Her name is Teenasia.
After more than eight years of writing about our foster daughter, “T,” our family will finally be adopting her on September 30, in the same Children’s Court where we spent countless hours in hearings as her biological parents were offered chance upon chance to meet the conditions for her return. For eight years, I have protected her privacy as a foster child with the simple “T.” With her adoption comes the same freedom to use her name that I have for our other three children. She is Teenasia. She has always been Teenasia. She will be our daughter on September 30, 2011, just as surely as she became our daughter the cold March night in 2003, when she was first placed with us as a toddler; just as surely as she remained our daughter even when we were twice required to give her back to her birth family for another try.
Our joy is so deep that it bubbles up in unexpected places: A spontaneous adoption rap begun by the boys in the middle of what would normally be a mundane Monday night enchilada dinner; little Jamie’s 12-foot long, taped-together, construction paper portraits of everyone in our extended family, including the pets, with stars around Teenasia’s face. Teenasia tells everyone she can about her good news, and the playground supervisor congratulated me in the parking lot this morning. “She is glowing,” she told me. In a recent paragraph Teenasia had to write for her spelling challenge words, she managed to link together neglect, annual, basically and contract among others, to effectively tell the story of her foster care journey and upcoming adoption.
With any adoption comes a list of needs on the part of the adoptive parents. Parents adopting infants need a bouncy chair and a pack-and-play; they need diapers and fuzzy-footed sleepers. Parents adopting from oversees need a passport and plane tickets. And what do Bill and I need, adopting our almost 10-year-old, who we have parented, off and on, since she was one?
We need a sacrament.
Every major life event comes with a sacrament and while baptism works very well to mark the adoption of an infant or small child, Teenasia was baptized and received her First Communion more than a year ago.
A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. As we adopt Teenasia, I look back on the past eight years, and see Christ’s presence in so many of the events that brought Teenasia back to us. I have felt God’s grace in the people sent into our lives to support us during our difficult times. I have seen God’s grace embodied in Teenasia, who is making her way back to her true self after enduring profound trauma.
And that’s why I want a sacrament for the adoption itself— give me fire, water, holy oil, vestments, a ring—some outward sign that what is going on here is sacred; has always been sacred. Our church fathers were wise indeed. But with more church mothers—especially foster adoptive mothers-- we would probably have the Sacrament of Adoption.
Our adoption of Teenasia will feel closer to the sacrament of marriage than an infant baptism. Bill and I understand the commitment we are undertaking and we are choosing to go forward. Teenasia, too, will need to commit. Her new life will be one of learning to trust— halfway through her childhood— that from now on, she has a forever family. She will need to learn to believe that this love will not go away. Her childhood so far has been punctuated with the question marks given to her by the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare and a legislative system that does not respect children’s need for permanency. Our family will need to work together to extract these question marks that have lodged in her soul like stubborn fishhooks.
On Teenasia’s adoption day, the courtroom will be packed with friends and family. Teenasia will wear a gold-hued dress embroidered with delicate flowers. Bill and I will make promises to our daughter, and our other children will read statements of love, as witnesses. Teenasia will make promises to us. We will give her a gift—an outward sign of our love and fidelity. I expect that God’s grace, which has carried us through, will be palpable in that room.
The moment of Teenasia’s adoption will be sacramental.