Archive for the ‘Adoption’ Category

In celebration of the canonization of Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) on September 4, I would like to share with you eight lessons and prayers that I discovered from reading Mother Teresa’s writings. Feel free to share some of your favorites as well! Yesterday I wrote about the first “lesson” — The Power of Loving the “Other.”  I will write one lesson each day. Enjoy!


Lesson #2: Always Take Mary With You

Trains ready to depart Sealdah Station, Calcutta, 1944_2Today marks the ninth anniversary of the “home going” of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, who died on September 5, 1997. Although she became “Mother Teresa” when she took her vows with the Loreto teaching order in 1937, Mother Teresa didn’t become “mother” in the full sense of the word until nearly a decade later, on September 10, 1946 (the image here was taken two years earlier). She was recovering from an illness following the Calcutta Riots when she took the train to a retreat center in the mountains when she received her “call within a call,” in which the Lord revealed to her that she was to work among the “poorest of the poor,” to satiate the thirst of Jesus for souls. When I read about this, I wondered at God’s timing — why he would ask her to turn her life upside down like that, when she had already suffered so much. But then, the riots revealed the deep need of the people in an unforgettable way. It is no wonder that Mother Teresa would have felt compelled to act, no matter what.

In 2009, her private letters and journals were published in a remarkable book called Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. Many were shocked to discover that, despite the great joy and tenacity she embodied all her life, in reality her “beloved” often felt very far away. Perhaps for this reason, Mother Teresa always stayed very close to the mother of the Lord, invoking her frequently in prayers like this one:

Immaculate Heart of Mary, our Queen and Mother, be more and more our way to Jesus, the light of Jesus, and the life of Jesus in each of us…

She turned to Mary whenever there was a need, at times invoking the Memorare ten times (the first nine as a novena, with a tenth as a prayer of thanksgiving). One of my favorite stories about Mother Teresa and Mary is found in Mother Teresa: Reaching Out in Love. It seems that Mother Teresa had been presented with a lifetime railway pass for herself and a companion, in gratitude for her work on behalf of the poor. To celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, Mother Teresa brought a large statue of the Madonna onboard with her, so that people would see it and pray. The train conductor protested; the free ticket did not include a baggage allowance, only a seat for a companion. “She IS my companion,” protested Mother Teresa. “I talk to her, and she listens, and sometimes she talks to me. So I will not pay” (p.40).

This devotion to Mary is something I came to understand only gradually, and well after I became Catholic. Like Mother Teresa, my call to motherhood transpired when I was well into my thirties — and, like Mother Teresa’s call, it came seemingly out of the blue. Every time I went into inner-city Detroit to go to class at Sacred Heart Seminary, I would pass by Catholic Charities, and eventually my husband and I decided to go and register as foster parents. It was a complete change of life for us, and more than once I turned to the Blessed Mother and begged her to help me, often standing in the shower (the only time I was alone) that I would get through the day. “You were the perfect mother, and had one perfect son . . . I have neither of these things! Pray for me, Mary.”

And Mary always drew me closer to the source of grace, to her son Jesus.

It doesn’t really matter how we become mothers — through childbirth or adoption or foster care, while in our teens or in middle age, accidentally or after long bouts of infertility. Each of us has a place in the lap of Mary, where we can go when times get hard.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!


If you are enjoying this series, you might also enjoy my two new books on her life and writings: Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (preorders ship 9/16) and Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, (preorders ship 1/17), both available through Servant Books/Franciscan Media.

Photo credit: “Life in Kolkata – 1944 Part 16

“Trains ready to depart Sealdah Station” from the Hensley Collection

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One Heart Full of LoveIn celebration of the canonization of Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) on September 4, I would like to share with you eight lessons and prayers that I discovered from reading Mother Teresa’s writings. Feel free to share some of your favorites as well!

Thanks for reading!

Lesson #1  The Power of Loving the “Other”.  I first discovered the writings of St. Teresa of Calcutta riding at the back of a cross-country bus in Mexico. A recent Bible school graduate, I had been presented with two options: Spend a year in Singapore, helping to start up a new Bible school for local pastors-in-training, or going back to school and becoming a book editor. I decided to take a few weeks to visit missionary friends, traveling by bus from Acapulco to northeastern Mexico. The adventure gave me plenty of time to think.

