Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Gracious Community

I'm not sure how adoptive parents with troubled children make it without the support of others, outside of themselves. Over the past twelve years Claudia and I have had any moments of exasperation and challenge. We have discovered that the people who were our friends more than a decade ago have largely been replaced. Our "old" friends simply didn't understand the dynamics of children with special needs, nor did they really "get" our passion to adopt older kids who needed permanency.

I'm not sure that we ever intentionally said to ourselves, "Well, let's get ourselves some new friends." It wasn't like or anything. It has happened gradually over time as we have met others who are doing what we do. These are people we would not otherwise ever have known, because they are in many ways so different from ourselves. In some cases we do not share the same geography, the same experiences in life, the same religious preferences, the same philosophies of life. But one thing we share in common is children who are unique and a thirst to do in our world what is right on their behalf, even when it means a complete reorientation of our lives to do so.

We have also been blessed with a very gracious and kind community of faith. The churches that we have served over the past several years have learned what it is about our family that makes us unique and, in most cases, have discovered the passion we have for the forgotten children in our world. In our previous church the parsonage (church-supplied home for the pastor and family) received more-than-ordinary damage over the course of our seven years there. When it was time for us to leave, we offered to pay for at least half of all the damages and left them with a $1500 payment as "earnest" money of a sort. How humbled and surprised we were a couple of weeks later to receive from the church the $1500 back with a note that told us how much they had been blessed by our time with them, and that they wished to care for the parsonage renovation themselves. Upon leaving that gracious community we wondered what our next chapter in life would have in store for us.

We have been in our current pastoral appointment for 2-1/2 years, and while we do not live in a parsonage any longer (this church offers a housing allowance which gives me the opportunity to actually "own" a home and build equity during our time here), our congregation is still affected by our lifestyle. It is not as direct, typically, but the effects are there, and often, if I do say so myself, they are positive effects.

For example, over the past couple of weeks a new family has begun attending our church because we understand what it is like to have special needs kids. She is a grandmother raising two of her grandchildren, both of whom were affected by in utero exposure to drugs and alcohol. (Their birth mom's life has been destroyed by drugging). Grandma wanted a church, had been looking for a church, but wasn't sure where to go. A friend (who is a member at our church) invited her to worship, and told me about it. I took the initiative to visit with grandmother before their visit to worship. We discovered her family and ours has a lot in common. We hope that she and her grandchildren will find the gracious Christian community that we have found.

I am reminded of what a blessing this is as a result of a meeting last night at church. Yesterday morning I sat in court and waited for our nineteen-year-old son to be sentenced on charges stemming from his break and enter episode earlier this year in our church facility. Because we have been open about our family's life and because the actions of this son were directly related to the congregation, I felt I needed to share the results of the sentencing with our Church Council last night. It was a sober moment. The Chair of the Trustees told us that she had filed with the Court the "Victim Impact Statement," and that in that statement she wished Mike well and offered encouraging words to him. Although I did not see the Statement, my impression is that included forgiveness and a good word. No one had a word to add to what I shared last night at the meeting. There was no judgment, no irritation, no faces scowled in malice. Rather there were the eyes and expressions of companions in life's journey, empathic grace offered without verbiage.

I wish for every adoptive parent the gift of supportive friends and a gracious community. There is no other way we would be able to thrive in this journey as adoptive parents of older kids. There is no way to say "thank you" for such compassionate kindness from people who understand and practice the way of Christ.


Dan in Green Isle said...

We've been asked to take a break from the church that we were attending because of the actions of our 15 year old son that we had adopted when he was 9. Way to pull the support rug out from under us! We were told: "We would like to see what it would be like to not to have ______ at church for a while".

I believe that our family had too many issues for the church/paster to handle.

There also have been questionable comments from the paster on other issues and runins with others attending the church.

Bart said...

Dan, I have to acknowledge that part of the reason our churches have been good to us is that I am their pastor, and I have used that position of leadership to advocate, educate and help bring people along the journey. Like so many things in the church if the pastor is not "on board" things rumble to a standstill (or worse). I think most church goers think that adoption and caring for troubled children is a good thing (I mean it's really one of the core values of Christian faith), but when it becomes personal ("not in my church") to the average person in the pew it's a different matter. We really need a movement of pastors and people in churches who understand this as God's call to mission ... with all that implies!

Our Family said...

We have encountered the best and worse when it has come to churches we have served and attended. The churches we served have been very supportive and like you, we used that as a chance to communicate what it means to adopt special needs children.

On the other hand, our biggest pet peeve is those who think we are too strict or "if you would just give him some leeway, he wont be so tense" What they don't realize is that if we let our sons have leeway, they would be doing things that would cause them to get sent to jail or worse! We have been asked to meet with the kids Sunday School teachers and now I have a sheet to give them instead of getting into hot discussions about behavior and consequences.

We have had to learn to not let it get to us and that most people mean well, they are just uneducated about our family and the way we have to live. For a long time, I would write them off as nosy and that is not life giving to me or them. I now just assume their ignorance and teach them about our family.

Dan in Green Isle said...

I'm sure many people feel sorry for our kids. Like 'our family' said: "if you'd only give them some leeway"....been there tried that!

We've had and are having "well meaning" people go behind our back that have supplied our kids with cel phones, money, have contact with them without our knowledge, at school and other places!

The best part are the people who take what the kids tell them is 100% truth. Oh....those poor children....all that they need is love! They have NO idea what kind of stories these kids can make up, streach/exaggerate the truth, conditions and treatment they get at home. If the kid feels that they can benifit from telling the neighbor that we won't give them a ride to...whatever... and get the neighbor to feel sorry for them AND GIVE THEM A RIDE WITHOUT TALKING TO THEIR PARENTS!!!! CAN THEY UNDERMIND OUR AUTHORITY ANY MORE?? Far be it for the kid to tell the neighbor that the kid would have a ride if they would do what they were asked to do around the house.