Puffed Up or Built Up?

As an adoptive mother, I have known for some time that I should have a polite and respectable answer prepared for those inevitable times when I will be publicly asked questions about my son. From the very beginning of the fostering and adoption journey, I knew the questions were destined to come. However, no matter how much preparation I have done for those moments, they always seem to catch me off guard.

Mother and son – hand in hand.

For example, one day last summer I was checking out at the grocery store when one such question arrived. This particular day I happened to be alone, and every mother of multiples knows that a shopping trip without kids is like a mini getaway. So, it caught me off guard when the cashier referenced my adopted son and asked “Where did you get him from?” Now, the first thought I had was: we must be really well known at this grocery store for her to remember my children, even when they’re not with me!

Being caught off guard, my response felt like a fumbling attempt to educate her about foster care and the fact that all adopted African American children do not arrive through international adoption agencies. Honestly, I mostly just tried not to be rude. Afterwards, as I loaded my groceries into my van, I was internally frustrated with myself over my response. I replayed the conversation over and over again in my mind. I felt miffed with people in general for being so ignorant, and more than anything I was relieved that my son had not been present to hear the conversation.

Not long after that event, my husband and I were visiting with his cousin and her husband, who had recently done research on privilege and race. When I shared about my exchange at the grocery store, he offered a wise and unique perspective. He explained that people are fundamentally curious, and that, as a white woman, the cashier would probably never have approached an African American mother to ask a question like that. However, in her curiosity, she felt she could approach me. He said kindly and gently that, rather than being offended, I could view it as a privilege to answer questions that otherwise might never have been asked. Due to our conversation, the cashier had learned something about fostering and adopting she had not known before our interaction.

It’s all about perspective. I feel extraordinarily honored to be my son’s mother. Above all, I want to guard his heart and protect his story. Nonetheless, I am in a unique position to educate others about adoption, particularly about transracial adoption. My family is a living show-and-tell to our community.

On the other hand, I must also humble myself and learn from others. Because as much as I have sometimes been offended by others’ questions, I find myself asking questions too in my attempt to learn all that I need to know. Sometimes I have done this well, and other times I cringe to think about what a fool I’ve made of myself. Learning can be a humbling process.

I can’t change any minds, opinions, or lives through imparting knowledge. I could share all day about adoption, and it would mean absolutely nothing if it were not for love. People care when they see love. People care when they feel loved. I wish that I had shown a little more love that day in the grocery store.

Paul speaks to this very thing when he writes in I Corinthians 8:

We know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.  If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.  But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

I Corinthians 8: 1b – 3 ESV

I love knowledge. I have attended phenomenal adoption conferences and read amazing books. Still, I can admit it: I do not yet know as I ought to know. Not about motherhood. Not about adoption. Not about raising a son who looks different than me. The list goes on and on.

I Corinthians 8:1

My hope is that before I graduate this life, I learn to love first and pass on knowledge second. So, if you happen to see me out and about and have a curiosity question to ask of me regarding my son, I make two requests:

  1. Please make sure my children are not present. I want to protect my son from questions that could bring him unnecessary pain.
  2. Know that if you catch me off guard, there’s just no telling what might pop out of my mouth. (Just being honest.) Still, I hope that as I grow in knowledge and love, my answers will become wiser and more full of grace.

If on the other hand you happen to be on the receiving end, and I have asked you a seemingly awkward question, know that my heart was probably in the right place. I just so want to advocate for my son, and sometimes I can come across as clumsy in my zeal.

Verse 3 of the above Scripture passage is my favorite part: “If anyone loves God, he is known by God.” What a promise! We as humans might miscommunicate, get frustrated, or focus too much on knowledge, but God sees through all of it right to our very souls. He knows us: our motivations, our curiosities, our struggles, and our love. That is an amazing promise in which a tired mama can rest.

Pause: Find a quiet place where you can spend a few moments alone with the Lord. Read I Corinthians 8:1-3 and meditate on what you find there. For more context, read the rest of the chapter as well. What stands out to you in this passage?

Renew: In what areas of your life do you find yourself knowledgeable? Take a moment to honestly evaluate how you share your knowledge with others. Is it with love? If not, pray about how the Lord can help you love others well in this area.

Next: Look for opportunities this week to show grace to curious bystanders in your life. When you feel an eye roll forming, take a moment to observe your internal reaction and shift your paradigm. How can you bring light and love to the interaction while imparting knowledge?

May we view curiosity as an opportunity to build others up in love.

Pause, Renew, Next!

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