flashed before you, us, what do you see? Is it just joy? For you? For them? Is it just sorrow? For you? For them? What do those eyes – that neediness and vulnerability – stir in you?

You see…them.

You want to respond…to them.

But isn’t the call to “take care of” the orphan just as much about them as it is about you? About what God can do through you for them AND what God can do through them for you? About what God is doing in and through and among us all?

So, why are the pictures we see always just them? Just the children? Alone?

I get what those pictures do for us. I guess my question is, “What do those pictures do for them? To them? To those sweet, loveable children? What is the intent of showing us a picture of a child? Sad and alone? Without caregivers? What messages are the organizations and billboards and websites and fundraisers sending us? Sending them? Is there something, someone, missing? Are we mis-using, mis-interpreting their brokenness? Their need? To get more people to adopt or save or rescue? It feels like the marketing strategy could easily become about the “action” instead of the “transformation,” at least initially.

NOTE: I am NOT implying that this is any person’s or organization’s or ministry’s intent or conscious decision when they promote or market or distribute. I’m asking us to think about what unintentional message(s) might be sent with these real-life, real-people pictures.

We know there is a need, a massive need for loving, protective, safe homes. There’s no question about that. We know there are thousands of families who have chosen to be one of those homes. I’m grateful for that. I celebrate that. But, I also know that thousands of families who have brought one of those pictures home are also struggling with how best to nurture and calm and mentor what’s behind those eyes. So much responsibility and courage and consistency and love comes with “rescuing” one of those babies in one of those pictures. And, being one of those babies myself, I know how much comes with bringing one of those babies home. And there’s something inside of me that wants to make sure that all of you who are looking at those pictures are ready to embrace what comes with those eyes, behind those eyes. Not because I think I or any adopted person’s voice can protect you from the hard, but at least help prepare you to know that there is hard, and that your babies are going to need ALL of you to show up and enter into those hard places with them, not just into the hard places you had to walk through to get them.

So, when you look into the beautiful and stunning eyes in those pictures, would you be willing to ask yourself the question, “What would those eyes tell me if they had a voice, about what they really need beyond a safe home and family?”

My desire – OK, my plea – is that you (we), the church, would see the “need” and potential joy and shared love in those pictures AND see the brokenness, but not mis-use or exploit the brokenness. Because that’s the moment this orphan and foster care movement could miss Jesus in his call to “care for the orphan.” And I know, NONE of us want to miss out on that! Jesus is the one who came to rescue and save. Maybe our invitation, then, is to focus on what it means to “take care of,” one another, as we look into each other’s eyes.

But, like I said above, if I would’ve known all that came with my parenting role, maybe I would’ve never stepped into it. But then, I would’ve missed out on what my children are teaching me about God and how through the really, really hard, God is healing me, saving me, from myself. And, I wouldn’t trade that for anything. OK, well, maybe some days. Ha!

You’ve heard me say it before, but let me say it again. When you step into this calling, may you listen…closely. May you respond…with humility and grace and an openness to allowing your child’s story to change your story as you step into God’s story. And as you find more of him, may you find more of one another…together.

Maybe, in those pictures, what sucks us in is actually holiness – the heart of Jesus himself – in those eyes, and perhaps, maybe what those eyes see in us. Huh. Maybe that’s an idea for a marketing strategy.

Let’s keep this conversation going. Let’s keep listening to one another and learning from one another. Let’s keep asking God what “caring for the orphan” means, personally and collectively. Let’s keep believing that God has offered us the opportunity to bring more of his kingdom, here, to earth.

Thank you, for your decision to adopt. It is a gift. And, grateful for the places and people who are embracing and sharing the “whole” story. May you sense God’s presence in powerful and surprising ways as you continue to believe in the good of what lies behind the eyes of his children.

Disclaimer: I’ve told you all how new I am to this adoption/foster care community. I’m learning, with you. I’m discovering what it means to love our children, with you. I’m learning to not only find, but be Jesus, with you. We need each other’s stories and voices and perspective in order to move towards oneness in responding to God’s call, his invitation, to bring shalom to his world. Let’s keep working out our humanity, our identity in Christ, together. I hope you’re up for that, because I am.


9 thoughts on “behind the eyes.

  1. Very well written! THAT’s what was behind your questions and comments. I heartily agree with you.
    I’m never quite sure why being a rescuer is wrong,but I see what you are saying. I am an EMT and know that the ambulance call does not stop at the “rescue”, we need to clean up, do paperwork, and learn from any mistakes we made. Sometimes the “rescue” will haunt us for a long time and we will loose sleep…..sometimes we are hated for our part, sometimes we are honored, but we ALWAYS need to respond when we are called.
    Enough analogy, I would like to ask permission to include this piece in a newsletter that I print for foster/adoptive families most of whom do not have internet. I would include your information and website so they could look you up if the opportunity afforded…email me

  2. Thank you for continuing this discussion, Carissa! I think it is so good for all of us to LISTEN to one another. I agree about both parenting in general and adoptive parenting…a little bit of naivety and good intentions may have gotten me into the job, but they will not cut it when the rubber hits the road. However, I’m so grateful that we did pursue both–the joy far outweighs the challenges. The process (again–both becoming a mom to my bio kids and to my adopted kiddo) is full of deep heart-learning, of humbling and breaking and building. I want you to know I really respect your voice, which is full of tender respect, while still bringing up difficult issues. I’ve never thought much about the photos, but have thought a lot about my rescue mentality. The turning point came for me when I realized what subconscious messages would be sent to my son if I saw myself as the rescuer. I think the most effective way to paint the whole picture of adoption and parenting a hurt child as a WHOLE person is to continue discussions just like this one. Thank you!

    • grateful for the ways you have “stepped back” to gain perspective and how it has allowed your heart to embrace the joy and the challenges. what a gift. blessings as you continue to listen and learn and live!

  3. Have you heard the song Kings and Queens by Audio Adrenaline? Lyrics here: My 8yo daughter (an adoptee) loves it and knows it’s talking about kids who don’t have families. I’m sure the intent of the song is great, but it makes me feel squirmy inside. I might have really loved it as a newbie adoptive momma back when we brought home our first son from Korea in 1998. But further along in the journey you think more deeply about all the romanticism/ heart string pulling of it all, and how in a way it denies both the child’s priceless innate (not-to-be pitied) worth and his right to feel pain at the loss central in his life story. Because being ‘rescued’ isn’t always something you feel grateful for.
    Thanks for writing– it gave me a chance to hash over my feelings some more.

    • i love how you are able to see the larger narrative in the eyes of God’s creation, mary. i agree with you, that being “rescued” isn’t always something you feel grateful for. there’s so much a person has to reflect on and work through and heal in order to embrace a sense of gratitude. so glad your voice is part of our world!

  4. As a parent of 4 (2 adopted), I agree that the work starts after your child is in your home. The blessing of The Lord is that you don’t know how MUCH work. If I had known all of the anxiousness, worry, tears, and anger I would feel, I don’t think I would have been obedient.
    On the other hand, I am closer to The Lord than I have ever been. I NEED him to do this parenting thing. He has grown and stretched me and I am SO thankful. I look forward to hearing more of your story as an adoptee. Thank you!

    • i’m so grateful and I so respect the ways you are allowing this journey of adoption to open the eyes of your heart to SEE more of your children, but also how you’re allowing it to change and transform you.

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