Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Why Our Multiracial, Adoptive Family Left the White Evangelical Church

Once upon a time, I grew up in church.  And so did my husband. 

Red carpet, wooden pews, 500-page hymnals, church lake baptisms, summer VBS, KJV Bibles, no-sex-until-marriage, pasty-white-Jesus church.   

Maybe you can relate?  

Once Steve and I were married, we continued to attend church.  Since our wedding day, which was over fifteen years ago (!!!), we have been part of four churches.   As our family grew, and as we learned and evolved, we changed churches when we felt it was necessary for the spiritual health of our family.   

So when did we leave the white evangelical church, and why?  

I had felt a longing, for some time, to find a multicultural, woke, relevant, authentic church that taught our children the faith values we adamantly believed in.  These include:  eternal life and a rich earthly life comes through salvation (choosing to accept Jesus' sacrifice on the cross); that we are to love God and love others; that certain Biblical traditions are important to follow including communion, baptism, prayer, learning God's word (the Bible), and community.  

Then there was 2016.

We had just adopted our fourth child when the 2016 election took place.  I wasn't worried.  I was certain that people would understand and clearly see that now-#45 was not for most people, including women, people of color, those with disabilities, those dreaming of coming to live in the U.S.  As Maya Angelou famously said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."

Of course, we all know what happened.   

It was the very next morning after the election that I felt this sense of anger that I couldn't shake.  Not over a few days, or a few weeks, or now, even after a few years.  I just cannot make peace with where our country is.   

I know, Bible peeps are reminding me of John 16:33:  "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

The political climate just felt and still feels so...personal.  Every tweet from the not-presidential President.  Every audio and video clip.  The social media responses.  The election signs on people's cars and in their yards.  Those MAGA hats (Jesus, help me).  

Then there were the right-wing social media trolls who left racist comments about my children on Twitter.  Disgusting, vile things meant to rattle us.  Where did these trolls come from?  I don't know, but they sure crawled out of their hole in early 2017.

I wasn't naive. I didn't think that any other candidate would save the world.  But I did feel that others had more experience, more history, and certainly, better morals, ethics, and standards. 

Then the reports.  Overwhelmingly, white evangelicals were backing up this President and continued to do so, even though he paid off a porn star (and cheated on his wife), even though he bragged about grabbing women inappropriately, even though he chucked paper towels at people of color who were in dire need of shelter and water, even though he made fun of a reporter with a disability, even when he mocked a woman after she testified that she had been sexually assaulted by the then Supreme Court judge nominee, even when he called one woman "horseface" and another a "dog."  I could list dozens of examples, but let's move on. 

Now, I am not throwing our previous church homes under the proverbial bus.  There were some wonderful, woke, empathetic, kind people among us.  

But what was missing was so important:  people of color in leadership, an acknowledgement of the pain people in our country were facing, conversations about how to be more inclusive and welcoming of others beyond just "say hello to the person next to you."  We were always encouraged to invite friends and family to our church events, but how could we invite friends of color when they'd stand out so much among a sea of white congregants?  

I know this to be true:  when you aren't represented, you know it.  You feel it.  You see it.  And others do too, even if they don't say so.  

And it's really awkward, uncomfortable, and often offensive.  

We worked hard, very hard, to find a diverse church.  But when I asked church leadership about their diversity, many would say yes, their church was diverse.  But then we'd visit and there'd be maybe two multiracial families (almost always at least one of them was an adoptive family).  Or when I'd ask about diversity, the leadership response would be "we're working on that."  

What does that even mean?  Working on diversity?  

I didn't want to be the token multiracial family who would suddenly appear on the church website or social media feed in order for that church to prove they were welcoming of people of all races.

Thanks, but no thanks. 

Yes, I'm skeptical.  White America, which exists everywhere, even in church, and today is SUPPORTED BY people who claim to be Christian, makes me very uncomfortable.  

It's not that we believe a church has to change their values based on current events.  But BECAUSE of current events, the church should step up their already proclaimed values.  

After an exhaustive search for the perfect (or even slightly flawed) diverse church, we realized it just didn't exist.  So we decided to attend a church I had heard about once from our girls' first mentor. 

