"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God."
-- I John 3:1
It doesn't take much -- the birthday of one of my sons, for example -- to remind me that if it weren't for the process of adoption, I wouldn't be a mom. Six years into a childless marriage medical tests revealed I was physically unable to bear a child.
It could take a year, the agency said, following our acceptance into the adoption program, but they were certain my husband and I would eventually become parents.
The first call came on a late January morning -- ironically, nine months later -- telling us we had a son. A few days later we traveled to "The New England Home for Little Wanderers" in Waterville, Maine, to claim him as our own. Just before Easter two years later we made the trip again to add a second son to the family. Good Friday has had an extra meaning for me ever since.
Despite the exciting preparations between that first contact with the agency and the arrival of our first child, adoption wasn't an easy decision to make. Could I love someone else's child as much as my own? Were there hereditary risks? What if the birth mother changed her mind and wanted the baby back?
"Don't kid yourself," my friend said. "That lump you carry around doesn't seem like yours at first, either." Heredity? More than one person reminded me all parents face the possibility that something could be wrong with their child. And about the biological mother reclaiming her child, the closest we came to that possibility was when my husband entered the Army six months after our second child was born. Adoption laws in Maine at the time required the child to remain in the state for a year before the adoption was final.
"What can they do if we leave early?" I asked our attorney.
"They can take the child," he said -- "but they probably won't," he added in response to my screams. Because this was our second adoption we were able to conclude the paperwork before we left the state. Although this child was often inquisitive about his "real mother," especially when being punished, no mother, "real" or otherwise, has ever tried to reclaim one of my sons.
When the Apostle Paul told the Roman Christians they were "adopted" into the family of God (Romans 8:12-17), they understood the metaphor. They also knew adoption was a complicated process in first-century Rome, and that anyone who would go through all that trouble must really want the child.
In the first place, the father's power over the family was absolute. To be adopted, then, meant that the child passed from the control of one father to another. The original father literally sold his child, while the adoptive father had to present a convincing case to the proper authorities before that control could be transferred.
Bible commentator William Barclay explains the reasons for those laws, calling them, "consequences of adoption," which, without the laws, could be denied to the child who joined a new family. They included:
Losing all rights in the old family but gaining absolute rights in the new;
Becoming an heir to the new father's estate; even if other sons (heirs were always sons) were born to the new family, the adopted son was an equal, or joint-heir, with them;
Everything about the old life was wiped out; all debts or responsibilities were canceled as if they had never been incurred.
Paul couldn't have chosen a better way to explain what it means to be a child of God. First we were on our own, running our own lives without regard either to the laws or the love of God. We were, in a sense, our own parent.
But when we decided to turn our lives over to our heavenly father, like any legally adopted child we became heirs of all our new father owns. All our debts -- sins and mistakes -- were wiped out, just as if they had never taken place.
God has been in the adoption business since the world began. No one has to interview him to see if he qualifies for fatherhood. That decision is left to the child.
"To those who believe in him, he gives the right to become children of God." (John 1:12)
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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