My backpack contained only a few essentials: a few apples, a roll of TP, a change of clothes and toiletries, my Bible and journal, and two books that had been recommended to me — Elisabeth Elliot’s autobiographical These Strange Ashes, and Mother Teresa’s, One Heart Full of Love. Early in the book, Mother Teresa recounts a story of going to help a local Hindu family with eight children who had not eaten for days. She writes:

“I could see the specter of hunger drawn on the faces of the little children when we found the family. . . In spite of their need, the mother had the courage and compassion to divide the rice that I had brought into two portions. Then she went out… It seems a Moslem family with the same number of children lived across the street. She knew they were hungry, too.”[1]

Her act of no-strings-attached generosity surprised me. I had been taught that “real” missionaries always focus on spiritual needs. And yet, nowhere in the text did it appear that Mother Teresa had prayed with the family as she handed over the food. What was more, she had clearly seen in that Hindu mother something. . . virtuous. What did it mean? Could one truly share the love of God in such a simple way, without expectation that the gesture would lead to a Bible study? This was an uncomfortable thought planted in my evangelical brain.

Mother Teresa’s “ecumenical mindset” flew in the face of my missionary training, which had elevated “church planting” over any other kind of service. I had not yet discovered the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy as such, or set foot in a Catholic Mass. And yet the words and actions of this dear “saint of the slums” resonated in me, and reminded me of the words of the Lord in which he separates the sheep (which up to that point I thought meant “Bible-believing Christians”) and goats (“everyone else”). And yet the example of Mother Teresa (a Catholic!), made me look again:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 Gulp. Reading further in the book about Mother Teresa, I saw that even as she tended souls as they passed into the presence of God, she did not force them to say the “sinner’s prayer.” Rather, she urged them to face God without the weight of unforgiveness and regret upon their souls, to find peace before they died. Her heart of Mother Teresa was first and foremost . . . a mother’s.

Although I had been a Christian all my life, poring over that book on a bumpy Mexican bus I saw something that challenged my most treasured presuppositions about God’s love, seeing its simplest and purest form in the life of a Catholic nun – the last place I ever expected to find it. This was the first lesson I learned from Mother Teresa . . . but it would not be the last. As I worked, I took away seven more important lessons from the life and writings of this great lady, which we will examine more closely in the coming days. I’ve written eight daily posts, to take us from the canonization of Mother Teresa to the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

 Lesson #2: Take Mary with You.

Lesson #3: God Works Miracles When We Make Ourselves Small.

Lesson #4:  God Enjoys the Simplest Prayers

Lesson #5:  Faithful Love Sweetens Life 

Lesson #6: God Transforms Our Pain

Lesson#7: God measures “success” differently than we do.

Lesson #8:  Joy, Like Love, is a Choice.


If you are enjoying this series, you might also enjoy my two new books on her life and writings: Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (preorders ship 9/16) and Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, (preorders ship 1/17), both available through Servant Books/Franciscan Media.

[1] Mother Teresa, One Heart Full of Love. Edited by Jose Juis Gonzalez-Balado (Ann Arbor: Servant, 1988), 9.

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First, let me short-circuit any alarm that this question might raise, perhaps particularly in the minds of newly (or aspiring) adoptive parents. I love my kids – and I do think of them as “my” kids, even on the worst days. I know my husband feels the same way. We would do anything for them, even take an extra turn taking out the trash or cleaning up the dishes when we just can’t summon up the energy to enforce the chore chart. Which, depending on your point of view, makes us loving or lazy parents. Take your pick.

I’ve often thought about this question as I’ve been elbow deep in dinner dishes, and I’ve decided that, just as my feelings for Chris and Sarah (and theirs for me) shift from day to day, it’s very likely that it would have been the same way for a biological child. It might have been easier to connect and bond with a child who shares my DNA, I don’t know. What I DO know is that for the past fourteen years, I’ve tried to act loving even when my feelings didn’t measure up. Because that’s what you do when you truly love someone.

