It’s cold and crisp outside this morning here in Dallas, the kind of weather that November should always call to mind. The sun peeks out from the clouds, and my dog Sasha is curled up on the terrace- it’s the perfect day for her and her thick winter coat. These are the kind of days when I was growing up when my dad would have had the patio doors open (and would have told me to put some socks on if I was cold), or my mother would have turned on the fireplace just for the smell of fresh wood. But there is no open patio door, no fireplace burning in a rented home. Just me, sipping my usual Earl Grey tea- alone.
Most of my friends don’t think about my parents, what my family looks like, or the circumstances surrounding my upbringing. In a way, I’m glad they don’t. Instead, were usually talking about the day over food and drinks, laughing about something on the internet, or just enjoying the life in front of us- not behind.For me though, the word “orphan” is part of my identity. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about how radically different my life is from the majority of those around me, or the awkwardness of having to explain both of my parents are already dead- and I’m only 25. When the word “orphan” comes up in conversation, it is typically in one of two contexts: adoption from a foreign country or a situation that has no real meaning apart from Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt. It’s an abstract concept for most people, and while it is usually commended, it is often followed up with the words “but it’s just not for me.” The idea of orphans, of those living in foster care or those without a home, has somehow turned into something that is relegated to poverty stricken countries or kids with “problems” who would cause too much trouble to bring into a family. Reality check: According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute there are 397,122 children living in the U.S without permanent families in the foster care system. And guess what? That number doesn’t include stories like mine- and there are MANY. Many of us never go into the system, are never counted in the statistics. Because of my age, and because I had relatives around it was assumed I would be ok. While I am grateful that I never entered into the world of foster care, I also know because of my experience that the number you read above does not even come CLOSE to the real number of orphans and children without permanent homes in the US. I was incredibly blessed that when my grandfather kicked me out, there was a local family who took me in- no questions asked. I am blessed that when my father was in the hospital and the weeks after he died, I had couches to stay on and people who fed me. Loved me. Prayed with me. Allowed me space to grieve. But I would like to take a moment to say this: for every kind-hearted person who was there for me, there were two who weren’t. Kids hear much more than you think. I have vivid memories of overhearing parents say “there must be some reason her grandfather didn’t want her” and the awkward conversations with so many adults at the time who assumed I would now be a “problem child” because I had experienced something traumatic. Something that many of them had never faced themselves. It is hard for me not to be angry at those people, but I try. It is hard for me to think that not a single member of my blood-related family showed up to cheer me on as I graduated high school with honors. It angers me that not a single relative ever bothered to ask about my college plans, nor was there to see me graduate college. Instead, it was the unrelated family that took me in who yelled and cheered at both events, and who I spend each holiday, birthday, and life event with still. This is the heart of adoption. It is even harder for me to read that statistic about the number of kids here in the US waiting for a home, and knowing that there are people hesitant to support adoption because they are fearful of the “problem children.” Are we not all human, who struggle with pain and loss and walk through life? Are we not all flawed? Adoption is not for everyone- hear me say that loud and clear. But kindness, compassion? That we can all give in some small way. Today is Orphan Sunday- a single day out of the entire year when the plight of the orphan is remembered. For me that plight is my life, and I have had a gloriously beautiful one compared to so many of my orphan brothers and sisters. Today I ask you to think. Think about my story, about what your life would have been like if this had happened to you. Think about the hundreds of individuals who have emailed me over the past year and shared their story of loss with me. And then, if for no longer than today, think about one small thing you could do for this cause that is so often forgotten. Because I am an orphan, and today I have the courage to ask. Learn more about Orphan Sunday at http://orphansunday.org/