This post is the first guest post in "A Quiet Hope," which is the first week of our season-long series called A Quiet Advent.
About the author:
Melanie Springer Mock is a Professor of English at George Fox University, Newberg, Oregon. Her essays and reviews have appeared in Christian Feminism Today, The Oregonian, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Mennonite Weekly Review, among other places. Her most recent book is Just Moms: Conveying Justice in an Unjust World, published this year. She blogs about (and deconstructs) images of women embedded in evangelical popular culture at Ain’t I a Woman?
The story in Luke 1, narrating the angel’s announcement of Jesus’ birth to Mary, begins the Advent season of waiting. As we wait, we recognize as well our need for God to rescue us from what enslaves us. The angel’s announcement to Mary brings hope and expectation into that need and reaches across the dark December days until the celebration of Christ’s birth.
Before I had children, I thought I understood what such hope and expectation and waiting meant. That is, until we adopted Samuel Saurabh—my second son, who made me wait two years to meet him.
Two years after we adopted our first son, Benjamin, we saw a picture of Saurabh, staring at us mournfully on an agency waitlist, wearing an orange t-shirt. This, we knew immediately, was our son. Sixteen months old. Barely standing. A troubling medical history. A cerebral palsy diagnosis. But. Still. We said yes to Saurabh in India, and began to wait.
Our agency promised six to eight months until traveling—a length of time I felt bearable, but only barely. Eight months slipped into a year because of agency error, orphanage problems, the Indian government. A million times and more, I replayed the three-minute video of a son I hadn’t met, mourning a year together we did not have. Watching that video became an incantation of sorts, a ritual of prayer. Please God, be with that boy there, the one kicking the ball, and hitting his friend, and hamming for the camera. Please make something happen so that we might know our son.
Not my will, but yours, I wanted to add. But could not.
Several more months passed.
Finally, news: our adoption had cleared its first Indian hurdle, and the process could grind forward. Then that summer, in 2005, our wait for Saurabh was delayed, again and again: first, by a month-long closure of the Indian courts that made hearing our case impossible; and then, only days before we were to travel, a record-breaking monsoon in Mumbai cancelled our trip. But also killed thousands, leaving even more homeless.
Please God, I prayed through disappointment, give me perspective.
And then, 20 months after first seeing Saurabh’s picture, over two years after signing with an agency, our longest wait was over. We first held Saurabh on a sultry Mumbai morning, though it was immediately clear our son had not been waiting for us. Saurabh spent his last morning at the orphanage sobbing, wiggling out of my arms, crying for his caretakers to save him from the big white folks who had come to take him away.
During our two year wait, people kept telling me the moment I held my son, I would immediately forget the deep sorrow that accompanied our yearning for Samuel, the sense that time was passing—that our son was growing older—without us. Yet our wait was so long, and so painful, so filled with anxiety and mystery and sadness, I knew I would not forget, even as I cradled my boy for the first time. This expanse without Samuel would be part of his own life story, and part our family’s story as well.
On Christmas Eve, shortly after Samuel’s arrival home, we took the boys to our church’s candlelight service. The children’s pastor stopped us at the door, wondering if we could help her. A little later, as I watched from the balcony, Ron walked down the center aisle of the crowded church, holding hands with each son. Benjamin skipped and Samuel ran beside him, trying to keep up with Ron’s long stride. At the crèche, Ron and our sons situated wise man statues next to the manger, the whole nativity made askew by my sons’ small hands.
And there the holy family stood with shepherds and kings and donkeys—seeming a little crazed, a little off center—waiting for their world to be transformed.
After placing the figurines in the nativity, Samuel climbed on my lap and nested against my chest. He sat silently for the remaining service, listening to scripture, humming along to carols. When the homily finally ended, Sam cupped his hand in mine to receive a lighted candle from his father. Sam’s brown eyes glinted bright in the flame, witness to this ritual of fire in church and of light glowing in the darkened sanctuary. As I sang “Silent Night” into the nape of Sam’s neck, I sighed at the miracle of my newest son.
Our waiting was over.