The juxtaposition of my life recently has been interesting – from attending a Christian conference discussing orphan ministries and global poverty in a well-to-do suburb of Nashville, Tenn., to being among kids in poverty in rural villages in Guatemala assisting with feeding programs with the staff of Feed The Children.
There’s still much to process. But, for now, this is what is coming together in my mind.
One of the best experiences of the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit for me was the breakout session I attended called “Straight Talk from Adult Adoptees.”
In the session, which had a packed room, three adults and one older teen led a panel discussion about growing into maturity from their experiences as adopted children.
Feelings such as “I hated my birth parents or birth country for abandoning me” to “I always knew my birth parents loved me until they got a divorce” to “I never really understood why my birth parents would give me up” were shared openly.
But then the discussion got complicated. We quickly learned there would be no one-size-fits-all answers, or even the luxury that “being adopted” would be the defining experience of the panelists’ lives.
One of the adult adoptees shared how her trust issues were complicated by the fact that she learned her adoptive father only agreed to her adoption to save his marriage – which didn’t happen, as they divorced six months after her placement with the family.
She talked about her mother’s complicated remarriage processes and then shared about the recent death of her adopted mom. All experiences of great loss.
But before our minds could single out her experience as “oh so bad,” this adult adoptee stopped us by saying directly to us: “Everybody in their life has pain. I have friends who have been through great losses too – deep woundedness that follows them as mine does me. …It just so happens that mine is more understandable than some with the label of adoption.”
It was a light bulb moment for me.
She spoke the truth. Everybody has deep pain. Everybody is wounded.
It’s not an adoption issue. It’s a human issue.
Being adopted, and coming to turns with the abandonment part of it, is just one of the ways that the deep pain of this broken world can find a person early in life.
Pain is pain. Grief is grief. Loss is loss.
It is something we all understand the more honest we become with our own story.
Experiencing pain is a part of what it means to be human. Experiencing pain is part of what connects us to other human beings.
Fast forward to the morning of May 6 when I spent the day with the Feed The Children staff and several other guests at one of their feeding centers in rural Guatemala.
As we visited with the kids, played games like hitting the piñata in search for candy, read stories and then, of course, served a meal (rice with some chicken mixed in, cucumbers and radish salad, and tortillas), I couldn’t help but think about these kids’ pain.
I thought about the pain these kids may not have words to speak of right now, but pain that will follow them because of the kind of livelihood they were born into.
These were kids who came to the center in tattered clothing, dirty faces and shoes that didn’t seem to fit right.
These were kids who stared often at us “white people” with the cameras taking pictures of the festivities with the look of “Wow, what a nice life you have!”
These were kids who have to walk miles to school, many of whom depend on the donated shoes from TOMS (one of Feed The Children’s partners) in order to get there safely.
These were kids with great needs, more than I can mention here – though, of course, thanks to the generosity of Feed the Children’s contributors and sponsors, many of these needs are getting met.
They know pain.
Though I did not grow up in a home that struggled to provide me with basic life necessities, I can identify with them. I can identify with their loss, even if it may not be to the degree that their loss is to them.
At the end of the day, we all just want to be loved. We all just want to know that someone cares about us in particular.
We all want not to worry about where our next meal will come from or that we’ll have clean clothes to put on the next day. We want to feel secure in a family system, orphaned or not.
And I believe that when we all get to the point in our lives when we see our stories as broken, as in need and, most of all, full of pain of one kind or another – we are given a great gift.
We’re given the ability to more honestly look into the eyes of our brothers and sisters in humanity, knowing we’re from the same family. All of us. Because of this, we need each other more than we ever thought.
Elizabeth Evans Hagan is a freelance writer and minister dividing her time between Arlington, Va., and Oklahoma City. She regularly blogs about the art of pastoring at Preacher on the Plaza, where a version of this column first appeared.