“The Blind Side” — Reflections on Adoption

Yesterday, we enjoyed our first free weekend afternoon in December by heading to the theater to see “The Blind Side.”  In case you are unfamiliar with the story, as I was before yesterday, here’s the summary from the movie’s website:

Teenager Michael Oher is surviving on his own, virtually homeless, when he is spotted on the street by Leigh Anne Tuohy.  Learning that the young man is one of her daughter’s classmates, Leigh Anne insists that Michael–wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the dead of winter–come out of the cold.  Without a moment’s hesitation, she invites him to stay at the Tuohy home for the night.  What starts out as a gesture of kindness turns into something more as Michael becomes part of the Tuohy family despite the differences in their backgrounds.

Through the course of the story (i.e., Oher’s real life), Michael journeys from a violent, drug-wracked upbringing — where he was in-and-out of the foster care system, attended eleven different schools in nine years, and entered his sophomore year of high school with a 0.6 GPA — to an All-American college football player for Ole Miss and a 2009 NFL first-round draft pick for the Baltimore Ravens.

Perhaps the best short summary is the movie’s trailer itself:

As I sat there in the dark, one hand holding the hand of my 13 year-old daughter and the other holding my 5 year-old son in my lap, the impact of this movie hit home like a freight train…in two ways.

For starters, our daughter has no real grasp of the reality behind the drug and poverty-related violence and lifestyle portrayed in Oher’s upbringing.  Talking about the movie afterward, I realized she had no idea that people lived in very similar circumstances only a few miles from our home.  While she knows intellectually about such things, she has (fortunately) never experienced them first-hand and didn’t really understand how physically close to home such suffering, pain, and hardship really exists.

In addition to my daughter’s epiphany, seeing the violence toward the end of the movie where many of Oher’s acquaintances are gunned down in various drug-related shootings made me hold on to my son even tighter.  In case you didn’t know, we adopted our son from Ukraine in 2007, just over two years ago.  Statistically speaking, like Michael Oher, if our son had stayed where he was, he didn’t stand a chance.  To put it into perspective, here are the statistics (from here):

  • Ukrainian orphans typically grow up in large state-run homes, which may house over 200 children.
  • Many children run away from these homes, preferring to live on the street.
  • Children usually graduate from these institutions between 15 and 16 years old and are turned out, unprepared for life outside the home.
  • About 10% of them will commit suicide after leaving the orphanage before their 18th birthday.
  • 60% of the girls will end up in prostitution. Those who run prostitution rings target orphaned girls, who are especially vulnerable due to their lack of options and lack of people who care what happens to them. Though promised good jobs, they end up on the streets and brothels of cities across Europe.
  • 70% of the boys will enter a life of crime. Many of these will die young of violence or end up in prison. Most inmates contract TB in prison.

The point of these statistics isn’t to pat ourselves on the back for doing something so noble as adopting, far from it.  The point is this:  there are hundreds of millions of children around the world just like Michael Oher and our son.  Some of them live five miles away, some of them live thousands of miles away.

How can we help them?  How could we possibly not?

(photo from https://www.4orphans.com)

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Adoption and Baptism: A Real-Life Illustration

Last night, my son and I were enjoying our nightly ritual of reading books and bible stories before bedtime.  The bible story we were reading was the birth of Jesus–yes, he’s in the Christmas spirit early–and we paused at the end on a picture of baby Jesus lying in a manger, surrounded by animals, Joseph and Mary.  As a good young boy is wont to do, he started asking questions:

“Who is that?” he asked, pointing at the baby.

“Baby Jesus,” I replied.

“Isn’t he God?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“And when he got big, he died on the cross, right?” he asked, pointing to his baptismal cross on the wall.

“Yes, you’re right,” I said.

“Why did I get baptized?” he asked again, stream of consciousness kicking into high gear.

“That’s a great question!” I told him.

At this point, I had to come up with an illustration of what baptism is all about and what God does in baptism.  For those who don’t know, we adopted our son from Ukraine a little over two years ago, when he was three.  Though he doesn’t remember a lot about when he was “a tiny baby,” he remembers many details about our initial visits at the orphanage, our days of playing with him in the orphanage before we could bring him home, and the adventurous trip back to Texas.  With those things in mind, our conversation continued…

“Remember when Mommy and I came to get you in Ukraine?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he replied.

“You were very little then, but we still loved you.  Could you have found us and come home all by yourself?”

“No way,” he said with a laugh.

“Well baptism is kind of like that. God comes to get us when we can’t come to him.”

“Oh!” he said as his eyes lit up with understanding.

“And now, you’re our son, right?” I asked.

“Yes, Daddy.”

“And just like you’re our child, you’re God’s child, because he came to get you just like we did.”

He paused for a minute and then said, “Jesus loves us a lot, right, Dad?”

“Yes he does,” I said with a smile. “Yes he does.”

The whole conversation was a joy, but it was most fantastic to watch my little one, who had never heard the name of Jesus just over two years ago, connect the dots in such a way as to realize–quite tangibly, since he remembers his baptism–how great is God’s love for us!

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