A reflection by Sarah
Four afternoons a week, I have the pleasure of watching a delightful little girl whom I’ll call Ksenia. Each afternoon, like now, I’lI sit in the same spot beside her crib with my laptop and ear buds as I try to steal some writing time while watching her nap peacefully. I feel as though I’ve known her since before she was born: over a year before she came into this world, I was giving her mother English lessons in preparation for entry to an American law school. I began watching now-seventeen-month-old Ksenia during her eighth month of life, and our first moment of real bonding came when she laughed at my pathetic rendition of “Rainbow Connection” during an attempt at rocking her to sleep. Since then, I’ve come to know her as a tiny human with a vibrant personality. Far more active than any child her age I’ve ever known, Ksenia has taught me not to turn my head for more than a second lest I find her standing atop the dresser or scaling the nearest bookcase. Preferring borscht and hotdogs over most other foods, she seems oddly aware of her parents’ wish that she grow up proudly Russian, yet undeniably American. Each afternoon I spend with her, I find myself entering a world where old boxes transform into caves, happiness is plunging both hands into a container of homemade finger paint, and a walk outside brings pure enchantment. And though it may sound unusual, because of the time I spend with Ksenia, I return home in the evenings feeling strengthened in my vocation to celibacy.
Like many gay and lesbian young people, I was terrified upon realizing my sexual orientation. However, I remember clearly that my first fearful question was not, “How will I tell my parents?” or “What will my church community think?” It was, “How can I make it through life without having children?” For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a strong maternal instinct. I recall that as early as age five, I had imagined becoming a mother. Since the 8th grade, I’ve known that if I ever have a son or daughter, his or her name will be Patrick or Catherine. And from high school forward, I began keeping in mind the possibility that someday I might take a break from my future career to fill the role of homeschool mom. As a young woman coming to full acceptance of myself as a lesbian in the midst of a life stage when my biological clock was ticking loudly, I found the prospect of never giving birth to children especially difficult to swallow. This didn’t become any easier after discovering my vocation to celibacy. Instead, it became significantly harder.
For years, I’ve gone around in circles with questions regarding how best to welcome children into my life. Certain as I am that God has called me to celibacy, I’m equally confident that my vocation involves loving and caring for children in some capacity. I’ve spent a great deal of time over the past decade exploring ways that I can extend hospitality to kids at a variety of ages. I’ve taught Sunday school—every class from toddler to teen. I’ve volunteered with camps and summer education programs for elementary school children, and participated in social justice projects focused on improving early literacy and parent-child bonding. For three years, I provided homework help in inner city public school classrooms. Currently, in addition to watching Ksenia, I’m tutoring Jacob, a high school senior, in calculus and Sam, his eight-year-old brother, in reading skills. Sam and I have just begun reading Charlotte’s Web, one of my favorite children’s novels, and he’s trying every trick in the book to get me to reveal Charlotte’s plan for saving Wilbur before we arrive at that chapter. Over time, I’m discovering that in witnessing Sam’s eagerness to devour a story, Jacob’s smile when he finally succeeds at calculating an integral, and Ksenia’s excitement about spotting a dog on our afternoon walk, I experience the rich connectedness that makes my vocation a joyous one.
As we’ve mentioned on more than one occasion, Lindsey and I spend a lot of time praying about how to extend hospitality to others. That necessarily includes children despite the fact that our society often treats them as lesser humans who can be ridiculed without consequence, and many churches treat them as nuisances who ought not to be welcomed fully in worship as members of the Body of Christ. If I were to make a guess at where God might be leading us on this question, I’d say that a substantial part of our extending hospitality to children means being there for future nieces and nephews in ways that aren’t part of their parents’ roles. There are advantages to being the cool aunt with a history of crazy life experiences: sometimes, I think I’d rather be the adult who can offer nonjudgmental advice to an adolescent on the tough stuff than the adult charged with enforcing proper discipline when that same young rebel breaks curfew. Truth be told, I’m not well suited to the latter. I have no idea what God’s plans are for us with regard to welcoming children into our lives in the future, but I savor every moment of time we get with Lindsey’s nephew, and I look forward to the day when my sister will tell me that she and my brother-in-law have decided to become parents. And for now, I cherish each moment I get with my favorite Russian toddler and her magical cardboard box.
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