Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dear Daughter's Birth Mom

Dear Daughter's Birth Mom,

I've been thinking about you many times in the past few days. You and I have never spoken to one another, never seen one another in the flesh. I have seen a couple of pictures of you when "our" kids (the three you gave birth to some 19, 17 and 15 years ago) were in your care, but that's the extent of our connection.

Well, not exactly. It seems like I know you because I know the children you brought into this world. We have had some very good times, and we have had some very trying times together. It is always an unusual experience to become a parent to children when they are 8, 6, and 4, knowing that they have deep memories of their first years of life with birth parents and other caretakers. LIke most adoptive parents, my wife and I have heard our share of "you're not my real parents anyway." We have had physical altercations, threats, the involvement of law enforcement and many other challenges over the past decade.

But I need to tell you that there have been moments of joy and celebration as well. "Our" children are so very beautiful; we are grateful for the genes that have provided us glistening, wavy, thick black hair and broad smiles from mouths full of white teeth. We are so very blessed with their warmth of personality, their sensitivities to others, their fierce loyalty to one another. Thank you for giving them the gift of life.

Speaking of the gift of life, I need to tell you that "we" are grandparents tonight! "Our" oldest daughter has given birth to a beautiful daughter, four days after her seventeenth birthday. She is a lovely, bright moment in our lives, entering the world at 6 pounds, 6 ounces and 16 inches in length. She has her mother's puffy tan cheeks (you remember those same cheeks seventeen years ago now, don't you?) and a petite nose. Ringlets of soft, wavy black hair crown her glorious little face.

You can be proud of your birth daughter. She was exceedingly careful during her pregnancy to eat nutritiously, to take the appropriate vitamins and to receive good prenatal care. The past couple of months have been difficult for her because of the way baby was situated in utero. "Our" daughter experienced pain the equivalent of kidney stones for weeks and bravely soldiered on, often refusing to take additional sedatives because she wanted to be sure her baby was born in good health.

You should also know that "our" daughter and granddaughter are surrounded by people who will love her on both sides of her family. "Our" granddaughter's father is young, too, at nineteen, but he is responsible and loves "our" daughter and his daughter.

It's an awkward thing, really. I have known the children you gave birth to longer now than you did. I do not know the circumstances surrounding your departure from their lives, but I have to assume that deep within you have loved them, too, all these years, even though your role as primary caretaker ended more than a decade ago.

Really, though, all I wanted to say is "thank you" for creating their lives. Claudia and I are proud to be their parents. And I just wanted you to know that "we" are grandparents.

I thought you should know.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Parenthood: A Drama Not Of One's Own Making

This time of year is always fairly dramatic in our family. With twelve kids -- and now the addition of two "significant" others in the lives of a couple of our older kids -- and the final hours of expectation for a first grandchild, this is a strangely unusual year for us. Add to those nuances the reality that two of our children celebrate birthdays this week as well ... and the fact that a major winter storm is headed our way in the next three days ... and it's quite a drama in our home.

We experienced an additional drama tonight. Our two wrestlers, Ricardo and Leon, both won their respective matches tonight (it marks Ricardo's 12th win with a single loss this year) to the roaring cheer of their fans. It was a marvelous evening, and sentimental old fool that I am (now that my status as grandparent is imminent I can be an "old" fool) I found it hard to hold back tears of joy as I watched my sons wrestle themselves to victory.

I couldn't help but think about how their lives would be different if they were not our sons. Ricardo joined our family directly from a Guatemalan orphanage at the age of ten, and Leon joined our family two years from foster care at the age of twelve. They are now sixteen and fourteen and almost always blessings to my heart. They are respectful, low maintenance and warm and engaging young men. Until Leon moved into our home he had not ever had the chance to be part of competitive sports or much of anything, actually. For whatever reasons his foster parents did not allow participation in those kinds of activities. And Ricardo by this age would have been "set free" from his orphanage to live on the streets of Guatemala City.

But tonight there is excitement in the air, multiple dramas. And none of them my own making. Perhaps that's one of the benefits of being a parent of older children. When children are younger the parent assumes the role of entertainer and enforcer. While I loved the stages when a couple of children were toddlers, I remember how physically exhausting those years were. The constant supervision, perpetual direction and need for direct care become overwhelming.

These days, though, I can kind of sit back and experience drama -- most of it good, but not always -- as an observer, not as a director. My wrestling sons work hard all week, I encourage them at home and affirm their discipline, and then I get to enjoy the drama of watching them do what they do best. My daughter will be bringing a new life into the world, and I will not have to do anything about that process but enjoy the outcome of the experience. We will celebrate Christmas together -- with whichever of our children can be here for that time -- and I can happily enjoy our time together. My role in that experience is less direct than ever -- I simply help buy a few gifts, pay those bills, and take responsibility for the holiday meals and niceties. Not such a bad deal.

