How To Love Orphans When You Don't Feel Led To Adopt

I am a huge fan of adoption. I’m an advocate for more foster care in Christian families. I’m delighted by the work done at the youth ranch where my mom and dad serve, parenting kids orphaned by parents serving long term sentences in Florida state prisons. 

I am passionately pro orphan care. It’s pure and undefiled religion and exactly what our churches and families should be about.

But here’s the thing: I don’t feel led to adopt children. 

    I can’t tell you how much I dislike this about myself.

Before you start typing in the comments “Jennifer, you need to give yourself a break”—don’t worry, I have. I do. But for now, let’s jump into the tension I sometimes feel in my gut (and heart): 

I'm on Facebook minding my own business when I see a friend's adopting a child. I watch moving videos of the first moment they saw their child. I read testimonials about how much adoption is teaching them about who God is. I see pictures of their oh-so-cute son or daughter, likely with a different color skin or hair or eyes. I listen to their testimony...

And I cry. Because it’s beautiful. All of it. Adoption is the story of the Gospel. And in those moments I want to adopt a child. So bad. 

But then I take a minute, wipe the tears and start writing a plan to convince my husband Justin this is something we should do. And the plan never comes together right. It’s not just money—we could raise that. We have friends who’d help. It’s more than that, a long list of reasons it seems like, especially in this season, our family is just not built for or called to adoption. 

The first few times I made this list I thought, “Everyone makes excuses. I’m just making excuses.” So I prayed about it. In fact, a couple years ago my husband and I seriously considered having more children, adopted or biological. We made the lists and we prayed and we fasted and in the end we both felt pretty sure the answer was no.

So far the answer has always been no.* 

Because this is true, because I feel relatively confident this is not God’s plan for our family right now, and because at the same time God is calling me to love orphans, I find myself struggling with this question:

What does it look like to love orphans when you don’t feel called to adopt?

Feeling ill-equipped to answer it on my own, I consulted three friends who have felt led to adopt: 

Lauren Pinkston

mother to one biological daughter, Eliza, and one newly adopted daughter Hope, born in Uganda.

Lauren blogs at laurenpinkston.com

Katie Beth McCarthy

mother to three sons: Miller, Andre and Keenan, two adopted internationally and one adopted domestically.

Leann Burgess

past foster mom with two biological daughters (Ava and Sam) and two adopted children—Finn, a son with Down’s Syndrome from China, and Norah, a daughter adopted at birth here in the US. 

For these folks, loving kids who would be otherwise abandoned, unloved, or ill-treated is a huge part of their life's purpose. Here are what they identified as some of the best ways to love orphans if you can’t adopt or foster yourself:

1. Give money to fund adoption.

Adoption is astoundingly expensive (we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars), and most families are unable to afford an adoption on their own. This is why families often engage in fundraising efforts. Some families don’t fundraise, but often that’s simply because they feel uncomfortable asking their friends for money.

If you really want to help, start or contribute to a fundraiser for adoptive parents. 

Leanne said, "Parents that are in the adoption process need money. Plain and simple. It helps the parents but it is helping the orphan to gain a family. If people could look at it like that (from the child's need and not the other way around) I think more people would give and give more...

"Don't ask if they need money. They do."

Katie Beth said, "Most of the time, families are paying off adoption loans FOR YEARS later...so a post-adoption fundraiser is just as good (and maybe better if the givers can see the precious child they are helping)." 

All three of these women identified money as one of, perhaps the biggest obstacle to God's people adopting God's children. That's not okay. Because God's people as a whole have plenty of money to adopt children. 

If you’ve ever thought, “People shouldn’t fundraise for an adoption; If they can’t afford it, they shouldn’t adopt” you likely have a very messed up picture of how money works in the kingdom of God. In this family of believers, your money is my money and my money is your money and if one of us is willing to do the hard work of adoption, we all contribute to making it happen. If you’re not going to adopt, that’s perfectly acceptable, but you’ve gotta be willing to chip in. 

I actually wrote this post with the intention of helping my friends Ryan and Kelly raise money for the adoption of their son Titus from Micronesia. He's currently in utero, due in the next three months. Ryan and Kelly, recently returned to the US from mission work in Ireland, have been trying to adopt a child for years. Just a few days ago they received entirely unexpected news that, if they wanted, they could be parents. I don't know that I've ever seen two people more excited. Still, they have 3 MONTHS to raise $10,000 and that is no small task. But then again, for the people of God, it is. 

Ryan and Kelly. Obviously these two will make terrific parents. 

Ryan and Kelly. Obviously these two will make terrific parents. 

Like I said, Ryan and Kelly haven't been in the states long. They don't have a large church family. They're going to need some help from strangers, Christian brothers and sisters who realize that helping Ryan and Kelly adopt this baby is what God had in mind when He commanded us to visit the orphans in their distress. It's the kind of love He modeled in loving and adopting us. 

Follow the link https://www.gofundme.com/2hrh7gck to give and give generously. If you don't give to Ryan and Kelly, give to someone willing to adopt. God may not be calling you to adopt, but He may be calling you to forgo that new TV purchase and hand over $500. 