This is a lesson we’ve been trying to teach the kids as well. Like many teenagers, they have conflicting feelings about their place in the family at times. (And at times, those feelings seem to target their sibling, with whom they share a genetic link.)

Now, loving under these circumstances requires a certain kind of stubborn stick-to-it-iveness that is very different from the warm-and-fuzzy devotion that kept us plodding through that sleep-deprived haze of the first year.  It can be a bit like hugging a cactus, actually. Is it the same as what biological parents of teens experience? I don’t know.

Then again, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

When the kid snarls at you (like many teenagers do), or wishes aloud that they didn’t have to live with you (ditto), there can be underlying dynamics that are unique to adoption that make the barbs especially painful, and the instinct to love that much harder to find on a purely human level.

That’s when I’m most grateful that the love comes not in feeling loving, but in the doing.

It’s about being empathetic and not give in to misgivings that “I’m not enough” when a child inexplicably bursts into tears at a scene near the end of “The Good Dinosaur”: “I’m sorry you’re sad. I wonder if this scene of the boy and his family reminded you of your birth mom. Is that it?” (Emphatic nods. Extra cuddles.)

It’s about stifling the eye roll when an outraged child accuses us of expecting them to be “perfect” and refusing to join in the family Rosary one night. “Of course we don’t expect perfection. That’s WHY we pray the Rosary. We all need all the help we can get. Now, go and sit by your father and listen quietly, or join in if you wish.”

It’s about not giving in to resentment when your teen reminds you that she is OUT OF HERE the moment she turns eighteen, “Yes, I know you would rather live with ____.” (I know some bio parents who have had similar conversations.) “In four more years you can make that choice. In the meantime, you need to fold the laundry.”

I’m not sure that it honors the nature of the bond between adoptive parents and their children to insist that we love adopted and bio children “the same.” Can you really love any two people the same way? Isn’t it possible that the family dynamics are colored by the circumstances that brought them together?

Having never had biological children, I can’t say for sure. In any case, I’m not sure that loving any two members of my family “the same” is something to aspire to. I think a better question is: Am I loving my child (bio or adopted) the way he needs me to love him today?

Please, God . . . help me to do just that.



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About a year ago, when I started working at AscensionPress, I thought my blogging days were over . . .  There was simply too much to do, and not enough time to write.

Four months later, as my family life unraveled at the seams, I had an even better reason not to blog: There are some things that are too private, and too painful, to submit to public scrutiny — even in empathetic circles. Now, eight months later, we’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel, and I can envision that one day I’ll be able to find a way to share some of the lessons I’ve learned from this experience. Not yet. But someday.

In the meantime, I’ve come to realize just how much it has meant to have people who have been where we are now come alongside us, reassuring us that we will survive this, too. I’ve had several such kindred spirits cross my path these past eight months, and I will always be grateful God sent them my way.

And so, I’ve decided to begin again, and find ways to reach out to other parents of extraordinary children. I’ve come to appreciate that “Extraordinary Moms” is not quite the right approach (who among us wants to think of ourselves as “extraordinary”?). We love our kids fiercely, passionately, and without reservation — just like every other good parent does.

And so, “A Rosary on My GPS” is my new blog — and I hope you will join me over there. It’s for parents of adopted, fostered, or special-needs children, and I hope to use the “road trip” metaphor to draw from the collective experiences of other smart mothers and fathers, who understand that family life is like a road trip. Sometimes literally — for adoptive parents, that trip can take them to the other side of the world. But always metaphorically.

As parents, we sometimes need direction to help us avoid the potholes and congestion; we need the practical variety (symbolized by the GPS) and the spiritual variety (the rosary beads). And so — voila! — my new blog. I hope you’ll take the time to weigh in on the discussions taking place over there.  If you have a story to share, I’d love to have you guest post. But for now, c’mon over and just say hi. (Extra points if you have a resource or two to share on my blogroll.) You can also contact me privately at heidi.hess.saxton@gmail.com.

