adoption and advent: coming home

img_20161130_212013Advent, for our family, is a season full of traditions. I’d love to say that it was a time for increased spiritual growth, as I lead our young family in meaningful Bible reflections every morning – but, in reality, I love present-wrapping, Christmas markets and Slade just as much as carol services, lighting our Advent candle and sharing the Christmas story together. For all of December our house is full of mess and creativity: mince pies, boxes of decorations, 100 Carols for Choirs, wreaths, Nativity figures, Lebkuchen (is there anything better?), glitter, paint, wrapping paper and ribbon. There is nothing about either the secular or religious versions of Advent that I don’t embrace with arms open wide.

But this year, we have a new tradition. You see, last year’s Advent was rather different. The presents had been chosen, bought, wrapped and sent by mid-November. On 1st December 2015, our two youngest boys came home, and thus our Advent was taken up with learning how to care for toddlers again, whilst working out how to meet the needs of – no longer two, but – four children.

It was a magical time in many ways. My husband spent most of December off work or working largely reduced hours. Kind friends provided evening meals for us right through the month. The excitement of Christmas kept cranking up for our older two, whilst our younger two gradually got used to their new environment, exploring and playing with increased confidence. And all four children enjoyed the novelty of having each other around for the first time, after months of waiting. I figured that January would bring more challenges (it did), but we enjoyed December while it lasted.

So this Advent, and every Advent, we will add a new celebration to our traditions. Advent means ‘coming’ and we will always remember our boys ‘coming home’ at this time of year. It reminds us that Advent is not merely about the anticipation of Christmas, the first coming, but the anticipation of the second coming – when Jesus will come again, and we, like our boys last year, will also come home – to our rightful home, in God’s kingdom, with God forever, never to be separated again.

Advent, like adoption, opens our eyes to a new place, a better place, where the sin and suffering of the last place are no more. Advent, like adoption, reminds us not to cling to our old home, not to get too settled here, as it’s not where we belong. Advent, like adoption, tells us that the tragedies of life are not supposed to bring us down, but to cause us even more to look upwards, waiting and hoping more desperately for a future in which destruction, lies, corruption, ill-health and death don’t exist. Advent, like adoption, brings hope and a new start and a secure future. Advent, like adoption, prepares us for that glorious day when we will be with our true, heavenly Father.

Advent will never be the same, now that I have a special anniversary to remember, one which reminds me what Advent is all about. Fixing my eyes upwards, my December of roasted chestnuts, hot chocolate, hampers and tinsel has become the celebration which will one day be surpassed by an infinitely grander celebration: that when all God’s children come home.

“In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” Ephesians 1:4-6

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adoption: what is a sibling?

I’ve been mulling this over for a little while now. Sibling relationships vary so much – and that’s without bringing adoption into the equation. For example, I have two brothers that I basically didn’t grow up with – the large age gap meant they were away at school and university, and then moved out, while I was going through childhood. We are still siblings, despite not having shared memories of beach holidays, den building, exploring and ganging up on parents together.

Some people cemented their sibling relationship with late-night chats, clothes-swapping, advice-asking. Others established their relationship with arguing, fighting, snapping. We are all so different.

For some of us, a sibling is someone you share genes with, someone who has the same number of siblings as you. But that isn’t true for my four children. Each of them shares genes with just one of their three active siblings. Two of my children have three siblings. The other two have six – technically. The younger two children spent the first year of their lives in another family. Confused?

Missy, 5, gives the best, no-nonsense response to all of this. Explaining to her that we’re all going to court to celebrate the fact that Monkey and Meerkat are now legally adopted, and therefore officially her brothers, she replies, “But they’ve always been our brothers”.

You see, my children have fathomed the secret of being a sibling much quicker than I have, with all my weeks and months of reflection. It is this: to be a sibling is to choose to be a sibling. It is choosing to refer to ‘my brothers’, even though you’re just getting to know them. It is choosing to play with them, entertain them, make them laugh, care for them, even though they’re still learning to trust you. It is choosing to love them even when their cuddles aren’t directed at you.

AND. It is shouting, fighting, yelling, arguing. But it is the choice to do these things, knowing that the sibling relationship is secure.

If adoption has taught me anything, it is the incredible depths that children will go to in order to choose to love a sibling. They do it so naturally and with so little fuss. And it makes me wonder why we grown-ups make it so difficult.