Announcer: Welcome to the Adopting and Fostering Home podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years, or you’re just getting started, we’re here to support and encourage you along the way.
Tera Melber: Welcome to the Adopting and Fostering Home podcast. I’m Tera Melber, along with Lynette Ezell, and today we want to welcome Maridel Sandberg to the podcast. Maridel is married to Bruce, and is an adoptive mom and grandmother. She’s a national speaker and board member of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, and is the founder of a new organization called, Together For Good.
Lynette Ezell: We are so glad you’re here today, thanks for your time.
Sandberg: Yeah, I’m glad to be here.
Lynette Ezell: You know, we have a print in Kevin’s office, and we’ve moved it around quite a bit, but it says, 1 Chronicles 16:24, “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.”
So, Maridel, I can’t help but think about our families when I hear that verse, but tell us a little bit more about your family and how you came to become the picture of the family that you are today.
Sandberg: Yeah. Back in … Well, Bruce and I have been married for 36 years, which is a really, really long time, and back in the day we had birthed three children, and were enjoying the life of a basic suburban family in Minnesota. And, we were listening to Focus on the Family, and heard about the crisis with the abortion issue. This was back in 1989, you girls probably weren’t even born yet, and-
Tera Melber: Oh, yeah, we were.
Lynette Ezell: We were born and married.
Sandberg: And, our pastor, John Piper, was actually put in jail for the night for protesting at an abortion clinic. So, between that story of his overnight in jail, and the words from Focus on the Family about the crisis in the abortion world, and families and women that were facing crisis pregnancies, we’re driving to the bank one day, and I had a nine-year-old, four-year-old, and two-year-old, and my middle child said, “Mommy, why couldn’t we help with these babies that mommies can’t take care of? Why would they have to abort them? We could call them, and we could tell them we could help.” It was first so sad to have to talk to my children about abortion at such a young age.
Lynette Ezell: Right.
Sandberg: That trauma alone was hard, but in that moment, we’d had two girls, and we had a son that I had desperately prayed for, and I started dreaming. What would it look like if he could have a baby brother? I came home and told my husband, I think we should consider a baby for Ted. A brother. He said, we have enough children, everything’s fine. But, in those moments, within days, one of my girlfriends called me and said, do you know anybody who’d be interested in adopting a child? Born in America, who is African-American, a brand new baby. I said, what? I said, that can’t be happening.
Tera Melber: Wow. The Lord was lining that up, wasn’t he?
Lynette Ezell: Yeah, written on the wall.
Sandberg: She had adopted from India, and the agency had called her to say, “Would you ever be interested in a little brown baby that had curly hair, instead of straight hair?” At that point, her and her husband weren’t in a position where they could adopt again, but I was absolutely just completely amazed that there could be a child in America that needed a family. And, I found out later that during that time, if you were an African-American woman, and you were in a crisis pregnancy, you had very few options because nobody was waiting in line to adopt your child. Back in the community of course, families would help each other with babies, and grandmas would raise grandchildren. But in this particular case, she didn’t want that for her child. Nor was it possible.
I called this agency, and they said, “Yes indeed.” Back in the day, at this point in time, there were many children who were waiting for placement, purely because of the color of their skin. God, in his sovereign plans, had already paved the way in terms of I’d been at college in Chicago, and was very involved in the African-American community. So, this didn’t seem like a big step to me. It seemed like a natural step, although my husband of course was like, what? We can’t afford another child, we can’t afford adoption. So the miracle happened, and Joshua came into our family, and we didn’t want him to be the only black child in our family, especially since we live in Minnesota, which is very small in diversity. Anyway, so a year later, we adopted again from another agency. A brand new baby, six weeks old.
Then we thought we were done, and God had a different plan. So, Isaac came into our life, and his name says it all in terms of, we thought we had him, then we didn’t have him, put him on the alter before the Lord …
Tera Melber: That is exactly why we have an Isaac.
Sandberg: I know, and he has brought us lots of laughter, as well. Then of course, we were totally done having children. This is good, six children. And, seven years later, the Lord, through some funny circumstances, allowed us to adopt a little girl, and two years later, another little girl.
So our youngest are now 13 and 15, and our oldest is 35. So, yep. It’s a busy place.
Lynette Ezell: Wow, that’s such a picture of the Lord saying, you know, let the Lord set your boundaries.
Tera Melber: Right.
Lynette Ezell: And, how he, broadens our tents in his timing, and in his way, and for our family, it’s been an incredible ride. We’re still on it, we’re still hanging on some days, most days. This morning. But, just the way that he builds families, it’s just beautiful. I love the diversity he’s brought to our life, and just the different personalities, is what I’m talking about. Just we all laugh at each other, and what we’re learning from each other.
