Advent Blessing for Extraordinary Moms

Last Sunday was our annual Advent Tea, and at my table was a woman who had adopted two children. She had heard me speak on Al Kresta’s program about the Extraordinary Moms Network, and said she’d hoped I was still helping adoptive parents. It seems she was looking for a little support involving some changes her daughters were going through right now.

To be honest, I’ve become a bit gun-shy, and haven’t been writing as extensively about the subject of adoption for a while. For one thing, I recently resigned from the board of the foster/adoption agency because I didn’t agree with their recruiting practices, and was wondering God might be pointing me in another direction.

Over the years I’ve sometimes been denounced or outright attacked by others in adoption circles who disagreed with my position on reunification. (I believe that the adoptive bond should remain protected even in adulthood between parent and child, and that biological parents should be able to prevent the release of identifying information if they do not wish to be contacted by their grown children. I have no objection, however, to releasing this information if the biological parents ARE willing to be contacted, and agree that adoptees of all ages should have mediated access to medical information.)

Judging from comments I’ve received on this, and from the prevalence of open adoption, mine is not the popular opinion. I can live with that. What grew tiresome was the necessity of arguing endlessly with highly vocal and often disrespectful individuals who believe passionately that adopted children have the RIGHT to know their birth families. Always. Without exception. Even in cases of rape and incest, as this “Faith and Family” story shows.

And so, for a time I backed off on writing on the subject of adoption, to collect my thoughts a bit more systematically on the subject. To that end, my Master’s thesis is going to be about adoption as a metaphor for conversion — how the fact that the Scriptures speak of God adopting us as His children (Romans 8:14-15), giving us an inheritance we cannot lose (Galatians 4:4-6). The relationship is a permanent one. Here … read it yourself.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, 4 God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Just as biological families reflects in a unique way the life-giving love of the Trinity, so adoptive families uniquely reflect the redemptive love of God. Working together, parents and children, we help one another to grow in the perfection God first created in us, the perfection that was distorted by the sinful influence of our first parents.

So today, Rose Sunday, I wanted to share with any adoptive parents out there who are feeling a bit overwhelmed (the extended family time associated with the holidays can bring out other issues in our children, can’t they?), a bit of encouragement. This is my Advent Blessing to you.

You are doing God’s work. Right now, right where you are. Whether that means drying a tear or baking a cookie, creating memories that will always be a part of your child’s story.

Being an adoptive parent doesn’t mean being a perfect parent. If that were true, none of us would be qualified to take any child into our homes.

Being an adoptive parent also doesn’t mean being a second-best parent. You have no reason to apologize for your decision to adopt. Not now, not ever. Your child may never thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made — and in the years to come, their drive to find their birth parents may make you wonder if you’d done everything you could to give them a secure sense of love and identity.

Don’t worry. You have done your very best, and your children have reaped the benefits. Your reward in heaven will be great, for Jesus says, “Whosoever welcomes a child in my name, welcomes me.”

Just as the Blessed Mother had to relinquish her precious Son when he became a man, so the time will come when we have to let go, too. Sooner or later, our children — all children — must make their way in the world, guided by the things we have taught them.

But for now, yours is the unmistakeable privilege of forming your child. Forming him not in your own image, but in the image of the Father who loves us all. One day, sometimes one minute, at a time.

May all the blessings of this holy season fall upon you and your home, today and every day.

Don’t forget … You are an Extraordinary Mom!

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Advent Cake … Good Anytime!

This evening the contributors of AnnArbor.com will be gathering for a potluck, and I’ve decided to bring out a special recipe I make each year for my annual Rose Sunday Advent Tea. For several years I hosted one at my house, last year I made it for the tea at church. It takes a bit of time, but totally worth the results! It is a slightly modified version of a recipe I found on Allrecipes.com.

One of the things I like best about this recipe is the fact that it makes 4-5 cupcakes in addition to the cake. That way the family can “taste test” without ruining the picture-perfect company treat! The picture is my special “Advent cake plate” the day after I make my Advent Cake. Enjoy!