A Black church.

My main hesitation was not standing out as two white adults with four Black kids, or the scrutiny we might face, as we so often do, for being a multiracial family.   Were we good enough to parent Black children?  What were our motives?  


My main hesitation was this:  were we inappropriately taking up seats in a safe, Black, sacred space?  How would congregants and staff feel seeing two white adults sitting in a church service, many of them not even knowing we had four Black children in children's church?  Were we invading a space that was not meant for us, and rightfully so?

It's not our space.  It's not our place. This is what I told myself in the days leading up to the Sunday we planned to attend for the first time.

But as parents-by-transracial-adoption, it's not even close to being all about us (as the parents).  It's about the kids and the family unit.  

We ultimately decided that we were making this choice for our children.  Not attending church wasn't an option for us.  Attending a church that treated my family as tokens also wasn't an option.  Attending a church that preached love but not standing up to injustice wasn't an option.  Silence is compliance.

To be honest, we felt we were out of options.  If this church didn't work for us, we were done searching.  Because searching is exhausting.

And it turns out, being "out of options" is a really GOOD place to be sometimes.  

I don't mean to say the church we attend was our last choice or last resort.  It wasn't.  We actually re-discovered it at the tail-end of our search (the search we about gave up on).  I talked to the girls mentor about it, and then a friend (fellow mom-by-adoption) who had recently attended with her Black daughter.  But I was holding back out of respect for the church.

I messaged the church admin to ask questions.  She hooked me up with the children's ministry coordinator, in which I asked many more questions.   They both said to me, when are you coming?

It was time.

The experience was amazing.   The church was so ALIVE.  The music, the preaching, the people.  People were hugging us on the FIRST day we attended.  Introducing themselves to my kids.  Not a single whisper, second-glance, or sigh.

So we went back again.  And again.  And again.

A few weeks in, a woman stopped me, my husband, and my second daughter after service and asked if she could talk to our daughter.  We were bewildered, but agreed.  The woman bent down and looked into my daughter's eyes and said, "You are very beautiful.  I want you to know that."  

My daughter (an introvert) quietly replied, "Thank you."   

A few weeks later, my oldest kept telling me she wanted new glasses "like that lady at church."  I had no clue who she was talking about, as there are hundreds of women at church.  Then the next Sunday, my daughter discreetly pointed out an usher, a young woman with fashionable, clear glasses.  So after church, we approached her and told her how much we loved her glasses, and my daughter had a similar pair on order.  The young woman was so sweet to my daughter, telling her she couldn't wait to see her new glasses.

These may seem like small things, but small things add up. 

The truth is, we feel really safe in a church where we are surrounded by people who look like our kids.  I don't worry if someone is petting my girls' braids or interrogating them ("How long did that take?  Did you have to sit still for hours?").  Not ONCE have we been asked if we're the babysitters, the foster parents, or even the "adoptive" parents.  My kids love that their teachers are Black.  

We sit in the sanctuary with so much appreciation.  There's no bashfulness or lengthy explanations for being concerned about another white person calling the police on a Black person for ridiculous things, another shooting of an unarmed Black person, a tweet from #45 that is so clearly racist.   We don't worry about an off-handed comment that sounds like it came straight from a Fox news anchor.  

Because we are all concerned.  Because we all see it for what it is.  

My kids are happy, safe, and embraced.  What more could we ask for as parents?  

And we leave church feeling like we learned.  We learned about God.  We learned about the Bible.  We learned about being better parents and spouses.  

We leave encouraged.  We leave better.  

Not tired.  Not tolerated.  Not used.  

It's incredible.  

If you're feeling lost in today's culture, I completely get it.  You can even be like us:  know who you are and what you want, but struggle SO much to find a house of worship to support and refine that.  

If you're searching for the right church for your family, please do not give up.  Because we almost gave up.  And if we would have, we would have been even more lost, confused, and hurt.  

Keep looking.  Keep asking questions.  Keep pursuing. Make an effort.  Visit churches.  

And don't feel guilty for leaving the white evangelical church if that's what your family needs. 

