I have an article up at Plough magazine

Hi Everyone,

I know it’s been ages since I’ve posted, but I just had a piece published at Plough, a magazine (both print and online) that I highly respect. Plough provides lots of thoughtful/reflective and change-prompting reading that I’ve appreciated over the past year. The piece I have there is “Belonging.” Just follow the link to read, and while you’re there, check out the magazine and website.

Blessings,

Jen

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Lots of “Q”s and one “A”

James 1-5

I wrote this in my journal in late January. We’d been quietly praying about direction for months, and this verse came up as the verse of the day on Bible Gateway. I wrote it in my journal and then took a pic of it so I would have it on my phone as well.

With our upcoming move into the city of Chicago, we’re facing lots of questions.

Where will the kids go to school? Don’t know.

Where will we go to church? Ditto.

What ministries will we be able to plug into as a family? Another unknown.

Where will we live? Still in process on that one, too!

But the biggest one of all for me is not one of the “W” questions, but the “H” one. How? How, in all these different, new places and contexts, do we learn how to live out our faith? How do we approach others with sensitivity and get to know them well? How do we make authentic friendships in which Jesus is evident? How do we become good neighbors and trusted members of a neighborhood?

Each time I’ve opened my daily prayer app this spring, I get the answer.

flashback of venture corps

The picture above was taken in spring 2008 in Uganda. See the little guy on the right side? That’s our Patrick. He was being cared for by all the other people in this picture while we, in the States, were in the process of adopting him. That was also a time filled with questions! In the picture below, taken just outside our house in West Chicago, Patrick is front and center, and his brother Jake is kneeling on his right. Four of the other people in the picture above are also in this pic–joined by two of Jody and Aaron’s children.

It is the season of Pentecost in the church calendar, and the opening sentence for this time is Acts 1:8. “You shall receive power when the Holy Ghost has come upon you; and you shall be my witness in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

I am reminded: the disciples in “real” Pentecost time experienced some of the same feelings we are experiencing. After three years of following Jesus around, of always knowing who their leader was, of seeing his example of love and faith and care, they lost him to the skies.

They returned to their upper room and huddled together, unsure of where to go, what to do, and how to do any of it.

Yep, same questions.

But the beginning of Acts, written later in retrospect, begins with some of Jesus’ last words to his disciples. “You’ll get the Holy Spirit,” he told them, “And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses…”

Matovus, Hoekstras, and PJ and JakeAnd where will they be able—enabled—to be his witnesses?

Answer: Everywhere.

Downtown Chicago, therefore, is covered by this promise. It may be new to us, but it’s not new to him.

The “when,” the “what,” the exact “where”–he’ll answer all of these.

And he’s got the “how” covered, too.

A family, a people

Small Carolina town

Throwback general store

Both my boys looking at the comics

Side by side

Yet the sharp “What’chu doin’, boy?”

Is not directed at the two,

Just the one,

My child with dark skin.

Years before,

Sitting in a crowded Ugandan church

Watching his tiny self

Dance in the aisles,

I wondered,

What are we doing—

Giving him a family

But displacing him from a people?

When he was small, our conversations about race

Were easy.

He called himself chocolate,

The rest of us vanilla,

In high summer, I became

Milky coffee.

Now, though, they are harder.

How to explain to him,

To his sisters and brother,

That the odds facing them

Are not exactly equal?

That what we’ve told them—

Human is human. Period.—

Is not a reality out there

And King’s dream

Is still a dream.

And underneath all this,

Even now,

the question haunts me:

