Zombies & Other Viral Things

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Last night, for the first time in a looong time, we rented a movie.  We chose World War Z.  And by “we” I mean me.  It definitely was not the wife’s first choice.  I, on the other hand, cop to a slight obsession with post-apocalyptic plot lines, such as AMC’s The Walking Dead.  She finds snarling zombies shuffling about to be all kinds of silly, not to mention a bit disturbing.  But she loves me.  I know this because we rented World War Z last night.

The plot follows Brad Pitt’s (he of the flowing blond locks) intrepid UN Inspector as he tries to solve the mystery of a global viral outbreak that turns people into ravenous, rabid zombies hellbent on biting people.  <Side note: When depicting zombies, why are they always biters?>  Anyway, I thought the visual depiction of the zombie hordes to be incredibly arresting.  I mean, just harrowing.  It kept me up last night.  I could feel the chaos and the panic as the veneer of civilization’s order is stripped away.  I could feel the desperation as the uninfected try to contain a seemingly uncontainable viral outbreak that consumes everything in its path.  I liked it.  The movie, not necessarily the thought of uncontrollable viruses.

Fortunately, we don’t have to deal with zombie-producing viruses in real life.  The mechanics of a viral spread are real, however, and we got a glimpse of how it works this week.    Our adoption video debuted in October 2012 through a few portals: Youtube, Vimeo, Austin Stone Community Church’s website, and at Austin Stone’s church services on October 29.  In the following 14 months, it was viewed approximately 70,000 times.  And if you had told me at the time we were shooting our  video that it would be watched 70k times, I’d have had some disbelief that our little story could find such an audience.

Then…last week happened.  This is a screen cap of our video’s statistics on Vimeo.  Is this what happens when something goes viral?

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The key factor (or the “patient zero” in infectious disease terms) was our video being picked up by the website www.faithit.com last Tuesday.  From there, it just kind of spread.  Since last Tuesday (December 10), the video has been watched 701,059 times on Vimeo.  There have been almost 10,000 additional views on Youtube.  So, by my count, that’s over 710,000 views in a week’s time…or, more than 10x the number of views as there were in over a year.  Not sure if there’s an official threshold that needs to be crossed for something to qualify as “viral,” but we were shocked and totally caught off guard.  We started seeing links to the video all over our Facebook feeds, friends were notifying us of their friends sharing the video.  It certainly felt viral to us.

The internet is a craaaazy place.   There are countless videos/clips online with millions of views, dwarfing the stats I’ve mentioned.  My point is not about how our video compares to any other.  It certainly isn’t a “Look at us!  Look at the attention we’re getting!” kind of deal.  Honestly, the video has some limiting factors that impact viewership.  We talk about the Gospel.  We talk about Jesus by name.  So the only thing this post is really about is how God has, only by His good pleasure, chosen to use our story.

There was a teenager, herself adopted at birth, who contacted us and informed us of how our video helped her to again draw closer to her adoptive parents.  Another couple shared our video with the birth mother of the child they would soon adopt, helping her to understand how they felt about adopting her child.  Yet another couple told us of how some in their extended family never fully accepted their adopted children; upon seeing our video, these family members offered apologies and some of the first positive words of encouragement and reconciliation in years.  We’ve had friends and strangers alike share their stories of waiting (for children, for a spouse, or for yet another hope deferred) and how our video gave some needed encouragement to wait upon the Lord.

This is without mentioning the various people who’ve contacted us over the years after reading this blog, asking for advice and prayer.  How a blog with a readership numbering in the teens still manages to impact people – even in faraway countries – is pretty incredible, too.  Honestly, we are humbled and blown away by all of this.

I have a few observations/take-aways that I’d like to share:

  1. The internet is a powerful thing.  Duh, right?  Well, it’s one thing to know that in theory and an entirely different thing to see it first-hand.  The extent to which our lives are wired to the World Wide Web and, therefore, the accessibility to information and each other via the Web is scary.  Not necessarily in a horrible way, but certainly in a sobering one.
  2. Stories sometimes need time to find their audience.  Eight days ago, I thought I had a pretty good idea who the audience for our adoption video was.  I would have been wrong.
  3. The conditions surrounding orphans are fundamentally compelling.   What do I mean?  When we see a child without a father, without a mother, I think there is a sense of wrongness that stirs within us.  The orphan holds a mirror to our faces and challenges us to envision our own lives without family.  It is not a pretty reflection.  What we do with that sense, if anything, differs from person to person.  We may call our responses different names (sense of justice, compassion, etc.) and we may have different motivations to act or not act (our faith, insecurities, superseding priorities, etc.), but that fundamental sense that “life should not be this way” is what I’m talking about.  I think it’s universal, hard-wired into how we are made.  I also think it must be part of why our video, on some level, appeals to people.

On that last observation, I need to be clear about something: I am pro-adoption.  Obviously.  There are people who are NOT, for a variety of different reasons.  Some of them have even written to us to tell us why.  Some say that adoption breaks up families, point to how it can be forced upon helpless mothers, how it encourages profiteering and human trafficking, how it damages communities.  They have concerns about issues like the implications of transracial adoptions, for the children and the larger culture.  And I agree with much of it.  In a different post, I might address the topic of adoption ethics <Given my writing pace, it might be a while. 🙂   I’ll file it right alongside the “China” post that I’ve been meaning to write for years, as we still await our China adoption>.  For this space, I’ll just say that I completely agree that adoption is not – and should not – always (be) the answer to the orphan crisis.  It is not always the right or best solution.  I acknowledge these things while still passionately advocating for adoption, when appropriate.

