Christmas Past

Something about Love

A Christmas story

Geraldine Martin-West

The early December frosts had stripped the gray landscape bare, leaving the naked trees to wonder whether or not the snow would arrive in time to cover their barrenness before Christmas. Inside the pastor’s house, however, six people were sharing a warm but intensely emotional moment—one that none of them would ever forget. 

Yet up to this hour many of them had been strangers to one another. Here would be an outworking of relationships so profound and so complex that they would forever defy description. This year these six people would all arrive at Christmas with some new understanding born of these hours together.

Pastor Willis and his wife, Marie, had orchestrated this event for us, one which brought us from four different states. In fact, my son Don and I traveled 2,500 miles to be present. And now we sat looking at one another in the first emotional impact of the meeting. My tall, 29-year-old Don had been the man of our family since my husband died four years earlier. Calm and self-possessed, he fixed his eyes intently on Anna Lee, the short little woman seated next to him. At 67 she was some 10 years older than I. I studied her kind, motherly face carefully and thought, She’s a good woman. I know that we could be friends. She wiped her eyes, and for a while we all just looked and smiled and hunted for our tissues.

Next to Anna Lee sat her daughter Margery, a lovely, petite girl with a happy laugh and a deep Southern drawl. I’d have taken her to be in her mid-20s, but she told me, “I’m 38 years old, and I have a son who’s 20.”

That was the scenario. My adopted son had just met, for the first time, his natural mother and his half sister!

Bill, his brother, still hadn’t shown up. “At work,” they said. While Don and Anna Lee were alone for a private visit out in another room, I turned to Marie. “It would mean so much to Don if he could see his brother too.”

She smiled. “I’ll try. I think Bill’s afraid. Worried that he won’t fit in or something.”

So that was the problem! 

“Tell him we’re just ordinary, everyday people,” I countered. “Tell him that we’d very much like to meet him.”

Over the next two hours there was more than one phone conversation with Bill. Finally Marie reported, “He says to tell his brother that he’ll be here to see him at nine o’clock tomorrow morning!”

These encounters understandably started off stiff, nervous, and formal. But they quickly resolved into laughter, easy chat, and a cozy poring over the pages of Don’s photo album, which I’d brought along. Thus Don found his other family, including news about another younger sister of whom we’d known nothing.

The Fullness of Time

For almost 30 years we had all been aware of one another, in a very sketchy way. But we had known no names or addresses. Willis and Marie had been our sole connecting link. Willis was pastor of Anna Lee’s church when Don was born and when Willis and my pastor-husband were colleagues in the seminary. Cruel circumstances had dictated that Anna Lee give up her baby boy. By some kind of unspoken mutual consent, we’d left one another alone to lead our separate lives. Recently, however, there had been some kind of indefinable attraction drawing us all toward this hour. Realizing that the first move would probably need to be mine, I wrote to Marie and told her that I felt the time had come.

Don’s always been a quiet boy, keeping much counsel to himself. Our family has traveled the world, and he’s spent all but 10 years of his life as a missionary kid, attending schools in six different countries. Out of all of these educational opportunities, he’s finally settled into his area of exceptional skill, avionics. Anna Lee, on the other hand, has lived her life in a limited area. Her children married young and didn’t stray very far from home. “We’ve never had much money”—she turned to me, dark eyes shining—”but we’ve

always had plenty of love.”

“It’s all right,” I assured her. “Even though we’ve done some interesting things here and there, we’ve never had much money either. And we too aren’t short on love.”

In the days since our meeting I’ve begun to comprehend something new about love. First, I can remember that fervent love Ed and I felt, reaching out for those children we could never have. Therefore, when we were able to adopt two babies while on leave from overseas service, we did so with alacrity. Lisa came first, and Don three weeks later. 

While I stayed home with the first baby, Ed took our laundry basket to collect the second. Marie remembers vividly that moment by the hospital when she took the closely wrapped little bundle out of his mother’s arms. Then, never even looking at his tiny red face, Anna Lee sat in a rain of tears while Marie walked to the other side of the parking

lot. There she laid Don in Ed’s eager, outstretched arms. She remembers that my husband’s face was alight with smiles as he received our son! Moments later I heard Ed leaping up the steps, two at a time, to our apartment. Yes, no question, we wanted and needed children.

Second, always having been a staunch believer in absolute, transparent honesty, I never wanted to play any games with the children over the question of their adoption. Some of the earliest bedtime stories they can remember must be the ones about how we had chosen them—how glad we’d been that God had arranged for them to come to us. 

Third, our home is very traditional. My family is almost clannish in the way we preserve our “tribal customs” and take inordinate pleasure in one another’s company, in season and out. We trace our line back more than 500 years to one of the most picturesque villages in all of England. Although there are several adopted children among us, they’ve been well integrated into the family tree, all cousins being equal. Still, I’ve wondered if our strong roots might sometimes make Don and Lisa feel a little out on the perimeter of things.

Wanting to do the best I could for our children, I tried to ascertain if the fact of adoption was in any way preying on their minds. “Does it bother you, Don, knowing that you have a connection with some other unknown people out there?”

