On Belonging: How Adoption Is Like a Sacrament

Photo by Jenn Evelyn-Ann on Unsplash

Every instance of belonging is a mystery.

People assume birth into a family secures belonging. We believe birth within a country’s border makes you a citizen, a card-carrying member of one national identity or another. At the sight of shared skin color, we imagine we’re born into a similar experience of the world, belonging to the same ethnic group. And because birth is a natural occurrence, by default, we think belonging is not only ordinary but naturally determined.

My story is different. Relinquished by one mother and received by another, I entered into family by adoption. My mom scooped me up out of a white bassinet at Holy Family Adoption Agency and took me home – and just like that, I belonged.

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Growing up around my mother’s table, I learned that anyone could be your family if you let them. Over days that turned into years, her welcome never ended. With each morning came new mercies, new graces that demonstrated I belonged to her as daughters do. Family chores on Saturday mornings, homework help on many an afternoon, and nightly dinners simmered in a crock-pot and served over rice all communicated that I belonged. Her durable hospitality, amid my teenage heartbreaks and academic successes and despite her own wrestling with chronic illness, made visible the truth of my belonging.

Every April, we’d celebrate my Adoption Day, the very day my parents brought me home. Mom made a minty green grasshopper pie and served it up alongside gifts wrapped with a perfect bow, a hallmark for any florist. We celebrated the way God formed our family through the sacrament of adoption. No biological connection between the three of us, but we knew bone deep the mystery of belonging to one another by God’s divine grace. Sacraments work that way, revealing deep truths in a moment.

Adoption makes visible the mystery of belonging to one another. My family incarnates a truth: We don’t need biology to belong; we need fidelity. Our adopted life is a counter-narrative to all those who think differences separate us and prevent us from connection. Adoption is the sacrament that reveals our family is deeper than blood and more like the waters of baptism that bind us to Christ and one another.

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Twelve years ago, my husband and I adopted two babies from Burundi, a small country in East Africa. People look at us seeing our different skin color and the variation in the texture of our hair. They think we are an oddity or maybe benevolent people willing to take in orphans from a beleaguered country. Then they often ask, “But do you have children of your own?” unable to taste the irony in their mouth.

However, those with sacramental vision see deeper than skin. Penetrating the surface, they recognize the work of the Holy Spirit. We stand like Jesus amid the crowd in Galilee, declaring that anyone can be our true family. It is a work of the Spirit, a sign of God’s generous Kingdom and wide kinship. We are not limited by biology or ethnicity or nationality. My own experience of family, as a child and as a mother, testifies to this truth through and through.

So, adoption is a sacrament that shows us something about the reality of how we belong to one another despite apparent differences. According to St. Paul, we are all adopted ones. It remains a mystery that we are part of God’s family – but adoption helps us see the truth and glorious possibility.

Originally published November 9, 2018.