Weekend Ponderings: Holy Week Break

Tomorrow is the final day of Lent before the Triduum begins. Easter is the one time of the year I miss living in California … especially my “home” parish of Holy Family in South Pasadena where I was welcomed into the Catholic Church. This is where I received the Eucharist for the first time, where I took my confirmation name after a Scottish missionary Amy Carmichael, whose writings and hymns inspired me along the unconventional path I believed God had called me to follow. 

I was thirty years old at the time. I was restless, caught between the life I wanted and the one that I had because of a series of my own less-than-optimal choices: a dead-end job, a dead-end relationship, and feeling completely isolated from those who loved me most.

That Easter Vigil provided the impetus I needed to get a fresh start on life. Within six months, I had relocated halfway across the country to begin my dream job as an editor of a religious book publishing house. A few years later, I met Craig. A few years after that, we had our family. 

Of course, becoming Catholic wasn’t a cure-all. From time to time, there is still a disconnect between the life I want and the one I have. And I still harbor flaws and weaknesses that, try as I might, I find difficult to shake.

For example, tonight an extended family member gave us a generous gift — a summer excursion for Craig and the kids and me.  While I was delighted at the prospect of taking this trip, a part of me was bothered by the fact that we were being sent rather than taken. We wanted to spend time with this person … but that desire never seems to be reciprocated.  

One of the dirty little secrets “extraordinary families” sometimes face is that extended family doesn’t always embrace the new family unit with as much enthusiasm as we might wish. Some discharge “familial responsibilities” as perfunctorily as possible, lavishing the lion’s share of attention on those with biological ties. Helping such family members overcome their natural reticence can be a real challenge — and there may be times when it’s better to simply overlook it.

This is much harder to do, of course, when the children notice. “How come ________ gets to spend Christmas with ____, and we never get to see them? How come we don’t get to sleep over _____’s house?” Responding to questions like this can be tricky.  Striking the right balance between honesty and kindness is key. But even more important is to find a way to exorcise any residual resentments you may be harboring yourself.

This is the explanation I’ve been practicing, to serve up at the right time. “People show their love in different ways. Some people like lots of hugs, and spend lots of time together. Others like to give presents. Some people have lots of love in their hearts to share … and others are more careful about sharing their hearts. It’s sad, ’cause they miss out on God’s best gifts that way!  We need to be patient, and ask God to help us show love, no matter what. That’s what Jesus wants us to do.” 

During Holy Week, we remember all the people in the life of Jesus who didn’t reciprocate the love He so freely gave them, in the way He must have longed for them to show it. With some notable exceptions — Mary, who anointed the Lord with oil and dried His feet with her hair; the beloved disciple, who never left His side and who took His mother into his own home; St. Veronica and St. Simon, who came to Him along the Via Dolorosa — after those who had followed Him most closely during the three years of His public ministry, fell far short of fidelity. And yet, He loved them still.

This week, we have another opportunity to love not as we are loved by other frail and flawed human beings, but because of the divine love that has been poured out upon us, especially during this holy Easter season.

Happy Holy Week … and Happy Easter!


New Resource for Adoption in China

I received this note in the comment section of another post, and thought it merited its own post:

“My non-profit recently published a new book on Chinese adoptive parenting that has some similar stories. “The Dragon Sisterhood: A Guide to Chinese Adoptive Parenting” and we address some of these issues. It can be found on our blog. I’m wondering if you wouldn’t mind sharing that with your readers. Thanks!”

Weekend Ponderings: “Your name will never be … blotted out.”

As we enter the third week of Advent, the somber purple of the penitential season turns rosy. In years past, I’ve hosted a tea for a small group of girlfriends, so we can catch up on each other’s lives. Sadly, I had to let this go this year — at times even the best traditions need to take a back seat to more immediate concerns. 

This week at school, several families are struggling with serious illness. One parent died unexpectedly, another parent — a good friend — is fighting for her life.  As a community, we’re taking up collections and doing what we can for the families … but there’s something vaguely unsettling about it all. It makes you take stock, re-evaluate. Consider what things are of eternal consequence. Happy Advent!

This week I’ve also been in a couple of exchanges about a topic that resurfaces from time to time (primarily because my own POV on birth records doesn’t overlap neatly with views expressed on many other adoption sites).  For me, the subject of birth records is not one in which I have any real personal investment;  my own children know their birth parents already. However, I DO understand why others are so passionate about the subject: The names on the original birth certificate represent a missing link to the past, without which they cannot imagine a “happily ever after.”

And so, when the trail runs cold, it hurts the one member of the adoptive triad that least deserves to suffer. It forces the child to bear the painful consequences of his parents’ actions, addictions, or flaws. With adoption, the child loses his first parents, who tapped into the gift of procreation without the ability to parent a child together. And whenever this happens, the child suffers far more than the parents. Sometimes that child is raised without a parent. Sometimes he suffers abuse or neglect. Many, many times he pays with his life through abortion or child abuse. And sometimes … he is loses his original parents through adoption. No matter what form it takes, the pain is real … and it has far-reaching effects that can be measured not just in years, but in generations.

