inspirational speakers

One World, One Heart, Two Families

We are all united in this journey of life. There is a sense of interconnectedness we all feel when we share stories and hear others’ stories. There’s comfort in knowing no matter who we are, or where we’ve been, we are all in this together.

I was born in Seoul, South Korea and my life’s foundation was created in Missouri, where I was adopted as an infant and raised in a small town. The journey is ongoing. Feeling different, feeling the same. Knowing I look different than my family, forgetting that I do. Questions about my identity, acceptance just as I am. Feeling white but not Korean, feeling Korean but not white. Two different cultures, one world. All co-exist. And everything in between.

I’ve experienced the journey of loving adoptive parents in America and the journey of reunion with my biological family in Korea. Over a decade ago, medical health concerns activated my desire to search for my biological roots to learn about my medical history. I found my birth family in a relatively short time. Reunion was far more challenging than I could have ever prepared myself for. As a child, I remember thinking if I just met my birth family even once, they’d answer all the questions that plagued me as a child. My naive and youthful imagination conjured up many blissful possible scenarios of us meeting, and they were far more pleasant than reality. In reality, the reunion brought on a multitude of complexities and new questions. Many of which will never be answered. As a child, I thought freedom would come from the peace of having my questions answered. I now know freedom and peace does not come from an external source or answers. True freedom is knowing I can fly with or without these answers. The answers and/or lack of answers no longer weighs me down. Subscribing to this weight would mean giving up a life of joy and peace to be at the mercy of unanswered questions. Peace is a choice. It is a choice I embrace even as I navigate my relationships with my two families and embrace both with gratitude and grief, certainty and uncertainty.

Living life through my perspective an an adoptee is my perspective of life since I was an infant. My experience with reuniting with my biological roots has heightened my sense of compassion for every individual, adoptee or not. It is what inspires my interest in community and connection. Everyone, at the end of the day, wants to feel seen and heard and supported. And, at the end of the day, we are all connected in some way.

After years of questioning why I am here and if I have a true place in the world, I am grateful for the peace that comes with knowing why I am and that I do. I am invested in increasing awareness about adoption and in sharing the power of transformation. It is for everyone. We all have a purpose. And while some parts of my life were once riddled with reluctance, shame and confusion after listening to so much external noise then subsequently questioning myself, I have befriended this entire experience as an adoptee. We are very close friends...the ups and downs. The grace, the madness. The confidence, the inner child. The surviving, the thriving. The two families in this one world. The ongoing journey and navigation, entirely supported by listening to my inner voice and heart, wherever I am, all over the world.

Searching for Roots

I was born in Incheon, South Korea. I was placed in an orphanage after birth and stayed there until I was 6 months old and then flew to the US to my adoptive parents. Unfortunately, I have no memory of the orphanage, but the records that I received with my adoption file seem to state that everything was fine. A couple in Minnesota adopted me when I was just 6 months old.

Early on, I got along with my family very well, but unfortunately my adoptive mother lost her battle to breast cancer when I was just 7. 

I grew up in a small town in Minnesota, and there were few Asians growing up. I was just another Asian face in a sea of white faces. Being in a transracial adoption was very hard and it wasn't until recently that I really had a firm foundation to my identity.

My parents raised me not to see color, but I wish instead that they had raised me to believe that seeing color is okay and that it’s not something bad. It was always hard to identify as a person of color because I was raised in a while family, so it almost felt taboo to identify as anything other than white.

My adoptive father lost his battle to ALS a year ago. It has taken a lot of therapy to work past all of the issues, especially my adoptive mother dying when I was 7.

I had a history of self sabotage that I never really assumed was related or even an issue until the last couple of years. Currently though, I have maybe weekly or bimonthly contact with my stepmother.

I have not reunited with my birth parents. I went searching for my birth mother in 2018 and currently I am at a dead end. As of right now I do not have any information on my birth father.

However, I enjoyed being able to travel back to South Korea and learning more about my heritage. I want to return to Korea and learn to speak Korean. I would also like to continue with my birth parent search.

I want others to know that other adoptees aren't alone and that we all have similar experiences.

Building from Scratch

Sharing my story is important because as adoptees we often feel like we don't belong, we feel alone and misunderstood, but we have such a strong and beautiful community, we are not alone, we have each other. Furthermore, my story is love and boy do we need more of that in the world.

I was born in Maceió, a coastal city in Northeastern Brazil. I was the third child of a poor family. Gilvania, my biological mother, was not financially able to care for me, and opted for international adoption after Jose, a social worker, introduced her to the idea. He reassured her by telling her he knew this great family in Canada that had adopted in Brazil twice already. Jose had met my adoptive family a few years prior when he was forced to seek asylum in Canada as a political refugee. Wanting to learn French, Jose had chosen University Laval in Quebec City where both my parents were studying at the time. They became close friends and through conversations my parents expressed their desire to adopt some day. Fast forward to 1987, my parents were getting ready to adopt their third child, they had adopted twice with Jose’s help and thought they would switch things up for their third one and were considering Bolivia. A phone call from Jose changed everything, he called my parents to tell them about this woman he had just met Gilvania, she was pregnant and had decided that adoption was the best course of action for her unborn daughter. My parents agreed and started the process. 