We’ve become a family

But what about his people?

~~~~

I thought this post could use a little lift. This was a fun, impromptu moment in Target when PJ saw this awesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle jacket!

I thought this post could use a little lift. This was a fun, impromptu moment in Target when PJ saw this awesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle jacket!

Our fourth child was born in Uganda. His mother died of AIDS; his father was estranged and never met him till we began the adoption process. In many miraculous ways God made it very clear that we were to adopt our son. But even as I worked in Africa to get legal guardianship, I wondered about the issues he would face growing up as an African child in a white family, in a predominately white area, in a country where the color of your skin still determines a lot. Racial reconciliation takes on a whole new level of importance when you have a child who is a different race. When I read about the horrifically high numbers of African American men in prison; when I learn that five times the number of African American babies are aborted compared to white babies; when I hear that an African American college professor in the town just two over from mine has been stopped by police more than 20 times in the last couple years just so they could “see what

I couldn't resist posting this one, too!

I couldn’t resist posting this one, too!

he was up to”… I think, “This is what’s facing my son,” and I ask God how I am meant to draw attention to this injustice, how I am meant to fight it—both for my own son and the sons and daughters of other women.

And under all this, I still fear the effects on my son of growing up without a community that looks like him.

What not to say to an adopted child: my list

Finally a good picture of all of us. This is Dave and I with Judy and Kelly (our international student "daughters"--their real mom and dad live in Hong Kong and love them very, very much), Emily, the twins Jake and Maddie, and PJ. Honestly, it's usually the boys who mess up family shots. (Stand still for a picture if I'm not posing as a professional soccer player or bodybuilder? What's up with that?)

Finally a good picture of all of us. This is Dave and I with Judy and Kelly (our international student “daughters”–their real mom and dad live in Hong Kong and love them very, very much), Emily, the twins Jake and Maddie, and PJ (Patrick).

Not long ago, one of our elementary school principals sent a letter to every adoptive family in the school. “We want to meet your child’s and family’s needs,” he wrote. “Can you let us know any ways we are not doing that as well as ways we can do that better?”

I appreciated the question, though nothing came to mind right away. The school is filled with caring teachers and administrators who celebrate adoption and try to integrate multi-cultural literature and projects. They’re not committing any of the obvious insensitivities. But then I thought of a couple of less obvious things, and as I wrote them down, my heart began to pound. These are more important to me than I realized, I thought.

I know every adoptive family and every adopted child have their own particular struggles, so what I wrote to our principal will not apply to all adoptive situations, but I’m sharing because many of you know or will know a family who adopts or fosters, and this may give you an inside look at some of their less obvious struggles.

  1. We’re really open to talking about PJ’s background with him. It’s clear he’s adopted, so we don’t avoid that topic when he brings it up (sometimes we even initiate it). When he asks about his birth parents and brothers, we speak openly and positively about them, and we allow him to talk about them, even when he’s going through a stage (which has happened a couple times) of kind of wishing that he were with his birth dad (who has AIDS; PJ’s mom died of AIDS when he was just an infant). We don’t say anything like, “Hey, we’re your parents. We’re the ones raising you. We’re your REAL mom and dad.” We don’t want teachers and others to say that either. It’s both okay and normal for PJ to wrestle with that, and even though I think most people’s natural instinct is to say, “But look at the family you have now, the mom and dad you have now–they’re your real family,” I don’t think that helps the kid to process the fact that he’s not with the family he was born into, that for one reason or another, his family life (and his entire culture) is different. If someone is not really, really, really close with an adoptive child and his/her family, then I think there is no place for saying something like, “You need to be grateful for the family you have.” Even if that’s a mostly true statement, chances are that the adoptive child is wrestling with a lot more than simply an ungrateful spirit.
  2. We don’t think of what we did—adopting—as anything special or heroic. For us, it was a really clear call from God and it would have been disobedience for us NOT to do it. Patrick is an incredible gift to US, not the other way around. I’ve had people say to me, “What a wonderful thing you did for him,” and, honestly, it makes me angry because I can’t imagine how that would feel if my son ever heard someone say that to me, like I loved him because he was a charity case. The truth is that God showed us PJ was meant to be ours. He planted him in our hearts as our child, and we adopted him simply to make that official. He’s ours; therefore, we love him. I don’t want Patrick to be presented with the idea that he is privileged to be our son. The truth is, we are privileged to be his parents, just as we are privileged to be the parents of all our kids.
  3. I KNOW adoption is a beautiful picture of God bringing us into full “son-ship,” with the same status as a biological child—and that’s absolutely incredible—but the analogy on an individual level can, like in my second note, send the message to the adopted child that he/she was being done a favor. It also emphasizes the differences between biological children in a family and adopted children in a family. I think an adopted child needs to be a certain age or of a certain understanding to be able to see this on a spiritual level without correlating it to his/her own situation.
  4. Anything that emphasizes that difference between the adopted child and biological children should be avoided. Examples would be talking with an adopted child (or talking with someone in the family in front of the adopted child) about how much their siblings look like each other or how one of their siblings looks like mom or dad. (Several years ago when Em was 8, the twins 5, and Patrick 4, we were all together, and I mentioned that someone at church had commented on how much Em and Jake (one of the twins) look alike while the twins look nothing like each other. Oddly enough, if was the other twin, Maddie, who was bothered by this. “Well,” she said, “I look like somebody, too. Patrick and I look just alike. Don’t we, Patrick?” He was really small then and just nodded, but I realized that if Maddie minded being told she didn’t look much like her siblings, then that could really be an issue for PJ.)

*If you are reading this as an adoptive parent or adopted child, and you have an idea to share, I would really love to read your response. Please, please leave a comment below. It will not be posted on the blog; I’ll receive it as an email.