a speaker’s heart…on adoption

I love capturing life’s moments with words…the mundane and the spectacular. I want to remember them in my mind, in my heart. Writing about what’s happened helps me articulate and find what’s inside of me. And, often, what I find, is more of myself.

So, about some recent moments, a recent weekend, with 450 adoptive moms at Legacy Lodge at Lake Lanier Island Resorts just north of Atlanta..beautiful and stunning, surprising and thought-provoking, heart-wrenching (and warming), and oh, so fun! It was just what my spirit was lacking.

I had been invited (basically by strangers who hardly knew me), to come speak at a weekend retreat for adoptive moms (Created for Care). I was asked to share my story…my relinquishment story, not my adoption story. Honored, humbled, thrilled, expectant, fearful…that my story would be “too much.” Too much for these beautiful (and weary) moms who were spilling with stories of how their adopted children changed their lives, whose hearts were bursting at the seams with endless love, who believed that God had provided them someone to recycle the hard heart places, and who were eager-to-learn-how-to-do-everything-right as they parented their children’s tender and fragile and longing hearts. They had traveled from near and far seeking encouragement, inspiration, connection with other moms – a weekend that would birth new life within.

That’s a heavy role to step into. Very heavy.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be asked to “speak.” There’s this initial, “No way! I get to go there and use my voice and share a message that I believe in so much and could talk about every day? Me? Really? Awesome!” You feel pursued and wanted and believed in.

And then come the hours and days when you dive into the “topic” and pull all your material together and create what you hope will be helpful and enlightening and strengthening and inspiring. You labor over building a presentation that will (hopefully) deeply resonate with the minds and hearts of your audience…all in one hour. You strive to appear informed, humorous, captivating, confident, whole.

Then, finally the day arrives and you fly to your destination, all cool-like with your carry on and iPad and sporty clothes. Smiling people meet you in the airport and you’re driven to the place…the place that you’ve been getting ready to offer yourself to for months. You find yourself in a private room with your own mini coffee pot, the most comfortable bed ever, and even a private veranda that overlooks gorgeous trees and a tranquil lake. You soak it all in…the quietness, the stillness, the emptiness. It’s all yours.

The next morning, the nerves kick in…fourth gear. You ask yourself, “Am I ready? Will I remember everything I want to say? Should say? Could say? What will I look like five feet above everyone’s heads? Will the PowerPoint work? Will I stick to my outline or get lost telling stories? Are they going to like it? Will they hear what I hope they hear? Will they “hear” the subtleties between the words?” So many thoughts and nervous excitement fill your body. All that you’ve prepared is about to be heard and digested and evaluated.

The morning session begins. You hear your introduction, you take a deep breath, you step up onto that platform, you smile, you look out, scan the room and see faces…450 beautiful faces…with over 1,000 relinquished and adopted precious babes represented in those faces. They’re looking at you…waiting for you…to say something profound that meets them right where they’re at…

…and in the first half hour (if that), you cry.

(Actually) My first time on the platform that weekend was as an adoptee (not a speaker), joining two other adoptees for an “adoptee panel” facilitated by an adoptive mom, Amy Monroe, who sits on the leadership team for Tapestry Adoption and Foster Care Ministry. Let’s just say this is one of the most vulnerable and exposing and soul-searching experiences to be a part of…to be asked questions that take you back to one of the hardest places in your story, to share memories of the ways you felt like your adoptive parents did things well and not so well, and then to offer ideas of what you wished they would have done relating to your relinquishment and adoption journey. More questions are asked about adoption and parenting, the fractured and broken and healed places of your heart, what you think about words like “rescue” and “orphan,” and how you talk to an adopted child about the hard places they may have come from. You know, all those everyday questions you spend energy and time feeling and thinking about…NOT! Purely unpredictable. Totally raw. Utterly nerve-wrecking. So, yeah…the first night, a tad exhausted and emotional, and a bit weepy I was.

Back to the main session…I’m often asked to speak to the “challenging” parts of adoption (i.e. the impact of relinquishment on the human heart and mind). I’m not sure how I got there, but I’m here. I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m an adoptee or counselor or pastor’s kid or mother or wife (all these roles invite you into hard conversations, right?), but I do know that along the way, I’ve somehow intentionally chosen to step into that role. Life can be really hard and awkward, even a bit breath-taking and unknown, and we need people to help us navigate through those parts; someone willing to talk about the hard stuff without sinking. For the record, I’m not the expert, but I’ve wanted to make myself available to those who are ready and willing to talk about the hard places that come with being human…because I’ve been there too.

