We recently watched the newest remake of the film Annie.
You know the classic story: the plucky red-haired orphan finds herself a father in the wealthy industrialist, Daddy Warbucks. In return, Daddy Warbucks learns to love the little girl and fills a hole in his heart that, previously, he didn’t know existed.
This latest version of the film foregoes the Depression-era setting for present day New York. Annie trades her scarlet locks and fair complexion for a curly brown Afro, and the Daddy Warbucks character is now Will Stacks, a cell phone service tycoon.
Despite the changes, the plot follows a similar arc with a few new songs added. Of course, the new Annie sings “Tomorrow.”
Eva has been singing that song quite a bit, too, although she’s changed the lyrics a little. She wandered into the kitchen the other day, singing:
When I’m stuck with a day that’s gray and lonely
I just stick up my chin, and win, and say–
So I joined in and we sang together:
The sun will come out tomorrow
So you got to hang on ’til tomorrow, come what may!
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow
You’re only a day away
And as we sang, I felt an awful lot like Daddy Warbucks. Or Will Stacks.
I’m so grateful for everything this little girl and all our children have brought into our family. But that’s the thing: adoption and orphan care is frequently portrayed as giggles and smiles, love and hugs, happily-ever-after. Like a fairy tale movie.
The families walking this path know that’s not the story.
Suzanne and I are at the CAFO Orphan Summit in Nashville now, and I attended one of Russell Moore’s workshops yesterday. It was cheerily titled, “How the Orphan Care Movement Could Wreck Itself… and What’s Needed to Avoid It.”
He cautioned that the worst thing we can do is sentimentalize orphan care. Adopting a child is not the same thing as “adopting” a dog or a cat or a highway.
Instead, we understand that adoption is at the heart of the Gospel: we adopt because we–all of us who are followers of Jesus–were adopted into God’s family. We love because we were loved first. We share a new spiritual reality: we are truly brothers and sisters.
And because adoption is at the heart of the Gospel, it is opposed by God’s enemies. The enemy hates children, Dr. Moore explained, because they represent newness of life, the promise of the future, and–ultimately–the hope of Christ. The enemy wants to destroy anything that bears God’s fingerprint, so we shouldn’t be surprised that caring for orphans will involve risk and cost and sacrifice.
Children in adoptive families and foster care families don’t want to be there. They want to be in their birth families but sin, loss, and circumstance have intervened.
It’s not an easily resolved fairy tale.
So what does caring for the fatherless really look like?
It’s expensive and it’s paperwork and it’s waiting. A lot of waiting.
It’s loss of culture, home, food, friends, and family–pretty much everything the children have known.
It’s a lot of visits to the doctor and dentist.
It’s late nights and early mornings. It’s uncertainty and frustration. It’s loving kids who have suffered trauma and rejection and loss. It’s loving them when they reject you.
Honestly, it looks like a lot of hard work. Jesus enters into our human experience the same way–why should it be different for us?
Anyone who steps into this journey knows this–or will learn it along the way.
But in the hard work and the sacrifice, in this fight for the fatherless, God meets us, often in ways we could not have expected. And there’s a surprising joy there, too.
Not everyone is called to adopt or take in foster children but we are all called to the fight. How? Bless a family who is fundraising with a financial gift. Words of encouragement go a long way. Or bring a meal. Or childcare for an evening or a weekend. We’ve had folks drop off toilet paper, milk, and paper towels at the house.
What else could you do?
Woven Together, our county’s orphan ministry, has organized volunteers to remodel family waiting rooms at the local DCFS agency and Center for Youth and Family Solutions. They also organized a drive among several churches to collect over 80 journey bags for foster children who might be suddenly uprooted from a home with nothing but the clothes they’d be wearing. The journey bags are backpacks that include a change of clothes, pjs, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a toy or book–essentials and a few special things so the kids would have something to call their own. These are great examples that involve all kinds of people in the work of orphan care.
Caring for orphans will not make your life better or easier or move you to Easy Street. The call to follow Jesus is a call to cross-bearing, an invitation to come and die. But those who are called often find themselves richer for having taken this journey.
In the Summit opening session this morning, Aixa Lopez, an adoptive mom in Guatemala (where adoption is very counter-cultural), commented about her own family’s journey, “Normal Christians do hard things; this shouldn’t be extraordinary.”