taking the words of Jesus seriously


“What was her name?” my daughter asks. “Did anyone save a picture of her?” “Do you know where her house is so I can see where she lived?”


Her questions come fast these days, always asked with great curiosity and sometimes intensity. A salvaged photograph would mean she could see what her birth mom looked like – do we share brown skin, did I get my long lashes from you, is there any resemblance between us?


At night she burrows in between the duvet and me. Her long fingers interlaced with mine, she giggles into my ear and declares that she wants yet another hug. She closes her eyes with a gentle smile under my waterfall of “I love you’s.” Our connection is secure, even as her curiosity is incessant.


I understand. After all, I have a birth mom, too. I don’t wonder about her name, how she looked or her address. I’ve never been interested in the details beyond her relinquishing me to an adoption agency, the good one that introduced me to my own mother. But I know deeply, somehow, what it is not to know and accept never knowing as part of adopted living. Maybe it is the price of redemption.


With my son it’s about all the whys related to rejection. Why didn’t she keep me? Why didn’t she want me? Why can’t I meet her? Why can’t I help her get out of poverty?


One night he opted out of dinner. “I’m fasting tonight, mom.” Then he offered grace and asked Jesus to provide a meal for his birth mom instead of him. Another time he dreamed of her offering him a dinner invitation. When he woke up, he asked me if I’d let him go visit her for that dreamy meal someday.


I assured him he could enjoy her company. I had a question of my own – “When she smiles, does she have your banana-shaped dimples? You had to get those dimples from somewhere!” He closed his eyes, trying to remember, then said he couldn’t see her that clearly. “I’ll look harder next time, Mama.”


This summer we talked over pastries and mango smoothies about how he gets to have both of his moms, how he doesn’t have to choose between us. “I know, ” he said. Then we talked about Mesi and the recent World Cup game. We laughed and talked for two more hours, like any mother and her son.


On his way out the door to an afternoon soccer practice, he turned and looked me in the eyes. “Mama, you’re the answer to my birth mom’s prayers. She couldn’t afford to raise me, ” he explained, “so she asked God to bring someone who would take care of me for her. God made the right choice putting us together.”


Through my tears I saw how deeply he understood that both of his mothers have prayed for him, have wanted for him and sacrificed for his well-being the best we knew how. It’s an uneven collaboration, but still a joint effort between mothers.


We are women in a strange kind of solidarity, raising children between us. One births, another raises. Together we seek the welfare of our children.


My son knows his birth mother relinquished him due in part to bone-crushing poverty that robbed her of resources to feed him. The underbelly of the economy weighted so heavy on her she felt there was no other choice but to wrap him in her skirt, put him by the roadside, and pray someone would find him. My daughter recently learned about her birth mother dying of AIDS and so involuntarily relinquishing her. How unfair she didn’t have access to medicine and adequate healthcare. How wretched that she never got to hold her newborn daughter and savor their likeness. There is deep sadness embedded in adoption. I won’t deny it.


My son and daughter now carry the awareness that their birth mothers struggled under unjust systems and broken economies. We mourn the injustices as we lament the loss of these mothers. We also sing the song of adoption as sacrament, and we mean it. But our song rises from the soil of lament, the tears cried for lost mothers, severed connections and the perpetual unknowing we host in our bodies. Our family shaped by adoption is both complex and celebrated.


As adopted ones we learn that everything, even relinquishment, can be redeemed. But amid redemption we remember the lost ones, grieve the injustices and lament the brokenness. We embody Friday’s death and Sunday’s resurrection both.


About The Author


Kelley Nikondeha is a writer, liberation theologian, and community development practitioner. She combines biblical texts and various cultural contexts to discover insights for embodied justice, community engagement, and living faith. She is the author of Defiant: What the Women of Exodus Teach Us about Freedom and Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World. She travels between the Southwest US and Burundi in East Africa.

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