 

2. Love your friends who adopt or foster (and their kids) in practical ways.

Raising a child is exhausting. Raising a child who comes from difficult circumstances, a child transitioning countries, learning customs, or dealing with post traumatic stress is a whole new level of exhausting. Want to know what can be even more exhausting than that? Fostering children who may or may not accept you as a parent figure. Caring for orphaned, abandoned or needy children is hard work. It's emotionally draining, physically tiring, and not always immediately rewarding. Just ask God. 

That's why these parents need your help even (perhaps especially) after the child joins the family.

Katie Beth mentioned help she'd received from a friend concerning adoption loans and help from another friend during tax season. She said she knows a girl who always babysits at no charge for foster or adoptive families. Katie Beth is also a huge fan of baby showers for adopted kids. 

Other options for showing practical love: hugs, texts, random gift cards, special treats for the family like tickets to a baseball game, mowing their lawn, bringing dinner. 

The point: Make life easier. It is too often too hard.

Speaking directly about foster kids, Leann said, "Find a foster family in your area and love on them. Fostering is the hardest thing I've ever done. It's a lonely gig for sure. Take them dinner... bring them groceries, buy the foster child's school supplies or summer clothes or baseball sign up fee. Just be a support. I promise you they need it. The job is TOUGH!"

My mom, a house parent at the Florida Sheriff's Youth Ranch, says the most powerful way to help one of her kids is to volunteer as a mentor. While mentoring disadvantaged kids is always hard (the cold shoulder is pretty common for the first several visits), what these kids need most is to know they have people who love them, people who'll stick with them even when it's not easy or fun. She says these kids need to know the world is good, that people are trust worthy and love is real. 

Too, don't forget the biological kids in adoptive or foster families. Sometimes in all the excitement they can get overlooked. Lauren said, "It's so encouraging to me when people continue to pour into my bio daughter. She has been ignored and shoved aside so much this year it hurts my heart. So treating a mixed sibling group equally is huge!" 

 

3. Pray for orphans and their caregivers.

As you know if you've read anything I've written, I think prayer is the first and most helpful thing anyone can do about anything at any moment. So, if you want to love orphans, pray for them and for their caregivers. As you pray keep a pen and paper nearby in case God gives you a to-do list.

To help put faces to the mission, check out adoptuskids.org or other websites with photo listings of kids waiting for parents, and pray specifically for these kids by name. I had no idea this was possible, and when I clicked over tonight... You guys. I couldn't. I saw one kid, started crying in the coffee shop and had to close the page. Looking at these kids breaks my heart. But in a good way. It's the kind of heartbreak that challenges and inspires.

Leann said, "Pray that God will rise up His people to open their hearts and homes. Even if that's not you. Pray that someone will. It's ok to do that. Grab the couple at your church that is on the front line of this battle and pray for them and with them. Pray for their baby or their toddler or their teenager that's on the other side of the world waiting for travel approval. That's a LONG and PAINFUL wait."
 

4. Treat adopted or foster children with understanding, care and respect.

First, adopted kids and foster kids are often emotionally and socially immature and/or psychologically or developmentally delayed due to past experience, neglect, etc. Even when they're not, at the beginning of their transition to a new family they're experiencing A LOT of stress. Lauren said,

"When people understand that adoption is coupled with trauma and grief, they can be much more patient when a child has a meltdown, is emotionally behind his or her peers, or needs special accommodations in social settings." 

Being patient and generous with our friends' kids is a much-appreciated gift. 

Lauren also mentioned the sometimes overwhelming attention her daughter Hope gets at church. Because Hope is a sort of celebrity to these people who've all participated in her adoption and followed her parents' journey, they feel like they know her. Hope though doesn't know them at all. Too many strangers expecting hugs and smiles, saying your name like you should know theirs--that's my own personal version of torment. 

Let's also be thoughtful about the way we talk to adopted kids about their families and the way we talk to our kids about their friends who're adopted. Remember:

  • An adopted child's parent is his or her parent--no need to verbally distinguish between biological or adopted. Similarly all the children are a parents' children--no need to distinguish between biological and adopted. 
  • For your kids, there's no reason to make a big deal out of a friend's being adopted. Dwelling on difference divides. You might, however, dispel some of the myths kids believe about adoption, primarily that (1) all kids live in orphanages like the one in Peter Pan before they get adopted and (2) all orphans are abandoned by parents who either died or don't love them.

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That's the list. For sure there are a hundred more ways you could get involved in actively and passionately loving orphans, but this is a good start. If you have thoughts to add PLEASE do so by leaving a comment below. 

Thanks to Lauren, Katie Beth and Leann for their wisdom and their example. Go forth and love well, friends.

 

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*I firmly believe this answer is a “right now” answer. My husband and I live in a posture of submission to God’s will, and we will always be open to whatever He has for us. Too, I recognize that many people who don’t “feel led” to adopt are simply ignoring God’s overtures, turning tiny hurdles into mountains, letting fear hold them back from what God has to give them. Before you say no to adoption, be sure you’re giving God a chance to make His case.