About Sarah Lenora Gingrich

Disciple of Christ, though of the plodding, tripping, erring, but doggedly following variety. Wife and mother. I write in my mind all day long; some of the words spill here.

Voices of Adoption, Part Two

In honor of National Adoption Month, I’ve asked a few adoptive parents to share a reflection, something they’d like their communities to see, to know, about their journey in caring for foster and adopted children.  A note from the author of this post:  Sarah asked me to write for National Adoption Month. The topic turned out to be so painful that I am late.

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We have three adopted kids and three kids the old-fashioned way. They are ten years apart. The oldest is 30 years old; the youngest is 20.

My wife and I have vastly different experiences of adoption because we are vastly different people. I will speak only for myself.

At the outset, I considered adoption as some mixture of obeying God (James 1:27) and using the considerable advantages of my life to help someone who is alone in a very cruel world.

And then there was arrogance. When the adoption process began I was in my 40s. I was a tank commander in my 20s, a bicycle racer riding 8,000 miles a year and sure I could be the inspiring kind of dad that would make a difference in the life of a troubled boy.

We planned to adopt boys simply because my wife could handle anything and I thought I would be better with boys. We already had three girls, so it could also have been balance.

At that point in my life I still believed parents had an influence nearly equal to heredity. Say, 50/50 Nature/Nurture. I now believe it’s 90/10. So much of who a child is and what children grow to be is set at birth. Ambition, manual skill, IQ, perseverance, and competitiveness are no more changeable than eye color, height, skin color, or natural hair color.

In the 20 years since we brought our youngest son home, my view of life, the universe and everything in has changed. He had stroke in the birth canal. The doctors said it was just bad luck. We had no idea the extent of the damage or what that would mean. He is blind in his right eye and everything on his right side has nerve-related problems. He has ADHD, dyslexia, learning disabilities and problems that grow from those.

Ten years later we adopted another son. He was 11 at the time. A year older than the first son. Second son was taken from a mother arrested for dealing crack and he was exposed to crack in utero. He had a different set of problems, but the same learning disabilities. Neither boy could or will ever be able to do the single-digit multiplication table.

We attempted and failed to adopt three other boys. One was with us until he went into a rage and threw knives.

Someone could read this and accuse me of focusing on the negative. I admit that. But the process of dealing with the ups and downs of the troubled children we adopted reminded me deeply of my own childhood with a bi-polar mother. Her rages were awful, but equally terrifying to my own little child self was when she was very happy. Nothing predicted a big explosion in mom’s psyche better than the slow burning fuse of happiness.

When the older son got into trouble in high school, I was waiting for the next problem and finally doing my best to keep him out of jail.

When people ask me about adopting, I never recommend it. I imagined I could be a good adoptive father, but I was run over by the wrenching difficulties. And I see neither unicorns nor rainbows in the future. Both boys are troubled in their own ways and I have little hope they can be anything like self-sufficient, independent adults.

Voices of Adoption, Part One

In honor of National Adoption Month, I’ve asked a few adoptive parents to share a reflection, something they’d like their communities to see, to know, about their journey in caring for foster and adopted children.  A note from the author of this post: “Adoption is complicated, full of both joy and grief, celebration and sadness. Each story is individual, uniquely its own, in the same way that we are each uniquely our own. As adoptive parents, we keep our children’s stories, protect what was entrusted to us. That can sometimes make it difficult to share the complexities of adoption with others in a way that honors the children we love. May this raise some of the awareness but also keep safe, a story that is both mine and not my own.”

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She walked in, set them down, both secured in their carseats.

Little feet reaching out past fabric and plastic, stretching beyond, announcing growth and life.

Their wide eyes looked around the room, taking in the composition of furniture and artwork, skillfully nurtured and placed to create a home.

A home that was not theirs. A home unknown.

Their watchful eyes began searching for something familiar…but everything was new.

She took them out, little hands and feet, circumspectly moving about, lifting, pulling, rolling. She talked to me, I can’t remember what she said. Maybe something about hair or skin. Black. White.

She pulled her son close. His little body relaxing into hers, touching her face with his round, trusting fingers. The familiar smell of his mother’s breath, her skin, her touch.

She pressed her lips against his head and breathed him in, trying to hold this moment, his softness, his smell, so she would never forget it. Never forget them. She kissed him and drew a breath.

Tears stung my eyes. I looked away so she wouldn’t see. My body screamed but my mouth was silent. Grief gathered in my throat, choking out sound. My eyes betrayed me.

She reached for her daughter…but baby girl moved away, making it easier to say goodbye.

How does one watch a mother break, robbed of her children, her dreams? What can a stranger offer to comfort her children who know she is gone? These are not my babies. This is not right.

I have so much and what little you have, you lose? Injustice, embodied.

Rocking, singing, stroking. I gave them all of me but it didn’t unbreak them. They cried, their eyes far away. My own children cried while my heart and my body were away. They were alone, where had their mother gone?