Several months later, at four months old, I was landing at Quebec City Airport with my new dad and a new family waiting at the gates to greet me. In the course of one flight, everything was different, I left a family behind, a way of life, a culture, a language, and simultaneously I gained all of that back differently. Let me just say that I applaud my parents, raising four adopted kids is no easy task (they adopted one more after me). 

The first years were really difficult, not all of us got along and we all had our set of challenges along with very explosive personalities. Four adopted kids in one household is a lot, emotions were flying high, and there was a lot of anger from all the unanswered questions we had in regards to our unknown pasts combined with not having the right words and tools to express how we felt.

Building a strong identity and having a strong sense of self is what I found most challenging growing up, especially as a young adult. I overcame that by traveling around the world by myself, there's no better way to know the person that you are than by leaving with a suitcase to some foreign places with only yourself to rely on. I am proud of the woman I built myself to be. I still have my moments, mostly when it comes to intimate relationships, I have an ingrained fear of being abandoned and I am continuously working on that. Little by little, I am letting people in closer.

When I was 19 years old, I traveled back to Brazil with my adoptive mom and one of my brothers. It was my first time back as an adult and it felt surreal to be there, everything from the smells, the taste of the food, the sights seemed familiar. I felt like I was at home, yet I was treated like a foreigner and that was painful at times. At that point in my life, I had already made peace with the fact that I would never get to meet my birth family. Well it turns out that I was wrong. On this trip, I was able to meet them. I still don't have the words to describe how it felt. It felt like a dream, I had to pinch myself to realize it was really happening. I first met a cousin and an aunt who gave us my mother's address, and there we went, knocking on her door unannounced. She wasn't home, so we called her and explained to her who we were and she just said "Don't move, I'm on my way". The next day, she organized this huge BBQ Brazilian style called “churrascaria”. There, I got to meet everyone except for my father. To this day, I am still in touch with them, we talk on occasions, it's amazing aside from the language barrier, it can get difficult, but I am currently learning Portuguese.

My present relationship with my adoptive parents is great, but it wasn't always like that. The older I get, the more I appreciate them and the more I realize that human beings like them don't come around that often. They are the most selfless people I know and also the strongest, most resilient. They passed onto me amazing values, and taught me the true meaning of unconditional love. 

Overall, adoption has impacted my life in many ways, some good, some bad. I feel like because of the way my parents raised me, I was able to define the woman I am becoming on my own terms. Adoption made my identity stronger, because I worked for it, literally. I had to build my identity pretty much from scratch. Since I never really had strong roots and never identified to a specific group or culture, I was able to create my own and identify to a broader group, human beings. With that being said, I always felt a sense of duality inside of me, and at times feeling like I didn't belong was hard. 

In the future, I hope to live under the sun, happy and at peace. I want to be creating and contributing to making this world a more loving and positive place.

Strength and Resilience

As adoptees, our stories begin in another land -- they begin with immigration. Our stories may be different from that of most immigrants, but as immigrants, we share the strength and resilience that are necessary to uproot ourselves and begin a new life in a foreign land not of our choosing.

I was born in CheChon, South Korea. I have a biological brother who is a year and a half younger than me. We were both placed in an orphanage in the city that we were born in. I don't know who my birth parents are. I am currently in the process of finding out more about my adoption story and about my birth parents.

My adoptive mom couldn't have kids of her own because she had ovarian cancer. She always wanted children so both her and my dad made the decision to adopt. They went through Holt International for their adoption process. One night at dinner, they received a phone call from their case manager that they had a brother and sister that they wanted to place in a home and asked if my parents would be interested in adopting a brother and sister that they wanted to keep together. Before, my parents could say yes, they talked about it while keeping the case manager on the phone. They agreed to adopt both of us without any hesitation.

I was adopted on April 7, 1988. I was five when I was adopted. The first year, I had to learn a new language and acclimate to my new surroundings and to my new family. I was too young to comprehend that I was being adopted. I was told by my mom how scared I was when I first  met my new family. I didn't talk. They were surprised because they were told that I was outgoing and talkative but that first initial meeting I was shy and apprehensive. My mom also told me how that first night in my new home how I cried going to sleep.

My family made sure that both my brother and I adapted very well and made sure that we were being taken care of mentally, emotionally and physically. I don't recollect any prior knowledge of my adoptive family. My parents did receive pictures of both my brother and I along with medical information and our background as to why we were placed in the orphanage along with other information about both my brother and I. My relationship with my adoptive parents growing up has always been a good one. They have supported me in everything that I have ever done.

