As I type these words I am sitting at a picnic table in Minneopa State Park. It is a tranquil autumn day, and it is only I and our household pet, Gizmo occupying space on this precious, fleetingly marvelous October morning. The hardwood trees, and they are mostly hardwoods in this part of the world, are festooning the glories of creation with hues subued – languishing yellows, diminishing oranges, autumnal browns – and with hues majestic – piercing reds and tantalizing scarlets. Here we sit beneath the luxuriant umbrella of cream-streaked blueness called sky and, as Iisten, I hear the periodic pattering of leaves dropping from their long-past-summer haunts. As I reach to take a drink from my orange Nalgene water bottle, I see two ladybugs, their appearance in Minnesota’s early October morning as much as a surprise to me as their near-match with the color of the bottle.
Today I am grateful for the flexibility my schedule allows. To be sure there are many ways in which my life as a pastor are clinched by the expectations of others – the need, for example, to be present and prepared for a funeral or a wedding – and the responsibilities of the vocation – nearly every Sunday I know exactly where I will be for the entire morning and sometimes the early afternoon. There are moments when the regimentation of my vocational life frustrates me and boxes me in, but on days like this, when I can bring my “work” with me and glory in the gifts of creation, I feel blessed. My “work” today is both specific and non-specific. It is specific in that I have working on worship plans to take our community of faith through November. It always feels like an accomplishment to have selected the texts from which I will preach, the hymns which we will sing, and at least a tentative sense of flow for months ahead. In a non-specific way it is an opportunity for me to escape the tyrrany of the telephone, the cell phone, email and instant messenger. In the minutes that flow by I have the luxury of feeling less anxiety and tension surrounding my vocational life.
And it’s not just my vocational world that finds healing in these moments of stepping into the homeopathic merits of nature. I reflect upon my life as a parent, and my work as an adoptive parent. You notice that I separate the two, at least at this moment, because it is sometimes easier for me to relish my parental role if I can identify the commonalities all parents face. All parents, whether adoptive or not, deal with the challenges that the adolescence of their child/ren brings ... peer pressure, increasing independence, defiance, a growing sense of self-awareness, questions about life’s meaning, purpose and direction. And really, while those parts of parenting have their own unique stresses, it is a common “dilemma” (if you will) of all parents, anywhere, at any time. It is not “work” in the same that the adjectival layer “adoptive” can create.
Perhaps I am unusual in this regard, but my role as “adoptive” parent is work for me. The mental reminder that my children do not share my genetic heritage (for which I am, ambiguously and alternately, paradoxically, grateful and resentful) adds a layer of questioning I might not otherwise exhibit. So, when our seventeen-year-old son leaves on a Friday night and doesn’t show up until early Sunday morning (with no indication during that time where he has been), I have to wonder whether it’s a simple parenting dilemma, complicated by his FASD diagnosis, or whether it is more than that. Or when our twelve-year-old daughter, who is Hispanic by birth and African-American by fascination, reports that her junior high dance was “too white and too childish with kids’ music,” I wonder about the complexities of my possible responses. I could defend the need for a school to provide appropriate music, or I could remind her that in the community in which we live her high school is one of the most diverse for miles around. Or I can simply say and mean it, “You’re right. The DJ in your school last year is about the best there is around.” When helping others to understand our ten-year-old’s profane outbursts is it enough to be informative (“We want you to understand that one of his issues is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and sometimes it’s hard for him to stop saying what he knows he shouldn’t”) or does it need to be augmented (“We have reason to believe that he may have some brain dysfunction as related to what we think to be his birth mother’s chemical use and his birth father’s developmental delays”). To be an adoptive parent is work. To be honest, authentic and yet ethical and respctful regarding our children’s birth origins involves a series of tough calls.
I do my best to rely upon the side (if there is a “side” in such discourse) that respects birth heritage and birth parents (honestly without diminishment or disparagement) and honors years to which I was neither partner nor witness. If I love my children, who happen to be adopted, I need to find a way to love those who brought him or her into this world. I need not love their dysfunctional lifestyles, nor their abusive or neglectful patterns, nor their disregard or resentment that “someone else” is raising “their” child/ren. But I can learn to love them and respect them for who they are ... the biological progenitors of those whom I call “sons” and “daughters.”
As my children grow older day by day I realize the significance of my attitude toward their “first” parents. Whether I articulate those feelings or not, my deepest perceptions are bound to appear ... it might be in my approach to discipline, to my own unrecognized racial or socioeconomic biases, to my hope or lack thereof in regard to their own futures.
It’s kind of like the trees that surround me on this warm fall day as they vividly display for me the passing of time. What I see with my eyes today are the trunks, the branches, the leaves. The leaves, especially, remind me of transition as they fall to the ground where they will become mulch to nourish the earth. In a few weeks the trees will be bare and weather the winds, snows and cold temperatures of an upper midwestern winter. But beneath what I can see there are roots. The roots hold the structure of the tree in place, they provide nutrition and stability. Without roots these trees will have no green leaves to spring forth in April. But with roots there is promise of a future.
It’s like that with my children, too. What I experience with my senses most frequently are the words I hear from them, the ways they interpret life, the successes and failures they acquire as they grow and develop. There are moments when I see the full, healthy glow of success in their lives, and moments when I painfully witness the “shedding” of a previous way. And beneath it all are their roots – those which are genetic and those which have been grafted in by adoptive parents. It is not a single root system – it is neither “birth” nor “adoptive” roots – but a complex, intricate combination of both, by now so woven together with life experience and forgotten moments that they can never be separated. Nor should they be.
In moments like these I am reminded to thank the Creator, for I love these complex, multilayered, resilient children, who have not aways been mine, but who have always been God’s.