What would you say to a family that is considering maybe multi-racial adoption?
Sandberg: Yeah. Well, the beautiful thing now is there’s so many resources out there. There’s just tons of books on adoption, on race, and trans-racial adoption. So, the opportunity to educate yourself is there, of course. And, we would never want to be rushing into this kind of situation, I think you need to be prayerful and careful, while again, provide some sort of an opportunity that we think we’re somehow rescuing a child. We need to remember that we were first rescued, and so that we don’t want to position ourselves that this is about us saving some child, rather about God using us to increase our family. So parenting needs to be your first issue. Do I want to parent? Not, do I want a child? I think that’s confusing sometimes.
But also then, seek the counsel of someone else, trusted friends in your life, because it is a big adjustment. We did lose friends when we adopted back then. People thought we were crazy, and we were at some levels, blazing a trail that hadn’t been walked much before us in our area. But, there are people who are gonna feel uncomfortable just with adoption in general, and of course, then the race will become another piece of it themselves. Then of course, jump in.
I think that the beauty of adoption, really, is that there’s a process. So, what’s the worst case scenario? That you think God’s leading you this direction? Then get a home study done. It’s a small investment, but at least then you’re ready, should God call you to a specific child, a specific scenario. You’re more prepared and ready to obey, than if you just sit back and go, I wonder. I wonder if. So, worst case scenario, and adoption agency gets a couple grand of your money, and they can use that for ministry, or best case scenario, in God’s timing, he leads you to the child that belongs to you.
I would say that’s the absolute most important thing, is that God is sovereign, his hand, I mean, his will is gonna be accomplished. So, it may be that it takes two or three rounds of closed doors, or closed situations, but he is faithful in that situation. Every single time.
Tera Melber: I love what you say about being prepared and Lynette has said this before, I’ve heard her tell people, just do the first thing. Just fill out the piece of paper. Just take the step, because in the Lord’s sovereign plan, he’s asking you to be obedient to what he’s calling you to, and you may not know what that is long-term, but if you prepare yourself-
Lynette Ezell: Right.
Tera Melber: Then you’re available and ready for his purpose and plan.
Lynette Ezell: And, when you take that first step, just Maridel, like you said, just take the first step toward getting a home study done. Then it seems like the fear kind of just dissolves around you. It’s not as big as we had it in our mind before we started.
Lynette Ezell: And, it is amazing to me because even when you were saying you know the Lord, you heard Focus on the Family, and then your pastor was placed in jail overnight, and then your children brought it up, and then you talked to Bruce about it. You know, the way that the Lord does the chess pieces in our lives, we don’t often get when we’re in the middle of it. It’s like you’re in the forest, and you can’t see anything because of all of the trees, but yet, the Lord’s in the helicopter, and he sees the big plan, and how to navigate you through that. So, just being able to see how the Lord’s leading it, and take those steps to educating yourself and to be like what you said, prayerful and careful.
Sandberg: It’s a great ride.
Lynette Ezell: I think knowing, too … Yeah, one of the things that you had talked about was that you don’t know how people are necessarily going to react. I think that as we pray and seek, that just because we come up against people who might not agree with what we’re doing, does not mean that we shouldn’t proceed. Because it is scary for people.
Sandberg: It is. I just think any risk … It’s just a different way of living life. Of course our faith’s journey, regardless of this, or whether it’s deciding to move your family to China. Either way, people are gonna think you’re crazy.
Lynette Ezell: Right.
Sandberg: So, to just go, this is about the Lord and us, and our family, and what he’s called us to, and also, who would ever want to miss the journey? The journey of faith that’s faith, not by sight, but by trusting in the one who knows better, who is at work. Who has planned works for us to do. Before the beginning of the foundation of the world, he knew the path that we would walk in, and the works that we would do. So, it just becomes an exciting adventure, and we laugh regularly about the journey, and what a ride it’s been.
Tera Melber: When you said that you live in an area that’s not super diverse, have you experienced racial remarks toward your family or your children? And, if so, which I’m sure you have, because we all have, then how did you deal with that? You started this journey before this big church movement began, so you were sort of blazing the trail. I’m sure that that was difficult.
Sandberg: I think it was most surprising of people within the church, who really just didn’t want to go there. Who were uncomfortable with the topic. And, a lot of it is around that whole issue of, is this your real child, or your adopted child, and how we put labels on people. That was hard and painful, and mostly just being misunderstood. But, as we’ve raised these kids now, people say the darnedest things, and I’m just amazed at how, pardon my French, but how stupid people are. And, uneducated in adoption in general, but then also the issue of race. It’s been a very, mighty long journey in so many ways. I had no idea.
