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.

Are We Interested? (Part 2)

Before I get to the “call that changed everything”…

Almost a year ago, we were returning to the U.S. from our sabbatical.  At the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, we logged on to our Facebook accounts and noticed a message from friend and co-worker, Don Diva.  Don knew of an adoption attorney in Southern California who was looking for potential candidates interested in adopting an Asian child.  Would we be interested? Until then, we never considered adopting domestically.  Too complicated, too messy, too risky.  There was something more appealing (and seemingly safer) about International Adoption because we could remain blissfully ignorant of whatever calamity surrounded the conception and birth of that orphan.  But, after praying about this throughout our flight back to the U.S., we knew that God wanted us to be open to this. Ultimately, that adoption case turned out to be a dead end.  Much ado about nothing.  It seemed to us like God just wanted us to open ourselves to the possibility of domestic adoption.  A lesson in submission, perhaps?

On February 22, 2011, we got another call from Ted, the same California attorney that we connected with a year ago.  He was calling because he had a client, an Asian American woman, who was looking for an Asian couple to adopt her baby boy.  This woman was due to deliver March 1st and time was of the essence.  Are we interested?

In over 25 years of practicing adoption law in Southern California, Ted has only seen a handful of Asian babies put up for adoption and has NEVER had an Asian couple sign up to be adoptive parents.  Somehow, God brings us back to his mind even though we had the briefest of interactions a year prior.  We were the only candidates that fit the birth mother’s criteria.  It would either be us adopting or the boy would be in foster care.

We hadn’t thought about domestic adoption even once since we last spoke to Ted. Our hearts remained focused on waiting out the time until we adopted from China. But, as Ted went over the available details surrounding this woman’s pregnancy and desire to put her child up for adoption, our hearts broke.  For so long, we had been afraid of domestic adoption precisely because of circumstances like hers.  Too complicated, too messy, too risky…right?  But, when confronted with a real-life situation and the future of real-life baby, the one thing we distinctly sensed the Lord communicating to us was, “Do not be afraid.  Bring this to me in prayer and see what I will do.”

When we prayed, we were continuously brought back to the Gospel.  Galatians 4:4-7 resonated like a hundred church bells in our hearts.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba!  Father!”  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Every time I thought about adopting this child, I would be reminded of the fact that we are all orphans, ransomed back to the family of God as nothing short of sons and heirs through the blood of Christ.  The Doctrine of Adoption became more real, more precious, and more beautiful to me than ever before.  Every point of fear and hesitation that we had about adopting this child was overcome by God in His adoption of me.  Dealing with complications and hassles?  Rescuing out of dark and dire circumstances? Coming at great expense?  Crossing barriers of morality and culture?  Jesus overcame all of those obstacles and more, in infinitely greater measures, in order to adopt me.  The fact that this unborn child already faced a future in foster care screamed of the opportunity to live out the Gospel through adoption.

The next day, on February 23, we called Ted back and told him that we would like to start the process of adopting this soon-to-be-born baby boy.  In what might seem to be a short time, we had arrived at a point of certainty that God wanted us to adopt this child.  Sometimes, we still find ourselves surprised by things that we’re anticipating.  But, like all of the truly best surprises, we never saw this one coming!  In about 24 hours, being parents went from something far-off and beyond our grasp (like it’d always felt) to something imminent.  Imminent as in something that could happen in less than a week!

Looking back, it’s a good thing that we felt certain.  We would need that sense of certainty in order to face what was ahead…