Two Women Came to the King.
One woman said, “Oh king, this woman and I live in the same house. I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. Three days later, she also gave birth to a child. We were the only two in the house.
“Then, her son died in the night. So she switched our babies while I was asleep. When I woke up in the morning, I found my son, dead. But when I looked at him carefully, I realized it was not my son.”
The other woman said, “No! This living baby is my child. The dead son is yours!”
But the first woman said, “No! The living one is my son!” And they argued like this before the king.
Then the king said, “Both of you believe you have a claim on the living child.” So he turned to his servant and said, “Get me a sword.” So they brought the king a sword.
The king said, “Divide the child in two!”
“Give his heritage and nature to the one and his rearing and education to the other. Let him always be torn between two warring identities, having affection for both mothers but never fully belonging to either. In this way, let him suffer as long as he lives so that you will each have what you claim to be yours.”
Then, the woman who was the mother of the living child spoke to the king, for she loved her son fiercely, and said “Oh king, give her the living child. Do not let him suffer this way!”
But the other woman said, “Divide him!”
Then the king said, “Give the first woman the living child and by no means tear him apart. Surely the woman who is willing to lose him completely in order to spare him suffering, is his true mother.”
When all the land heard of the judgement the king handed down, they feared the king, for they saw that God had given him wisdom to administer justice.
Sometimes I read a story and my mind wonders. I see threads of connection that my imagination runs with it. With all the researching and writing about the adoption industry that I’ve been doing, I read the story of Solomon in 1 Kings, and another story emerged.
I saw the dynamics of modern adoption corruption, where children are stolen. I saw a child’s identity being erased and replaced in order to fill a void in a grieving woman. I saw a vulnerable mother seeking justice and finding a horrific “solution”. I saw a women with no choice, relinquishing her baby because she believed it meant his life would be spared. I saw the powers-that-be, who know the devastation of family separation, using it as a strategy to manipulate the vulnerable, and being praised for their good judgement.
The story in the Bible ends with justice, with the baby being given back to his mother. But that does not always happen in our world. First mothers who have been tricked or coerced, do not always receive justice and get their baby back. Many adoptees are forever divided, spending our lives trying to stitch together two identities that keep pulling us back apart.
So I changed details of the story as a creative writing exercise, not a spiritual meditation or theological statement. Don’t read too much into that. I hope this helps illustrates, though, how different the perspectives of adoptees can be.
Originally shared on Facebook and/or Instagram for National Adoption Awareness Month.* When you see or hear an adoption story, please keep these things in mind.
By “story” I mean the circumstances of my adoption, who my birth parents are and what happened that led to me being adopted, and how adoption has played out for me. I do not mean the perspective of my adoptive parents about my adoption story.
That story holds an enormous amount of power in our lives.
When others take up our story and use it, even with good intentions, it becomes a weapon that cuts at the dignity of the adoptee and fights against learning a broader view of adoption. Many times it is adoptive parents who over-share. I grew up hearing my story shared a lot with people outside our family. I always smiled back at the listeners and kind of enjoyed being the center of attention for a moment. As a kid, I didn’t realize I was learning other things during these interactions.
I learned to see the details of my life as somehow “belonging” to others. I learned to feel obligated to satisfy other’s curiosity. When I sense people’s uncertainty about my background, the urge to dump all the details is strong! I think, if I do, maybe they’ll accept me and feel more comfortable with me. So I learned to over-share my own story also, even though doing so hurts me.
It leaves me exposed and drained. People react in a variety of ways and sometimes I have to reassure them. My story is a gift but not everyone sees it that way. Unlearning this is hard.
As Stephanie Tait pointed out on another (Facebook) post, over-sharing might be done to justify the adoptive parent’s choices, to explain why this adoption is a good one, to counter the not so pretty side of adoption they don’t want to acknowledge. In other words, over-sharing is usually a way to make people feel comfortable again with the adoption situation or with the adopted child.
Adults might over-share a child’s story to encourage others to adopt or to evangelize. The “good intent” of this is used to dismiss the harmful impact of their actions and words on the adoptee.
Over-sharing is also done by relatives or family friends. Unfortunately, they only know the adoptive parent’s perspective. They also rarely ever question whether or not there is another side (or two) to the story. The’ll reveal details about the first mom’s situation and decision and never consider a bias exists.
While we are children, our parents need to help protect and steward our stories, revealing more facts to us when they’re age appropriate. Relatives and friends need to be explicitly told that the details of the adoptee’s first family and placement are not theirs to share. Ever.
