Flipping the Narrative

I was first a daughter who was born to a beautiful young mother near Sarita Vihar, India. My First Mother loved me deeply, and she called me hers. I was then an Orphan, as I was unjustly separated from her arms. I never knew my First Father’s face or arms, and for that I grieve.

Orphan is an identity I have held not by choice but through a shattering of connection. When I hear the word orphan, I hear and feel these words: loneliness, cruelty, despair, injustice, and loss. I picture a young child holding out their arms and waiting for someone to look back at them with care and scoop them up with embrace. Orphans deeply need to know they have a place of safety, care, and nourishment.

I think it can be easy to allow orphans to rest at the bottom of the hierarchy of humanity. Sometimes our society paints a convincing portrait of this, and it keeps the vulnerable in the shadows of shame, vulnerability, and helplessness.

But…what if we flip the narrative? What if orphans are worth more than the narrative of lowly, pitied, needy souls? Could it be that we aren’t looking through clear and focused lenses? What if orphans are meant to help us bring heaven to earth? What if orphans hold an immense glory that actually compels us and teaches us to be better humans?

Orphans teach us not to be self-sufficient and live in isolation.

Contrary to what we think of orphanhood, orphans demonstrate to the world that we were not created to live isolated lives.

We are created to be in connection and experience deep and beautiful relationships.

There is a gap we see around orphans (physically and emotionally), and this gap points us to the need for connection. We weren’t made to be family-less. These words carry pain deep in my bones as I have lived this out for much of my life. And yet, I know that though I do not have any family (relatives) currently on this earth, I am aware of my need to fill the gap for connection with others. I have many sisters and brothers, aunties and uncles, wise guides, and even hold the title of Sun-didi to a few special little people. These relationships don’t replace my loss of family, but they do hold redemption and a sense of bringing heaven to earth.

Orphans show us the power of attunement.

A handful of years ago, I went back to visit my orphanage with my friend Heather. It was a powerful and healing trip. I met a few of the hands who took care of me as an orphan. Getting to look into the eyes of Mohinder and Achala (the founders of my orphanage) and Aunty Elcee (the live-in pediatrician), who also helped take care of me, was priceless. Their compassionate dark brown eyes communicated to me “I know you, and I love you.” I cherished these moments and still do. 

While visiting, I noticed the disproportionate number of kiddos who were waiting for families and homes compared to the number of caretakers. The ratio didn’t sit well in my soul, and when I learned that the number of kiddos was about 50 more earlier that year, despair set in. I wondered how these kiddos were being given the attunement they needed with so few care-takers and yet could see the nannies did their best with what they could.

I once read a horrifying fact that some orphans stop crying because they have learned their needs are not going to be met. These words still haunt me and point me to remember the power of attunement.

Though many orphans don’t receive good enough attunement, they remind us that humanity needs attunement and it is so crucial for our hearts to come alive and a life of flourishing. We need someone to turn their gaze and face towards us, and likewise, we have the ability to offer ourselves to others as a means of connection and care. Orphans point us to our need (for both young and old) to meet someone’s warm and compassionate gaze and offer this same gaze to others.

Orphans offer us a more complete picture of the brokenness of this world and the opportunities to step into the needs and gaps our human narrative holds. Through orphans we can see a reflection of the needs and longings that live in each of our hearts and stories. May we honor and bless those who find themselves as orphans, for they offer goodness and understanding where we as humans falls short.

Sandhya Oaks is a ministry leader, speaker, writer, and advocate. Born in India and adopted as a Transracial Adoptee in the Midwest, she has been serving with Cru Campus Ministry for more than 13 years and loves developing students and staff. She is the co-founder of The Adoption Triad, a social media group that provides community and resources to those connected to adoption and foster care. Her passion to walk with adoptive families is being lived out through leading virtual Transracial Adoption Parent Groups with Restoration Counseling. Sandhya recently moved to Colorado and spends her free time camping, sipping coffee with friends, and creating tasty charcuterie boards.