Missing Pieces
Missing Pieces by Lisa Ritter Starr

Face and Grace

by Lisa Ritter Starr

Although the Motherland probably would disapprove, as an American I feel safe enough to admit that - yes, I do prefer to brew my tea from a bag (gasp!) rather than deal with the extra hassle of loose leaves. In fact, I sit in my safe heartland haven, far from the scrutiny of English eyes and ancestors, enjoying a cup right now.

Sometimes my tea bag tag even comes with a little quotation. I like to get that extra kick of inspiration with my morning caffeine. But today my tea tag quote doesn't seem as deep or romantic as most. It reads: "Face and grace can win every race."

Hmm. It sounds like a simple, trite rhyme at first. Upon second thought, it could actually be quite profound, even multifaceted in meaning and application.

I'll apply it to the search for reunion in adoption, for instance. Whether it is by an adopted adult or a member of the birth family, this search could be compared, in a way, to a race. Not that it is a competition, but rather that it is a quest along a path that requires training and support and involves discipline, determination, and strength.

I'm a birthmother in an open adoption, so I don't have first-hand experience in the search for missing pieces. My daughter and I have retained contact throughout her life. But I have heard many first-hand accounts of such searches and feel empathy for those involved in them. Bear with me as I try to imagine what it is like.

Training and Support

The search for missing biological relatives probably starts, and should start, with support. In looking exclusively online, you can find scores of Web sites devoted to guiding you step by step through the process. Whether it is in the form of a practical tutorial on how to search or in an online forum, a good deal of training and support is out there for anyone who looks for it.


The quest for answers must require discipline. It may be a long road. Adoptees or birth mothers who only have a first name or other small bit of info on their missing person may have to scour through volumes of city directories, maternity home and orphanage guides, vital records, and newspapers. They may spend hours checking in on adoption genealogy forums or state registries. Without discipline, the search would be disorganized and simply given up completely when things get really difficult. Discipline requires you to stay on schedule and remain goal-oriented.


is the emotional drive that keeps you working for your goal. They say that anything worth having is worth working for. I'd love to be able to pick up a cello and play like Yo-yo Ma. Unfortunately, the first time I played one, I sounded like I dropped it rather than tried to play music. If I were determined, I would keep going and practice hours per day until I achieve the sound I want.

This is where the "grace" from our little tea quotation comes in. It's not easy to know how well a cello can be played and yet not know how to produce that beautiful sound. When crystal glasses begin to break and dogs howl, I have to give myself grace or else I would not be able to continue playing. Without it, I would be too hard on myself, and give up.


In running a race, strength keeps you upright. It helps you put one foot in front of the other. You use it to jump hurdles and to get up when you fall. It must be the same with the quest for reunion in adoption. You need it to get you up in the morning and continue with the search, especially when obstacles bar your way.

To me, strength is also the "face" that wins the race. It is facing your fears. I know even from open adoption that there are a lot of fears: rejection, abandonment, lack of privacy, and loss, to name a few. Being strong enough to feel fear and proceed anyway is the real definition of courage. Just as counselors remind adoptive couples that there are risks in childbirth as there are risks in adoption, there is always something to fear whether or not you are searching for your biological family.

"Face and grace can win every race." With discipline, determination, strength, and grace, your quest will continue. That means it will progress and, even if it doesn't always seem like it, each step will bring you closer to your goals.

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