Pools of tears and milk. When her babies cried, my body ached, traces of milk left from my own weaned child, let down, spilled out. Milk in my breast for babies that were not mine.

Days, weeks, months, went by. By law they were hers. They were always hers. They should always have been hers. And then one day, the court said they were mine. But I knew the truth. That day we all lost something.

I see your pain. I see your courage. If I listen, I hear your tears. I cannot give what this life stole from you but I will try to keep them safe, mama. I will bring them back to you. There is enough room in the heart for us both, but you are theirs and they have always been yours.

We never break in black and white. A mother’s heart breaks the same in every color. 

My Angel Story

I was a dawdler, fully capable of making my one mile walk home from elementary school stretch into an hour or more.  I varied my route, sometimes walking a friend to her house before ambling home.  I was alone and it was all ordinary, my backpack tugging my small shoulders back.  I’d just begun descending the Big Hill, the one that initiated me into a lifelong love of adrenaline as I flew down it on my bicycle on warm summer evenings.

An old truck rumbled by and I barely saw the driver, but he was turned fully towards me.  I felt the look on his face, but I didn’t have a word for it.

I cannot describe the urgency and immediacy of the command I heard just over my left shoulder.

GO.  NOW.  RUN INTO THE TREE.  HIDE.

I did.  On the lawn beside me was an evergreen tree with thick, low branches that laid like a hoop skirt over the ground.  I ran straight for it, my backpack slapping my back with each bound.  I could hear the truck revving, speeding quickly to the base of the hill.  I ducked into the branches and huddled behind the trunk, watching with horror as the truck whipped around at the intersection and tore back up the hill, the man leaning out of his window, eyes roving, searching.  He slowed.  He looked, his head swiveling back and forth, perplexed, frustrated.

He finally gunned the gas and left.

I don’t remember how long I stayed there, I don’t remember telling anyone what had happened.  I don’t remember trying to make sense of the being who’d spoken to me and saved me from the man, whoever he was.

My heart pounds as I type; the adrenaline of the memory still has that grip on me, but alongside that, marvelous wonder.  My Angel, thank you.

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The Improbable Balloon

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We’d been hiking with friends because it was in the high seventies at the end of October, and joyous clouds danced along the horizon but didn’t approach.  The tilt of the light of October; it lends some starkness, it fills up the golden and red leaves and fires them with electricity.  Everywhere I turned the light was playing with the colors.  I had to pay attention.  I left our group and wandered down by the mighty Susquehanna River, taking off my socks and shoes and rolling my jeans up to my knees, and wading out into the edge of the vastness.

I began to pray, perhaps I had been praying already, drinking in the creation afire round about me.  My face to the strong wind, the waves lapping at my legs, and that stillness found within my heart when in the wild, I closed my eyes.  Feeling the wind push me, push me; the river gently tugging, my shirt billowing behind me, I opened my eyes.

There, about 30 feet above the water, way across the wide river, was something shiny and red and moving.  My brain tried hard to understand this thing, and then, ah…a heart-shaped balloon.  Where had it come from?  Who let it loose?  Or did the strong wind pull it from a child’s wrist?  Did a lover spurn a gift, did it escape a trash can?

It was coming fast on the wind, crossing the river.  Improbably, impossibly, it descended, it rushed, and before I could ask why this should be, it was there, right beside me, pinioned on a low branch above the lapping water.  I realize it doesn’t sound like an impressive thing, but…

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…sometimes when the day is barely of earth, when it is stalked by light so enchanting that all things seem full of mystery, when you’ve just been praying…well

You cannot be blamed for feeling that God sent you a red heart balloon; that in loving mischief He wiggled it away from a somewhere, and ushered a wind to take it to astonished you.  Well, it can happen, on a day like that.

The Dishwasher’s Prayer

shortstory3She bent low, being tall

Light touched her face from the window, touched the bubbles

She was careful with the water

Don’t let it flow, don’t let it waste itself unheeded down the drain

She was careful with the soap

Dilution, always, mostly water

Shaken in the worn bottle, coaxing out suds

Your eye can see all this and then

Come, come around to the side and watch

Her lips which betray the words

Her heart is whispering to God

Have you seen eyes like that?

Seeing dishes and Heaven, at once?

Come away now

Here is every goodness at once

And we too must begin.

 

Singularity

Singularity

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It is beyond my ever-obvious limits

Lay it down, here, on the floor

Your heavy expectations- I cannot hold them

I’ve been learning, see, what my arms can hold

And what they cannot.

 

I am not you

There’s delight there, see?  Only one you, only one me

Are you not glad to be singular?

I know, I know you see all my flaws

Who doesn’t?  Yet, some are tied

And knotted, and woven, into the good, the gold.

 

He knew what a busted pot He’d chosen for His kitchen

Madam, aren’t your arms tired?

Hold your goodness; it is yours, perhaps

Discard these stones, mixed in- they are not good for you either.

There.  Good.  We can embrace now, see?

You, being you, me being me.