“I’m six now” were the first words to greet me on the morning of 1 December (a nice change to the usual rasping…”coffee”, emerging from the semi-comatose form lying next to me). It was also the first morning in six that the sun had shown itself, a nice touch I thought and somewhat appropriate for Sipho’s birthday.

Six years is a momentous milestone. It heralds the first of many years spent in formal education – a process where the kid gets smarter and the parents poorer. It is marked by the acquisition of his own set of wheels and will become the year of mastering the skills that will help keep him on top of them, not under them. Though the tough part is knowing that the latter invariable precedes the former. Still, it is a skill that lasts a lifetime as portrayed by a 90 year old riding her bicycle around Scotland on some late night travel programme I happened to watch the other night.

It will be the only year that he attends the same school as both his older brother and sister (spare a thought for the teaching staff won’t you). It will be the time he learns all those important six-year-old-type-things that, stacked together, reveal further glimpses of the life being shaped before our very eyes. An awesome process indeed and of course every parent of a six-year old knows exactly what I am talking about.

It doesn’t seem six years ago that as a family we sat on the lawn of a children’s home laying siege to a tiny baby on a blanket whom our presence surrounded. I had come directly from a bus that had transported 60 rowdy young people home from a youth camp, and was tired yet elated to be meeting ‘our new son’. Our adoption application had been in process for several months and finally we were nearing the end, or I guess, the beginning. As we sat there I remember the social worker repeatedly asking us, “Do you like him?” A strange question I remember thinking at the time.

It wasn’t difficult to settle on the name ‘Sipho’ (meaning ‘Gift’ in Zulu) and somehow ‘Daniel’ tagged along bringing with it the heroic exploits of the Daniel of old who got to share a room with some lions.

So Daniel Sipho arrived and suddenly the theory of adoption gave way to the practical. There were many moments in those early years that we wished we could just freeze the frame – except of course for the nappies! There were so many and often humorous encounters with curious strangers who more often than not proved to be generous in their on-the-spot support, encouragement and on one occasion loud prayers. We in turn had to find a way to explain ‘adoption’ as there is no such Zulu word for a concept that is unknown.

In both name and presence Sipho is a gift to those who inhabit the Coats household. People have often said to us, “Sipho is such a fortunate little boy!” They really don’t understand. It is the other tribe members who are the fortunate ones. At several points the adoption process brings you face to face with your most basic values and motivations. What a gift that is!

Leaders often fail to see the ‘gift’ embedded in situations and processes that invite inspection of one’s basic values and motivations. The situations may be those tough or unusual circumstances where the temptation to avoid altogether or take a wide detour is strong. However, they may also be one of those frequent opportunities along life’s journey that gifts us with the opportunity to pause at a milestone, celebrate and reflect on the journey traveled and that which lies ahead. All too often we readily apply themselves and the resources at our disposal, to the ‘what?’ ‘how?’ and ‘when?’ type questions – the practical stuff…after all they are the ones which keep us busy and looking productive.

But it is the ‘why?’ question we neglect.

Perhaps we started with it but then over the long haul it fades into the disappearing horizon and we think that having entertained it once means that we never have to return to its demanding scrutiny.  We need to take the time to revisit the ‘why?’ – it takes us to the very core of things and once there we must be prepared not always for answers but sometimes to just be content that we are in that space. To be content that we have found a clearing in the thicket of our schedules, activities and busyness that surrounds us. It is that pause space which gifts us with the exhilarating, perhaps scary opportunities to recreate and discover new beginnings.

Celebrate the milestones but remember the beginnings. And don’t neglect to look-out for the ‘gifts’ that life puts in our path – they invite discovery!

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