You were CHOSEN to parent your children.  You were CHOSEN to do what's best for them.  And that doesn't stop on Sunday mornings.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

6 Ways to Reduce Adoption Anxiety

So you know that I typically write about adoption, but today, I need to talk about something that impacts A LOT of women, and often women in the adoption community.    

We spend A LOT of time worrying and waiting.  We often live in long seasons of confusion, frustration, exhaustion.  And of course, anxiety.   

I've had anxiety for as long as I can remember, which means when it comes to adoption, my anxiety revs up even more.  For my entire life, I've heard things like:

-let go, and let God
-just take a chill pill
-calm down
-you just need to have more faith
-it'll be OK

Let me make one thing very clear:  when you have anxiety, you cannot just "suck it up."  Anxiety can be debilitating.  

Now being anxious in tough circumstances doesn't necessarily mean you have anxiety.  There are different types of clinical anxiety.  However, situational anxiety is quite common among those waiting to adopt.

I'm not going to play.  There are no superficial suggestions here like, just have a "spa day" with a friend, or jet off to Hawaii, or meditate.  Yes, a spa day, a fab vaca, or meditation might be able to help, but my goal is to provide you with practical (and from my experience) help.  

For more ideas, I explore the "waiting to adopt" phase in depth in The Hopeful Mom's Guide to Adoption

1:  Make a list of what helps.

This should be a personalized list of the things you can do to stay focused on peace, joy, patience, and thankfulness instead of on worry and control.  Type out this list and post it somewhere visible.  And then refer to it often!   I promise, this can be very helpful.   I call my list "When Anxiety is Winning." Here are a few things on m list to inspire you to get started: 

-go outside on a sunny day and take deep breaths in of fresh air

-schedule a coffee date with a trusted girlfriend

-drink green or white tea or take l-theanine

-avoid social media (explanation of why)

-listen to my favorite energizing or calming music (depending on my mood)

-organizing something in my home

-diffuse an essential oil (I prefer orange for energy or vanilla for calming) or light a favorite candle

-repeating a favorite Bible verse

2:  Seek the guidance of an adoption competent counselor.

Not everyone gets adoption, so if you choose to go to counseling, I urge you to be picky!  

Counseling was a jackpot for me during my recent breast cancer journey.  My anxiety was at an all-time high, and it seemed like nothing I was doing was "enough" to tame the beast.  I needed cognitive behavioral strategies.   

Most recently, I learned of the container exercise---look into it!  Very helpful to "contain" whatever adoption issues you are wrestling with, the ones keeping you up at night.   

Counseling is great because it's an "outside party" who can listen to you without judgement and offer suggestions and exercises you can do to help your anxiety.  

3:  Join an adoption support group and/or create an adoption "village."

The more perspectives you have, the better.  A great adoption support group will be for all triad members, inviting everyone into the conversation.  It should be an open, welcoming place where you can ask questions and receive responses.   

I've been asked, what about online support groups?  I love that online groups bring about different triad members from all over the world.  I love that you can participate as much as you want or just sit back and read.   However, there are some drawbacks:  posting anything personal means many, many people have access to that information.  There tends to be a lot (a lot) of drama in online adoption groups.   These groups also tend to have a few strong voices that dominate the group's discussion and direction.   

So I'd say, join at your discretion, and remember that nothing, and I mean nothing, is more helpful and beautiful than face-to-face, hand-in-hand, heart-to-heart relationships.   So if you engage in online support, please consider person-to-person support as well (and more importantly).  

4:  Get educated.

Oftentimes, the source of adoption anxiety is ignorance, meaning, a lack of knowledge.  For example, perhaps your social worker has given you a checklist in which you must say what type of adoption you will or will not consider including transracial adoption, older child adoption, and special needs adoption.   

You want to swiftly mark "no" because you are scared.  You are intimidated.  You have a million questions but feel too frozen to seek answers.   But answers are exactly what you need to make an educated, confident decision.

I have talked to SO many adoptive parents who stepped out in faith, after getting educated, and have the children they do BECAUSE they chose to learn, listen, and say "yes."  If you've read The Lucky Few (if you haven't, PLEASE do!), you know exactly what I'm talking about. 

