Today at AnnArbor.com, I posted an article that was especially hard to write. I actually drafted “The Face I Never Knew” (AnnArbor.com retitled it), anticipating the annual “March for Life” in Washington that commemorates the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This 1973 Supreme Court decision legalized the murder of over 52 million pre-born children.
As part of my thesis on adoption, I’m reading a book right now called When Children Became People: The Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity by O.M. Bakke. This book deals extensively with the first century (AD) Roman practice of “exposio,” by which parents were legally able to dispose of their children up to eight days after birth by simply leaving them out in the elements, where they would either perish or be picked up by strangers (many of whom had nefarious intentions, as a good number of the children were later sold into physical or sexual slavery).
Christians were unique in their response, choosing to take these children into their homes and raise them as part of the family. In fact, their generosity toward these abandoned children resulted in the conversion of a number of Roman adults as well, who saw their actions and recognized the goodness. (Bakke does not address this aspect of exposio — I found this elsewhere in my reading.)
As pro-life advocates begin to return home after the March for Life in Washington, it is thrilling to know that so many banded together to make their voices heard, perhaps especially this year. On the other hand, we need to consider carefully how we are going to support the dignity and intrinsic worth of human life the rest of the year. Words are important, but so are actions!
Of course there is foster care and adoption. Those options are always available for families who feel called to this way of life. However, there are also families all around us who need a helping hand. Sometimes they need physical support — gently used clothes or toys, or a ride to the doctor. Other times they simply need a gentle reminder about the importance of the job they are doing!
Last Sunday I sat across the aisle from a young mother who was juggling an infant and toddler — both of them wide awake and highly active — all by herself. Her children were exactly the same age that my children were when they first came to us. “That’s what you looked like when you first came to our family,” I whispered to my kids. In retrospect, that was probably a mistake — they kept looking over and pointing and asking questions.
So after Communion, I made a left into her pew and held my hands out. “I’m sorry,” the poor mother whispered. “Oh, no. You’re doing great! What a gift these children are — your baby was singing with us, and your son is clearly interested in seeing everything! You remind me of what it was like when I first got my children, and how far they’ve come since then. Thank you for being willing to join us instead of hiding in the cry room!”
Parenting is hard work. There’s really no getting around that. No matter how your children come, they require an extraordinary amount of energy and patience. And there are some days when quite frankly the challenge is more than we can manage. And because so many of us don’t have built-in support systems of extended family nearby, we have to build our own support networks of friends who understand the pressures and are willing to walk alongside us.
Is there a family in your parish or neighborhood that you’ve been meaning to invite on a play date, but never quite gotten around to it? Why not put together a lasagna or crock of soup and drop it off for dinner one night? Head outside when you see them playing in the yard with their dog? Call and ask if you can take their children with you the next time you head for the park or McDonalds? Offer to sit one night so they can have a “date night” (if they’re married) or some time alone (if they’re not)?
Take a moment, and make a plan: How are you going to celebrate the dignity and worth of a child near you this week?