At the African orphanage where I worked, children received photo albums from their new families early in the process. They got a snapshot of what their life would be like when the adoption was finalized, a first glimpse of adoptive parents, siblings, homes, and bedrooms. And while it might seem that an orphan growing up in Ethiopia would be thrilled by your average American home with central heating, consistent electricity, and clean, running water, the children often had a different opinion.
After all, the United States represented a promised land for them. They had lots of ideas about what such a mythical place would be like, and what their new life would look like.
I remember one eight-year-old boy flipping through his photo album with a look of confusion on his face. He looked up at me and asked, “They don’t have a pool? Where’s the pool?” Another child was shocked to realize that he would be sharing a room with a new sibling, thinking his orphanage bunk bed would be a thing of the past.
Somehow, I doubt this was the reaction the adoptive parents were expecting.
As a convert, I remember all too well that feeling of falling in love with the Church, crossing the Tiber, coming home to Rome, and all of that. Saint Peter’s seemed that much more grand, as did the music and art and writings that came from the Catholic tradition—all now part of my inheritance. Though I had been baptized as an infant in the Lutheran church, conversion was a true homecoming.
I had all the expectations of those adopted children. In many ways I felt like an orphan for some time, longing for and needing instruction, guidance, and boundaries, and Holy Mother Church provided all those things. But just like those children lamenting the absence of the in-ground swimming pool, there was a sense of disillusionment.
Being a faithful Catholic is hard. Being a convert is hard.
The other day my own children, ages two and four, were marching around the living room, holding pretend swords in the shape of a cross, and chanting, “It’s a Cross, it’s a Cross.” And that applies to so much of life. Whatever “it” might be—adoption, conversion—it is a blessing, certainly, but it also comes with a Cross.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:15-17).
Conversion was an incredible blessing, the greatest blessing, for my husband, myself, and our family. But it demands much of us, and the challenges are different than those we imagined during the conversion process. I remember how nervous I was to admit to family and friends that I was converting. I agonized over it. But that was over in a day, and the spiritual work, the hard road, was just beginning.
For all truly spiritual things are produced by the grace of the Holy Spirit; and this grace descends only on those, who have crucified themselves in sufferings and voluntary privations, without any self-pity, and have thus become united with our Lord and Savior, crucified for their sakes. —Lorenzo Scupoli, Unseen Warfare: The Spiritual Combat
Not quite the vision I had of my new life in the Church—one which involved meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary in flickering candlelight with a side of Gregorian chant.
I, too, had expected a swimming pool.
Adoptive parents are often surprised to find their children less grateful and thankful than they had expected. Yet, our heavenly Father, who knows all our faults and weaknesses, still desires us to be His sons and daughters through spiritual adoption—despite our lack of faith, trust, and love. He sacrificed his only and perfect Son for the likes of us, and promises us joy beyond compare if only we pick up our Cross and follow Him. Only then will we receive our reward and find our true home, entering into the room prepared for us in our Father’s heavenly mansion.