OK, back to the main session…the lights were bright, the women’s eyes felt inches away from mine. There was a wave of peace and calm and so I began. I began to share my story. The story where the first paragraph starts with, “There was a woman in Korea, my birthmom, who carried me for nine months…” It was the story that I had only began recognizing and talking about around 10 years ago. Like many adoptees from the 1970s, I learned to begin my story with, “I was adopted from Korea at the age of five months…” Most of my life, I had passed over those nine months in utero, nurtured by a woman who spent her days and nights contemplating whether or not she could/would/should keep me, and those five months when I was “given away”…to an orphanage and then to a foster home and then to a white, pastor’s family in Michigan. As I shared my story that morning, my heart couldn’t help but show up. Yup, in front of all those women, my tears leaked out. Not because I was remembering that time, but because something inside of me always gets stirred – the longings deep inside that baby that I still swim in today. And then, as I felt the weight of over 1,000 relinquished babies represented in those chairs, their little hearts lept out to me knowing that they, too, (will) experience the same ache in their story. Sometimes I wonder if each time I tell my story out loud and chose to “name” what happened and the impact it had on that little baby’s heart – my heart – if it actually releases a bit more…something still tucked away, hidden, forgotten, dismissed. It’s freeing to share our stories. There’s something healing in revisiting and naming “what was” and be able to find words and phrases to help you understand “what is” – what and who you’ve become and perhaps how you’ve come undone – and then discover the missing truth that exists in your story – reclaiming what you lost or what you gave away or what was taken from you or what was never invited to the table – so your eyes can see…more of you, more of God. I want to remember well – where I’ve come from – so I can show up. Now. In this life. Fully present, joyful, grateful, free…allowing God to make beautiful things…out of me, for him.

OK, back to the main session…and so I shared…for that one hour – what I lost, what I never knew, what lies I believed about myself and people and God, how my heart protected itself, what I did with my pain, and then how God came chasing after me because he loved me that much. My pain, my suffering, my grieving, my healing…my brokenness and my beauty. I shared it all with these amazing moms who would go home and hug and kiss their babes with stories like mine.

Heavy. Very heavy.

The breakout session I spoke in later that day was about adding the complexity of what it meant to grow up looking “different” than the average American in addition to the layer of being relinquished and the questions of identity and belonging, the search for significance and acceptance and love underneath my Korean exterior. It’s interesting and mind-blowing and disheartening to understand how America defines (and teaches) “beautiful”…and then to not look like that in any way. My days of blue mascara and eyeshadow, permed hair with poofy bangs…yeah, not cool. My round face, black hair, short body and flat derriere all summed up for America to send me the message that I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t beautiful. A moment of reflection of words and phrases that described different ethnic groups written by the women in the breakout session, gave us a moment of pause…and maybe new eyes to see how the world can potentially see their transracial/international, adopted, beautiful child. We didn’t learn stereotypes from someone sitting us down and teaching us what Hispanic/Latino or Black/African or Asian people are like. We learned by the power of repetition…over hundreds of years. So, as parents of children, we have a responsibility – an opportunity – to shape the eyes and ears and minds and hearts of our children in a way that views people who look “different” as God views them. And then, be prepared to instill a sense of identity and significance in our own children when they look different from those around them, even if that’s within our own families. So, my hope is that these moms left with enlightened eyes to see their children…really see their children, not only in the reality of their lifestory, but also in the reality of America’s story.

After two-and-a-half days, I was a bit weary. OK, exhausted. The many new faces, the deep conversations, the lack of sleep, the listening to other speakers and processing lots of new information, the sacred worship times, the over abundance of food and snacks…it wore me out. In a good way. I loved all the moms that waited for me, stalked me, hugged me, laughed with me, cried with me, shared their stories of heartache and celebration with me, took pictures with me, asked me powerful questions that made me step back and ponder even more how courageous and tender and quiet and loud the hearts of children are. The intensity of those days affected me…affected my spirit. I gave. I received. I poured out. I was poured into.

I flew away from that place different. Changed. Full. I watched how God met these women in their fears, in their questions, in their doubts, in their deep, deep love for their children…his children. Whether they had biological children, adopted children, awaiting children, I had a sense that they were going to travel back to their families and offer their best selves. Not because of what I shared or what the other speakers shared, but because God’s spirit was moving…in powerful, profound and beautiful ways. That weekend, that space…it was sacred.

So, as a speaker, humanly you wonder what kind of impact your presence and words and heart had on your audience. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that. Yet, I’m choosing to trust that whatever each mom needed that weekend, that God will reveal it to her in the most gracious and sweet way, in his timing.

So, C4C mamas…I’m crazy grateful that I was able to meet you all. Your stories, your hearts, your love for your children…they blew me away! My prayer for you all that weekend was that you would experience deep community with one another and a deep communion with God. Your decision to adopt is a gift. May you remember that you have access to the Creator of the Universe as you parent and mentor your children’s bodies, minds and spirits. May words of truth be written on their hearts…by you, by God. Deeply grateful, profoundly humbled, to have shared that weekend with you.

And for those of you who have chosen to adopt or are choosing to adopt…may you have the courage to know all of your child’s story – the pieces before they are carried into your home – because you have this amazing opportunity to be a part of their healing and redemption in a way that bears witness to how good God is.

The story of the heart…it matters.

Here’s a peek at some of the 450 adoptive moms/children/families represented at this year’s Created for Care Retreat…

Created for Care March 2012 Video

(note background music in video…”Beautiful Things” by Gungor – one of my favorite songs right now!)