For the last several months I felt a strong desire, no really a need, to dedicate Hope at our church. I’ve been really thinking about the need to plug in there and root us firmly in the church I’ve been attending for the last 4 years. I sat on it for a while, thinking maybe it’s just a little too extra to want a dedication for Hope. Maybe it’s really just me wanting something else instead. Attention maybe? I dunno.
Each week I really set about to pray on this. I went to the altar to pray for my little family. Every week the person praying with me would go through the “Ohhhs and Ahhhhs!!!” of my faux-sainthood in adopting an older child.
(Oh yeah, apparently Red Bull isn’t the only thing that will get you some angel wings, adopting a teenager is apparently the 2 miracles needed to get you right on the fast track of sainthood.)
Every week someone would glow and pray for me and for Hope. In one prayer that I really believe was a turning point for me, one of my associate pastors, after the “Ooooh/Ahhh” thing, ministered to me during a really rough week about how indeed the Holy Homeboy does give you more than bear just so that you will return to him for help. He’s got you, you aren’t in this alone.
I can’t tell you how much that thing hit my heart. I have shared that with my friends and family as a real testimony. It moved me.
The part about not being alone really, really touched me. It also led me to this place of realizing that I needed the fellowship and support of my church in raising Hope.
I also suddenly felt that this desire to give her back to the Holy Homeboy as a dedication wasn’t just some weird thing I had come up with that didn’t make sense. It was meaningful to me spiritually; it was a part of our bonding and our healing to celebrate our family and for me as the head of this home to dedicate her and to commit to raising her in a manner consistent with my faith. And although she is of an age where she can decide to follow or not, her life journey before now…well we both have felt like her journey on this path of considering what all this means is just beginning. Being dedicated I think is a part of our future journey.
I still didn’t immediately contact my pastors though. I’ve been involved in a church in some way most of my life. I’ve often struggled with the rigidity of dogma and routine. I’m a nonconformist by nature and believing in something like a major religion demands some adherence to some pretty rigid stuff sometimes. Organized churches have long annoyed me with the resistance to change and the inability to understand the unique needs of individuals in the congregation. My church experiences have sometimes included a lot of othering of members or groups. We lost people; we lost souls. And all of this was and is inconsistent with some of my personal beliefs about equality and humanity and the type of work I do every day. So occasionally I’d drop out of the church scene. I just can’t with a bunch of isolating foolishness. I can’t, and I won’t.
A few years ago, after taking my first classes towards my EdD, I concluded there was no way I was going to get though the program without being hooked up in a place where I could get my soul nourished regularly. I found a great inclusive, progressive church, and I have flourished there.
And here I was now with my little family, afraid to make a request to have my family blessed, to formally and publicly commit to raising Hope in a way that supported her spiritual growth. I was afraid that now I would be othered in a place I loved and that I would be told that I we didn’t fit here.
I finally made the request and I waited.
A week passed.
Then more days went by.
Then I got an initial response about my “amazing dedication” to my daughter and that while dedications were really for babies, they would round up the pastoral staff and see what they could come up with for me and Hope.
Hmmm, ok, already feeling othered but praying and trusting that whatever they came up with would be…I dunno, right.
Last night I got the email. I read it. I read it again.
And then I called Sister K and I sobbed until my nose ran.
The email laid out their view of dedication in three parts:
1) Dedicating the child to God
2) Parents dedicating themselves to raise the child to love God &
3) The Church dedicating themselves to the family to support them during the child’s raising.
The email went on to say because Hope was 13, it really wasn’t appropriate to do a dedication for her.
But because they wanted to do something special for us, they would be happy to pray with us privately; oh yeah, we could invite a few people if we liked, but they felt a private prayer ceremony would be more appropriate for our unique situation.
The sender even included a smiley emoticon.
I know I’m writing about my church, but let me take a moment for some ABM realness:
I questioned why would the Holy Homeboy lay this on my heart so strongly only to have me and Hope hidden behind an office door after a service. I questioned whether this was all some ish that I convinced myself the Holy Homeboy laid on my heart in the first place. I questioned why I didn’t take Hope’s approach to so many things in life and just give up before I even asked, because I had already decided it wouldn’t work out. I wondered why I bothered to have faith in this thing at all.
And in the midst of all this questioning, I sobbed some more.
I know that writing when I’m angry or upset is probably not a good thing, but I really wanted to get some thoughts on paper and so I drafted a response to my pastoral staff.
I thanked them for their consideration and asked for time to pray on this “private”ceremony offer.
I tried to meaningfully explain two points. First, Hope, though at an age where she can make a decision about her belief in the Holy Homeboy was being raised by me—she wasn’t a grown up and her history left her maturity level well below where it should be—and based on the views that guided dedications, we met the criteria. Second, a private prayer, while lovely, isolated us from our church family; we were hidden and it felt like it was because something was wrong with us. If I had adopted an infant or toddler or had a biological child we would be in a position to publicly celebrate the arrival of this child we were dedicating to the Holy Homeboy. Doing this prayer, not dedication, privately served to just isolate families like mine—older child adoptive families–in ways that just compounded our loneliness in the last place where we were supposed to ever be lonely. I can only imagine how many other invisible non-baby toting, differently made families are invisibly existing at my church now.
I admitted that I am not a theologian, so I’m sure in over my head on this one. Maybe I’m totally and wackadoodle-y off base here. But I was as Hope would say so eloquently, “butt hurt.”
The idea of rejecting a prayer from a pastoral staff for which I have great respect seems so disingenuous, but I just can’t do this. Not this way.
I read and reread my draft, felt it was respectful but clear about how it made me feel and cut and pasted it into an email and hit send.
I got an email back pretty quickly about how really this offer was just to get the dialogue going (this is a negotiation?) and that maybe we could do something a “little more known” like with Hope’s student peers and our family.
Then there was a bunch of stuff about never intending to isolate, go God, and how amazing my sainthood candidacy is going. Blah, blah, blah.
And honestly, I’m over it. I really am. I am clicking the “lalalala, I can’t hear you” button for a minute.
I don’t feel like being an adoption advocate right now. I don’t.
And I don’t want to feel like I’m fighting for support and recognition for my family from my church.
I don’t feel like negotiating to be supported.
I don’t want to be hidden.
I don’t feel like explaining how we need other people to see us as a family—it’s not like it’s a secret. I’ve been going there for 4 years; I go for special prayer every week, I email for prayer and one day I showed up with a tween and now she’s with me every week.
I’m exhausted, I don’t feel like begging for support as a parent raising this traumatized child to trust the world again and to trust that the Holy Homeboy still loves her despite all of the schnitty stuff that’s happened to her.
ABM’s down, man. ABM down.
I don’t even want to engage in the “process” of dialoging about negotiating anything at all. I just want to kick my rocks with my kid and click the off button on this whole thing.