|Benjamin and me at our first meeting in Vietnam
July 2002, when he was five months old.
In the next few weeks, my family will be taking a significant journey: significant to my husband and me and our youngest son, certainly, but even more important to our eldest son, Benjamin, whom we adopted from Vietnam in September 2002. Ten years after Ben became our son, we are returning to Vietnam, so that Ben can have a taste of his homeland: figuratively, of course, but also literally, as we will hopefully be eating lots of good Vietnamese food. Ben is excited about this trip—he’s been counting down the days on his calendar—but also a little anxious, unsure of what he will see and experience and feel. His new Nintendo DS, purchased on the e-Bay cheap for the long plane ride, has alleviated some anxiety, but still.
This trip is a big, big deal.
When we adopted Benjamin ten years ago, we did so naively. After five years of deciding we didn’t want kids, Ron and I had changed our minds, and adoption seemed the best possible way for us to build our family. But we went forward with our adoption of Benjamin, and then Samuel, not really knowing much about adoption and the innumerable ways it shapes children’s lives, their identities, their sense of self and other. In the intervening years, I’ve read enough about adoption issues to wonder how I, as a western Christian feminist, can embrace the paradox that resides at adoption’s core: that the greatest joy in my life, my sons, has probably come at significant loss to poor nonwestern women who, because of their life circumstances, will not know their sons. I can only imagine these women’s losses, and wish beyond wishing that they could know Benjamin’s creativity and humor, and Samuel’s dazzling smile and charisma. I may be biased, but I have great kids, and I truly grieve that their biological mothers will not have opportunity to raise them even as I celebrate the opportunity to be their mom.
I imagine this paradox is something I will think about often while we’re in Vietnam, and that Benjamin (and probably Samuel, too) will be doing their own thinking about families and countries of origin. Hopefully, our trip will not be all heaviness: that there will be time to enjoy the heat and humidity; and to see the Vietnamese countryside; and to swim in some warm tropical waters; and to drink a Vietnamese coffee or two. Our literal journey, the one that takes us from Saigon and up the coast to Hanoi, will only part of the larger journey each of us are taking as a family, a journey that has so far been rich, challenging, beautiful, overwhelming, maddening, extraordinary. And we haven’t even hit the teenage years yet.
While my family is gone, Kendra will keep blogging from her own hot and humid place in Texas. In my absence, too, we are going to include several guest blogs from women who have faced the challenges of growing up in evangelical cultures, and who have had to contend with the messages of evangelicalism telling them they are not godly women because of who they are. To some degree, these guest bloggers have heard messages similar to those we’ve been highlighting the last nine months in our blog; to some degree the women writers have negotiated these messages in ways different than have Kendra or I.
We share their stories as a point of reflection: as a way to consider the very real damage some of these Christian images we’ve been writing about have had on those we know and love. We share their stories as a way of affirming that we are all on our own journeys, hoping to figure out who we are, holding to the paradox and mystery at the heart of our faith. We share these stories because we believe God’s story of love and grace and mercy extends to us all, no matter where we are.
And while I’m gone, I’d appreciate your prayers, for a little boy returning to his homeland; for traveling mercies and warm sunny beaches; for the miracle that a too-long plane ride might pass quickly, keeping this mom’s flying panic at a very low thrum.