I’m thinking this is 2017 for goodness sakes, and I really thought that if I was to encounter it, it would have been the first time around in 1991 and 1992 when we adopted our first child, but things are so much more charged right now, racially. So, just in the last month, we’ve had four situations where the principal has had to call me to say that my children have been verbally assaulted. So, this mama bear in me, is having a hard time with these issues right now. You have to be aware, you have to position yourself in a position of, God has called us to this, that he’s not gonna leave us in it. But, also really pray about the people that God puts in your life, and the way that he surrounds us with good support.
So, no. We didn’t plan it this way, but it just so happened that right across the street, our neighbor moved in, who was a mixed race family. Who does that but our Father? He takes care of us.
Tera Melber: Right.
Lynette Ezell: Right.
Sandberg: When our boys started doing basketball, while it’s a predominately white area, our basketball coach was an African-American man. What a gift to our African-American boys at that moment in time. So, He orchestrates our lives. He’s not gonna … We think that we’re gonna have to be the full source provider for our children, but we aren’t. We are not the end all. God orchestrates for our children’s needs so much better than we can. Even in this latest issue at school, and honestly, the poor principal, he’s kind of afraid to even call me now. He like, trembles when he talks to me, because he knows how sad this is, and how mad/sad it is to me. I’m pretty up on these things concerning schools. They had hired a diversity director for that particular school, and that African-American woman was able to walk into my daughter’s world at just the right time, and comfort her.
Lynette Ezell: Wow.
Sandberg: She came home feeling so blessed, that there was an advocate for her. Yes, mommy was her advocate, but in that moment, there was someone in that building that could make her feel safe. The world is what it is, and it’s a fascinating- I mean, I could go on all day talking about racism, because people say stupid things in front of me, because they don’t know. That’s my child out in the choir concert singing the solo, or that’s my child out on the basketball court. So, we’ll be sitting in the stands, and people say terrible things. If I could have one message go out to this whole audience, right now, it is, wake up, Christians. We all need to say I’m sorry to one another.
Lynette Ezell: Yes.
Sandberg: And think of a new way of loving one another. So, that part of the brokenness, is more painful than ever. But, the beauty is, these little girls have big brothers who are now 24, and 25, who they call and say, here’s what happened today. And, those brothers are praying for them, and encouraging them. It’s been a beautiful thing.
Tera Melber: That is beautiful. I love when you say- You’ve told me before to pray for divine appointments and relationships, and be intentional. Even training those people within your home, that your girls felt they’re close enough to their brothers to be able to call them and say, I’m really struggling with this today, and that your boys are encouraging your girls. But, praying for those divine appointments, you’re right. We can’t manufacture relationships outside-
Lynette Ezell: No, you can’t.
Tera Melber: So, the Lord places people in our lives, and we have to recognize his hand in that. I mean, Lynette and I didn’t live anywhere close to each other for the last several years, and then the Lord moved us within three miles of one another. Now our children even have not only their siblings, but now have each other, and that’s been a huge blessing to our families.
Lynette Ezell: It has. It has. And, you do have to look for those positive role models for your children. We had an incredible math teacher that helped my African-American daughter, and just those role models, just I saw gave her such confidence. You know, that I can do this, or you know, speaking truth into her life, but encouragement and acceptance into her life. But, seeking out those role models.
Tera Melber: I remember talking to you, Maridel about that specifically for our younger two boys, who were brought home from Ethiopia, and one of the things that you said was, look for those positive role models, so when I was looking for a new pediatrician, there just so happened to be a really brilliant pediatrician in our area, who is African-American, and honestly, the boys loved going for their check-ups, because he was able to- he really took it upon himself to talk to the boys about racial issues, and about things that they might be facing, and about you’re gonna work hard in school, and encouraging them in those ways that we were encouraging them at home, but to come from this brilliant African-American pediatrician to our boys, was just priceless.
Lynette Ezell: Invaluable. It really is.
Sandberg: Such a beautiful picture of God, who really does care about the most private details of our lives. At least me, as a mama bear, I like to manipulate and control, and …
Lynette Ezell: I never do that.
Tera Melber: No problem here.
Sandberg: It’s so much better when we just get on our knees and say, we can’t do this alone Lord, apart from you. This isn’t gonna work. In our family of course, it’s taken this next generation. Our oldest daughter has also adopted, a couple of children from Ethiopia and one from Uganda. So, the incredible opportunity of living this beautiful life has just blossomed in so many ways, but she also then is engaging in the same struggles, right? The school district, and the kids who say stupid things, and so we’re just thankful that we have a Father, who loves us intimately, and knows our children better than we do.
Tera Melber: So you said your oldest daughter has adopted, and she’s also adopted trans-racially. As your biological kids were growing up, how do you feel like it affected them in positive ways, or ways that they struggled with it? And, how did you maneuver that?