Adoptees must be allowed to make up our own minds about our story, to decide what to share and not share and when and with whom and with what emphasis. We must be given space to change our minds about our story over time; to let change our perspective of self and family.
Owning our adoption story helps ground us and build a positive adoption identity. It is part of forming a more complete sense of ourself. Even if the details are sad or difficult to swallow. When we are ready to share, it can help heal some hurts. Sharing our story is the only way we can learn to let others share our burdens. Knowing our story belongs to us and we have control of it helps us move through life more easily, a life that will always be discovering how adoption has impacted us in ways we didn’t expect or think about before.
Adoptee stories are powerful. In other’s hands they can be a weapon. In our own hands, they can become an anchor and a sail.-TiffanyLavon
*During NAAM or National Adoption Awareness Month (November) I posted a lot on social media about the adoptee voice, which is often silenced and missing in discussions about adoption. NAAM was created as a government initiative to encourage people to adopt children in the foster care system and the messages during NAAM are usually the ones that portray the positive side of adoption, advertising to potential adoptive parents. Over time this month also because a time where adoption was just celebrated in general.
I’ve wanted to work on a reverse poem for a while. I finally sat down and made it happen. I have many themes in my head but this one is perfect for the poem structure. By reading down and back up, you journey with me “out of the fog” to face the “wound”.
“Coming out of the fog” is a phrase adoptees use when we begin to confront the reality of how adoption has impacted us. It’s a non-linear experience of grief and loss that can begin at any time in an adoptee’s life. Some adoptees never experience this.
The “wound” refers to the Primal Wound theory by Nancy Verrier, which states that even if a child is separated from the first mother the moment it is born, the infant will register that as trauma in their body, in their nervous system. Though an adoptee like myself may not have a conscious memory of that stress or my struggle to survive without my biological mom, the wound is there. Acknowledging that is part of healing.
Thanks for reading.
Title: Fog & Wound
By Tiffany Lavon
Adoption is beautiful.
I can’t honestly claim that
I need to grieve
I don’t need sympathy
Focusing on my blessings
Is how I grow, not
Lamenting a loss before memory
I should always be grateful
It is actually harmful to imply
Adoption is inherently traumatic
My adopted family
Is a deeper part of me than
My ancestral heritage
Which will never be part of my life
The bond with my first mother
Does not eclipse
My adopted mother’s love
I have no doubt that
This was God’s Plan A
I can’t imagine how
My life could be better.
[read in reverse, line by line]
Recently, the President of the United States said that four minority congresswomen originally came from countries with broken governments, that they should go back and fix the crime infested places they came from instead of stay in the USA. Yet 3 of them were born in this country and one has been here since she was a child. The only reason the President referred to them in this way is because of their black and brown skin.
My first thought was about how boringly common that kind of racist language is. So common it even has a term; the concept of the Perpetual Foreigner in the United States is basically that US Citizens who are not white will always been seen as an alien or a foreigner, as belonging somewhere else.
However white citizens, whose ancestors definitely originated somewhere else, are never spoken of this way, never questioned or seen as foreign simply because of their race. No one is telling Pelosi to go back and fix problems in Italy. No one told Hilary to join British Parliament instead of run for President of the USA.
My second thought was about how frighteningly damaging those words are when they come from the President and not just a random person with an internet connection and no real influence.
As the weight of the President’s words toward black and brown women who are serving our nation in elected office sank in, my own experiences with this sentiment ate away at me.
So, while my husband drove our family to Portland for the day, I sat next to my baby in the back seat and wrote this on my phone to post on my Facebook profile. I needed to try again to explain why this hurts. Even though I actually have written about this very thing several times recently on Facebook. I am reposting it here, below the next heading.
So, white friends, do you think it is ok or normal to assume that someone who is not white was not born in the USA? That they actually belong in another country? That they should go and fix that country before they can positively contribute to the USA?
If you have any doubts about how common it is for non-white (and I will say especially asian) people to be told to go back to “where you came from” or asked a variation of “Where are you REALLY from?” (which might be asked with friendly intentions but still makes the same problematic assumption)…then I will personally verify this for you.
It happens to me. It happens to my non-white friends. It’s so common I don’t even talk about it when it happens usually. Last time it happened I didn’t even tell my husband because I was a little embarrassed about the circumstances.
It is important that you know these assumptions and comments and questions are based in the (often unconscious) belief that white is default, white is normal, and white always belongs. Therefore anyone not white is other, is not expected, and does not belong.
It is important to know that it is not the one individual incident that is the main problem. It’s the lifetime of these recurring incidents happening in the first person, witnessing it happen to others, seeing it expressed in movies and the news.
