Thursday, April 19, 2012

Deciding How to Decide -- CHURCH

From the I'm Still Here Article:

I've thought through most decisions that I needed to make for them hundreds of times like church, summer activities, school, language, family introductions, friends, doctors, food, clothes sizes, shoe sizes, sleeping arrangements, and crisis plans. I thought I'd feel more anxious now, more hurried, more how-do-I-get prepared but I just feel very calm and more steady. I'm not frantic about what I will pack or making travel plans that is the easy stuff.

What did I decide to do about CHURCH?

I left a church that I had attended for four years because I did not thin that it provided that supportive type of environment that my children would need. I had started attending an AME church a couple of months before they arrived and let the minister to know about my trip and that I would return with two children. I knew a few people there but not the pastor so I was surprised that first day of church when towards the end of service he asked for us to come to the front. The problem is I had taken my kids to the bathroom and we were walking back in and as we walked past the rows of people they were asking, "Are you the lady from Ethiopia?" How did they know. "Go, go he's calling you." Then I heard the pastors voice, "Yes, Ms. Washington you and your kids come here to the front." There were about 400 people there and I led the kids to the front. He made this overwhelming speech about me adopting and how no one was every going to publicly tell my story because I did not have the wealth or fame of a Madonna or Angelina Jolie.

Today those words seem even more prophetic. He talked about the road ahead for me and my children and again told the congregation to embrace us and that we would need them because in the world at large, single black mothers who crossed the waters to adopt in Ethiopia would be well kept secret. He said like anything else our experience would just lay in the shadow of the "great white hope" phenomenon. He promised me that day that they would support us as a family. I looked down at my kids who had turned towards the crowd and were waving at the smiling strangers. It was a unique experience and then he asked for a special prayer over us. After church that day people came and literally and figuratively encircled us. I kept watching my children who spoke no English; I watched how warmly they returned greetings to all who greeted them. They didn't shy away or show fear but somehow figured out they were very special. Was that evidence of an attachment issue, being too friendly with strangers? I didn't know but I was a stranger to them as well, a stranger with papers that I but they did not sign. No, I thought, this gathering of brown-faced well wishers just didn't seem threatening but familiar to them. I can't tell you how I could tell but I knew. The people around them knew as well and they asked polite questions about how to interact with my children, nothing at all about their adoption story.

Over these three years I've learned that seems to be a definite cultural marker; the way that white and black strangers interact with my kids. I watched those first months how people would ask how they were but always, always they spoke directly to my kids and each week remarked about their new word acquisition. I watched the weeks that we sat too close to the speakers and my son would cover his ears from the loud booming music. Did he have a sensory issue, I wondered and then thought I must have one too because it's also too loud for me. When people sang songs and the words appeared on the big screen ahead, though they couldn't read I'd point to it and move my finger along with the words and they understood it went along with what was being sung. Within a couple of weeks they too would point to the screen moving their fingers with the words. They began to rock from side to side with the music and my son had learned to shout, "Amen" with everyone else. He knew that word already from Ethiopia, but the day he surprised me was when he yelled out, "Preach, preacher," like had heard others do. I knew then that they were fully engaged.

My children sat through the two or more hour service each week, alternately sitting, drawing, or scribbling on paper but they were quiet and attentive from the beginning. My children had attended church regularly in Ethiopia, they were use to sitting and being quiet. When able my daughter would ask me why we sang in church more than we prayed, why we ate before church when she had been use to fasting so that she could take communion. My son with no English words sat in his seat and acted out the entire crucifixion from carrying the cross over his shoulders to nailing his hands and feet and then hanging his head to die. I was shocked watching him and tried to get him to stop stretching out his and on the cross but he wanted me to know that he knew where he was and understood the significance. FAITH, something that it was evident had been instilled in my children and something that we shared.

Within months they were going to children's church services without me, without incident except for the little girl who scratched my son intentionally one Sunday. Within about six months they were in the Christmas pageant, my daughter would listen to me repeat her Christmas part and she was able to deliver the words through the thickness of her accent without showing fear in front of the audience. They were invited to join the sign-singing choir and learned to sign the English words they weren't yet could at speaking. It proved to help their speech tremendously even though that was not the intent.

The sign singing choir of children do a public tour of nursing homes and a youth correctional facility two or three times a year. I drove in my car behind the bus on that first tour not sure how they would handle riding alone with 20 other kids and several adults on the bus. That first tour in April following their June arrival moved me profoundly. I watched these little kids in a nursing home with elderly people in wheel chairs and different states of health and thought of how fearful I'd always been of old people. I cautiously stood on the sideline ready to swoop my kids up if they felt uncomfortable but what I say was so moving. My son went right up into the face of a woman in a wheel chair and signed the songs for her as though she was his personal audience. But the one that really got me was when we went to the girls youth correctional facility and I saw all those hopeless young faces, it instantly took me back months to my time in Ethiopia. You could see how life had already worn their young lives down and I watched my children, singing and singing as though they'd done it all their lives.

I had to move to the back of the room to get in the corner to avert my eyes so that they could not see the tears streaming down my face. No one could possibly understand what it felt like to see my children, children who had no shoes or clothes to call their own a few short months earlier witnessing through song a testimony of hope. I couldn't stop my tears from flowing, in that moment I knew what ever happened if they who had been counted out could lovingly, gracefully, fearlessly get right in the faces of these girls and look them dead in the eyes and sign hope, that I would always do the same for them -- my kids. Words will never convey what it was like to see. They have even sat on a dais with the other kids for the National Convention of Interdenominational Clergy. This was a convention of over 100o ministers from every faith and our sign singer were chosen to perform. Watching my kids on that big jumbo tron screen still gives me chills.

So, church was one of my first and best decisions. We joined this church exactly one week after my kids landed in Ethiopia. Today at that church they are still warmly and affectionately welcomed. They sing in the kids choir, my son sings solos, my daughter dances on the church dance team. They love that place and the people in it and any day that I say we are not going they instantly become disappointed. I think going to that place and seeing 400-500 people who look like them and affirm them as been powerful.

I mentioned once to a lady that I'd been asked by some adoptive parents why I thought my children were doing so well. She told me to tell them it is because I found my children a village and all the villagers were working together for their good. At the same time we also attended the church attached to their school, it was not the same warm feeling. So, that's what I will tell you our children need a village of people who truly care for them not in symbolic or superficial ways but in sincere, demonstrable ways.


kn said...

Yay, you're back!!!!

I've so missed your voice. This is incredibly beautiful and I wish you would share it with the world. A magazine perhaps? It deserves a wide audience.

I love your church and your minister. Just reading this I know that. Your lucky to have 400.

I agree about the village. We didn't keep Belaye home that much when he first came. We didn't go to large anonymous places, but our personal village surrounded him with love. Our church is much smaller and extremely white but they love love love Quinn and when Belaye came home it was the same. They're arms are wide open every week ready to hug the boys. I love that they have a place that is both a part of our family routine but someplace they can go on their own when they are older. I love that we celebrate life every week and triumph and faith. I love that there is one day a week where the discussions are weightier. Now if only we had sign singers and dancers and a children's choir!! Darn!

Thank you for writing this. I had a smile on my face the entire time!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you're back and All is well in your Soul.
I can't wait to hear about your families 3 year journey.
It does take a village; sometimes two. LOL!!!
Keep the faith and Welcome Back!!!


Original Court Date: April 18, 2009
Final Court Date: May 18, 2009
[607 total days & 165 days w/IAN]