I will never forget the day I announced to my parents: "I'm getting married!" My mother was overjoyed. Had I thought about color schemes? Flower choices? My father's first question: Had I thought about the service?
For a secular society we go through many services in our lives. There's graduation: I remember wearing a white dress and carrying 13 red roses for high-school and a more formal cap and gown for college. There's marriage: a beautiful ceremony followed by one heck of a party. There are showers when you are expecting a child. And homecomings when that child is born.
I met my son in a high-rise government building in Taiyuan, China. I had expected a short ceremony, or some kind of official service commemorating our journey into parenthood. Instead I was told, "The one on the couch is yours."
I looked over at a terrified 22 month old boy. He was dressed in no less than seven layers - arms and legs stretched out rigid as a scarecrow. His bottom lip quivered. An administrator brought me a clip board. Unknown to us beforehand, we were told we had 24 hours to decide if we wanted to keep this little boy. If not, we could return him. I signed my name and "checked out" my son. I cried the entire way back to our hotel, my new son nestled in my husband's lap.
24 hours later we returned. "Will you keep this boy?" a government official queried. "Of course!!!" I wanted to scream but instead I demurred, "yes." I signed a few forms, gave my thumb print, and after barely 10 minutes our son was ours. We were officially parents.
That night we celebrated alone in our small hotel room. There were no phone calls or excited texts. No friends popping by to see our new son. It was just the, now three, of us.
Through the ensuing days we filled out more paperwork - at the bank, at the ministry of health, at the US Consulate. After each appointment I was sure that this was the moment I would feel like his mother. When we stepped foot on American soil three weeks later I thought, "Now we will feel like a family" but still it seemed like we were three strangers thrown together in a haphazard manner.
It wasn't until our dear friend suggested holding a special service to commemorate our adoption that I discovered what was missing. We had never spoken those words: "I do." We had never affirmed in front of our family and friends that "Yes! We do choose this boy as our son. And Yes! He has chosen us." Though January 13, 2015 will always be our official "Gotcha Day," I will forever remember Sunday, April 19th as the day we held a special service and joyfully accepted our son Jack as our own.
Services matter. Ceremonies matter. I am thankful to those friends and our parish, Emmanuel Episcopal, for extending that opportunity to us. We are in the middle of a national debate about what constitutes family. It is my hope that one day in the very near future we may extend the same opportunity to all our citizens to declare loudly, proudly, and joyfully in front of family and friends that "Yes I choose this person. And they choose me."