When I was 5 years-old, my siblings and I were put into foster care. My father was unable to keep a job and struggled with drug addiction, and my mom was schizophrenic. Needless to say, life was unstable. We lost our home and had been living in motels, and that’s when social services stepped in. For years, we cycled through several foster homes and finally my brother and I were adopted by our aunt and uncle when I was 8 years old. My “new parents” were 24 years-old and still learning as they stepped into family and full time ministry.
My new family came with a new set of rules. My Guns n’ Roses and Top Gun tapes were promptly replaced with their acceptable Christian counterparts. We spent a lot of time in this place called “church” that was new for me. Life, once unstable and chaotic, now felt structured and rigid. This season of life was confusing and difficult for me.
While my adopted dad immediately wrapped all of his heart around me, I didn’t know how to fully accept his embrace.
I had four dads before him, none of which had done a great job making me feel safe or wanted. All of this felt confusing as I was trying to understand my relationship with God– here was yet another Father that I was supposed to just freely invite into my heart and life.
As I got older, the distance between my adopted father and I continued to grow. I didn’t know who to look to that could show me how to be a man, let alone, a man of God. A father didn’t seem to be the answer since the ones I had been given had failed me or couldn’t relate to me. I attended a Christian college and quickly latched onto a few leaders, opening my heart and life to them, wanting desperately to be loved, led and taught. Those relationships became increasingly dysfunctional and eventually led to a lot of pain. I unknowingly placed these mentors into a “dad” role in my life and they had also become a representation of God to me. By my mid-20’s, I was still struggling to finish my degree and felt nothing but confusion, bitterness, and pain towards God and anyone who represented a father figure. Something desperately needed to change.
Healing came slowly. God was patient and gracious with me as He began to show me His heart and I began to see Him fathering me. An important step of ownership for me was to reach out for help by way of counseling, which is a practice I continue to this day. Finding a safe place where I could allow myself to identify, wage war with and own my feelings was critical in my process. It was during this time that I fell in love for the first and only time. Allowing myself to love someone else just as much, even more than myself, took my eyes off of my pain. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it helped to care for someone else.
God was teaching me what it was to be a man, and gave me a glimpse of His heart for me. Had I never felt this capacity to love, I wouldn’t know what it feels like to receive love like that.
As newly weds, my wife and I moved overseas and my journey of healing continued. We worked in developing countries, in areas hit by war and destruction, places where families are broken apart and society as a whole is fractured because of incessant injustice. We witnessed over and over the response to what should have been, but because humanity is broken, was not. This response looked like different versions of “family.” We saw neighbors caring for each other, children caring for children and in some remarkable cases, previous enemies, caring for each others’ children.
We saw what redemption looks like– it is to choose love. This concept of choice, of taking someone into your life and heart and giving love and a place of belonging is adoption, this is what was done for me….this is God’s idea, His very heartbeat.
As I started to understand God’s heart and His ability to choose love, time and again, I began to feel safe enough to draw more healthy boundaries in relationship with my adopted dad. I began to see things from his perspective, how he chose me, even in his and my imperfection, he chose me to care for and love. Where we had failed each other, where we had disrespected each other over the years, I was able to partner with courage and invite my adopted father in.
I know what it is to be an orphan, and I can now say for that, I feel a sense of gratitude. I have a visceral, insider view on what it is to be chosen. My adopted parents chose to love me, and took a huge risk in doing so. There were times I didn’t know how to choose them back, but they kept loving.
This isn’t just my story, it is the gospel, it is the Father’s heart. He has chosen us. He has put everything on the line to be in relationship and intimacy with us.
I have had to learn how to love like this. I am still learning that I can choose love too. I choose my parents and I choose God. I’ve learned to step into relationship when it feels scary, and match the risk He and they have taken on me.