By Matthew Hanks | Africa Projects ManagerThough World Orphans is not an adoption ministry, our hearts open wide when it comes to adoption. Several of our staff members have adopted and we know it is a primary way the Church is getting involved in orphan care. As such, we want to host an adoption discussion with you every couple of months as Matthew Hanks shares stories and insights about his own journey.
I’m always amazed at how natural and easy it seems for my adopted son of two to call me Daddy. I know, I know… I shouldn’t be surprised, as that is what I’ve told him to call me. That’s what his siblings call me. That’s how his mama refers to me in front of him. And most importantly, that’s how I see myself. But there’s something that happens in my heart every time I hear him acknowledge me in this role, every time those little dark brown, smiling eyes say, “Oh, hi Daddy.”
The circles that my wife and I run in are chock-full of adopted children. I’ve notice the same phenomenon of shock arises in me when I hear “Mama” or “Daddy” come out of the mouths of these children towards their respective parents. I’m pretty sure I’m not entirely alone in feeling this way. It’s somewhat natural that a baby of a different skin color than its parent might catch one off guard when using these words. All the same, I’m also confident that many others who are reading this are thinking, “What were you expecting him to call you? Hanks?!?”
I think about the way Jesus taught His disciples to pray. “Our Father in heaven.” Not one of the other 100+ names given to God in the Bible, but Father. He also didn’t say, “Pray, ‘Heavenly Father of Jesus’,” but rather “Our Father.” This intimate label is extended to all of us regardless of religious background, ethnicity, or biology – all we have to do is claim it. Warm and fuzzy or painful and aggrieved, hearing the word ‘Father’ invokes strong feelings; none are indifferent, because for many of us the emotion wrapped in this title taints the entirety of how we view life, God, and family. That reality drives me to my knees, asking for mercy for my five children to whom I bear this designation. And though I cannot personally speak to the title ‘Mama’, it is typically every bit as emotionally charged.
For us, the adoption journey has been a constant means of discovering greater depths of the Lord’s heart for us, His children whom He’s adopted into the eternal family. The parallels to this gospel Truth are both obvious and profoundly simple (Romans 8:14) as well as mysteriously deep and hard to express in words - in that “groaning-too-deep-for-words-prayer” kind of way. I’ve found that where words sometimes lack the ability to convey feeling, story has a powerful way of filling in the margins. And you don’t have to think very long to recall an inspiring or moving adoption story. Les Miserables, The Blind Side, Superman, Bella. These stories are all tales that convey the heart of a parent toward an adopted child is no different than it is towards a biological child. But it’s the other direction that I’m talking about: that of a child being so fully embraced by a parent that they have no doubt to whom they belong. In my mind it’s a tie for the story that conveys this powerful truth: Elf and Kung Fu Panda 2. Though these two hysterical scenes mildly portray this truth -- one of a full size panda discovering that his father, a goose, is not his real dad and the other where a large man is sitting on the lap of his pint-sized elf father -- there is one that does it better yet.
Philomena is the story, recently nominated for Best Picture in the 2014 Academy Awards, portrays an Irish woman in her late sixties who attempts to reunite with the son she gave to adoption 50 years earlier. Based on the true story of an Irish teen, Philomena was sent by her father to live at a Catholic convent after she became pregnant. While there she was greatly shamed by the nuns who convinced her that it was her penance to sign over her parental rights so that they could sell her child to wealthy Americans who at the time were coming to Ireland in search of children to adopt. Though just a teenager, Philomena spent the first 3-4 years of her son’s life as his mother while she worked at the convent. The bond formed in those early years left a mom fearing for the wellbeing of her son for the next fifty and a son who longed to return ‘home’ his entire life.
You’re probably thinking, “How does this relate to what you’re talking about with adoption? It sounds like you’re building a case for all children to be returned to their bio-parent(s)?” I’ll explain. My respect and appreciation for the biological mother of my son was fairly profound before watching this movie, but now I’m even more astounded by the abundant gift and sacrifice that Kaleb’s bio-mom gave us all through adoption. That said, this movie highlights the reality that we all have a foundational place in our hearts that can only be filled by a mother and father, regardless of the biology or genetics involved. Once a heart has staked its claim as a daughter or son of another, whether that’s at birth or in one’s late teens, it is virtually irrevocable. So you see why those two little syllables still wreck me after two years of Kaleb becoming ours. He has claimed my unwavering love for him as a son. And I’m convinced that even if he’d spent his first four years with his bio-dad and didn’t become ours until he was older in age, though it may be more difficult, it would still be possible for him to offer me the honor of that title. For me, this beautifully miraculous fact sums up the core of adoption and in a lot of ways reflects the pure essence of the gospel. Likewise, this too explains why our Father in heaven greatly desires us to claim Him as Abba…Daddy.
“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” – Galatians 4:6