It is the cumulative effect that is so damaging, like one thousand soft punches to the exact same spot that begins to ache then bruises and eventually immobilizes the entire arm.
Even if you know not everyone thinks that way.
So when I hear people in power speak this way, I am rightfully angered and grieved. I know that it increases the perceived acceptability of these assumptions and normalizes these comments.
If you hear about these kinds of incidents and your instinct is to find a way to explain why these comments are not racist and/or to minimize the impact on non-white people, it’s like you’ve witnessed someone softly punch my broken and bleeding arm and rolled your eyes at me when I cried out in pain. It’s like your telling me I shouldn’t feel pain because they didn’t know that was a sore spot. You might as well punch me yourself.
I have a weird habit of writing blog length Facebook posts. I’m pulling some of them from Facebook and posting them here. This one was from June 24th, 2019. The crisis at the the border, refugee children in cages, the drowning of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 2 year old daughter, Angie Valeria were all on my mind.
Also on my mind was the book of Esther. My church had just finished a sermon series on Esther and no, our pastor never connected the story of Esther to immigration issues. There was mention, though, about the oppression, injustice, racial (or ethnic) violence and genocide brought up in that story.
So all of that was swimming in my head and heart as I grieved current events. And these thoughts poured out. I’m reposting them here with some edits.
The book of Esther is rarely taught and if so, often poorly. We typically hear about Esther in Sunday School. Veggie Tales animated it. It’s a story for little girls, right? If you want to give your little girls nightmares, sure.
We NEED to read and tell Esther’s story understanding the Rated R elements it contains and not the Disney princess version for children’s church. I have to wonder how we can read what is plainly stated in that book and have gotten such a twisted perspective of it.
The only explanation that makes sense to me is that our western cultural understanding of what we read in Esther was, for generations, shaped by the white male perspective. A perspective that has historically minimized sexual violence against women, villainized women who disobey male authority (Vashti), and is threatened by the abrupt and radical social justice bent of this story.
I might have to write a pitch for a Netflix, biblical fiction mini series. I might have already started. 😉
Esther was a victim of government sponsored child trafficking and sexual slavery. Her adoptive dad was powerless to stop them from taking her. Esther’s story is an absolute nightmare. Yet we have read this story for ages as a ‘beauty pageant’ and re-named the theft of her childhood and preparation of her body for rape a “year of spa treatments”.
And God help me, I can not help but think about the children detained by our government, how last year at about this time some people were saying this was just like ‘summer camp’. I can’t help but think about how we have re-named what is going on, putting the blame on their own powerless families, while our government has taken children as young as two and three, treating them worse than dogs.
In order to save the Jewish people, laws had to be broken. Mordecai asked Esther to break the law, and she did, several times, going before the King without an invitation. What other options did they have? We want to read it like no big deal, like of course the good king would love to see her.
No. He was not a good king. He was a volatile and unpredictable despot, among other things. She took a very real and serious risk of being executed to save her people from genocide.
And God help me, I cannot help but see a parallel between the families who are risking everything to save their children from terror, coming before such a powerful nation without invitation (documents) for help, and being pronounced an enemy and taken into captivity.
So many calloused, white American Christians sit comfy in their fixed mortgaged homes judging refugee parents for “putting their children in harms way” and for breaking our laws (a misdemeanor level offense). Meanwhile we will praise Esther for being brave and completely ignore that she committed a crime punishable by death.
It took the threat of genocide for Mordecai and Esther to wake the eff up. Prior to that edict, they were trying to be as Persian as possible. They were just trying to survive and they didn’t challenge or resist a host of horrible things their ruler their society did.
It took the pronounced of death for their entire ethnic group to realize they could not continue going along with the craziness of their all-powerful King and country. Esther realized she could no longer deny being a member of her own ethnicity (as her uncle taught her to do) but must identify with the Jewish people completely and bind her fate with theirs.
I cannot help but see a parallel between those of us who feel at home in the USA, who justify going along with the craziness of what we’re doing. How we are so adamant that law cannot be broken to save lives. How we use race and place of birth to deny that we are called to identify with the poor, the widows, orphans and foreigners in our land.
How bad does it have to get before we wake up? How genocide-y does our country have to become before we’ll wake the eff up and do something?
It wasn’t enough to stop Haman. Esther sets up her formal dinner trap and succeeds in outing Haman and his evil plot to the king. Haman gets hanged, but the Jews are still going to die because the king’s edicts cannot be changed.
As we read through Esther again, we saw how removing one powerful bad guy was not enough. Esther had to break the law again, go back to the king and REMIND HIM that the free-hunting on Jews day was STILL on the calendar and her people were STILL destined to die.
