Friday, January 4, 2008

November 2007-- Will you accept children?

Will you accept children?

About 14 years ago, I was a bridesmaid in a wedding for a very young couple. They were still in college and I was a few years older. At the exchange of vows, all the bridesmaids and groomsmen stood on the altar as the priest asked the couple the traditional questions.
            “Will you accept children willingly from God and bring them up lovingly according to the law of Christ and his Church?” he asked.
            “We will,” they answered. The priest turned away slightly, and as he did, the bride turned to her maid of honor, rolled her eyes, and shook her head ever so slightly.
            “No kids,” she mouthed, as her maid of honor suppressed a giggle.
            I remember being so struck by the bride’s response that for a moment I even forgot about the metallic green dress with the balloon skirt she was making me wear.
            It wasn’t that I believed everyone should have children, or even that she, specifically, should have a child. Rather, it was her blatant dismissal of the question. The priest wasn’t asking the couple to start their family right that moment, but was rather asking whether they would accept children. At age 20, the bride and groom had at least two decades to think about having children. To make a point of saying absolutely no seemed to me to be a rejection of the sacrament.
            Just two weeks into my own marriage at the time, I saw the questions and vows as the Church’s way to encompass just about every possible event that life could throw at a couple. Good times and bad. Sickness and health. Rich and poor. Young man and young lady — none of us knows what the future holds, but will you promise to stick with this other person as you find out? 
            The couple has been divorced for about five years now, but the bride’s firm shake of her head is still with me. I think about it whenever I’m tempted to make an absolute statement about the plans I have for my life — especially one that starts with the words, “I’ll never…” or “I will always.”
            Bill and I have once again become licensed to foster and adopt. I feel surprised about this decision — not in a shocked-to-be-pregnant kind of way; more in a I-can’t-believe-I’m-parachuting-from-this-airplane kind of way. After Jacob, then Liam, then two foster children, then Jamie—who we first fostered, then adopted, then Teenasia, who we fostered for a second time, I had thought we were done with the “accepting children” part of the vows. The children had been sent by God, were accepted, and were in the process of being raised lovingly (at least most of the time). Wasn’t it time to move on to something else? A part of the vows, perhaps, that would not involve the addition of 14 more socks to our family’s laundry each week?
            Our surprise decision to adopt again came to us early this past summer. We were admiring the foster baby of a couple from church. As the baby grabbed my finger, her foster mother said to me, “Did you know there’s a record number of foster children in the system and that Children’s Service Society is desperate for more foster parents?”
            I had not known this. I glanced at Bill. He hadn’t known it either.
            In the weeks that followed that baby’s finger-grab, Bill and I talked about little else besides whether or not we should foster or adopt one more. Could we be good parents to four? Were we good enough parents to the three we had? What would another adopted child mean for Jamie, not to be the only adopted one in the family? What would it mean for Liam, who sometimes already felt squished in the middle? And what about the emotional toll that foster care invariably brings— we had been hit hard by the system when the court ruled that Teenasia’s father’s anger management classes were enough to warrant Teenasia’s return to him. What if we had to go through that again?
            As we talked, however, signs from God started showing up, just as they had the first time we were thinking of fostering. We’d go to church and the homily would be on welcoming the stranger. We’d visit our favorite prayer Web site and the reading of the day would be Jesus’ admonishing the disciples, “Let the children come to me.” Newspaper and television stories on foster care and adoption seemed to appear on a daily basis.
            But mostly, what caused us to fill out the paperwork to once again be licensed for foster care was that we really couldn’t think of a good reason not to. There were too many kids out there who needed a good family, and for all of our faults and foibles, we knew we were a good family.
            And maybe too, it was that question a priest asked us 14 years ago as we stood on the altar.
            “Will you accept children willingly from God?”
            We said we would.
            Even if it means 14 more socks each week.   

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