Sandberg: Well, you know children that are young are very … They don’t notice what is going on in the world, they’re not really aware, so pretty much all of it was just a huge blessing in terms of relationships and opportunities to just grow our family, and be a light in our community. But, as they grew older, we had a couple situations where people were really mean in our neighborhood, or painted stuff on our driveway, and things like that. So, they were at an impressionable age of 12, 13, 14, to go, wow, this is really sad, and it hurts, and it just changes forever, the direction of your heart and life, right? You become very aware of how necessary the Lord is in our lives, but also to be more discerning about who you hang with, what kind of friends you have, the messages the world is sending.
I’ll never forget, my daughter wrote a paper in junior high, I think it was. What it’s like to be a minority in my own family. Because, by then, we had more black kids than white kids. So, we just journeyed together, and you know again, I think wrap around support is essential. Don’t do this alone, don’t be parenting alone, in general. But, certainly in cases of adoption, we need the rest of the body of Christ to surround us in these times.
Tera Melber: How did you engage your child in, not only in your culture, as in your family when you came home, although yours were babies, but even more, how did you ever engage them in the African-American culture?
Sandberg: We just you know, looked for opportunities again, those basketball friends became our closest friends. They grew up together, and they would always site the opposite in their little worlds, it’s like well, I wanna have a whole bunch of different friends, I’m not gonna focus on just this. They wanted to normalize. I think the strongest need of any adopted child is to belong. So, whatever their local neighborhood is, they wanna belong there. They want to belong in their family, they wanna feel normal, and yet, of course every day their skin color can scream out against a world that doesn’t understand them, as well.
So it’s a dance of sorts.
Lynette Ezell: Maridel, I noticed in my biological children that it was life-changing for them, to come from a multi-racial family. Now, we have Asian children, and African-American daughter, so … Can I just say, I got my DNA testing done, and I’m from everywhere? I’m not at all what I thought I was, and I can’t believe from all the places that I am. So, we do, it sounds like what your family does, we laugh through things. That really helps. But, I noticed when my son went to college, my biological son, that he refused to room with just Caucasian guys. He wanted diversity in his life, so he did. He purposely sought out an apartment with diversity, and purposely made those friends. Then, he transferred to another university on the west coast, and is still. He loved it mainly, and it’s Christ centered, and is so diverse. We didn’t do that, the Lord did that in his life. I’m so proud of that, that that’s his comfort zone.
Sandberg: That is a very powerful thing. It’s a very powerful reality. On every level, for all of our children, they would say that they have the opportunity to be comfortable in either race. You know, my boys who were adopted, they will say to us, we’re so thankful, because we feel like we fit in both worlds, and we can transfer back and forth. But the value of … No matter how you look at it, in America at this point in history, any other diverse population is a minority. That probably won’t always be true. But, to be children and young adults who pursue diversity, who pursue love and care of those who are different than themselves, is a rich experience. And, for sure in our family, that’s been a truth.
My oldest son who is my birth child three, he became the warrior, and was gonna protect his brothers no matter what. He faced those comments in high school, when he’d be sitting in a room, his brothers weren’t there, but he’d be hearing things that weren’t appropriate, and he would you know, make the statements and be that person to advocate for his brothers. So, it is for sure a benefit. Our world just needs so much more of that, and I think that’s a benefit that all that God has done in the adoption world now, is that provided just an eye-opening experience that God is much bigger than what we ever imagined, and much more glorious than we could ever have imagined.
And that we value and need each other much more than we could ever have imagined. So, to bring that to your family, on a personal level, becomes … Those are going to be our change agents, they’re going to be the people who seek out the church that might be different than their own, or drive a little bit further, to be a part of a diverse congregation. That work will never be done this side of heaven, but we need to pursue.
Tera Melber: And, that’s where healing, even for our nation comes. Is by having that mindset.
Lynette Ezell: Absolutely. Absolutely. Maridel, we really appreciate your insight and wisdom today, and just the encouragement that this will bring to so many families. We know that parenting is never easy. I’ve got chapters on that. And, we make mistakes along the way, but the Lord does give sweet victories in this journey.
Tera Melber: Yes, he does.
Lynette Ezell: And, we appreciate your transparency. Thanks so much for joining us today, Maridel.
Sandberg: Yep. Great to be with you girls. Love you both.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to the Adopting and Fostering Home podcast. We’re so glad you’ve taken time to listen today. Keep in mind, we’re a ministry of the North American Mission Board, and funded through the Annie Armstrong Offering, and your giving to the cooperative program. We look forward to talking more about adoption, fostering and orphan care, and how you can be involved.