Well friends, someday we’ll get back to a weekly narrative blog post – but for now, in writing season, you get to hear from some pretty amazing folks whose words have already been put into print. Meet Kelley Nikondeha, a reader, writer, thinker and practical theologian, and author of Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World. Regardless of whether or not you’ve been touched by adoption, you’re going to want to read this interview. As per the usual, leave a comment to win a copy of her book!
Tell us a bit about yourself, will you? I am a community development practitioner alongside my husband, which means I live between Burundi (East Africa) and the US. We often joke that I am the book smarts and he is the street smarts, each making our own unique contributions to the work. I take the lead on the storytelling, but my deeper offering is the theological work that undergirds our development practices.
What is germane to the conversation here is that I am adopted and I am the mother of two children, both adopted from Burundi. My husband is also Burundian, born and raised, so we are a bicultural and bi-continental family. I often say this gives our relationship lots of texture, which is true.
I am a thinker, reader, writer and practical theologian hungry for the New City. I am ecclesiastically promiscuous. I am a liberation theologian with a strong Trinitarian bent. I’m drawn to the deliverance narratives of Exodus, the poetry of Isaiah, the breathless urgency of Mark and the enigmatic parables of Jesus.
Let’s talk about your book: what, in a nutshell, is your book about anyway? Adopted is an exploration of belonging through the lived experience and Biblical metaphor of adoption. It is part narrative, part theological reflection. I believe that those in the company of the adopted are, in fact, practitioners of belonging and have gifts to offer a fractured world. We can belong to one another across binaries, across differences of ethnicity and nationality and beyond biology. Adoption teaches us that anyone can be your family if you let them.
Do tell, what was the inspiration behind it? I have tenure in the company of the adopted – forty plus years. But what I noticed was the conversations of adoption, especially theological responses to adoption, did not reflect my experience. Maybe because the books were all written by men, or those with more conservative theological commitments or those earnest, but still young in their adoptive journey. In any case, I determined to make my own contribution to the conversation. I wanted to share about my experience from the inside, how adoption has been spiritual formation. I wanted to reflect on the complexity, yet goodness. I wanted to offer fresh language for the company of the adopted. I had high hopes that I could testify to adoption as a sacrament with graces to offer the church, our communities, and our aching world in need of belonging.
How do you hope readers will be changed by your words? I hope those who are in the company of the adopted will find fresh words for their experience and maybe see a bit of their own story within some of my mine.
I hope the metaphor of adoption will offer fresh language to talk about the anatomy and praxis of belonging in our fractured world. Maybe it will open up some new fields for our imagination to forage and discover ways toward deeper connection.
And since we are all adopted ones, according to Paul, I hope we can meditate on what that might mean for us in relationship to God who welcomes the relinquished and extends durable hospitality, making us kin. Also, as fellow adopted ones, we are siblings to one another now. How does that change how we relate to each other when we see others as siblings gathered round the same family table.
Lest we forget to ask, how have YOU been changed by writing the book? This is my first book. The learning curve was steep – but good.
The most transformative part of the process was discovering the beauty in the relationship between writer and editor. I envision a pen and pruning hook, working in turn to craft clear thoughts and crisp words for readers to easily enter in to the conversation and engage the content. Strong edits can feel harsh at first. But I found them to come from places of deep love for the work, and me. When I could relax my defenses and entertain the possibility that the editor was on to something, I found I could see my own words with fresh insight. Working with editors increased my capacity to trust others with the words I held most closely, to welcome the insight of others and allow the collaboration to strengthen me as a person. For me, a lifelong Christian, it felt like a deeper discipleship.
Writing is a spiritual practice, no less so when that writing leads to publication. I think the smartest thing I did for myself was recognizing that early on and inviting a spiritual director into my life when my agent began shopping my initial book proposal. Meeting with a spiritual director every month helped me to remain attentive to my own soul amid the writing, waiting, rejections, research, more writing and editing. There are inevitable seizures of the soul brought on by insecurity and impasses, by writing blocks and wrestling matches with unnamed angels. It’s a good thing to have someone with you, praying for you as you write and listening to the Spirit with and for you. The discipline of spiritual direction became a twin to the discipline of writing itself. It kept me centered in Christ and prevented a spiritual loneliness as I went deep inside myself to mine for words.
I guess what I learned, with editors and my spiritual director, is the imperative for partners in the process of writing. I was changed by the presence of true co-workers. Allowing trusted others into the work and into the sacred places of my life brought a bounty of generative goodness. Together we made the work holy.
I know there are so many of us who are going to be touched by Kelley’s words, and I especially think this is so if you’ve somehow been touched by adoption yourself. Kelley, thank you for putting Adoption into words – we are delighted to hold your gift of a book! If you’d like to win a copy of her book, simply leave an encouraging comment for Kelley below. Winner will be drawn on Monday, August 28th. Good luck!
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