As I grew older, I began to struggle with my identity. I've always known that I was adopted and a person of color. That was something I struggled with. I would communicate to my parents how I was dealing with these things and they listened and it was hard on them as well that I was going through this period of questioning who I was. My dad past away when I was 25 from cancer. My mom and I had a rough patch after he died but now we have reconciled and she has been the one constant person who has been there for me during my struggles of anxiety and depression and living a life of sobriety.

Adoption has made me see the world differently and how I love people. As an adoptee, I feel that I am more of an inclusive person and more accepting of others because of my parents and how they opened their home to both my brother and I without any hesitations.

Besides adapting to my new surroundings, the one challenge I had to overcome and still work through is fear of abandonment. Even though I love people, I am always worrying about being abandoned and left behind. I am grateful for my small group of friends who help me through this. Fear of abandonment is one of the causes for my anxiety. I get anxious when I feel that I am not heard but more so when I am alone for long periods of time. I allow myself to spin in circles by questioning myself about whether my actions were right or wrong or whether I did or did not do enough, or whether I said something wrong or not.

For a long time, I have allowed fear and my anxiety to hold me back from achieving my purpose that God has planned out for my life. The one area I am proud of is my heart of hospitality and willingness to serve people and meet them where they are at in their lives.

My biggest dream is to own a house and open my home to a family/individuals in the refugee community and live life with them. For most of my life, I have had a desire to go into ministry and living life on a daily basis with people in the refugee community is where I am called to serve. This year, I have enrolled in a discipleship training class to help jump start and fulfill my dream. My other dream is to write a book one day. However, my two biggest goals this year, are to visit Korea and to get my ESL teaching certification.

As adoptees, society forgets that we are immigrants as well and our stories often are forgotten and untold. As an Asian-American, I've become more aware of who I am and how I fit into the immigration story. There is a lot of pain in my immigration story. Yes, I am someone's daughter but I am still treated as an “other” by society. I am still being marginalized. My voice isn't often heard. My face is often not seen. I am in this constant tug-of-war between where I am from, who I am as an Asian-American woman, and how I belong. Being torn from our roots is something that all adoptees experience. We have a need to seek the truth about where we're from even though it may be impossible to do so. I hope to find my birth parents and I hope that they were both okay.

PURPOSEFUL LOVE

My name is Sarah, and I was born in China. After being adopted by an American family, I spent my childhood growing up on a small farm in Georgia. My family consisted of my father, mother, and a younger sister who was also adopted from China. My parents were loving, endlessly patient, and raised us in a Christian home.

During my time in China, I was only in one orphanage. I was placed there several days after birth until I was adopted at fourteen months old. As a baby, I had no say in whether I wanted to be adopted or not. However, as an adult, I can now confidently say that the answer is a firm yes. I am incredibly grateful for the gift of adoption.

The first few years of my life were relatively good. My parents did their best and taught us about Christ. As adoptees, my sister and I naturally had our own share of struggles with understanding the loss of birth parents, differences in appearances, adoption, and forming attachments.

Adoption can be accompanied by a variety of challenges. Some of the issues I have faced included racism since I lived in an area that had little to no diversity. Being Chinese in a predominantly Caucasian area was obvious and drew a lot of unwanted attention. Outings as a family would sometimes bring questions from strangers that were genuine, but often these questions were insensitive and bordering on offensive.

In most ways, I had an identical upbringing to my classmates, but because of my appearance, I was still met with rude questions, racist jokes, and stereotyping.

Over the years, I have learned to appreciate and be proud of my heritage. I used to pretend that the Chinese part of who I am didn't exist and didn't need to be acknowledged. Now as an adult, I feel seasoned in the questions people ask me and the responses they are looking for me to give. Before it would have been a situation I'd try to get out of, or I'd leave feeling embarrassed. Now I enjoy it because it gives me an opportunity to share not only about my life but also about the need for orphan care and adoption.

Another challenge for me has been relationships and attachment issues. While these issues are not strictly things that adoptees face, past trauma can certainly influence future relationships. My own personality tendencies were quiet, reserved, and serious. Many peers only showed interest in me long enough to get their questions about me answered, and then the fragile friendship was over.

I struggled with trusting people and was always assuming the worst of them. I became an extremely cautious person and careful with my relationships. While growing up, I never had a large pool of friends, and I typically stuck to a small group who had proved their loyalty over the years.

This behavior did not teach me how to build relationships well or healthily. I was terrified of being hurt and taken advantage of, so I would repeatedly form very strong but one-sided friendships. I would get to know my friends thoroughly, but I would only let them know me on a very superficial level. It was always enough for them to feel like they knew me but only enough that if something happened, I could withdraw and not have risked too much of myself.

