As a white Dad with black kids, I’m occasionally congratulated for my benevolence and my humility and my self-sacrificial lifestyle. After all, what kind of man adopts? Who willingly raises children who aren’t theirs biologically? Behind my glasses and my 9-5 job, many people believe that I’m actually Super Christian, concealing my red cape and my heart of gold behind my adopted twins. But adoption isn’t the fruit of my exceptional Christianity. In some ways, it became quite the opposite. Adoption challenged my worldly definition of manhood and strength and laid my misconceptions bare for the world to see. It testified to my sin and brought me face to face with the glory of Jesus. Adoption didn’t declare my humility to the world; it exposed my pride and humbled me. And I thank God for it.
Contrary to what many people think, I didn’t grow up wanting to adopt. In fact, the idea of children was not one I entertained much at all. So when my wife Kelly mentioned her desire to adopt not long after we got married, it was something I took time to consider. And I was hesitant to say the least. For me, adoption was for really spiritual people or crazy people or hopeless people. Not normal people. Today, when other adoptive parents assume that I too grew up in a church that promoted adoption or that I also long-desired to adopt, I quickly clarify my unworthiness as an adoptive parent. Adoption was not something I sought out, and for that reason, I above all people see the miracle of adoption. In our adoption of Roman and Ruby, God found all of us – me included. I adopted not because of my grace to Roman and Ruby, but because of God’s grace to me.
At its core, adoption is not a very manly thing. In other words, it doesn’t accentuate the features of a man that American culture would typically celebrate. For instance, adoption cannot ensure a line of sports athletes who reflect the genetic fitness of their father. Adoption eliminates the possibility of anyone ever praising the father for the physical beauty of his children. In some sense, adoption invalidates the phrase, “Like father, like son.” (At least in the way that most use it today) Most importantly, adoption cannot offer the standard idea of legacy that the world still holds dear. And that’s precisely why adoption never appealed to me as a man. And it took nothing less than the power of God in my very “manly” heart to cultivate a desire to adopt children who didn’t look like me or reflect my bloodline.
Adoption is a picture of the Gospel. (Gal. 4:4-7) But it’s also a recalibration of manhood. Before adopting, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the possibility of loving two children who weren’t mine biologically. How would I love them? Could I love them? I struggled for so long to answer these questions because I was holding onto a very worldly definition of manhood. The kind that places value in my physical likeness and in my ability to continue my tribe. In this world, there is a kind of love that exists between parent and child that is not of Jesus and does not require an ounce of godliness. If it did, every parent would be a Christian. It’s the love of self and self-reflection. This of course doesn’t mean that biological parent-child relationships are inherently sinful. Quite the opposite: we are designed to be fruitful and multiply. (Gen. 1:28) But as sinners, whether as adoptive parents or not, the Gospel calls us to a love that extends beyond our own bloodline. (Matt. 10:37) Jesus now defines multiplication not in terms of DNA, but in terms of disciples. (Matt. 28:19) And that means true manhood cannot be defined in terms of physical traits, but in terms of another kind: love. In terms of the orphan-adopting Gospel. The manliest man to walk the earth was not the strongest physically nor did he leave behind physical offspring. But his love was strong. Jesus was a real man. And adoption opened my eyes to real manliness.
According to the world, our chromosomes are the most essential part of ourselves that we pass on as men. But the Apostle Paul says there’s something even more indestructible and everlasting than our genetic material: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Cor. 13:7-8) Real manhood isn’t loving our own likeness. In reality, that’s not love. Thankfully, God demonstrated true love for us by sending His only Son to die on a cross that He might turn rebels into relatives. Can Fathers really love children who aren’t theirs biologically? If the fate of our souls hangs on the Gospel, we better hope that they can. This is the love of our Heavenly Father. This is the love of Jesus. And this is why adoption challenged my worldly sense of manhood.
The very first time I held Roman and Ruby in my arms was Father’s Day. And in that moment, every fleshly fear and hesitation I held in my heart disappeared. I was their father and they were my children. And by the sheer grace of God, when they looked up at me, they didn’t see their likeness. They saw Jesus.