I was nine when we moved to the village. A winding creek weaving through it parallel to the one main street where mom and pop stores and picturesque farmhouses scattered among modern family homes completed the illusion of a Hallmark movie ambiance. After three years in tumultuous Greenland, I’m sure it looked to my parents like the ideal place to raise a young family.
There’s no way they could have anticipated the tyranny of mediocrity, the quietly cruel methods of freezing out newcomers and whomever else didn’t conform to the unspoken rules that had governed for centuries. Miraculously, my little sister thrived, but I withered like a plant in toxic soil.
Six years, an injured tailbone, and countless cigarette burns in my clothes later, my parents paid the expensive price to let me escape to a private school out of reach of the village nightmare. Among the many vows I had made was that, as deeply as rejection had wounded me, I would try to accept others.
Only I didn’t have the capacity.
Until Jesus took over my broken attempts, they always resulted in unhealthy, unfree, entangled messes of affections and expectations all tied up in knots.
But God! He found me in one of those messes, living with an excentric woman who took me to church. In church, I found a community unlike anything I had ever known; grey-haired, seasoned saints and confused young punks like myself in glorious exploration of life with this wonderful God who had brought us together. Betlehemskirken in Copenhagen was my first real taste of a glorious family of ragamuffins in the grip of grace.
And amazing grace went further still and brought me the mentor who would become my lifelong mother in the faith, though she didn’t like that expression. “We’re friends,” she would correct me, but nonetheless, she patiently loved me from infancy in the faith through toddler tantrums and teenage pride into the mother I am today.
She adopted me.
And God, through her affection, meticulously poured the healing salve of His own tenderness into every shameful sting of my rejection.
When she was diagnosed with cancer, my teenage vow became my life’s prayer:
Make me an expression of Your affection, as she has been to me.
But daily life as a pastor’s wife, raising and homeschooling children in Miami Beach, became just that: daily. Days became years became decades of just doing the next thing. More aware of all the plates I dropped than those I might have kept spinning in the air, I lost sight of the trajectory.
But in retrospect I see how much He answered that prayer:
For nine months, a pregnant, single girl lived with us, till her son was safely born and her life could carry them onward. Later, my 23-year-old orphaned cousin became the older sister, my daughter never had, as she spent 18 hilarious months here, expanding our vocabulary and sense of humor, as well as the tenderness of our hearts…
And three years ago, Erica first set foot in our church, primarily to please her mother. Only God knew that she would become the cherished completing family member we didn’t know we were missing until she came. There’s no sufficient title for her role, though daughter, sister, aunt each hints at it. But it’s much richer than that! It’s the scent of coming Home, it’s the texture of belonging, it’s the DNA of the Father’s love. It’s the Spirit of Adoption.
“Father to the fatherless, defender of widows–this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.”
Love keeps reaching.
Once it sparked in my mentor, it caught fire in me, and now I watch it, through the many I adore, ignite others through them. My daughters are becoming mothers, adopting their own beloved ragamuffins, and the agony behind my 8th grade vow immeasurably redeemed.
From the heart of God through one family through one church to our community, our place and time in history. Each family, each church a lighthouse in a cold rejected world.
“So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)