You will need …
3 C flour (all-purpose)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 C shortening
1 C butter, soft
3 C white sugar (it’s once a year, so live it up!)
5 egg yolks
5 egg whites, beaten stiff
1-1/2 C milk
1 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 tsp Amaretto (almond flavored liquor)
cinnamon sugar for dusting the pan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10 inch tube pan, and dust it generously with cinnamon sugar. Shake out excess. Line 4-5 muffin/cupcake holes with liners, set aside.

Sift together dry ingredients, and set aside. Add flavorings to measured milk, and set aside.

Cream shortening and butter in an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, gradually adding sugar. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mixture should be light yellow and light.

Alternate dry ingredients and milk, stirring well to combine. Gently fold in beaten egg whites, mixing just until no streaks remain. Fill bundt pan to 1″ from the top, pour remaining batter into muffin tin.

Bake 1 hour 15 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. (Cupcakes come out after 30 minutes.) Rest in pan 10 minutes before inverting on to cake plate. Glaze while still warm. Serves 14 or so.

GLAZE:

5 Tbls cocoa
2 Tbls vegetable oil
4 Tbls butter
3 C powdered sugar, sifted
1 Tbls Amaretto
boiling water

In small saucepan over low heat, combine cocoa, oil and butter. Stir until melted and smooth, remove from hea. Stir in powdered sugar and Amaretto, adding water 1 Tbls at a time and beat until smooth and “glazy.” Dip your cupcakes in first, then pour the rest over warm cake. Sets with a nice sheen almost instantly. Now try to resist cleaning out the pan with your finger. I dare you.

Soft Hearts, Open Hands

It was the most remarkable Christmas miracle that transpired the other day in the Parent Room. Before my very eyes, a stand-off that had begun over an unfortunate misunderstanding, suddenly righted itself.  Without preamble,  a former political adversary suddenly and inexplicably proffered an olive branch. And I snapped it up before she could change her mind.

Now, I’d like to be able to say that this was an answer to prayer. But that wouldn’t be true, exactly. Typical Heidi fashion, once this individual ticked me off, I pretty much just carried on as if she didn’t exist. We both assumed the air of the injured party, and avoided one another. Four months later … she decided to let bygones be bygones.

It was a beautiful thing. Even though a small part of me kinda wished I’d thought of it first.

How often do we find ourselves hardened in opposition over an issue in the clear light of day is more complex than we allow ourselves to consider? In our rigidity, do we miss whispers of grace that are all around us, calling us to embrace a life of healing and reconciliation?

Imagine, if you will, what would have happened if Elizabeth had caught wind of her unwed teenage cousin’s pregnancy and barred her from her home, in moral outrage? “How dare she show up here, and ruin my joy! How selfish can she be!?”

Instead, the mature Elizabeth listened to those whispers of grace, and allowed her heart to fill not with judgment or contempt, but with love. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…”

So often in life, we are given the same choice:  To respond with anger and judgment, or to extend ourselves in love. To the thoughtless teenager. The arrogant in-law. The nagging, the ignorant, and the selfish. The hurtful, the prickly, and the private. The wounded and the weak.

This holy season, as we make room in our hearts to welcome the Christ Child . . . can we find a place for his brothers and sisters as well?

Happy last week of Advent!

Wee Cook Wednesday: Rose Sunday Tea Cake

In just a few  more days — right after Thanksgiving — we will be entering the season of Advent. These four weeks before Christmas are about more than buying presents and baking cookies … They are about getting our hearts soft and warm with thanksgiving, ready to receive the Newborn King!

Every year on the third Sunday of Advent, I host a special tea party at my house for a group of truly extraordinary friends. We met when we were all still single … a dozen years later, three of us are married, and three have become adoptive parents. One hosts an exchange student every year.

Each of us makes a signature dish. Mine is a rich chocolate pound cake I make just once a year, especially for the tea (unless my husband is able to wheedle it out of me for his birthday). This year the cake is going to be a show stopper! Over the summer I was at a craft fair, and found these beautiful hand-painted cake plates. Here’s a picture of the one I got!

Rose Sunday Tea Cake

1/2 C shortening
1 C butter, softened
3 C sugar
5 eggs, separated
3 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon
1-1/4 C milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour (or sugar) a 10 inch tube pan.  Cream shortening and butter until light and fluffy, gradually adding sugar. Beating well on medium speed, add egg yolks one at a time. Beat well after each addition.

