[This post is a part of the Letters to an Adopted Child series. Read the series preface here.]

Blood is the red liquid that drips from your nose after you’ve been picking it too much. Blood runs throughout your body in little tubes and pipes we call veins, and it gains momentum to go up and down your body from your heart, which functions as a pump. Much like how one pushes down on a pump in the garage to fill a bicycle tire with air, so the heart-pump fills your veins with blood.

In everyday settings, blood is an unwelcome sight since it can mean something is very wrong. But it is also unwelcome because it stains our clothing, which—wearing stained clothing—is one of many kinds of social embarrassment.

When your mom and I lived in Milwaukee, I was on my way to my job as a teacher when I discovered my nose was bleeding. I had nothing but the back of my hand to stop the blood! This was little help as it spilled all over my button-up shirt. After I finally arrived at work, I ran two blocks from the parking garage to my office, and I found a bathroom where I could plug my nostrils and wait for the nosebleed to stop. When it did, I cleaned up my face and my hands, but there was nothing to do about my shirt. The blue dress shirt had dark red splotches all over it—and I now had only minutes before my class. Luckily, I had left a rain jacket in my office a few weeks prior, and I wore that over my normal shirt for the rest of the day.

What I find interesting about blood is that it is important to us both as a physical thing and as a symbolic thing. Not many things are this way, and perhaps none as powerful as blood. Blood is physical—it stains clothing, it feels warm on the skin, it slips and slides uncontrollable, it keeps our organs running properly, it can be measured, stored, and distributed. When I was younger than you, I had something called Leukemia, which is a cancer found in blood. Your aunt Elise saved my life, because she allowed for the doctors to take some of the blood that was in her body, to extract it using syringes and needles, to store it in bags, to push it along on carts, and even to hold it in human hands before it was put in my body. All of this could be seen and touched.

But blood is symbolic as well, and paradoxically so. It is associated with the concept of inside, since it makes its home within our bodies, but also with the concept of outside, since when we think of blood we think of when we’ve seen it on our skin. Blood is connected with privacy, being something shameful and needing to be hidden, but it can also be connected with community, as the word can also denote a group of people who belong to one another. Blood is something personal and universal. Your blood is unique, carrying your own special DNA, and yet everyone has blood. This personal side to blood makes it something to safeguard, something to protect, and yet its universality opens up a chance for selflessness: people can choose to donate their blood to help others who need it, as I did when I was a baby.

Most of all, blood is so powerful as a symbol that it represents both death and life. Normally, outside blood connotes death and inside blood connotes life: think of the blood Cain shed when he killed Abel, and think of the blood flowing in you and I right now that keeps us alive. But there was a moment in history—the most powerful event to ever happen—when inside blood meant death and where outside blood brought life: think of our Savior Jesus Christ, who bled and died on a cross so that we might be born again to a new life with a blood that is not prone to evil and to death. Christ’s blood covers us, and instead of staining us, it cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).