Blessings, and thanks,


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At St. Joseph’s in Downingtown PA, those who show up five minutes late (or even, some Sundays, right on time) may not get a seat. When I was teaching CCD, this wasn’t really a problem; there was always plenty of time between class and Mass to install ourselves in our favorite pew.

Then, a few weeks ago, a shadow fell over our house. We have been deliberately vague on the details with people; suffice it to say that when we adopted our children from foster care, we never imagined just how far-reaching the past might be. At the advice of our pastor and other experts, we made a plan that involved removing our son temporarily from our home, and placing him in the home of his godparents (who have no children), until we could get things sorted out. I also resigned as a catechist so that I’d be able to focus on the needs of my family, and travel back and forth as needed. It isn’t ideal . . . but little about our lives is ideal right now.

In some ways, I feel like I am returning to those humiliating early days of foster parenting, when I went from being the leader of the worship ensemble to being the woman whose little boy punched a priest in the middle of Mass (Father had reached out to give my three-year-old foster son a blessing). Now as then, I have ample evidence that I am in way over my head in the parenting pool. Now as then, I try to keep paddling bravely. Now as then, I find myself wondering if I will make it.

Today we arrived at Mass just as the Gloria was being sung.  Sarah and I squeezed into a place between an elderly gentleman and his wheelchair-bound wife and a family with six teenagers (we later learned they were foster parents). In front of us was another family with two children who were about the same age as my kids. At first I was struck by how happy and affectionate the younger boy was, hugging his big brother and kissing his mother … and then he turned and I saw his face just as he erupted with a squeal of joy.

Sarah noticed, too. “Why does he look like that, Mommy? Why is he making those noises?”

“He has special challenges, honey. But he has special gifts, too. See how he loves his brother and father and mother?”

She nodded. “Yep. He’s full of love. That’s his gift, right?”

“Yes, honey. We all have special gifts and challenges. That little boy is a gift to his family … and today he is a gift to us. Just like you are a gift, with your bright eyes and sweet voice. You are a gift especially to me.”

And it was true. As I watched the family pass the little boy back and forth, encouraging him to be quiet and reverent, I was reminded that the best offerings are not always the most outwardly reverent ones. The most thankful hearts are not always the lightest ones. And the ones who most need to be there are not always the best dressed or best behaved.

I also realized that we were exactly where we needed to be just then. By bringing their son to Mass with them, even though he might make a “joyful noise” at some inopportune time, this family had ministered to me in a way that no one else could have. My heart felt lighter just from having witnessed the sight of that family loving each other and drawing close to face their challenges together.  This boy was a true gift … and a rare treasure. And yet, many such children die while still in the womb.

Tomorrow is the “March for Life” in Washington, D.C. Thousands of pro-life marchers will converge in our nation’s capitol to commemorate the tragic anniversary of the signing of Roe v. Wade. Hundreds of thousands more will, like me, be with them in spirit as we continue to live out the daily challenges of family life as another kind of testimony to the dignity and value of every single life.

The elderly gentleman will fix his wife’s breakfast and brush her hair.

The foster family beside us will wait for the case worker of the sibling group they recently welcomed into their home.

The family in front of us will pull carpool duty as they take their younger son to therapy and school, and cheer their older son at his basketball game.

And I … well, I will continue my own vigil, asking God to do something so that one day we will all be under one roof, facing our challenges together. Thank you for continuing to pray with us.


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The Next Chapter…

If you’ve followed my blog with any regularity, you may have noticed that my posts have become increasingly fewer and farther between.  To be honest, it’s not that there hasn’t been anything going on. It’s just that I haven’t been able to talk about it, for reasons that I’m still not fully able to explain.

My friends — both virtual and in real-life — will be pleased to know that I am happier, we are all happier, than I can remember in years. Craig and I actually laugh out loud together at the end of the day. He goes off to work with a smile on his face. The kids bicker less. Even the dog smiles. A gigantic weight . . . has miraculously been lifted from the Saxton house.  As I’ve said in several cryptic e-mails now, God is good. All the time. Though we’ve had to wait for it, His best for us was infinitely better than anything I could have dreamed.