I am grateful that once again I have sense of peace within my soul. It's only day two of enjoying that newfound contentment once again, but I think I'm going to like this!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The First Day

It has been months since I blogged, and even more months before the last time I blogged. I have thought about it nearly every day, but have unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) simply pushed the thought from my mind. I have experienced the fall (and the summer before that) in deeply negative ways, and I didn't want to subject the blogosphere to my excursions into the land of negativity and despair.

But here it is, the first day of Winter, the longest night of the year. I have always found the season of Fall a bittersweet mixture of delight and despair. I delight in the beauty of nature's hues bespeckling the leaves of trees with the final explosions of autumnal reverie. I enjoy the crispness to the air, a contrast to the murky humidity of late summer. I look forward to the beginning of a new school year as it provides a sense of normality into our family's life once again.

But as the days become shorter and the nights longer, I find myself experiencing despair. Difficult conversations that I can normally push myself through become harder to bear during the chilling months of fall. Conflicted relationships pierce my soul in a deeper fashion. Responsibilities that are ordinarily easily fulfilled become arduous, unfulfilling tasks. As the light of each day gradually slips into the darkness of winter I can feel my soul becoming more intent on self-preservation, less trusting, less settled.

It would be one thing to experience this if the only thing I needed to do each day is to clock in at a job where I made the same widgets every day in the same factory where I had worked for twenty years of my life. My shift would come to a conclusion as I hear the "thrunk" of the metallic device stamping my time card, and I could walk away, leaving the stresses of work behind.

My experience might also be different if my responsibilities as husband and father were more typical. After an eight-hour day of work I would return home to my statistically average 2.2 children. We would do what a typical family does (whatever that might be). I would not have to listen to the every night tantrum of a thirteen-year-old whose diagnoses create consistent noise, cursing and a very low threshold for any kind of frustration. I would have a desk in my bedroom where the scissors I purchased last week would be right where I placed them (yeah, I know, that's what happens in "typical" families, too). I could go on, but you get the picture.

But I do not have that kind of life. I have made decisions vocationally and parentally that preclude this fantasy from occurring. Usually I can balance the frustrations and irritations with the blessings and the benefits of my lifestyle. But not so well during the cold of fall and winter.

I was reminded again of that reality as I prepared to preach yesterday. I knew what the Scripture text would be (I had, after all, selected it) and I knew what the focus of the service would be (again, my choices), but my heart was far from what I needed to preach. My task was to preach on peace, and my heart was in a land far, far from that place of abundant faith experience. I spent most of Saturday embittered and angry about my Sunday morning task, because I hate to preach about something that seems so far away for me personally. It feels like dishonesty, and if nothing else I am a fairly honest person.

My sense of peace had been stolen by life events. I am irritated with an oldest son who does not have even the courtesy to call between major holidays, but can always be counted on to extend his hand when it's something he needs. I am annoyed to have another "adult" son who spends more time behind bars than in the clear light of freedom, always believing he will outsmart the authorities, but who always gets caught. I am impatient with another "adult" son whose only real requirement for living in our home rent-free is that he attend school, yet he cannot seem to get himself up to do that much. I am continually in a morass of ambiguity knowing that I have a sixteen-year-old daughter who will soon give birth to our first grandchild. I could go on and on, but I will not.

I have felt trapped, annoyed, irritated, without much hope. And so I spent a fretful Saturday night with little restful sleep, awakening Sunday morning to fulfill my responsibilities, but unhappily so. And so I preached about peace, even though my own spirit was rocked with anxiety and self-doubt. I preached from the Lukan account of the delivery of Jesus. Luke says surprisingly little at the point. Basically we hear that Mary and Joseph leave their home environs for the bustling, capitol city, where they bed down in an animal's dwelling. And then "while they were there" Mary gives birth to her son. I found myself drawn to that phrase "while the were there." The more I preached the more I realized that my primary audience yesterday was myself.

Mary and Joseph accept their setting for what it is, and they do what they need to do for that moment in time. We don't hear from Luke whether they had any other preferences or desires; we simply know that "while they were there" they allowed to take place what was going to take place. They recognized their inability to change their immediate circumstances, and they simply did what they needed to do. What stood out to me yesterday is the sense of peace the scene invokes. The surroundings are simple, the parents humble, their child one of many born in Jerusalem that day. But the difference for people of Christian faith is that is the first day that God's light dawns upon God's people in such a visible, tangible way.

It's kind of like the winter solstice, when the nights gradually become shorter as the days become longer. Light returns, new possibility emerges and we find peace within ourselves. Not in our outward circumstances or situations (of our own or others' making), but within ourselves. And that is God's gift to us. A sense of peace that is unshakeable because it comes from beyond ourselves, but paradoxically, from within ourselves.

I'm not sure if anyone else heard God speak through yesterday's sermon, but I did. And I trust that a newfound sense of peace will embrace my beleaguered spirit once again.