I am captivated by words. My love language is words of affirmation. I have been in trouble all my life for talking too much. From grade school to today, I communicate best with spoken word. It is powerful, cathartic and the best way I know to aptly communicate. In the same way, I dissect the spoken word very carefully to assess meaning and intent. For the longest time, I took the spoken word at face value. You say what you mean and you mean what you say. I failed to take into account emotion, past experience, hurts, wounds and intentions. For me, this led to hearing words in different contexts and allowing those words to take root in my identity. It wasn’t until my late 20s that I realized not every word spoken to you is about you.
When I was growing up, people would ask my parents who I resembled in our family. “Who does he look like?” “Who does he favor?” My parents would respond appropriately, “He is adopted.” There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this answer. The simple fact is, I don’t look like my parents. I’m 7 inches taller than my dad. He has auburn hair and blue eyes. I have dark hair and dark eyes. There is no real resemblance to my parents. (But still, they are my parents. I love them and am so grateful for who they are.) However, these differences quickly became part of my identity – I posted more in-depth in part 2.
Being adopted became a scapegoat for anything that didn’t belong. If I acted in a way that my parents couldn’t explain, it was because I was adopted. The easiest explanation for much of my trouble was “being adopted.” It happened so frequently that I became incensed against the whole idea of adoption. This thing (adoption) that I couldn’t control was controlling me. In all this, “being adopted” brought about some hurtful words. Those words took root in my identity and I ran from it for a long time.
I wish I could say that I knew how to handle being an adopted child as a young kid, teenager, college student, young adult, husband, and dad. The simple fact was I didn’t understand how to handle my emotions about adoption. In my mid-20s, this led to identity issues, borderline depression and intense conversations with my wife about finding healing for some deep personal wounds.
Through this journey, I’ve learned more about the power of words. What you say means something. For the hearer, what you say (and more importantly, how you say it) can communicate deep into their heart. It can have lasting effects on their identity. In the case of adopted children, remember that adoption is a process, not an identity. The child doesn’t have the choice to be adopted. Adoption is not an explanation. That child is in need of love, safety and nurturing just like any other child. All of this comes in the context of family.
A family is not made up of people who just look the same, talk the same or live in the same house. Family is built upon the common bond of love, care, compassion and affection for one another regardless of how you came into the family. For some families, God sends them biological children who do look alike. For other families, God gives them the opportunity to expand by opening their home to all different kinds of children. Their identity is being part of the family, not how they got there.
With this in mind, do your best to speak an encouraging word to someone in your family today. Remind them of how much you care for them, love them and are grateful they are a part of your life and your home.
To see other posts in the series, go to An Adoption Journey