I’m hoping that even this much will be an encouragement to someone out there. After all, I started this blog as an encouragement for Extraordinary Moms — women who find themselves living out their vocations as wives and mothers in extraordinary circumstances. Many of you have cared enough to write and tell me how these posts have helped you, and it has been a rare priviledge to journey alongside you, even for a little while. But as most women who venture into motherhood soon discover, life is built in chapters. And many times, the only way to fully embrace the current chapter . . . is to let go of the previous one. It’s part of the deal.

Yes, even the “best” chapters of our lives carry a hefty price tag. In order to enter into this new family adventure, I will have to let go of some of the activities, and even some close friendships, that I’ve come to treasure. It isn’t easy. But it IS necessary.

So . . . this is going to be my last post, both here at EMN as well as on my public forums, for the foreseeable future. There are many reasons for this, but the most important is that what I need to do for my family in the weeks and months ahead is going to require every bit of spare time and effort that I can muster. Fortunately, it’s happy work, an unimaginable and jubilant release after what has been nothing short of months and months of … well, just the opposite.

And so, I close with one of my favorite bits by Robert Browning . . . from Pippa Passes:

The year is at the spring
    And day is at the morn;
    Morning is at seven;
    The hillside’s all dew-pearled;
    The lark is on the wing;
    The snail is on the thorn:
    God is in His heaven—
    All is right with the world!



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Last month Rep. Fortney Stark (D-CA) proposed HR 3827, “Every Child Deserves a Family Act,” which prohibits discrimination in foster or adoptive placements based on the “sexual orientation, gender identification, or marital status.” If it passes, faith-based agencies would be forced to place children in “non-traditional families,” even if it is contrary to their religious beliefs.

With so many children in the United States in need of temporary or permanent homes — over 115,000 of these permanent wards of the state — it seems only fair to ask, “Why not place these kids in the homes of GLBT adults? Isn’t any family better than no family?”

In a word, no.

I do not say this glibly. There is no denying that there is a real shortage of good foster homes, and that more needs to be done to recruit and train licensed foster families. My own kids have an older brother who waited almost three years before he found his “forever family.” Each time we visited, it hurt to hear him cry out for us to take him, too. We couldn’t . . . but we prayed until someone did.

There are times when a single parent may be a child’s best option.  The wholehearted commitment of mature singles who choose to adopt and raise a child alone takes my breath away.  Even so, the absence of a second parent often takes a toll on the whole family.  Nature dictates that the human family by design is based on the love of a man and woman.

To suggest that the best way to find good homes for foster children is to license gay or trans-gendered adults is like saying the best way to solve the priest shortage is to allow priests to marry: It disregards the original purpose of the restriction, as well as the intrinsic good that the requirement represents. In the case of priests, celibacy allows them to channel their energies into a wholehearted service of God; in the case of foster parents, married couples are best able to give children the opportunity to experience family as God intended it — wrapped in the loving embrace of a man and woman sacramentally bound to one another for life.

And so, the issue is not whether someone in the GLBT community can be a good parent, but whether any adult’s “right” to parent should take preeminence over the “right” of a faith-based organization to adhere to sincerely held religious convictions when assessing the “best interests of the child,” the golden standard of social work.

Ironically, the “old-fashioned” choices of those with strong religious convictions can actually count against them as foster parents. For example, Michigan families with eight or more children may not take in foster children. Homeschooling families are also ineligibal (unless the foster children are sent to public school). Corporal punishment is prohibited; permission must be obtained to take a foster child to church. Each state has additional requirements.

Believe it or not, most states already permit GLBT adults to become foster parents, and in many cases to adopt. Some public agencies actively recruit members of the gay community, believing them to be an underutilized source of foster families. However, study after study has shown that children need both a mother and a father. This is not “prejudice,” but common sense.

Children who wind up in the foster care system have to overcome so many sad circumstances, and deserve not to be used as pawns by those who seek to exercise their “rights” to the detriment of those children who really do deserve special protection.

Please write your Representative, and ask him or her not to support this bill.


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