“No,” he replied in his usual deliberate way. “Most of the time I don’t even remember that I am adopted.”

That seemed like a pretty good adjustment to me, but then Don’s always been much less restless than Lisa. We talked some more, and then he said, “Of course, someday it might be nice to find that brother and sister.” He grinned from ear to ear. “I could just walk up to him and say, ‘Hi, brother!’ That’d be neat.” It turned out also that Don wanted to know the names of his parents so he could go to England and hunt up his ancestral places, as I have

done. “I don’t want to enter their lives and complicate things for them, but I’d like to know about their backgrounds.”

Fourth, on the more practical level, we realized that establishing some connections was important for medical reasons. Although Don’s a sturdy, securely healthy fellow now, one never knows what necessities might arise later. Marie and Willis felt that they should not be the only link between Don and his biological family. Still, I realized that unless the meeting was something I wanted too, Don would very likely not insist on doing it.

To Meet or Not to Meet

Was the decision hard to make? Well, I didn’t think so until I began to get feedback from friends and colleagues. “I’ve seen these meetings before, and they hardly ever turn out well.” “Are you sure you want to do this?” “What if Don wants to join them instead of you now?” “My adopted daughter wants to meet her family, and I’m frantic. How can I let her do
it?” “Look, you’ve got to be asking for big trouble.” “How could you bear letting him

think of someone else as mother?” “Once this is done, you can never go back, you know.”

Amid all these cries of doom, I had to assess my own feelings carefully. Certainly, there could be some risk—these people would be total strangers. Yet I’ve loved Don all of these years. He’s mine in the way that can come only with rearing one sweet little boy from babyhood to manhood. I’m the one who never knew a full night’s sleep for 18 months

while we worked out the feeding schedules, the colic, and the idiosyncrasies of two totally different infants. I’m the one who took him through the trauma of Asian flu, mumps, measles, chicken pox, a tonsillectomy—and all the rest. I’m the one who sent him off to school on the first day with his little blue lunch kit. I’m the one who took a long flight, halfway around the world, to be present for his high school graduation. I’m the one who listened to him talk about his career plans late some nights. I’m the one he talks to about girlfriends. I set up his bachelor house for him and told him to hurry up now about that girlfriend. He’s mine, to be sure. 

Finally, I had to remember that she is the one who carried him for nine months. She’s the one whose heart was broken when she had to give him up. Nothing can change those facts.

Moreover, when Don does find that girl, I must share him with her, too. For me to think otherwise would be stupid. Too often people act as if love were a commercial commodity—something finite. We think that when we’ve put some of it here and some there, it’s going to be used up and we won’t have any more. True love is flexible. It can always make room for more people. Because it’s self-perpetuating, it can never be exhausted.

So we did meet, just 10 days ago. Such an occasion might be just a single, one-time encounter to exchange information. Or it might be the beginning of a lifelong friendship. In our case, I suspect that it will be the latter. For a group of Christians, I realize, the outcome of such an effort has a better-than-average chance of turning out well. Our experience, therefore, can’t be a generalization for all other families facing these decisions. For us, however, the meeting was right.

Marie and Willis found enormous joy and satisfaction in this culmination of relationships that they have been “mediating” for so many years. Don made that bond for which almost every adopted child longs, even if only subconsciously. Anna Lee has met someone whom she feared had gone out of her life forever. More than once during

our hours together she stopped to shake her head incredulously. “I just never dreamed that this day could really happen.” And the fact that Don looks so much like her is yet one more added affirmation.

Bill is as outgoing as Don is quiet. They complement each other amazingly well, both sharing mechanical interests. Margery obviously adores her (younger) big brother. “The past couple of years, for some reason, I’ve just thought a whole lot about the fact that I had another brother out there somewhere. 

And me! Well, I was proud to have this fine, upright son to present to Anna Lee. And I was able to say thank you to her for the happiness he’s brought to me. The visit, however, proved to be more emotionally draining than I had suspected. To my chagrin, I boarded the plane for home and wept for the first 45 minutes without really knowing why.

New Dimensions

Yet the event was worthwhile a thousand times over. Above all, it showed me something about God’s love. First, I realized anew that Christian love—like that of God Himself—is marvelously flexible and infinitely expandable. It can afford to take risks because it knows that it’s inexhaustible.

Second, our concept of family must reach out to new dimensions. It must include other people, beyond those with whom we immediately share our home. Thus, I got a new

glimpse into the mystery of how God has adopted us all—the whole human race—into His heavenly community.

Now, at this year-end, what we did seems to have a significance all its own. Somehow we each gave one another a wonderful Christmas gift. If pressed about the matter, probably not one of us could describe in words precisely what it was. All we know is that it’s as real as the friends who share our holidays, as warm as the fire in the grate, as thrilling as opening presents on Christmas morning, as pure as our hope of heaven, and as

precious as the star shining over Bethlehem.

This story was first published in Adventist Review on December 20, 1990. Geraldine Martin-West is a pseudonym.

Geraldine Martin-West