Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Another Step on the Road to Self-Discovery

It may be that I am unusual in this regard, but I am on a continual quest for self-discovery. When I was a younger adult I recognized that to be a natural process for the time in life, but I never realized I would be asking some of the same questions again in my 40's. (Knowing what I do know about the early midlife journey, however, I understand it to be fairly typical). As an adoptive parent, I have to ask myself many times why it is that I do what I do.

I don't mean in terms of parenting approach or parental role. I'm pretty clear on why I do what I do in those realms. I mean why in the world I would have become an adoptive parent in the first place. Statistically the world is filled with children who need parents, so why don't more people step up and bring into their lives children with whom they have no genetic connection?

While it can never be my place to judge others' motives, it does seem that those who adopt have a different picture of the world and their role in it than do people who never give the children of the world more thought than the passing surge of guilt when, as they flip those multiple cable television channels, they happen upon the poverty-stricken face of an unnamed child in a world far, far away.

Why are there people who choose to adopt?

I have wondered myself over the past decade why this has become such a central part of my life's purpose and mission. Part of it stems from the relationship I share with my wife, with whom this is a shared passion. It has been her initiative, not mine, that has created the family life that we now share together. Were it not for her passionate ability to get things done, I would probably still be "considering" what it might mean to adopt a child in need of parents. I might never have done anything about my inner urges had she not been a part of my life. So there is that.

But even then, there are plenty of couples out there for whom adoption is one's passion, while the other finds him- or herself a mute party to a radically changing lifestyle. Some of these non-allied couples make it together, while others do not. While I have no statistics to support my observation, I have seen any number of formerly happily-enough married couples find their relationship deteriorating as a result of adoption decisions.

The adoptive parenting journey for me, however, has been the most significant and enriching adventure I have ever had the pleasure of enduring. I say it that way intentionally, but there really is no good word or words to describe both the glorious delight as well as the deep despair of parenting children you have not "known" from the very beginning. I have learned more about myself over the past decade through this experience than anything else I have done (and I've had the opportunity in my vocation to participate in numerous leadership and personal exploration discoveries).

Even as I say that, though, I still wonder why I do this and why I see it as such a significant life's endeavor, even after all we've endured over the years. I was reminded as to why that is while I was talking with my mother by telephone yesterday. My mother is one of the most unique women I have ever known. She defies most female stereotypes, so I early learned that women were not inferior to men. (My wife sometimes jokingly, but more truthfully than she knows, refers to me as our home's resident "feminist," for I am much more egalitarian than she). From her early years of life my mother could work beside men in physical labor and best most them in their efforts.

Beyond her strong work ethic and common sense values, however, my mother is also a compassionate and giving person. You might not know that should you ever meet her face to face, for she is a straight-talker of blue-collar origins who believes truth is more important than social niceties. An intelligent woman, she is not easily taken advantage of or deceived. While I did not always appreciate that as a child growing up in her home, I have come to respect it and to see its value in my own life. It is one of the reasons I strive to be authentic and honest in who I am. But I digress.

As she and I were talking yesterday, I asked her about an awful tragedy which occurred less than a mile from her rural, northern Minnesota home. A neighbor had been shot to death in his front yard (in front of his family) by his son-in-law a few days earlier. Evidently the neighbor's daughter had recently returned home to escape her husband, and her husband chose a horrific, violent confrontation. While this is not a surprising outcome in situations contending with domestic violence, it is a shocker for the rural Minnesota community from which I come. We progressed in the conversation, and I asked her what she had been doing.

"Well, we're just finishing up baling the hay." Of course. It's late June, time for the first cutting of hay. Now that I am removed from rural life, I rarely think of the agri-season so close to those whose work is primarily outdoors. "[The murdered neighbor's] cows need some hay, so we're getting ready to take it down there."

One sentence from my mother's mouth flooded me with a moment of self-discovery. A descriptive sentence, not intended to draw attention to herself or to her compassionate action, just a sentence of fact, but a phrase that reminded me that one of the reasons I do what I do is because that is what I learned from the one who gave me birth and who nurtured my life's core values.

You see, adoption is really less about the parent's fulfillment or sense of self, and so much more about what is right for children. Along the way, certainly, there are moments where parents feel tremendous joy and satisfaction, but even when that is not present, it is the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do because children matter. Children matter whether they emanate as the "fruit of our loins" (as the Hebrew Scriptures say) or whether they come into lives through less traditional means. It is because children matter, and because I have with God's help the emotional, spiritual and physical resources to make a difference that I should.

I have my mother to thank for this core value, and I hope one day my children will have me to thank for theirs.

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