Right now, it’s hard not to see a certain president or someone holding a secretary of whatever position as “The Bad Guy”. But come on, people. There is no one person who we can get rid of that would stop the widespread hate or end the apathy toward non-American, non-white people. We don’t just have a bad president issue or a corrupt government issue, we have a whole of society issue.
Like Esther and Mordecai, we need to realize the positions God has placed us in as Christian citizens of this country and the power He has given us to counteract that which is unjust and apathetic to the point of cruelty in our own leaders/rulers/government… and truly, in ourselves.
When Esther reminds the king of the real problem, he doesn’t take it upon himself to find a solution. The king just doesn’t get that this anti-Jew violence thing is a big deal or seem to care much. He makes Esther and Mordecai figure out a solution. Your people, your problem.
When the day comes and the king sees just how many people were willing to attack the Jews even though they were legally allowed to fight back, he realizes oh…there really is lot of hate toward the Jews, huh? Then he finally cares enough to ask Esther for advice on what to do about it.
Like kings in secure castles, we refuse to see how big of a deal our current forms racism and xenophobia are in our country because it isn’t directed at us. We distance ourselves so we can say, “your people, your problem.” How much ugly will we excuse before we take this seriously? When will we actually seek and listen to the voices of the marginalized? When will we follow their lead into action?
One issue many have with the book of Esther is the lack of action or voice attributed to God. Where was God while His chosen people were almost wiped from the face of the earth? It never says Esther or Mordecai received a message from a prophet that told them what to do. It never says God spoke to anyone in that whole damn book. Some really evil crap goes down and God just let it happen.
And yet, for such a time as that, someone who was just barely close enough to the king gets uncharacteristically assertive and uses all her resources to prevent the slaughter of millions. Esther womans up. Esther fasts and prays and acts.
I struggle a lot with not just how we let this happen (criminalizing refugees, kids in cages being abused, etc), but how it seems God has not moved or acted. Esther is a convicting book because it’s inclusion in the Bible complicates our simple ideas of how God is supposed to work in and through us.
Evil crap is going down right now in God’s name. Like it has throughout the history of Christendom. Yet we are sitting on our hands waiting to agree on what the “right solutions” are or for God to speak in some clear, unmistakeable way, before we stand against what we already know is wrong. Where is our faith? Where is our urgency to PREVENT harm, or, at this point, further harm?
Instead of confronting these hard issues, we retell Esther’s story and make her a lucky girl who became Queen and from her place of power she saved people. She did not have the power we think she did. She was merely one of hundreds of sexual slaves. “Queen” of the concubines most likely does not equal what we think of as Queen (e.g. Queen Elizabeth).
Plus, the king wasn’t really that into her anymore at the time she decided to act and she knew it. The odds were NOT in her favor. Her life was at risk the entire time. Yet, she went against the laws and customs, and prevailed because God wanted her too.
Instead of confronting our apathy and lack of faith, we retell the story of today in a way that makes us out to be heroes. We think that the power we have as a nation is proof of God’s pleasure.
Then we blame the people we have hurt for getting hurt as if we have no choice but to hurt them because they came to us without permission.
We act like man made laws are gospel and cannot be broken or changed or, if they can be, it must be done slowly, over generations.
We believe that, until solutions we can all agree on are found, it is better to err on the side of doing nothing.
We act like we are not called to act, not called to sacrifice a thing to help others, especially those the world considers as of least importance.
When I wrote out these thoughts, my purpose was to lament our situation. It was about speaking up, calling us all out, and seeking an accurate view of our situation. Some people call this prophetic truth-telling, cutting through the appearances of things and getting to the heart of the problem.
Writing this was not about giving solutions and telling people what they should do. However, our western culture cannot handle leaving that out. We tend to accuse people of being divisive and whining if they point out that something is wrong without also offering “an acceptable” solution.
I do hope if you read this it does naturally urge you to ask, what can I do? And so to respond to that, I say we have to care enough to listen to the marginalized voices, follow their lead, and educate ourselves.
You can start by some self-evaluation. Where has God placed you in this world? What resources, influence, and skill sets do you have? Who do you know? If you look around you’ll hear about how people are using their position to do the best they can. One example is Wayfair employees walking out when they heard their company was supplying furniture for the detention centers. In another crisis, Italian dock workers refused to load Saudi vessels carrying weapons to Yemen.
Google is your friend. It is a great place to start. Find out who is doing what in your area. Get involved. I support Felicia Ramos with Project Play. Northwest Immigrant Rights Project is another one that I have heard good things about.