We have a new daughter. She's 19 years old. We have adopted her. Not legally of course, she's technically an adult. But she's a part of our family now in as permanent and real a way as if we had.
To explain I've got to back up just a bit. You see, this isn't the first time this has occurred in our family. I talk about Aaron's brother Sean, in Thailand, every so often. But he isn't technically even related to the rest of the family. Aaron's mom adopted him when he too was past the age of majority. I won't tell all of the story here. Suffice to say his childhood was one of abandonment and changing homes. He thought his sister was his mom for several years, and he reached adulthood without ever really experiencing the love of a mother.
Psalm 68 describes God like this,
A father to the fatherless, defender of widows... He sets the lonely into families.We watched as God did exactly that with Sean, tying us all together with cords of love, and making him a brother, and a son. When he married his wife in a little Karen village in northern Thailand it was my mother in law who went to be there as his mother. Our family was his family at that wedding, the only family who loved him enough to make the journey to share in his joy. My MIL just returned this week from another trip to Thailand to be grandma to their daughter while they adjusted to a second baby in the house. She made the trip for both of their children just as faithfully as she has for me when my babies were born. She does it because whether or not she birthed him, or the law made him hers, Sean is her son, and she is his mother, and that's all there is too it. It is love that does this, and love doesn't need documents or blood ties to join us to each other.
A few months ago Hannah* came up to me in church, obviously distraught and asked if we could go somewhere and talk. I had been almost a year since we first met outside the Sunday School classroom. She was a freshman. Her North Dakota accent drew me to talk to her. It sounded so familiar, and yet so odd in the midst of all these southern Californians. We invited her to dinner a few times and got to know her a little. It's not unlike what we do with everyone else we meet and like.
We went to the enclosed coffee area out back. She told me about her week, and it was terrible. I won't recount it here. My heart ached for this girl in front of me, for the pain she was in. I wanted to comfort her and protect her, like I would my girls. So I took her hands in mine and wept, and prayed for her like she was my own.
When I told Aaron later that day his reaction was the same. He just wanted to hold her, and comfort her, like he would Little, or the Girl.
We decided together that we would be there for her if she would have us. We would walk through the next several painful weeks alongside her, and help as we were able.
When she next came over for dinner, a few days later, Aaron said, "I don't know if you understand this. This is something that makes sense to us. As far as we're concerned, if you want to be, you are part of our family now."
She responded, "Um, I'm not really sure I know what you mean by that."
So Aaron explained. "Family is there for you if you need them. If you have no place to go, you can come here. If you need help you can call us. If you have a good day and want someone to share it with we're here for you. If you need to cry, we're here. We are here for you, no matter what. You get to be part of us, and we're part of you. It means you're not alone."
As he spoke she started sobbing. When the crying subsided she said, quietly, "Yeah, I think I'd like that."
Since then we have been investing time getting to know each other. It's like how it might feel if you lost a child several years ago, and there they are in your life again. The bond is there, but you don't really know them yet. You're hungry for shared history.
We avoided defining the relationship for a while, letting the word family cover it all.
Then one Sunday, the day I was in nursery taking care of babies, Hannah found Aaron and cried on his shoulder for an hour or so. Her biological father is a broken, fearful, hurting old man. It drives him to be mean, spiteful, and pathologically co-dependent. Hannah has chosen to try to maintain a relationship with him, instead of walking away for good. That weekend while she was with him, at a Casino he dragged her to, in front of his friends, and then at his house where she was cleaning, cooking and taking care of him he spewed hateful angry bitter words all over her the entire time.
When I found them after service her eyes were red rimmed and sad. "What's wrong?" I asked. "Have you been crying?"
"Oh, Aaron has been helping me," she answered. "We've been talking about my other dad."
With that sentence she defined this new relationship and what it means to her. In the next few weeks we accepted her definition emotionally as well as mentally.
That is the story of how Hannah became part of our family.
A friend at church asked a few weeks later who Hannah was. How did we know her? "We met here," I told her, "she teaches the kids in Sunday School."
"Oh," she said, "I thought maybe she was a family member or something. You guys have such a big family."
"Well she is family, now." I responded. "We've sort of adopted her."
She laughed in understanding, having known us all for a while. "Yeah, you guys are good at that."
*not her real name
Love Thursday hosted here.
For those of you wondering, we're not trying to replace Hannah's biological parents. How this works is still really confusing for us, and we're trying to figure it out. She maintains a relationship with them. We are building a relationship with her mom. They see her more than we do. But there are things that they, in their brokenness have never been able to give to her. It's not that they don't love. I don't believe. It's because they are unable. We believe that we have been given the privilege of filling in those gaps, of loving in the ways she has yet to experience love. She has felt since she was 11 that she had no parents, that they only wanted her around to take care of them. This is probably not entirely true. But it has caused her to be unable to believe that anyone would ever really want her, just for who she is. We hope and pray that time with us will change all that.