Friday, March 31, 2006

House to Home

As I type these words I am sitting on one of the stairways in our new house, looking into a well-lighted but empty kitchen, a spacious but barren living room and a commodious but desolate entry area. I sit on the stairway because we have no furniture here yet. It is a cold, windy late March afternoon, and I hear the rapacious moans of the gusty breezes buffeting the exterior walls. Inside our home there is no sound, except for the clicking of my fingertips on my laptop’s keyboard. It is an emotionally vacuous sensation to be in such a large space all alone.

How soon all of this will change. This may very well be one of the final quiet days this house will see in the next ten or so years. Soon enough there will be a multitude of voices echoing from corner to corner. The still kitchen will soon become a center of household activity. Our dining room table will make it feel more like familiar space. The bedrooms will have our beds, our linens, our paint selections. The living room furniture will make comfortable guests and family members alike. I am looking forward to these changes.

But there are many uncertainties, too, both innocuous as well as more perplexing. What window will be the first to be broken, and who will be the culprit? Will our neighbors find us good additions to the area, or will they think us out of sync? Where will our dog choose to make his space, and how will he decide to make it his own? Whose will be the first health crisis, and what will that mean for our family? What will the remainder of my forties look like?

A moment ago I glanced at the first line and discovered an error. I had typed “in our new hope,” rather than in our new house. But the more I think about it, the more I like that error. There is a certain amount of new hope that emerges in situations like these. As much as we have loved living in our current community for the past seven years, there are things we would like to do differently here. Every community has its strengths, and we are looking forward to discovering those of our new city. Every community has its weaknesses, and we know we will come face-to-face with those all too soon. But in the midst of our transition there is a sense of hopefulness about the future. What new things will we discover, and how will we find God faithful in new ways in this experience?

I suppose our house is an apt metaphor for this transition. Right now it is a building with several rooms suitable for family habitation. It has been well cared for, and it is situated in a nice location. But it is simply a house. In weeks the boxes (well some of them, anyway) will be unpacked, the kitchen will be stocked with food, the living room will have places to sit, we will have internet access, and most important of all, humans will once again live here. We will inhabit this building and it will be a dwelling, a domicile, a place of security and renewal. There will be broken windows, muddy floors and moments of stress and tension, but we will be here together as a family, with the benefits and the challenges family living brings.

Today I am sitting in a house, but in a few short weeks we will be inhabiting a home.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

From Tourist to Pilgrim

It's been nearly ten years now since my spouse and I began the journey of foster/adoptive parenting. We were married in June of 1996, and by October of 1996 we had our first child (now our second-to-the-youngest child, Anthony) in our home, although at the time we never knew he would become a permanent part of our lives. In those early years I recognized that I was a neophyte, and that I didn't have all the answers. I would characterize my experience in those early years as that of a tourist, taking in the "sights," observing different ways of life, not needing to be too deeply embedded in what I perceived to be a transitory experience. Somewhere in the depths of my subconsiousness I think I believed I would easily be able to revert to my prior sense of security and familiarity of surroundings. Like any tourist, I enjoyed the scenery of the initial adoption trips (both literally and metaphorically), but I naively assumed I would one day be returning to the sense of place I had carefully cultivated for those first thirty-some years of my life.

I guess I was thinking that eventually I would reclaim the sense of settledness I had associated with my own routines, patterns and haunts. Nearly all tourists will say that as much as they have enjoyed their time away, it's always "better to be home." I may be a slow learner, but I'm coming to realize after nearly ten years, that I may never again experience my earlier sense of what "settledness" means. My life has been too dramatically altered (and consistently, in a daily way, continually changed) to be either a very good tourist or a settled home-body ever again.

And I'm not sure I like that. Living with the uncertainties of special needs children and their skewed perceptions of life is heart-rendingly difficult. Almost evey day I am internally challenged by my life as an adoptive father. Soul-shattering questions invade my well tended personal spiritual garden. "Does any of this make a difference?" "Will these children turn out pretty much the same in our adoptive family as they would have in another setting?" "What does 'you're not my real father anyway' really mean?" I wonder, when our kids are caught stealing, lying, manipulating, cursing, fighting, vandalizing, running ... I wonder if our family's values will ever seep into their life-hardened spirits.

I am not a parent by birth, so I assume some of these same questions are asked by all parents. But the adoptive experience always adds an ethereal nuance to the questions. Lurking in the background is always the question, "What if ... " What if Mike's birthmom never took a drink or a hit while she was pregnant with him? What if John's birthmom's boyfriend had never beaten him with a garden hose? What if Tony's early life had been not included his birthmom being knocked unconscious by her abusive boyfriend in his Tony's presence? What if Ricardo had been adopted at an earlier age by a family who could have nurtured him instead of government-run orphanages in Guatemala? What if Jimmy had not been maliciously burned numerous times with cigarettes in a drug-infested Guatemala City room? The "what if's" that adoptive parents ask are different, I surmise, from those who are parents by birth from the beginning.

I am no longer a tourist in the adoption quest. And I recognize that I will never again live in the tranquil, controlled, known surroundings I created for myself in my young adult years. Instead, I have become a pilgrim, "one who journeys in foreign lands." The pilgrim is one who is intentional about his or her quest. The pilgrim never quite knows what the next mountain crest or snaking river may bring. The pilgrim is less concerned about the destination than about the journey itself.

The concept of pilgrimage has such deep roots in Judeo-Christian faith that I shouldn't be surprised, really, with the reality. From Abraham, the father of many nations, who heeds God's call to move all that he has in his elderly years ... to John the Baptist ... to Jesus Christ ... and the apostles ... the desert fathers and mothers ... the Reformers of the Church, both ancient and contemporary ... to those who daily never know what the expect in their lives. We are pilgrims with one thing in common: our only sense of security and personhood is found in the One who has created us and in the One who journeys with us.

The destination may be unclear, the pilgrimage rife with daily perplexity and change, but the One constant is the God of the widow, the alien and the orphan. For adoption pilgrims, this God is all we have.

And it is enough.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Power of Darkness

I preached Sunday from John's gospel chapter three, the passage in which Jesus speaks of light and darkness. He says, "And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."

In this passage there is a distinction made between light and darkness and our human response. Light, God's presence, is all around us, Jesus says, and we can choose whether to vigorously seek the light or furtively crouch in the darkness. Darkness is a persuasive seductress ... we are lured into the shadows to hide from ourselves or others ... we are beckoned into the murkiness to escape reality or accountability. The alluring character of darkness is that we (think) we can escape encounters with others and live a solitary existence immersed in what we think to be solitude.

But eventually the darkened existence reveals its true nature. It becomes a lonely, anxiety-ridden experience with no direction. Jesus connects "evil doers" with "darkness," and the intent of his message is clear: seek the light in the midst of darkness. Failure ... spiritual, emotional, physical, or otherwise ... comes not from encountering the darkness, but in choosing to dwell in it and neglecting to seek light.

I have found great strength in reading of spiritual giants of ages gone by (Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, for example) who remind us that shadow moments in our lives are the greatest opportunity for spiritual growth. It is moments of crisis and disillusionment that we learn new skills for life. With each crisis we are strengthened and more deeply rooted in our spiritual journey. Deepend, that is, if we choose to seek light in the midst of darkness.

We each need to choose our direction ... to careen deeper and deeper into the murky depths or, in the midst of the shadows, to assertively press forward, discovering the Light in new and deeper ways. Great is the power of darkness, but greater still is the Light of God.