In fact, I think every adoption has the threads of heartbreak and joy woven into its very fabric.  Behind every adoption, there is a birth mother/birth parents that had to make the gut-wrenching decision to put their child up for adoption…and endure the grief thereafter.  There are birth families and siblings that will not be able to share life with that child.  There are children who will grow up with the awareness that they were “given up” and they may suffer for it.  But there are also children who will be given new hope and new futures.  There will be adoptive parents who will joyfully take on the privilege of raising those precious children.  There will be adoptive families who will experience a new wholeness through adoption.  Heartbreak and Joy.

Each day with our son, Jacob, fills me with a sense of overwhelming gratitude and utter gladness.  I am still shocked at the depth of my affection for this boy.  Adopting him has changed my life and turned it upside-down.  Each day also gives me a keen reminder that people are broken and this world is broken.  For if not, Jacob’s birth mother would have been able to keep him and raise him in a good home…and we wouldn’t have needed (or been privileged) to adopt him.  I don’t feel any guilt, but there is a sadness.  The fact that, in some ways, my joy rides on the coattails of another’s grief is a very real thing.  Every.  Day.

So, I pray that Jacob’s birth mother will see our video someday.  I pray that she’ll experience some peace when she sees it, that she’ll have some comfort in knowing that her child is loved.  I pray that she’ll be reassured that she did an incredibly loving thing when she put him up for adoption.  I pray that she’ll be motivated to connect with us someday, when the time is right.  After all, the internet is a powerful thing…and some stories need time to find their audience.  Ultimately, I pray that when she sees the video, it will somehow help her to see that the brokenness of this life and world, the brokenness rendering all of us spiritual orphans – like some viral outbreak infecting us all – has an antidote.  His name is Jesus.

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Choosing Roles

It’s been a warm winter so far here in Austin.  While sitting outside a Starbucks recently, working on my computer while enjoying a nice day, I noticed a couple of boys playing in the nearby playground.  They both had sticks in hand, often swinging and poking those sticks at each other.  It was obvious that they were engaged in some serious pretend sword fighting.  Parry here, a quick riposte there…a feint and then mighty swing downwards.  It sounds violent, but boys just do that.  (Plus, they were uncoordinated and those sticks were really small.)

In the middle of the furious action, the bigger of the two boys stops suddenly and, in a bit of pout, complains to the other that he’d been doing it all wrong.  It turns out that they were re-enacting some swashbuckling scene in which the bigger boy was supposed to defeat his friend…except that his friend wasn’t cooperating by going down.  The little one just shrugged and responded that he was tired of being the bad guy.

It was interesting to observe how clearly those boys understood the idea of roles within a narrative.  The hero is supposed to triumph over the villain, so the story goes.  Even in the middle of spirited play, there was some level of awareness that the action was supposed to unfold a certain way.

Today is my birthday.  I always feel introspective on my birthday (at least more so than usual).  I thought about those boys today and the notion of choosing roles in my life.  With varying degrees of vanity, I cast myself into certain roles and those roles, invariably, carry great importance.

This being our adoption blog, I can relate this to adoption, too.  It is with utmost sincerity that I proclaim adopting a child to be an act of courage and selflessness.  That doesn’t make me, as an adoptive parent, a selfless person, though.  In fact, there’s a great deal of selfishness and self-centeredness here.  You can see it in how I envision my role as a father: Rescuer, Benefactor, Protector, and Life-changer.  I have so many dreams for my son.  In my dreams, he will be a man of character; living a life with integrity and honor.  In my dreams, he’ll be a winsome personality, quick to make friends and beloved by those who know him.  He’ll be funny and smart and athletic and creative.  He’ll marry a wonderful woman and have many fantastic children.  He will be a good husband and a loving father.  He’ll know Jesus and live a life of worth living.

I feel – sometimes so deeply that I sense it in my bones – the need to make those dreams come true.  Those of you who are parents know what I’m talking about.  We’ve all had these thoughts.  Some of us live our lives in light of those dreams, making daily choices to usher those dreams to fruition.  Some of us, in the harsh light of reality, have already been disabused of those notions.  Regardless, we all know the type of role we’d choose for ourselves if, indeed, the choice was ours.

Today is my birthday, but it is also Christmas time.  In reflecting on the coming of Christ, my thoughts are drawn to the life of Joseph…himself an adoptive father.  We don’t know much about Joseph.  He is an often forgotten player in the narrative, infrequently celebrated.  In the retelling of Jesus’ life, his adoptive father bears little mention.  But we know that Joseph willingly and obediently played his role.  He didn’t abandon Mary.  He moved his young family to Egypt, getting them away from Herod’s murderous intent.  He eventually settled them in Galilee, fulfilling a prophecy.  He raised his son and taught him his trade, so that he could make a living.

Joseph serves as a good reminder that parenthood is not about casting myself into the central role.  His life is a reminder that parenthood is NOT about investing in some payoff down the road, but about a loving choice today.  I feel compelled to examine what motivates the dreams I have for my son.  Who and what are they ultimately about?  I want to be the kind of dad that values, as precious, every contribution I make to my son’s life.  But, I don’t want to be the kind of dad that needs that affirmation, nor do I want to be the guy that buckles under that pressure or tries to control everything because that’s the only way he can see things turning out right.  Am I wrong?  Thoughts?

Mostly, it’s a reminder that there is but one Story and God occupies the central role of said Story.  And, if I want my son to understand how his own life fits into this one Story, I need to be the kind of father that lives out his role in light of this reality, too.  So, with that last thought, our family wishes to extend to you our prayers for His blessing upon you this Christmas season!