5 Years In…

Every year when our Vikta’s birthday arrives, so does another milestone: The anniversary of when we first knew of our daughter. We received her referral document on her 2nd birthday, and 2 photos of her the next day. That was 5 years ago! Today, I’m remembering the adoption process, the waiting, the love and the great unknowns. I remembered that I had written about this to the congregation where I was the pastor at the time, in February when we finally had approval to go become her parents and bring Viktoria home. Here is that letter:

Dear River of Life,

Every adoption process is different, I know. These days there is much preparation required on behalf of the adoptive parents: classes, the home study, background checks from everywhere you’ve lived during your adult life and mountains of paperwork. But after all the preparation, for many there is suddenness. You are suddenly chosen by birthparents, maybe even receiving a call from the hospital. Or perhaps the child has been living with you through foster care, but is suddenly available for adoption. For inter-country adoption, there is often a sudden phone call telling you to buy your plane tickets, or meet someone at the airport. You may fear unwanted sudden events: a birthmother may have a change of heart, or unknown biological relatives could show up out of the blue, or politics will affect adoption from other countries. But always, with the suddenness, you would know that your life has changed forever.

I was ready for the suddenness, ready to be overwhelmed by how little I know after all, ready for the exhaustion and the chaos and the adaptation at lightning speed. It was this part of the process I never wanted, never knew to expect and certainly didn’t think would become the defining part of the process for us: incessant waiting. For 3 months our lives were suspended in waiting, not planning except in fits and starts for what we do not even know will be needed.

It has felt like it is dragging on and on, cycling through the seasons. Again, I know that for other adoptive parents, the wait can be much longer. In reality, this stage of the process for us has only been half a year – 6 months since we knew there was a specific child, whose name and photograph we’ve clutched tightly. But I am steeped in the rhythms of the “church year” so I’ve noticed that this six months spans just about all of it, except for the vast “Season After Pentecost.” Perhaps that is part of the reason it feels so long.

Reformation: We first had a phone call during the busiest weekend since I’ve been at River of Life (the ALLIA Convention) but were not able to return it until Monday. Then we heard about the child the adoption agency was referring to us: Viktoria! We soon said “Yes!” we would move forward with a visit, which was not able to take place until the end of October, over Reformation Sunday. Reformation is a celebration of God doing a new thing within old forms like the Church and the Scriptures. For us it was a brave new world, meeting the child whom we had to say “yes” to again a few days into our visit. We were choosing our future according to our consciences, even though we still couldn’t grasp the full implications of that choice. Kind of like Martin Luther, we thought, as we flew back home by way of Frankfurt, Germany.

Advent: Do you understand when I say that it has felt as if I am perpetually stuck in Advent (the season of waiting, anticipation, and longing)? A few weeks after we returned from our first trip to meet Viktoria, Advent was upon us. One of my pastor colleagues suggested that I could just hold up a photo of Viktoria in place of a sermon on “longing” that December.  Like the readings from the Prophets we always hear in the season of Advent, there were these promises for the future, but nothing was yet realized.

Christmas: Jesus was born centuries ago in Bethlehem of Judea, but we still wait for him to  come again. Stefan and I had a different child we were talking about in addition to the baby Jesus, and pondering all these things in our hearts. Every Christmas there is so much love invested in a tiny young person, but also in the potential for what they could do in our lives and our world. It was Christmas, but it was still Advent for us.

Epiphany: We know that there’s a lot of time in between Jesus’ birth and the magi visiting, and his baptism in the Jordan River. It’s not as quick as the church year has it. Instead there a good deal of growing up going on in between those milestones. But when we arrive at Epiphany there is something so satisfying about how everything is revealed at last. We, of course, hoped that since it hadn’t happened yet, our travel and court dates would be revealed, but there was no instant gratification on that matter by January 6th. This year I did 4 baptisms on the Sunday of Epiphany/Baptism of our Lord: 3 children from very near… one from as far away as China, our friends’ daughter who was adopted and came home to their family just a year ago. She is likely to be Viktoria’s first friend in her new life with us. The baptism liturgy we used has adoption language, about how God adopts all of us through baptism, into the same family.

Lent: Finally, finally, finally… one week before Ash Wednesday we got the word. We will “bond” as a family during Lent. That is our church season of reflection and repentance; I’m not sure what meaning to take from that just yet for our adoption process. During Holy Week, as Jesus parades into Jerusalem, breaks the Passover bread with his disciples, is betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and gives up his life on the cross, our family will be moving steadily towards our permanent future and a great celebration, but not without grief. Our dear little girl has had enough grief and loss for a young life already…the fear and inexpressible emotions the disciples and Jesus himself experienced on Good Friday have already played out to some extent in her story. Her birth parents, who were not capable of parenting her, must have agonized too since they loved her enough to do what was ultimately the best for her. That was the painful, most just thing to do. There will be a lot of emotional turmoil as we try to write a new life story together. Yet through all of it, we will come, ultimately, to Easter. The Resurrection of our Lord will be our family’s time of new life too! The court date when we become a family forever is April 4th, the Thursday after Easter. I cannot wait for the joy of it – joy that is sincere because of all we’ve been through.

Even if no one else we know has been through this same exact process, and even those who’ve been through similar processes do not empathize with the exact way we’re experiencing it, it is not a completely new story. It is the oldest story, which we have known and loved all these years, and will continue to tell and live out for the rest of our days. The timing on that, at least, feels right.

Pastor Lee Ann

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