Monday, December 25, 2017

Belonging...The Best Gift of All

I am beginning the writing of this blog on the cusp of Christmas Day, 10 minutes before midnight on Christmas Eve.  Sitting here as the house gradually eases into quiet slumber, I realize that this holiday seems to be highlighting a particular theme for me to reflect on.  Now, when I share what that theme is, you might roll your eyes, or even laugh out loud, but it is taking on an entirely new meaning for me.

The theme is "adoption".

I know...I know...hasn't that pretty much the theme for the past 20 years of my life?

Yes, it has been, but the shoe is now on the other foot.  You see, in years past, I have been the "adopter", the one initiating the connection and affirmation of a relationship.  I have been the one in pursuit of another, but rarely in my life have I ever viewed myself as the "adoptee". 

Even our tree is really a symbol of this theme in our family, as year after year ornaments were added as we waited for beloved children to come home, or celebrated their first Christmas with us.

I have spent 19 years growing as an adopter, learning how to slowly take down emotional walls that were sturdy and well built.  I have become skilled at helping old wounds heal, and at guiding raw souls toward trust and connection.  This role I know, it is familiar and comfortable.

What is new is being on the other side.  Being adopted by others, having them help me gradually rebuild trust, being guided toward healing and wholeness...all of this is new from this side of the fence!

And yet, this is what God has done in my life the past couple of years. 

This evening, we had Christmas Eve dinner with "grandparents" who have adopted us, stuck by us, and gone out of their way a million times to support and help us.  Jane and Steve are not blood related, but the pride they take in our kids couldn't be any stronger if they were.

We are family in every way.  We have shared at least 5 or 6 Christmas Eves together, countless birthdays, and much more.  We aren't connected by DNA, but that doesn't matter.

Every adoptive parent has experienced the deep inexplicable desire to "claim" their new child.  We look for similarities that mark us as family.  We desperately need to affirm that this parent-child relationship was meant to be.  This claiming is an integral part of the emotional process, and it happens for the newly adopted child as well, who also yearns to be permanently linked to a family that will view them as precious, and will delight in their presence.

The past few weeks it has been clear that we have actually been adopted by our new congregation.  Over and over again, we are being shown love and a deeper desire for connection in all kinds of ways, big and small.  We, too, have been claiming, as conversations on the long drive home inevitably have several of the kids pointing to how "we just fit here", and they chatter on about this person or that person who they are enjoying getting to know better.

Tonight, we were surprised as our longtime friend, Kent, showed up in church to spend Christmas Eve in worship with us.  We have known Kent for probably 15 years or more, and he has adopted us as additional family.  When making big decisions, he often consults with us to see what our thoughts are.  When he is with us, he nestles in our family as if he was born into it.  

This is what adoption looks like.  This entire pew is filled with people who are not genetically connected, and therefore they have a choice...they don't have to care for one another, support and encourage one another, or spend time with one another.  This pew is all love, and all choice.  I look at this photo and realize that I may have been under the illusion that I was solely the "adopter", but I was being equally adopted as well.

My best friend and her family have also adopted us, and we have gained aunts and cousins for the kids, and a niece and nephew for Dominick and I, all by choice.  

You know what the real message of Christmas is for me?

We all belong to one another.

How can one look at the Christmas story and the birth of Jesus without seeing that?  Joseph claimed both Mary and Jesus, because he knew they belonged to one another, despite the opposition of those who would say Mary betrayed him, and that Jesus was an illegitimate child.  And, in turn, this humble little family of three also knew they belonged to God, as well.

No person is illegitimate.  It is impossible when one takes Jesus' overarching message to heart, because...we all belong to one another...and that legitimizes every single person.

We adopt one another, we claim one another, and we walk through the world with one another.  

But the message is a hard one, because it challenges us to the core.  Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of  God's son, means we belong to one another, and the difficult part of that is that forever we belong to one another, and "one another" means everyone, not just those we pick and choose.  We humans belong to one another, not selectively, not based on race or gender or religious preferences.  

This Christmas season, look around your family, your friends, your workmates, and instead of finding ways to distance yourself, how about finding ways to belong to each other?  How about claiming someone as yours, and then living into that statement in a new and more compassionate way?

This is my family.  Many might say we don't belong to one another because we don't "match", or we don't share DNA, or we don't share ethnicity or race.  Heck, we often don't even share the same philosophy or theology!  

It doesn't matter, not one whit.  We belong to one another, and we belong to God.  Like the trust Mary and Joseph both had in God in accepting Jesus, we trust God brought the seven of us together.  We trust that our friends near and far were brought into our lives by God, and we welcome being adopted by them, just as we also joyfully adopt them.

The message of Christmas might change from year to year as we mature in our faith, and in life.  But what should never, ever change is our recognition and acknowledgement that we all belong to one another...all of us.

And when you stop to think about it, isn't that the best gift of all?

Merry Christmas, dear ones.  May you always feel you belong.

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