November is National Adoption Month. I am grateful for adoption, for families who choose to adopt and for mothers who realize that adoption is the best option. To adopt is to assume a position or to legally take another’s child to bring up as your own. My family has been forever altered by adoption, though it was the most unorthodox of circumstances.
In the summer of 1999, I went as a summer missionary in Birney, Montana. I was sent to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation as a children’s director. For twelve weeks, I lived with Harold and Cindy, the pastor of the mission church and his wife. Cindy and I spent every day together. I learned so much from a woman who had raised five children and was teaching the Indian women how to raise families and create homes. She reminded me so much of my grandmothers, only replace the southern flair with some quick-witted, tough western logic. Daily, we fed at least 20 children, assisted their mothers, planned events for them and just opened the church apartment to them. I became particularly attached to one of them.
He was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. His coal black hair was buzz cut so that everyone could see the largest, deepest brown eyes with the absolute longest eyelashes in the world. (Seriously? On a boy?) Anyway, he was two-years-old and he didn’t say much, but we were fast friends and Cindy and I, we were faster friends.
Fast forward, twelve weeks ended way too soon. I cried for Cindy. I cried for all the children I had met, especially one. I knew the likelihood of ever seeing them again was scarce. I was wrong though. Cindy was no longer my supervisor on summer missions; she became my mentor and my weekly phone call (long-distance back then). Through her, I was able to keep up with that little boy, the one I had framed pictures of in my grad school apartment.
For my wedding the next summer, I received a gift of a Northern Cheyenne Star Quilt that was handmade on the reservation. Cindy had sent it. She had let a certain little boy sign the card. Nearly 19 years later, that quilt is still a treasured possession.
Adoption? Right, back to that. I adopted Cindy and she adopted me. It wasn’t a legal thing, we just assumed a role in each other’s lives. And after I had been married eleven months, I drove to pick up a certain brown-eyed four-year-old who would assume a role in our home as our son. Eighteen years later, I still tear up thinking of how undeserving Mark and I were to be placed in that role, but I do not believe it was by accident. That child, now an independent, intelligent, industrious adult still brings us such joy. I won’t lie and say that all the years have been easy or fun, but I will say that I’d do it all over again.
Cindy and Harold are retired from ministry. They retired from Montana to snowy South Dakota. My daughter and I have driven out to visit them for the past six summers. Cindy has never met my husband in person and it has been eighteen years since she has been in the room with my son. However, the countdown is on! Next Monday, I’ll pick her up and she will spend Thanksgiving with us. I can hardly wait for the reunion!
So, as we anticipate the Thanksgiving holiday and the family gatherings that accompany it, I am thankful for adoption. I am thankful for those who are willing to assume a role that they weren’t born into, as Cindy did for me and for those like my son, who somehow find their place although no DNA is shared.
We don’t have to share DNA to share our lives.
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.