It happened again a few weeks ago. I was innocently discussing my kids’ adoption with a stranger when, all of a sudden, these words popped out of their mouth.
“They’re so lucky to have you.”
This phrase and others like it have always caught me a little off guard and, once again, this left me asking: How do I educate a total stranger in just a few short seconds about the fact that my kids are, in fact, not lucky to have me?
Well, I decided since I’m a storyteller, I’ll offer up this story for the masses in the hopes that, perhaps, those who don’t understand how erroneous the above phrase is will come to see the truth.
Imagine your son is fourteen. He’s had a normal childhood with the usual bumps and scrapes. Maybe he’s been a slightly more difficult child than average, but that doesn’t affect your love for him. You would cross oceans and move mountains for him because he’s your precious, loved son. Nothing, not even his worst behavior, could steal your love for him.
One day, you see his school’s name and telephone number flash across your cell phone screen. You answer and get the shock of your life. Your beloved child – the very person you’d do anything for – was caught snorting cocaine in the restroom at school. He is now sitting in the back of the resource officer’s police car, handcuffed, awaiting his free ride to the county jail.
Ok, so you were totally blindsided by all this. As far as you knew, your son was a good kid. Yeah, he might’ve been a little different lately – skipping a class or two, neglecting to do his homework – but what fourteen-year-old is perfect? But your son on drugs? You are in total shock.
Fast forward two years.
Your child has been in and out of drug rehabs. All three times, he’s failed to complete the program, thus extending the length of his probation. All you have to show for it is his ankle bracelet and a depleted savings account. Ten years ago, you imagined that, at this point in his life, you’d be browsing catalogs on colleges – not rehab facilities.
At last, an availability has come open in a fail-safe program. This one is the Cadillac of drug rehabs. It’s a six-month program and, what’s even better, if he stays in and does well, he’ll have caught back up to where he should be in school. You max out your last credit card and drop him off with a bag full of sweat pants and white t-shirts. As you hug him tightly, you whisper how much you love him and, you hope to God, this rehab program will change his life. After kissing your baby boy’s cheek, you get on a plane and fly home.
Then, just a few weeks later, you get the call. He skipped out. He ran. He’s gone. They think he took a bus to the big city.
So, you get in your car and you drive to the big city. You scour the streets looking for your son. You spend days looking for him. You worry that ulcer in your stomach until it reaches volcanic proportions.
Where is your baby? What’s happening to him? Where could he be?
Then, you get the call. It brings both relief and anger and frustration and sadness.
He’s been caught stealing and they’re working to match his DNA to an assault which happened during a break-in. Your precious child – the one you used to rock on your lap and sing tender lullabies to – is headed to prison. What else can you do but call your attorney? You go home and hope for the best.
The next morning, the doorbell rings. Mr. Attorney steps into your entryway with a smile on his face.
“I’ve got great news for you,” he says.
Filled with hope, you ask, “They’re dropping the charges to a misdemeanor?”
He guffaws. “No. Of course they’re not. He’s going to prison for a long time. But, forget about him. Look, I’ve brought you a new son.”
Sure enough, standing behind Mr. Attorney is a new boy. He looks quite a bit like your son – same hair color, same height and build – but he’s not your son. As you gape at your attorney, you wonder what kind of a cruel joke this is.
“Meet Jake,” says your attorney. “Here, give him a hug.”
You stammer, “I don’t want this kid. I want my son.”
“No, no,” Mr. Attorney says dismissively. “Your son’s not coming back. He’s gone for good. But Jake, here. He’s a star athlete, he made a 34 on the ACT, and he sings in Honor Choir. You’re going to love him. Here are his things. Remember, he’s your new son. Treat him exactly as you did your other son.”
“I’m not going to treat him like my son. I don’t even want him.”
“Look, your old son was a terrible kid. He did drugs and yelled at you and ran away and, if you’ll recall, that one time when he was high, he pushed you down and bruised your arms and legs. Remember that? Now, go on. Give Jake a big hug and tell him you love him.”
You are flabbergasted. “This kid is not my son!”
Now, you’re testing Mr. Attorney’s patience. “Jake is your new son,” he says firmly. “The court has ordered it and it is what it is. You don’t have your old son anymore. You have Jake. He’s a great kid. You’re going to love him.”
With that, Mr. Attorney turns around and leaves.
Now, at this point, no one would look at you and say, “Oh, you’re so lucky to have Jake. Isn’t he great? Don’t you just love him?”
No. You don’t love him. You just met him. And you’re completely upset and outraged that the court has the power to say that your biological son isn’t your son anymore and that, instead, you have a new one. And, beyond that, you’re grieving the fact that your old son is gone, that he’s court ordered to never have contact with you again, and that you weren’t able to somehow stop him from destroying both of your lives.
You don’t want to hear that you’re lucky. A condolence would be more in order. You want people to listen as you share your grief, and you want them to validate the pain you’re going through. You’re not lucky. You’ve just lost your son. He’s gone forever. And, despite the fact that you now have a new son who doesn’t do drugs and doesn’t run away and doesn’t get physically aggressive with you, you are not happy with the turn your life has taken.
Now, tell me my kids are lucky to lose their biological parents whom they loved in spite of their destructive flaws? Tell me my kids were lucky when they showed up on my doorstep, all their random mismatched belongings that their former foster parents and caseworkers had managed to collect from clothes closets and garage sales in a black trash bag at their feet. Tell me they were lucky as they looked up at me – a total stranger to them – and grieved that they would never live with their birthmother again.
No, my kids are not lucky. Nothing about losing their first family is.
But they have learned to keep going. They have embraced a new love and new life, a new family and new everything. My kids are strong. They are brave. They are resilient and courageous. They have gone through something terrible that would devastate even the strongest of adults, yet, they are thriving and growing. They are filled with hope and joy and they bring it to those around them.
I can tell you that it is only by God’s grace that an awful situation resulted in my having three happy, healthy, cared-for, loved children. It was God who was watching over them and who orchestrated events so that they would find a safe place to live. And it is God who is healing the deep wounds in their hearts and helping them rebuild a new life as they grieve the one they lost.
So, lucky? No. Loved by God? Yes, yes, indeed.