I was always balancing being on opposite ends of the spectrum. I was either detached and indifferent, or I was constantly anxious about trying to control my life and my friendships. This way of life led to years of me bottling up emotions, not being an effective communicator, and going through periods where internal buildup would erupt into angry outbursts.

These are just a couple of overarching struggles I have faced throughout my life. Adoption may come with many more than just those.

My answer to finding healing in the hardships and the difficulties was and will always be Jesus. His work in my life, He has shown me the depravity and brokenness of our world. We live in a fallen world where human relationships do not function in the way they were created to be lived out. The good news is that He does not leave us in that state, and God's plan was always adoption.

One of the biggest things I wish I had known growing up is the relationship between spiritual adoption and earthly adoption.

It wasn't until my second year of college that I heard a sermon on spiritual adoption and suddenly everything began to click. I had never viewed other Christ-followers as individuals who were also adopted. The Bible says those who are believers are now sons and co-heirs with Christ through our adoption. This was information that completely transformed how I thought about orphans and adoption. This was why adoption is even important in the first place because God has adopted His children and asks that we do likewise. Adoption is an inseparable part of the Gospel.

Through the saving work of Christ on the cross, I have experienced true and purposeful love and restoration. No amount of kind words, condolences, or counseling could fix what I had been through (or whatever pain anyone has been through). The reality is that some of these things will not be repaired in full until Christ returns and sets all wrongs right.

This is why I have hope. My relationships, friendships, communication, and living, in general, has never flourished in the way it is now. I know that the Lord keeps those whom He saves, and He will keep shaping me daily. I have joy knowing that even if I don't see all of these things fully restored in this life, He will do what He has promised to do for His children who wait and long for redemption.

I think sharing my story is so important because the Lord has allowed me to heal from a lot of the effects of my past. After years of processing, introspection, and being loved with Christ's love, I’m finally at the point of being able to tell my story in a way that is honest yet uplifting. When I was younger I think I would have benefited if I had read more things, met more people, and felt more understood as an adoptee.

There's power in being able to use our pasts for the preservation of people and the ability to say, "I understand. I have a story, too. But don’t give up because there is always, always hope."

BRIDGING THE GAP

My early memories of life are pretty unknown, however, I was born in South Portland, Maine, and adopted into a family of white parents, white grandparents, and a large extended family all from Maine. I do not have a relationship with my birth mom, although she has always been someone mentioned throughout my life. And I never really had much memory of my birth father because my twin sister and I were adopted the moments after we were born.

An ongoing challenge has been constantly wondering where I came from. I think it is awesome to be able to have pride in where you’re from and understand the cultural norms of countries you represent, but for me, that is still a mystery. My birth mom is white, yet my skin is a mixed complexion. There is no way to overcome this without getting closure on the issue.

In the meantime, I have found my identity in Christ. Besides being born into this world and into an unknown story, I am known by Christ, and I am known as His. That truth helps me cope and guides me daily. The relationship I have with Him reminds me that I was uniquely made for His purpose. Despite not having a clear answer to this particular challenge yet, I know practicing patience is also part of the journey of life.

I had other challenges, of course. I wished that adoption and the process of it was more weaved into my life, vs hearing about it sporadically. Or I wish I were not the only one, a part from my twin in our peer groups that knew about adoptions. I wish adoption conversations were normal, more frequent and not only about animals.  It becomes tiresome reading about the good white couples (the “savior” complex) that adopt children of different races and or from other countries. Being a transracial adoptee is not always fun when the white majority all around you does not understand the complexities of race in America.

Being adopted is all I know; growing up, I was well cared for and loved. I think I will always have questions, however, I mostly always feet grateful to my birth mom for placing us for adoption.

As the story goes, "Your birth mom had other kids, she could not afford more children," and I am appreciative of the choice she made. I believe my life was changed from a possible single mother household to a married family home. I was given opportunities many children of color do not often come into contact with due to my experience with white parents. Traveling the world, access, and opportunity to name a few things. They are still my immediate family and the family I see when I go home, however, being married to my husband, I also get to create a family in a new way.

I’m proud of being able to make others feel connected through the mutual connection of adoption. I’ve had some dreams to put into action, but risk-taking has been super hard for me. I have dreams of putting youth of color on planes, traveling to Malawi, and other places that have changed my life.

I’ve learned that adoption is something people feel awkward or uneasy asking about. As a transracial adoptee, telling a family story or posting a family photo, it is super obvious. The story of so many children, youth, and adult adoptees, however, is not as obvious. The challenges, the discomfort, the journey, and the joys are not often talked about. Sadly, our stories are ignored in the media and film, and people still feel awkward asking about adoption.

My story is important to bridge the gap, so many others who have a story can speak openly, and non-awkwardly about it.

Representation matters.

Our life experiences should not be taboo, and the more we can share, the more others can be - and will be - educated.