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The Art of Adoption

Happy family in unplanned photo.
My biological family never quite took the shape I  planned for it to have. The plan:  I would have two children. My brother and sister would each have at least one. There would be cousins at Christmas gatherings into the foreseeable future, just as there were at our Christmas gatherings of old. I would be happily married forever to husband Nº 1. My parents would live to a ripe, old age, enjoying all those grandchildren and their grandchildren's children, perhaps. You know where this is going, don't you?

My one child had no cousins. My parents' lives were shortened by unbeatable illnesses. Husband 1 and I, predictably, did not have a lasting marriage. This year's Christmas gathering was one I could never have imagined in my youth. My sister was absent, taken from us earlier this year. In my living room sat my brother, brother-in-law, and a close friend of mine. My son and his wife had flown to another state to be with a terminally-ill relative. A string of tiny colored lights "bloomed" on a hibiscus plant. And there we were, this odd bunch, never gathered in this way before.

In many (if not most) lives, there have always been our expectations on one side and reality on another. Surely that's how it was for Joseph, confronted with a pregnant fiancé in an age where, by law, he could have sent her away or had her stoned. His expectations and his reality...well, there was no line where the two could meet. Joseph accepted the new reality, which led him to adopt a very special son. Whether you believe in the historical reality of a virgin birth or not, I certainly believe that Joseph's act of adoption was equally as sacred as Mary's conception. What's more, Joseph set an example that we can follow.

Too often we look at adoption as a second-best way of life.  What a mistake that is.

A special prima who adopted me.

Adoption is an art form and a sacred approach to life. I can be a child of God only by adoption. And my biological family was never meant to be my only experience of family in this lifetime...how impoverished my life would be had that been the case. Watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy this week, I was struck once again by the importance of friendship. Very few of the characters who forge the fellowship that will save mankind are biologically related. They are related by friendship, however, the kind of friendship that makes them brothers.  Frodo could never have a better brother than his friend Sam. 

The adopted "tiger," Mac Dougal
As for becoming a better person--a topic many of us turn to as a new year is upon us--I think I can achieve this only by adoption. If I "make" a resolution to be a better person or change my behavior in some way, I think I will do better to adopt that resolution instead.  What I adopt, I care for, as a parent does an adopted child, as a helping friend does for a friend in need.  What I adopt, I am unlikely to abandon, because of the responsibility and commitment that comes with adopting--a cause, a friend, a person in need, a child, an older adult without family, or a pet. Adoption implies both conscious choice and commitment. If I see my new year's resolutions as holy, I am likely to feel a whole new sense of commitment to keeping them.

Not that I find this idea particularly comforting. Adopting means reaching outside myself, my expectations, my regular world. Adopting a resolution carries a different kind of responsibility with it from making a list of resolutions that I know will likely end up as wishes rather than actions. This year, more than any other before it, I know that to keep the resolutions I want to adopt will take courage and strength--a courage and strength I often don't find within. Fortunately, those are available for adoption, too.

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