We are used to stares and odd comments about our family. We get counted wherever we go and people often stop and ask us about our “story”. We have fully embraced that we are different, but last week someone said something that was so offensive, I wanted to scream. Or bonk someone on the head. Or stand there with my mouth wide open so that they would see that their comment was totally inappropriate.
Last weekend, I braved a two-day cheer event with 7 kiddos and the cheerleader in Salt Lake City. Surprisingly, they were AMAZING. Sure, they had their moments, but otherwise things went glowingly well. So well, in fact, that multiple people approached us to compliment them on how well behaved they were. I couldn’t have been happier with them. And to top it off, Brialee became a two-time National Champion and her amazing team received an at-large bid to the Summit. We were absolutely glowing when we left the Salt Palace late Saturday night.
As we waited to the cross the street, all 9 of us holding hands and laughing, celebrating Bria’s accomplishments, it happened. The first of many face-to-face introductions to ignorance that I am sure our family and our children will experience. “That’s too many kids…”, a woman sneered behind us, just soft enough for us to hear. Brialee heard it first and responded loudly that she was a National Champ with the support of her BIG family. I was still processing what ignorance had said as I walked across the street and headed to the car. I knew that I would encounter this. We had already experienced some of it in our own families and friend circles. We know we are different. Most families don’t look like ours nor do they face the same challenges (and I would argue they are missing out on some of the joys we have the privilege to experience). But it’s been a week and this first introduction doesn’t sting like I thought it would. Instead, it motivates me to educate others about the joys (and challenges) of adoption. It motivates me to shout from the rooftops about the need for families to step forward and despite public ridicule or shaming (yes, this person tried to shame us and our children…more on that in a minute) and embrace the cause of the orphan — both here and abroad.
I have thought all week about what I will say to the next person who introduces us to ignorance. I have tried to find the right balance between God’s grace and a stinging rebuke. I have struggled to find the right words of humility while still teaching tact along with the facts of what orphans and foster children face without a family. It hasn’t been easy for me to find that balance. The mama bear wants to lash out and teach them a lesson. The Disciple in me wants to touch their heart. I have prayed for grace and understanding and for the right words to accomplish both. And today…they came.
“We do have a large family. Thank you for noticing our story of redemption and grace. I would love to share it with you sometime.”
We spend so much time measuring the worth of our family and ourselves by what society tells us…by what a woman on a street corner measures us by. We use that same measuring stick to judge others and their families. Which child would she like me to give back? The ones who have been waiting seven long years in foster care for someone to be brave enough to adopt them all together? Or perhaps the ones who have been home two and a half years, whose wounds are now scars instead of gaping open? Or perhaps the son, whose suffering was so significant in his birth family, that he now battles addiction, homelessness, and mental health issues? Or maybe she just meant the ones I gave birth, too? Regardless, her lack of tact could have had devastating consequences. Instead, we will use it to spread a message of hope, love, and family.
I’m not sure what she was hoping to accomplish by trying to publicly shame us. Her accusation that we had “too many” kids was founded on what evidence? My children were all dressed appropriately, fed, and happy. Their hair was combed, faces washed, and shoes on. I have struggled greatly to understand what measuring stick she was using to assume that it was too many. I have no idea why she formed her opinion. But we have heard from others, whose intentions are well-meaning, that they are concerned we can’t keep up or that our other children will not get enough of our time. Rarely, however, have those who have expressed those concerns reached out to offer help (and shown up when it was needed) or to seek a better understanding of what our life really looks like from the inside.
We will never be able to keep up with the Jones’, especially those living on street corners counting siblings. We have traded that dream for another — one where imperfect people work hard every day to grow, learn, and love each other. One where we sacrifice fancy cars and dinners out to bring another child home. A dream where our pillows are tear stained as the struggle of healing takes place and new roots grow. And one where every time ignorance comes knocking, we will smile and embrace it because out of darkness, light always wins.