Eleven years ago the Guire family ate Thanksgiving dinner in an orphanage in Sulejow, Poland. No, the Polish do not celebrate Thanksgiving. There was no turkey, no mashed potatoes, no homemade rolls or cranberry sauce. No one mentioned Chief Powhatan or John Smith. In fact, I could not understand the most of the conversation going on at the table. I don’t speak Polish well, just a few phrases. Yet, I was happy, joyous, thankful beyond measure.
We had already attended one hearing to determine whether we could adopt our children or not. The verdict? We would be able to adopt all four siblings: Damian, Gregory, Ania and Rafal. Our family would grow from five to nine after the next hearing in December.
Eleven years later, I am still thankful for the same thing-family. All those years ago, I was on the brink of becoming a mother of a large family, but not overnight. Before the adoption, there were many labor pains, many prayers, many heartaches and disappointments. That is life. Anything worth having is HARD work. There are no easy passes.
This Thanksgiving, when I sat around the table and listened to my children talk about what they were thankful for, ‘family’ won the most points. Family is the foundation that society was built on, God puts the solitary in families, that is what the Word says. It doesn’t say, God gives the lonely an X-box or lots of clothes/money. It says he gives them families.
When Jerry and I adopted a sibling group of four, we weren’t just giving them a place to live and food to eat. We gave them a family which includes sisters, a brother, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and now nephews.
With this large extended family comes fun and games, but also wisdom, teaching, advice, love, long conversations, coffee at Barnes and Noble with Grandude, cousins and aunts, dinner table talks, traditional present exchanges, Advent readings, movie watching, shopping, left-over eating and the list goes on.
It is so much that these activities occur, most of them can be done solo, it is that they are accomplished together. All of these are building blocks for belonging. Everyone wants to belong; it is an innate need. All of this belonging leads to a relationship with the heavenly Father. Those who have a family know how to behave in one. Those who have acceptance of a Father are more likely to accept a heavenly Father. Those who have experienced mercy at the hand of their parents are more likely to accept the mercy and forgiveness of sins offered by Jesus.
A few years ago, my daughter Amerey attended a retreat and during an activity learned that she was the only one in her group that had experienced family meal time as a regular habit growing up. A college student who came to stay with us for a few days commented to me, “your family is different than my family.”
“How so?” I asked.
“Well, you talk. You play games. My family all goes in separate rooms. We don’t talk,” he said.
Family is not just your last name. It is a safe haven, it should be. I have spent so many years working on attachment with my kids that I didn’t realize how many traditions that we were building together. The topic of discussion at family mealtimes started as a way to help my newbies form complete sentences in English and to interact with each other. Early topics included: my favorite thing I did today, the best thing that happened today, and I what I wish would have happened.
Today, teens ask to pick the topic at dinner even when they have friends over. It’s a tradition. All those years ago, in the orphanage, I sat in the cafeteria just basking in thankfulness for my new children. I didn’t understand most of the table talk then, but I didn’t care, I just enjoyed it. Today, I don’t understand some of table talk that teens choose such as, “Mom, how would you survive an zombie apocalypse?” “What’s your favorite kind of truck?” “What would you need to climb Mt. Everest?” I just listen and enjoy.