Next to lists of emergency phone numbers tacked to the inside door of her kitchen cabinets, Jennifer Grant has posted prayers to remind her that parenthood is both a labor of love and a sacred calling.
Inside the cupboard with the cereal bowls is a prayer from page 829 of the Book of Common Prayer: "Almighty God, heavenly Father, you have blessed us with the joy and care of children: Give us calm strength and patient wisdom as we bring them up, that we may teach them to love whatever is just and true and good, following your example of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen."
In the cabinet where coffee mugs are kept, resides a prayer given to her by a friend. "God our Father, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world. ... Help them to take failure, not as a measure of their worth, but as a chance for a new start. Give them strength to hold their faith in you."
In her new memoir, "Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter," Grant -- a journalist, poet and mother of four children ages 9 to 15 -- recounts the story of how her youngest child, Mia, was born in Guatemala and became a part of her family through adoption.
Intoxicatingly honest and at times laugh-out-loud funny, the memoir manages to be both entertaining and instructive for all parents, whether they have adopted children, are considering adoption or not.
Grant's wit and wisdom make for an invaluable user's guide (in the spirit of Anne Lamott's book "Operating Instructions") for parents, particularly mothers and fathers of faith who hope to impart a loving, selfless and open-hearted worldview to their children.
"For me, parenting has been about seeing the difference between God and me," Grant said in an interview from her home in Wheaton, Ill. "So many of us live in a cloud of thinking we're sort of 'good' people until we have kids. And then we find ourselves second-guessing ourselves,
tapping into anger and pettiness that we never even knew existed in ourselves. And, for people of faith, we end up saying, 'Oh God. Help us."'
But "Love You More" is far from a woe-is-me paean to motherhood. Grant's unfettered delight and deep sense of honor about being a parent is palpable and infectious.
I'm blessed to know Grant and her family personally, and I can honestly say that she is the best parent I have ever met. In fact, watching Grant and her husband, David Funck, raise their brood of bright, incredibly kind kids made me want to become a parent myself.
When my husband and I welcomed our son, Vasco, from Malawi two years ago, Grant took me gently by the hand and walked with me into motherhood, imparting wisdom, advice and encouragement in heaping, happy doses. When it comes to parenthood's sacred duties, Grant knows of which she speaks.
"So often -- too many times to count -- I've had moments of epiphany when I'm trying to explain something to one or more of my kids and, truly for the first time, I begin to catch a glimmer of the truth of what I'm saying," said Grant, an Episcopalian. "Maybe I'm teaching them
about something because I want to communicate the gift of God's love to them, but for a fleeting moment, I understand that love in new ways myself."
As any parent knows, whether you're welcoming your first child or your 15th, there is always a steep learning curve and period of adjustment. Some of the more hilarious moments in "Love You More" are found in Grant's retelling of the transitional period she and her husband endured when they morphed from a double-income-no-kids couple living in Brooklyn, N.Y., to the parents of three toddlers in the suburban Midwest.
A favorite passage from the book recounts how Funck, an avid gardener, found himself implausibly mowing the lawn in the middle of the night. "'Mowing the lawn at night' became a catchphrase for us, aptly describing our lives," Grant writes.
Adding a fourth child to their family was improbable. Grant and Funck had their hands full with Theo, Ian and Isabel -- born in rapid succession less than three and a half years apart. The family's decision to adopt Mia began with a nudge from the Holy Spirit, Grant believes, as she sat in church watching newborns being baptized.
"It was not a voice exactly, but I knew I was being addressed," she writes. "It was a message, silent and wordless, yet somehow fixed in words. It entered my mind, in not a whisper exactly, but as a quiet announcement. ... As the water fell against little foreheads and was gently patted dry with the crisp white linen, I heard it. 'You'll be up there again with your baby."'
Perhaps the greatest lesson Grant imparts in "Love You More" is to listen -- to our lives. To our children. To the still, small voice of the Holy.
When we listen carefully, with humility and great humor, the surprises of life are transformed from shock and awe to boundless joy and unimaginable blessing.
Follow Cathleen Falsani on Twitter: www.twitter.com/godgrrl