My wife and I had been home from China with Jeremiah for 6 weeks.
And when people asked me how we’re all doing I’d usually say, “We’re alive, and that’s our only goal right now, so good I think.” We could safely say that this had been the most stretching and overwhelming two months of our lives, and tears had been plentiful in the Clements household.
Kristi and I have always been staggered by how clearly adoption is a picture of the Gospel. It’s no accident that Paul uses the imagery of adoption multiple times to describe what God did for us–that we were spiritual orphans, completely hopeless and as good as dead–and God adopted us into His family through the costly blood of His Son.
He chose to take on immense suffering on our behalf, so that we could be reconciled to Him.
So when we were dating, engaged, and first married, we’d talk about adoption all the time. We knew it was in God’s plan for our family. We’d meet families and just marvel at how beautifully we saw the story of the Gospel through their adoption, or their willingness to foster kids–to be a literal ministry of reconciliation between a hurting child and a struggling birthparent. We’d watch the tearjerker videos about adoption.
We saw the Gospel in adoption, yes. That’s what motivated us to do it. But all of those tearjerker adoption videos, as wonderful as they are–they don’t show you the really ugly and hard parts. They show you the parts that make you cry, they don’t show the parent weeping on the bathroom floor because they are so overwhelmed they think they might die. (I mean, I haven’t done that of course, but I’m sure other people have…)
Fast forward in our journey to September 16, 2016. We walked into a very hot government affairs building in China, and with little warning a group of orphanage workers randomly walked in with a bunch of kids. And there, in the arms of one of them, was our son Jeremiah. The one we’d stared at pictures of for months.
He has on a green shirt that says “Kitchen Cat,” red Hello Kitty pants, and one pink shoe. He looked like Christmas.
In the following days and weeks, we hit depths of exhaustion and instability we didn’t know were a thing. Here is what we are learning, slowly and fitfully in this process that’s harder than we expected it to be: It’s supposed to feel this way.
It’s supposed to be this hard.
The grief we are sharing in right now is not abnormal. It doesn’t mean we’re doing it wrong. In fact, it means we’re doing it right. I think that’s important to acknowledge, because a lot of times in adoption circles all you hear are the positive things, the Instagram-worthy moments. Unless you happen to be close to an adoptive parent and share a quiet conversation over drinks you may never hear some of these things.
The one verse that has stuck out to me the most in this process is James 1:27:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
The word affliction jumps out at me. It pops up from the page and grabs me by the throat, because I see it in my son. When a child loses his family due to the immense brokenness of the world, that child will be afflicted. He will inherit an enormous, shattering amount of pain. And that affliction–that pain–will not be contained to him. It will go somewhere. It will be passed along to others in one way or another. Why?
Because it has to.
So where I used to read this verse and know the word affliction–now I read it and I feel it. And, let me tell you, it hurts.
Because here’s the thing. At two months old, Jeremiah was left on the side of a busy highway in a huge city, just outside a subway station and police headquarters. He was wrapped up in blankets with a note pinned to him that said: 5/18/15, 11:53 pm
Our son carries affliction.
Deep, yearning, and fierce affliction that comes out with the many tears and tantrums and squeals that are too piercing for words. It has to come out, somewhere and somehow. It will either continue to fester in him as he continues his orphan-ness and be unleashed on everyone he meets for the rest of his life, or it can have a source to flow into that will brace for impact and absorb that pain.
Enter the other four members of our family. What we are learning is that what adoption is, is a family who is willing to step in and say, “We will take your affliction. We will take the very real pain you have from not having a family. We’ll absorb it so you won’t have to bear it anymore. We will weep on the bathroom floor, so hopefully one day you don’t have to.”
All of us, even down to the grinning and slightly confused 8-month old. We are all posting up under the weight of his affliction.
Because that’s exactly what Jesus has done for us. This is the refrain we keep repeating to ourselves: “Because of Jesus, we do hard things to sacrifice for others.”
We are finding the special joy that comes from sharing in the sufferings of Christ, in sacrificing for the good of another. Adoption represents the Gospel because chosen suffering is necessary for it to happen. And chosen suffering is exactly the road Jesus walked for us. He willingly got up on that cross and bore every ounce of our affliction.
The Gospel is not a painless story. Walking through this process has allowed us to see that more clearly than ever.
Brandon, thank you for transparency on a difficult (but necessary!) topic. We are thankful with you and Kristi that no pain is wasted in God’s economy. We will continue to pray with and for you as you do the hard work of loving your son well. And we will watch with interest to see what God does with his life.