I’ve said it many times: Adoption is never God’s first choice. And yet, adoption does reflect the kind of divine love God showed to us when he brought us through adoption into his family, through the atoning death of Christ. And in that sense, families that are formed through adoption get to experience in a unique way the redemptive love of God.

Friday’s first reading offers a reassuring message for those who are struggling with their sense of self, whose identity — personal, spiritual, familial, cultural, or in any other sense — has not yet fully formed.  

“If you would hearken to my commandments,
your prosperity would be like a river,
and your vindication like the waves of the sea;
Your descendants would be like the sand,
and those born of your stock like its grains,
Their name never cut off
or blotted out from my presence.”

That name we seek … that primal connection … is not one that we can ever hope to find in this life. We were created, first and foremost, to be called children of God.

Another Country Heard From: China Adoption

This morning I noticed a link to my blog at “China Adoption,” and stopped by to check out the blog. Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve been attacked by a mandatory open records advocate, and I suspect it won’t be the last. However, I’m not alone in advocating for a standard of mutual consent with regard to birth records.

The situation is simply not as cut-and-dried as the open records advocates suggest. And frankly, parents who adopt internationally come from a very different place than those of us who foster-adopt or who adopt domestically. Because of this it’s very easy — but also very unfair — to make snap judgments about other people’s motivations and beliefs. It isn’t necessary to vilify those who have a different point of view, based on their own journeys. In an ideal world, we can even learn from each other — so long as both sides work from a presumption of good will.

China Mom, I hope you are successful in helping your children find their birth parents, if that’s what they want. You certainly have a long road ahead of you, and I wish you the best. I can understand why this would be a deeply felt need — just as my kids will one day want to see their parents again. Which is something I will support when they are adults — because I already know this is what their birthmother wants.

Adoption is complicated, and no two triads are exactly alike because of the variety of circumstances and personalities that created that triad in the first place. There are some absolutes: Children deserve to be raised in a safe, stable  environment, securely bonded to the parents who love them. Parents deserve to make choices on behalf and for the benefit of their minor children, based on the information they have at the time. And all three sides of an adoption triad need to respect and honor the other two sides, recognizing that all three sides share a permanent bond.

“Respecting and honoring” can mean something very different from one family to the next. For some, it may involve searching and finding missing family members. For others, it means interpreting the events of the past as gently and with as much compassion as possible. “Speak the truth in love,” is the standard of St. Paul, and it applies very well to parents. The way of compassion and forgiveness is the way of healing.

It makes me sad when I read angry posts from members of an adoptive triad. It makes me wonder what good can come from wasting this kind of emotional energy, which could be much better spent just walking alongside those on the same path. However, when I encounter these individuals, I’ve learned that not much can be gained from prolonged discussion, as the same arguments tend to get rehashed over and over, with neither side willing to concede a point. There is too much pain and anger and frustration.

Sometimes the healing process can be a painful one. The other day I held my daughter as she got her H1N1 vaccination. She DID NOT WANT THAT SHOT. She screamed and kicked and raged at me for holding her down so the nurse could administer the vaccination. If it had been up to her, there is no way she would have allowed it. But as her parent, I knew it was my job to make that choice for her. Later, she asked me, “Mommy, why didn’t the shot hurt Christopher like it hurt me?”

I said to her, “Christopher didn’t struggle, honey. He was brave, and let me tell him a story to distract him while he got his shot so it didn’t hurt too much. Maybe next time, you’ll cooperate and let me tell you a story, and it won’t hurt you so much.”

There are some aspects of adoption that are a bit like that shot. Unpleasant, even painful. But easier when the child learns to trust the parent making choices for him. The story changes over time — the details are adapted or even added according to the needs of that child in a particular place and time. Ultimately, the child needs his parent to help him work through the big feelings and questions; it is the bond of family life that helps him find healing for his hurts, and answers for his questions.

Miracle Monday: The Story of Michael Oher in “Blind Side”

This weekend Craig and I slipped away on Saturday afternoon to take in a matinee.  Blind Side is a movie I NEVER would have picked in a million years . . . if I hadn’t already known the remarkable back story. As it was, it was so compelling I scarcely noticed the football.

The gentle giant (played by Quinton Aaron), found wandering in the frigid Memphis air, is picked up by the Tuohy family (Tim McGraw, Sandra Bullock) who proceed to take him home, feed and clothe him, pay for a private tutor, and teach him the business end of a football. Out of the thousands of kids who languish in the system, or worse, this kid gets a chance . . . and, despite all odds, he makes the most of it. Today he is offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens (NFL).

