“Maybe it would be better if I wasn’t here. I don’t belong in this family.”
“Mom! Mom! Mom! Watch me! Mooommmmy, looook! You’re NOT looking.”
“Just let me do it myself!”
To the naked ear, these amount to nothing more than normal kid banter. We chuckle because every kid says this kind of stuff, right?
Certainly. One could argue these very typical kid phrases. And of course, a well placed “never mind” paired with the perfect eye roll is par for the course in any stage of puberty. Yes. All kids do this.
But in my experience, the phrases and underlying context take on VASTLY different meanings depending on which of my children is speaking. You see, two of my kids are adopted and two are not. The weight and myriad of layers encapsulated in the voices of my adopted children differs greatly from that of my biological kids. That’s just part of the deal.
While adoption is a most beautiful gift, it is also a journey fundamentally born of abandonment and confusion. This reality proved inherently true when we brought your two youngest home from Ethiopia nearly 5 years ago. In the fragility of those early days, our children were, for all intents and purposes, “Nilsens” in name only. Their identities — who they thought they were, who they believed themselves to be — had been compromised.
Although their passports read “Nilsen,” their hearts did not.
And who could blame them? Their adoption was the bi-product of a broken world, broken bodies, broken economies and a broken system. By all accounts, a complete identity crisis made total sense given the trauma they had experienced. In a matter of moments, one stroke of a judge’s pen turned complete strangers into family. In the blink of an eye, we were one. They were our children, heirs to all that we are and all that we have, but they could not, and would not receive it. At least, not in its full form.
There have been times the reality of this disconnect has been beyond painful and other moments where it’s just a general mood in the air. Regardless of how it plays out however, I have been fascinated ever since, by the concept of what it looks like to live like an “orphan” vs. a “child of God.” Although I personally am not adopted in the physical sense, I am adopted in the spiritual sense, through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Paul tells us in Galatians 4, that God sent Jesus to “buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we ‘Gentiles’ have become his children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into [our] hearts, and now [we] can call God [our] dear Father.”
We are no longer spiritual orphans, but God’s own sons and daughters! Chosen and dearly loved! Belonging to His family.
So why in the Sam-darn-it-all-to-heck don’t I always act like a chosen, beloved, apple-of-his-eye kind of child? Why do I kick against the goads and continually question my own identity and worth?
Living into the truth of who God says I am instead of allowing filthy lies to fester, has the power to change everything!
I know this to be indomitably true because I have a front row seat as I watch it play out in my own home (both physically and spiritually). As I watch my kids wrestle with this concept, I can’t help but look inward and evaluate my own behavior. I heard a sermon a while back that rocked my world to no end when I heard the pastor describe in no uncertain terms what it looks like to live from an orphan spirit vs. a child-like spirit. Believe me when I say this stuff is game-changing!
The Orphan: Operates FOR favor
What must I do to earn your love? How can I get you to love me?
The Child: Operates FROM favor
I can live in freedom and peace in my true self, unafraid to make mistakes because I already know I am unconditionally loved.
The Orphan: Low Trust / High Control
I’ve been burned so many times, I don’t know if I can trust you or anyone else, so I’ll go ahead and micro-manage my private world. Thank you very little.
The Child: High Trust / Low Control
I can afford to be vulnerable and let you into my world (warts and all) because I trust your heart. I’ll share my hopes and dreams knowing you have my best interest in mind.
Processing my thoughts, emotions and behaviors through this filter radically revolutionizes my days with the Lord. When my jaw locks and my knuckles turn white, I know I have fallen prey to the orphan spirit. A spirit shrouded in control, anxiety and fear. That is not how I want to live. And that is definitely not what brings true life.
Yes, trauma will continue to rear its ugly head. It will show up unannounced at any hour of the day or night, but I pray as we journey from here, we can learn to trust the God who created our inner-most being, the God who wove us together in our mother’s womb. The God who made us mothers into daughters.
We may or may not have absolute trust in our earthly mother (that is something to work out along the way), but we sure can trust HIM.
A Prayer of Faith
Dear Heavenly Father, First and foremost, thank you for adopting me! Forgive me for guarding my heart and not letting you in. Forgive me for the times I have not trusted your heart or your provision and tried to take things into my own hands. I know you love me and want the very best for my life. You are such a good Father! Please help me know you and trust you more each and every day so that I may live life to the full as your beloved daughter! In Jesus’ name, Amen.