One of the gurus of the older child adoption movement, and a person I respect a great deal and whose company I enjoy even more, recently wrote me an email he titled "life is so very interesting." As I reflect upon the first half of this Father's Day, I have to concur.
I've learned over the years not to get my expectations too high when it comes to our children. Before they were ours, they were someone else's, and in most cases had more than one caretaker earlier in life. Those early kinds of disruptions completely change a young child's perception of life and the world, and many times mother's and father's days are difficult for them because it brings up all kinds of unconscious or subconscious feelings about parenthood and their connections to parents in life. And since I have no children by birth I cannot compare what it would be like to father children from the womb. I guess that puts both them and I on a similar footing. We just try to make it one day at a time, and I love them as much as (perhaps more than) I could love a child springing from my loins. I say more because if I were dealing with my own genetic material, I'm not sure I could be so patient watching my own frailties and insecurities repeated for another generation. I think I do better with the mystery piece of the adoptive life, so in that sense it's quite nice.
This morning in worship, however, I received a surprise, the beginning of which took place several months ago. Back in the winter months (either just before or just after Christmas; I can't remember for sure) a young mother and her two daughters began to visit our church. As I do with any newcomer, I took a few seconds at the end of the service to introduce myself, ask a few pertinent questions and provide a warm welcome. Some visitors continue to return, and some visitors move on. As a pastor you never really know which it's going to be, so I've learned to leave some things to God in that process.
This young family continued to worship with us. On one Sunday morning in particular I received a brief note during the service (which is typical in the way we do things), in which she asked us to pray for and her family because they had some obstacles to overcome. After the service, I invited her to visit with me for a few minutes to see how we might be able to help. I discovered that they had a couple of very specific needs: beds and a kitchen table and chairs. Now, I hasten to add, it is not always this way with folks who indicate a need. I've been a pastor long enough now to recognize when I'm being scammed or when the requested item or items are simply beyong the purview of what a faith community can realistically do. But beds and table and chairs seemed pretty do-able. I connected with our congregation's Outreach Team, and within days we were able to provide the beds, table and chairs.
In the weeks to follow Claudia began to visit with her as well, and we have gotten to know her, her story and her children quite well. Because Claudia has already blogged about her, the details I relate are not confidential. While an infant she was placed in her first foster home in the Chicago area, and for the remaining years of her young life she lived in a wide range of situations from foster parents to adult friends to a series of group homes. By the time she was fifteen she was a mother for the first time. In time she and her three young chidlren moved to Minneapolis in hopes of getting a better opportunity in life. In Minneapolis she acquired new friends and a support system, and then realized that she and her kids might do better in a smaller city, which is when she made the move to our fine city of about 55,000. She has a job but no transportation, so she relies on public transportation (which in our relatively small city is not that regular or reliable) to get to work.
The past few months we have seen her and the kids regularly in worship, and in the past few weeks we have begun to feel kind of life her parents (although the chronology wouldn't work out quite correctly, emotionally it seems to fit pretty well). I have felt good knowing that she wants her kids to have a better chance at life than she has had, and that we might have some small part in that.
This morning in worship, however, I was surprised. Realize that I am not normally surprised in worship, because that's my turf, and I'm the one who initiates surprises, if there are going to surprises. I am not typically the receipient. As I heard the surprise announced, I glanced in the congregation and was surprised to see Kim walking toward the lectern. In three minutes she delivered a profound, meaningful and very touching tribute to me.
Who would have thought that would be my Father's Day surprise? To hear how much our family's presence has meant in her life over the past few months and to hear how much respect she has for us and our desire to help the children of our world is meaningful beyond words. We hope that our connections with Kim and her three children will be useful and productive. Already they have blessed our lives (I mean, it's great when someone else's kids address your wife as "Ma'am," and express apprecation for simple acts of kindness), and we trust that we will be able to help them in the years ahead, too. Claudia and I are blessed to have a new "branch" in our family tree, and the congregation will benefit from our relationship as well.
Who would have thought that a simple, "Welcome to Belgrade Avenue United Methodist Church. We're glad you are here," would result in such a touching Father's Day tribute?