Perhaps not surprisingly — the issue is raised for us in the first few seconds of the movie — not everyone see the “rescue” as a good thing. Some even hint that the “poor black jock” is simply being exploited by his adoptive family, who only want to offer him up to their alma mater.  What other reason could a wealthy white couple have for taking in a poor black homeless kid?  This kind of cold-blooded generalization is articulated all too well in the following article by Steve Sailer entitled “The Next Liberal Fad: A ‘Stolen Generation’ of Black Children?”

Reviewing Blind Side and Precious, Steve Sailer observes, “These two films help us understand the common denominator of the demands increasingly heard in the media for mandatory preschool, longer school days, shorter summer vacations, and universal post-high school education. They flow from the inevitable logic of the following syllogism:

What isn’t clear to me is what, exactly, is the preferred PC alternative. Leave Michael on the streets to find his way back to the Projects, so he can die like the rest? Sure, the Tuohy’s offered Michael opportunities he wouldn’t have had if he had stayed with another family in the projects — and in many ways, I’m sure his life would have been easier had he been able to stay with the family friends who’d originally had him placed in Briarcrest. We’ll never know, since that option was not available to him.

Ultimately the standard has to be “best interests of the child.” And sadly, those interests must sometimes be prioritized because there are simply no options to cover them all. Had the black family in the beginning of the movie continued to raise Michael in their home, it is likely he would never have been drafted to the NFL . . . although he could have.

And yet, the reality was that Michael’s choice was not between a black family and a white family. It was between a white family and NO family, since neither his father (who had disappeared) or his mother (who by her own admission could not care for him and did not even want to see him) could care for him.

Can anyone seriously argue that being raised by the Tuohy’s was less desirable than returning him to the gang in the projects, to be devoured by gangs and drug peddlers, not much better than animals themselves? Of course not.

Nuture vs. nature. In the world of adoption, it’s never an either-or proposition. To thrive and reach his full potential, a child must have both. Invariably, it involves the kind of support for which Michael Oher became famous: an instinctively protective “I’ve got your back.” And from that position, it’s very easy to turn a “blind side” to everything else.

Miracle Monday: Letter from a Birth Mom

Today at The R House I came across this letter from a birthmother to her child, explaining the way she came to decide on adoption. Mrs.R’s post “Another Reason I Love Open Adoption” is a compelling one. And I wanted to pass it along in case you’re interested in reading about open adoption. (I believe Mrs. R is a foster-adoptive mother.)

Bottom line: The birth mom in this letter had a loving, supportive friend made it possible for her to weigh her options — all her options — completely and without judgment.  You can read the story here.

Like many young moms, she started out vascillating between motherhood and abortion. Only gradually, as she learned more about adoption and realized how unprepared she and the child’s father were for parenthood, did she find the courage to reconsider her original position.

It’s not often you find such selfless courage. May God bless her for it.

A Mother’s Pain

teresa_avila_berniniToday is the feast day of Teresa of Avila, one of my very favorite saints. This sixteenth-century Spanish noblewoman is patroness of writers and migraine sufferers, perhaps best known to us for three things: reforming the Carmelites, writing The Interior Castle, and her cheeky retort to being summarily dumped in a stream by her horse. Looking up to heaven, she cried, “If this is how you treat your friends, Lord, no wonder you have so few of them.”

Oh, yes, and her poetry. In Spanish, of course.

Let nothing trouble you,
let nothing frighten you.
All things pass away, but God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
She who possesses God, wants for nothing.
God alone suffices. 

Sometimes motherhood hurts. Sooner or later, we all get knocked on our butts in the proverbial stream of life.

For some women, the labor of motherhood begins even before the first labor pang — especially for those who are “reproductively challenged.” The examinations. The tests. The failures. The ache of longing unfulfilled. The burn of impertinent questions. The regret of the empty cradle.

With adoption, we mothers experience many of the same joys other mothers experience — the thrill of childhood milestones, the warmth of a child’s affection, the satisfaction of occupied arms and hearts. However, there are times when we also experience unique challenges, and even heartache.

This week two dear friends reminded me of the silent struggles of adoption, the secret misgivings. The self-doubt. The anxieties. However much we love our children, there are certain parts of our children’s lives — set in motion by their first parents — that we cannot overcome through sheer force of will. We can love them. We can guide them. We can encourage them. We can correct them. But we cannot change who they are at the most primal level. Not with a million specialists. We cannot turn back the hands of time.

But the thing is . . . it’s okay. The God of the universe, who set those wheels in motion, who created that little life with all the gifts and challenges that are unique to them, loves our children even more than we can. His plans for them far outstretch our own. And when we come to the end of ourselves, and wonder if our best efforts will in the end be good enough, we can echo the words of that great Carmelite . . .

“God alone suffices.”