"For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption." (Rom. 8:15)
At the moment hundreds of children from Central America are risking a long, dangerous trip without adults to come to the United States to escape oppressive poverty, violence, and exploitation. They are receiving a mixed welcome, sometimes with compassion and sometimes with hostility. St. Paul's words seem relevant to me.
The spirit of adoption is something I know a little bit about. Here's how I learned.
Thirty-one years ago my wife Ginger and I were in the process of completing the home study process for the adoption of our first child. We had had all the interviews. The social worker had come to visit our house. (It was, by the way, one of only three times in my adult life that I've cleaned the oven. I don't know why I thought our case worker would be checking to see if our oven was clean, but that is what the words "home study" conjured up in my mind anyway.)
The final interviews had come. These were to be with Ginger and me separately. I assume the reason for that is that if one of us had not really wanted to go through with the adoption we could bring a halt to the process without having to reveal the complete truth to our spouse. In our case, we were both as committed, and anxious in every sense, as ever.
I was to have my interview first, and I promised to stop at a pay phone (before the days of cell phones) to call Ginger and tell her what the social worker had asked on my way back to the office. I did. Ginger, in turn, was to call me when her interview, scheduled late in the afternoon, was complete.
The time of Ginger's interview came and went. There was no call. I waited and waited. No word. I began to get concerned. My anxieties ran rampant. I feared that the social worker had completed Ginger's interview and said something like Ginger would make a wonderful parent but that I was a complete Bozo who had tried to trick her into thinking we had a clean oven. I imagined Ginger crying because of the disappointment and too upset to call me.
Finally at about 5:30 Ginger arrived at my office door. She had red, puffy eyes. She had clearly been crying. I thought my worst fears were confirmed. Instead, however, she stepped in and said, "You have a son." And she pulled out a picture of a Korean baby boy. We know him as Andrew. At that point I started to cry. It was all I could do. People from the office came in to see if I was alright. It was very embarrassing.
It turns out that the social worker's last question to Ginger, as it had been to me, was, "So, are you ready for a baby?" When Ginger responded, "Yes," the social worker had said, "Good, because I have a referral for you," at which point she pulled out a file and a picture. Ginger had, of course, met this news with tears of joy, and in all the excitement she couldn't remember exactly how to get to my office. She had been driving around a long time hoping to recognize something and be able to find the way.
Now, here's the rest of the story. Ginger is the emotional one in our family. She could cry at the drop of hat. Happy or sad made no difference. Tears were appropriate for any occasion. Not so for me. Up until that point in our lives together, I had never cried. Not once. I didn't think I had it in me. But when the news of Andrew came, the floodgates broke open. I started to cry, and try as I might, I couldn't stop. I would think I had myself under control, and we would try to call someone to tell them the news. I would be prepared to speak, but when someone answered the phone, I would start again. I would have to hand the phone back to Ginger. I was reduced to nothing but tears.
People come to the United States from faraway places for many reasons. Some come to escape persecution. Others come in search of freedom. Many come in search of a better life. Some are oppressed. Some are displaced by war. Our son Andrew, and later his brother Matthew, came to complete a family.
"For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption." Now we all have an opportunity to learn what that is all about. It may well reduce us to tears.