We brought her home when she was eighteen months old. It felt like we snatched her from death and disease, from a life defined by a hospice order and lived out in a small orphanage. Her homecoming was heavy-laden with healing. She entered our home as a celebrated and cherished child, my Emma.
A few months into our shared life we sat in her room colored with lemon sorbet walls, lavender curtains stitched by her grandmother and a fuzzy green blanket. She looked at me with a hint of a smile and eyes reflecting an awareness about her situation in that moment, in that room across from me. The only way to describe what I witnessed behind her eyes – gratitude.
Now my husband thinks I’m imagining things…how can she be grateful for a gift she can’t fully comprehend yet? “You’re seeing things – or seeing what you want to see” he laughed. But all these years later I stand by my observation. She’s grateful for her life; she knows she almost lost it.
Even today, the words ‘thank you’ roll easily off her tongue. And she means it every time. My daughter lives in a state of perpetual gratitude for her adoption-shaped life. I know it the way a mother knows things.
I sat in the cottage living room with my friends and these lovely Ugandan girls. These young soon-to-be-women live with HIV/AIDS in homes at Cherish Uganda. Each home hosts ten children and two adoptive mothers; each home is visited by adoptive fathers who are committed to these children. You might picture a place like this as morose with all the sickness, but it vibrates with bright hope that sounds like laughter and looks like iridescent bubbles floating into the blue sky.
We shared favorite Bible verses, the ones we cling to in the night. Marta volunteered, “Children, obey your parents.” I never saw it coming – an orphaned girl memorizing a verse about obeying parents, knowing her own had sent her away. ‘I love being able to obey my parents,’ she said in her rounded accent.
As she spoke, I saw it again – gratitude. This strong girl relished the chance to obey her parents, the ones who adopted her into their home and believe in her future despite the odds. Her acts of daily obedience declare her gratitude.
Gratitude isn’t unique to those in the company of the adopted, and not all of us ooze with obvious appreciation. But adopted living shapes something in us. We know our life could have turned out otherwise. We could have been left to sickness, resigned to death or never brought home. But someone decided to welcome us in and make room for us at their table.
Such wild acceptance and radical hospitality on daily offer call out the song echoing deep within us. Our life is underpinned by grace and gift. We don’t take for granted family photos, birthday celebrations, homework help, frequent hugs and nighttime prayers. Even mundane sundries and stern words eventually find appreciation because they point to the truth – we belong here. Against all the biological odds we’ve found family and a daily table we call ours. In my own experience this life invites a silent thank you each night before I succumb to darkness and dreams.
We bring a gritty gratitude sometimes, grateful given all the imperfections of parents, siblings and even birth moms. We push through to the goodness of our adopted life – on the other side of lost we’re found, on the other side of relinquished we’re redeemed. Maybe we don’t know enough about our back story to satisfy all our questions, but we know enough to be grateful for our family that embodies home.
Emma is grateful for her life. Marta is grateful for parents to obey. I’m grateful for unconditional love my parents continue to offer, forty plus years into our adopted life together. Our daily diet of love and acceptance tells us we irrevocably belong. I’ve learned that in the company of the adopted every family dinner is a Thanksgiving feast.
But let me take this opportunity to say thank you to all those who’ve adopted us. You’ve welcomed us and made us your kin. You’ve erased the lines between mine and yours, making everything ours. You’ve looked past differences like genes, skin color and ethnicity to see our shared humanity; you’ve brought out the best in us with your love. Thank you for making room for us at the family table and incarnating grace, generosity and hospitality.
Thank you for adopting us – it is our great honor to adopt you right back into the deep places of our hearts and the thick of our lives. And thank you, God, for the sacrament of adoption that mends hearts, families and a world hungry for healing.