Personally, we swiftly marked "white" on the race openness during our first adoption.  After waiting a year, we were re-evaluating our openness, and I remember looking at my husband and saying, "Why aren't we open to race?"  We spent four months in the trenches of transracial adoption education (and that was just the beginning...we have NEVER stopped our transracial adoption education):  meeting with transracial families, reading books/blogs/articles, talking for HOURS every single night about race, and more.  After those four months, our eyes were opened to the fact that not only could we adopt transracially, but we were as prepared as possible to do so.  Of course, experience IS the best teacher, but there's a lot to be said for proactively preparing.  

Our daughter was born and placed with us shortly after.  And now, we are parenting four transracial adoptees.  

5:  Be aware of possible future struggles, and prepare now.

Again, being proactive is incredibly wise!  After adoption, some women experience post-adoption depression.   A particularly difficult adoption might lead a mama to experience PTSD.   (I shared three trauma experiences you can explore here:  part 1, part 2, and part 3.) 

I don't throw these around lightly, and I'm not a medical expert.  However, I have engaged with thousands of adoptive parents:  and struggling with an adoption before and during is common, and the struggle often amplifies after the adoption, manifesting in post-traumatic stress (though it may or may not extend to PTSD) or depression.  

How can you prepare now?  Constantly "check in" with how your're feeling and doing.  A counselor (see point #2) can help you with this. Also, learn about post-adoption depression and trauma.  If you end up experiencing either of these, you will be able to recognize them and seek help sooner rather than later.  

6:  Don't pause your life.

You NEVER know how long it will take to adopt.  One of the worst mistakes a woman can make is to put her life on hold (AKA:  put her joy, time, peace, energy, etc. on vacation) while she waits for "the call."  

Waiting to adopt is a great time to invest in a new hobby, to "date" your partner, to organize things in your home, even prepare a nursery, make career moves at work, go on that dream vacation, step up your fitness routine, etc.  

Holding out only increases your anxiety!  If you bank everything on "when the baby comes," I've got news for you:  once the baby comes, you will have way less time, energy, and money.  Parenthood is tough!   It requires a lot of you.  It's a shift and requires a lot of adjusting.   It's a welcomed and wonderful shift, but it is hard.   

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

19 Things to Know If You're Adopting In 2019

Happy New Year, readers!   

Per tradition, we're starting the year with a post about the things you need to know about if you plan to adopt this year.  Each item contains a link or links to help get you started on learning about that topic.

1:  Parenting an adoptee IS different than parenting a biological child.

2:  Yes, it's OK to have a baby shower for a child you adopt.

3:  Your loved ones (friends and family) will need you to educate them on adoption.

4:  Connective parenting is critically important to understand and implement when you are choosing to adopt. 

5:  Post-adoption depression is a real thing.

6:  Don't assume a Christian adoption agency is an ethical agency.

7:  More and more adoptees are sharing their stories:  via books, blogs, articles, and social media.  (And we're all better for it.)

8:  There are many fantastic family diversity children's picture books to support kids in multiracial families.  

9:  Transracial adoption still confuses (and intrigues) society.

10: Parents need to choose an agency wisely (explained in detail here), because a lot of adoption ethics stem from WHO helps you adopt.

11:  You need an adoption support system in place for when you're waiting to adopt, during an adoption process, and parenting adoptees.

12:  There are many free and fantastic educational resources, including Empowered to Connect videos, blogs and social media pages, and articles; so there's no excuse not to be educated on adoption.  

13:  Learn about the adoption tax credit.

14: Adoptive breastfeeding is becoming more common.

15:  Your faith can absolutely play a big part in your adoption journey and subsequent parenting.

16:  Open adoption is increasingly becoming the norm in domestic infant adoptions, and sometimes in foster care and international adoptions, too. 

17:  DNA testing is advancing and can provide information to adoptees regarding their ethnicity and health.

18:  You might consider fundraising for your adoption journey.

19:   There's no such thing as an "easy" adoption journey, but being educated on the journey can help.