Six years ago, I survived an apocalypse.
My mom was dying—and while it felt like my entire world was crashing down on me, that wasn’t the apocalypse. But it was the catalyst for it.
Even though I survived just fine, and also found myself flourishing afterwards, I’ve only recently learned that an apocalypse isn’t something to be feared. Instead, it’s something to yearn for.
But apocalypse doesn’t necessarily equate to the end of the world, as it seems to be widely interpreted. That’s what I always believed it to be, at least, and it was where much of my sarcasm about getting ready for The Apocalypse has come from. Jokes were made—by me—about how I, as an adoptee, was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for more trauma to seek me out, and how my hard-wired hyper-vigilance would more than prepare me for the coming of world’s end.
In 2020, though, the sarcasm doesn’t seem so funny. Or fun.
Until I remember my apocalypse. It was fun, which is bizarre, because it came just as my mom was dying. For the second time in my life, I was losing a mother, the mom who raised me and loved me with a fierceness I didn’t return for 41 years because to do so felt too dangerous. Mothers leave, I’d learned at birth. Can another be fully trusted? Just when I finally learned to fully give my heart to my mom, my greatest nightmare—losing her—was coming to fruition. What could be fun about that?
The apocalypse, that’s what—specifically, being able to hear the voice of God for the first time in my life.
Now that I’m an adult, I’m thankful for the BibleProject for explaining the Bible to laypeople people like me. In How to Read the Bible: Apocalyptic Literature, I learned that apocalypse comes from the Greek word that means “uncover.” According to BibleProject, an apocalypse is “When you suddenly see the true nature of something that you couldn’t see before.” It’s a “heavenly perspective on an earthly situation.”
An apocalypse is when the curtain between heaven and earth is opened, and we get a big reveal that usually explains much of our lives.
I wish this had been explained to me much earlier. This knowledge could have helped me get through countless zombie movies during middle-school sleepovers.
In my case, as my mom was dying and I faced the greatest separation I’d ever known, God spoke to me and offered me mother-love in exactly the way I’d always longed to receive it. And suddenly my entire life as an adoptee began to make sense.
At first it struck me as a mistake. I wondered if I hadn’t gone off the deep end. Surely God tuned into the wrong channel. My sister was the devout one. She was losing our mother, too, and just as much in need of comfort. Why me? Me, who always kept my parents’ faith at an arm’s distance? Me, with my dark past? Me, the “bastard child” of an “unwed” mother? Me, who could never relate to the God I learned about—a God who seemed mad at me, a God I would never measure up to, a God who didn’t want me any more than I presumed my birth mother had.
But God did want me.
As I flew away from my mother’s death bed, God was there rocking me, comforting me. “See there, can you feel me rocking you to sleep?” God said, reframing the airplane’s turbulence that had riddled me with anxiety before.
Talking with me in exactly the language and playful tone I could hear, God showed me I was known. “By the way, you’ve got to stop sitting in these seats in front of the exit row that don’t recline.”
I laughed—and lapped it up, but also continued marveling because I couldn’t believe it. I’d never felt more like an outsider anywhere than in the Church. I wasn’t supposed to be a part of God’s “in” club. The Church was God’s home, after all, wasn’t it?
At Church, I always heard props given to adoptive parents for their saviorism. There, everyone around me implied how grateful I must be for my selfless parents. There, I served as an example of a model adoptee, reassuring parents interested in adopting that their children, too, would grow up happy and adjusted. There, where vague, trite, and confusing explanations of adoption abound:
God’s will. (To dismantle one family to make another?)
Your birth mother loved you. (By leaving?)
You’re our blessing. (Who is adoption about?)
There, where non-adoptees readily teared up at the beautiful story of adoption that mirrors the ways we’re all adopted by God. There, I experienced no room for questions or my grief—always unnoticed, let alone supported. I’ve never known anyone in the Church to deliver an adoptee a casserole to soothe their first mother’s loss and the incredible pain of relinquishment, even though I’ve watched countless adoptive parents receive special treatment for what are widely accepted as their multitudinous, sanctified sacrifices.
Just as I didn’t have a proper understanding for apocalypse, I didn’t have a word for what I now know is gaslighting. I wasn’t able to understand apocalypse because I believed the lies gaslighting told me—that I didn’t matter, that God plays favorites, that my sole purpose was to meet others’ needs, that mothers are breezily replaceable—never grasping that these weren’t necessarily reflections of God’s point of view.
Until my apocalypse, when God showed me that I mattered. Until I encountered the mothering of God.
Too many adoptees feel silenced and alone. Too many adoptees live in alarm, stuck in our brain’s ingrained modes of fight, flight, or fawn. Too many adoptees flee from the Church—and God—because of its misrepresentation throughout our lives.
Adoptees are four times more likely to attempt suicide. I am counted in that statistic. Many of us are raised to be compliant people-pleasers, so it makes sense that our overwhelming emotions and attacking energy, which have to go somewhere, turn inward.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Jesus, too, was misunderstood by many in the Church—religious people who ultimately persecuted him. But he kept his eyes on God. Everything looks better when we do that, too.
“Yes, the world can be very scary and you have not felt safe here,” God had said to me on the plane. “But I made all of this. It’s beautiful, too.”
It’s not easy seeing beauty when relinquishment trauma puts us on high alert to danger, darkness, and potential loss. But focusing on God, rather than on the thin understanding of adoption as it’s been presented throughout the American church for the last century, helps us become more adept at taking notice of the beauty. That beauty abounds, even in 2020—in the world, in others, and in each of us.
God has a deeper understanding of us. God gets the nuances of adoption and understands our pain—all of it, even the parts we think we’ve kept totally hidden. Jesus, too, was an adoptee, after all. And God is near to the brokenhearted—adoptees included, because adoption isn’t possible without a trail of broken hearts.
Since my apocalypse, my sense of worthiness has changed. Even on my lowest days, I know that I am adored. “When I’m overcome with fear, I focus on God’s light inside of me. When I’m taking myself too seriously, I recall the gentle, loving chuckle of God and remember to laugh and play and create. When I struggle to belong or to be liked, I remember I’m a precious child of God. When I’m unsure, I stop my tendency toward busying around to listen and hope that I’m paying close enough attention to hear what God has to say.”*
Whether we seek refuge in the Church or not, my wish for all adoptees is to experience an apocalypse. I also yearn for adoption culture as we know it, and as it has been largely fanned by the Church, to receive a heavenly reveal that makes it clear one family isn’t “in” over another, that teaches us to embrace the complexity of adoption, and that makes room for each of us in the adoption constellation to know that we’re immensely loved and nurtured by God.
* Sara Easterly, Searching for Mom: A Memoir (Seattle: Heart Voices, 2019), 299.