Sift dry ingredients. Pour extracts into milk. Add flour and milk mixtures alternately, beginning and ending with flour, mixing just until blended after each addition.

In a clean glass bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold carefully, just until no white streaks remain, into the chocolate mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, remove from pan, and let cool comploetely on a wire rack. Serve with chocolate sauce.

Devastating Fudge Sauce

2/3 C cocoa
2 C sugar
1/4 C Karo syrup
1 can evaporated milk
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 C butter

Bring cocoa, sugar, syrup, and milk to a boil. Add remaining ingredients, and boil 5 minutes longer. Serve hot.

Leap for Joy … with Compassion

The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
By beloved is like a gazelle,
or a young stag.
Behold, there he stands behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows
looking through the lattice.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away;
For lo, the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone…. (Song of Songs 2:8-12)

It seems like a strange reading, given where we are in the liturgical calendar (so close to Christmas). And yet, the Gospel reading gives us a hint (Luke 1:39ff). A young woman, full of life and wonder, hastens toward her dear, infertile friend Elizabeth, with whom she is about to share one of the most profound of all womanly experiences: motherhood. And as Mary’s delighted greeting fell upon Elizabeth’s ears, the new life within her leaped for joy.

Today something happened to me that made me consider this passage in a whole new light. Craig and I attended Christopher and Sarah’s school Christmas pageant, and I struck up a conversation with a woman whose son was in one of my children’s preschool class. “Anna” has three children and has never been married. I asked Anna whether she was planning to do something special with her kids over the Christmas break, and she admitted that she only had off work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The rest of the time the children — the youngest not quite two — would be in daycare.

At this time of year, she admits, she lives on credit cards and basically works to pay for daycare. With no help from the children’s father — she can’t afford a lawyer to fight for her in family court, while his lawyer has had the father’s childcare payments reduced twice — she doesn’t feel she has much choice. And to a point, she’s right. Many of the most important choices she could have made are behind her: the most important being the choice “up and come away with” a wild stag, and to have and raise on her own several children. Like many single moms, she puts her head down and copes as best she can, fighting to keep the wolf away from the door … while her “stag” leaps and grazes far ahead, oblivious to her plight. How does one begin to give this woman the kind of assistance she needs, help that will remove both her and her children from this swirling pool of despair?

Back to today’s Gospel. We tend to read this account of the Visitation with the eyes of faith, with Mary running joyfully to share her news with Elizabeth, who welcomes her young cousin with unabashed joy.

As I left the program today, I had a different thought: Was it possible that Mary’s haste was even partly due to the fact that she needed time and space to process what was happening to her? That she ran to Elizabeth not with elation … but a teensy bit panicked? Her fiat had been willing and unreserved while she basked in Gabriel’s heavenly radiance. But when the aura disappeared, did her misgivings creep in with the shadows?

How different, then, was Elizabeth’s role. She was not simply the recipient of grace, but a benefactor as well. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Because of infertility, Elizabeth knew what it felt like to bear the judgment and shame of wagging tongues, and was in a unique place to be able to reassure Mary. She must have known difficult times were ahead of her young cousin. While she did not doubt Mary’s story — that God had chosen her to be the mother of His Son — she knew that the young woman would still need help. A listening ear. A helping hand. Above all, an open heart.

It’s the same for all of us. We all make choices (some intrinsically sinful, some merely imprudent) from which we need to be rescued, or certainly assisted. In this case, Mary had made a courageous choice (just as my friend Anna chose life for each of her children). She made it, knowing full well that tongues would wag and even those closest to her might judge her harshly. But she did it anyway, trusting that God would make her way straight.

This Christmas, as we celebrate the coming of the Christ Child, is there someone in your life — perhaps someone God has specifically placed in your path — that needs your help? It may be that this person is suffering the consequences of his or her deliberate actions. Then again, this person may simply be “Jesus in distressing disguise,” as Blessed Mother Teresa used to say. Take up the Spirit of compassion, relinquish judgment, and extend yourself in the name of the Christ Child, who gave up all of heaven so that one day we might share it with Him.

If you don’t know anyone personally, this might be a good year to pitch in at your local domestic violence or crisis pregnancy center, shelter, or soup kitchen. Merry Christmas!