“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” —Mark 10:29-30
I needed to go to Philadelphia to help out an old friend. The church leader there, Walter Evans, asked me to speak to one of their ministry groups on Sunday, since I was going to be in town until the next day. We discussed where I was most needed and settled on the campus group. I was pleased, since my personal preference is always to speak to this group—I love their youthful idealism and sharp minds.
However, on that particular day, to be honest, speaking was more of an assignment than a passion, so I did not have high expectations for the service. Thankfully, God did. I was looking forward to seeing my daughter’s husband, Jeff (whom we call our “son by marriage,” not “son-in-law”), who was in town for a wedding. When I arrived, I learned that a groupof the HOPE Youth Corps would also be in attendance.
The service began with enthusiastic singing. My heart started stirring. Thank God for singing. The welcome by the campus ministry leader followed. Although I did not know the brother well at all, I was most impressed and thought to myself, “This is an amazing introduction to a service. I need to steal it!” Then after some other passionate songs, a campus ministry intern began the communion message. As it turned out, he was one of the top college debate team members in the country, and he spoke well. I was moved even more. Thank God for young leaders! He then introduced a campus woman from North Carolina who was to share what the cross had done in her life. I was unprepared for what was about to happen.
As she came up to the microphone, her physical beauty was apparent. Soon her spiritual beauty would be. Something about her voice was unusual, and for a few moments I couldn’t identify why. I had heard similar voice and pronunciation qualities before, and suddenly I realized that Kelly was deaf. She shared about how her physical father had rejected her because she was deaf and therefore imperfect. She went on to share how her stepfather had rejected her and forced Kelly’s mom to choose between her older children from a previous relationship and him (she chose him). She described the heartache, heartbreak and rebellion fostered by such rejection. Toward the end, she shared her conversion experience and closed with a profound but sad statement: she could picture God as Creator, as Savior and even as Husband, but she could not picture him as Father. Her concept of a father was seriously damaged by her life experiences.
By this time, tears were spilling down my cheeks and down Jeff’s as well. Most of those young people in the audience were brushing back tears. I quickly wrote down Mark 10:29-30 on a note to Kelly, and offered to “adopt” her as my daughter. God had really moved my heart, and then he used me to move many other hearts during the sermon that followed. The whole experience could only be called a “God thing.” After the lesson Kelly gave me a big hug, and I sensed that God was going to use all of this to do some healing in her.
The idea of being a spiritual dad for young people did not have a welcome beginning in my mind and heart. I had moved to San Diego to lead the church there when I was forty-two years old. One of the young interns asked to talk to me after a staff meeting. He shared that he felt really close to me, almost like I was his dad, and then he asked if he could call me “Dad.” I replied, “Absolutely not!” I rebelled at the idea of being seen as that old. When I shared the experience with one of the elders there, he gave me a much different perspective. He talked about how many young disciples either do not have living fathers or they have poor relationships with them. He thought that being a dad to them was one of the best roles we could have. In essence, I said that that was fine for him, but not for me! (He was a couple of years older.) The years have shown me just how right he was. Being a dad to many people in the church has been such a joy and honor.
Several years ago, Bryan and Renée (our “natural” children) gave me a ring for Christmas which displays the word “Dad.” They understood that I was not just a dad to them, but to many others. They often ask us to “adopt” some of their friends who need the spiritual love of mom and dad figures. Mark 10 has become one of my favorite passages because it gets at the heart of love in the kingdom—family love, adoptive love.
After the Philadelphia experience, I received a card from Kelly, asking if she could visit us with Theresa and me, if only for a dinner. She had taken the adoption thing seriously. I make the offer on a widespread basis, and some take me up on it in a special way (no doubt those who need it most). Kelly is one of those. She seemed to sense what John the apostle sensed in his relationship with Jesus. He felt totally at ease reclining on Jesus’ bosom (the literal translation of John 13:23) at the Passover meal. He described himself in the same verse as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Do you really think Jesus loved him more than he loved the other disciples? I rather think that Jesus loved all of them more than any of them could come close to grasping. But I do think that John was best at accepting and internalizing Jesus’ love. He perceived at a deeper level what kind of relationship was there for the taking. People like John and Kelly simply claim what is actually available and soak up the love as a result.
Kelly came to visit for a few days, and we shared our story at a workshop for singles. She later visited again for a few days with her younger sister, hoping to influence her by showing her what love in the kingdom is all about. Kelly has become a special daughter to me and Theresa and has found a lodging in our hearts and lives that will outlast this life. Kingdom relationships are closer than mere physical relationships. I may have trouble appreciating some things in the kingdom as much as I should, but the relationships I do understand and appreciate.
I, like untold numbers of others, am the product of a dysfunctional family. When I was younger, I looked for love “in all the wrong places,” as the song says, but now I have discovered the true love of the family of God. He has granted me the high honor of being a dad to his family, and Theresa a mom. And the reason for this is that others might feel his love through us, and through every disciple, as we come to understand what his family is to be to the world and to one another. Then we will be able to lavish on others what he has lavished on us.
If we are not filled to overflowing with gratitude for the family of God, we simply have missed the essence of the gospel. Figure it out, for within these relationships are housed some of the most unbelievable blessings which will ever be known to mankind on this side of eternity.
“Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother’” (Mark 3:34-35)
Another Kind of Adoption — the Story Continues
My article, “Another Kind of Adoption,” was originally written as a chapter in my book, The Power of Gratitude. (Read the article in the Articles section on this web site if you have not read it.) I had met Kelly, the star of the story, in July of 1998 and then wrote the chapter in my book in May of the following year. Therefore, the story was less than a year old when I described how our relationship began, and even though it progressed quickly, much has occurred in the nearly fifteen years since. Kelly was twenty-four years old and single back then; she is now thirty-nine, married with three children. I am writing this article to update you on how God has continued to work in our lives and relationship, and in the process will add in a few details that were not included in the original article.
Kelly is one amazing young woman, who has now earned her doctorate and teaches at the university level. When she and her husband, Kye, decided to start a family, she had her heart set on having twins. Then on a biblical tour of Rome, she decided that she wanted those twins to have their genesis in Rome. In spite of the fact that twins do not run in either her family or Kye’s, she indeed conceived twin boys in that ancient city, one of whom is named Roman. Keep in mind that we are talking about a woman who has been basically deaf since she was a toddler. That’s why it takes words like “amazing” to begin to describe her adequately.
But, let’s run the clock and the story back to that fateful meeting in July of 1998. As stated in the original article, Kelly invited herself to Boston for a visit. She stated on the card she sent me that she knew I was a busy man, but still had to eat, and so asked if she at least could have a meal with me. Talk about being starved for the love of a dad! I wept when I read the card. (I’m weeping now.) So I wrote her back and said, “Just come up and spend a weekend with us,” which she soon did. I set her up on a date with a good young man from MIT, and the four of us went up to the North Side (all Italian) for dinner and hanging-out time.
Going back to the car after dinner, Theresa was walking and talking with Kelly’s date, and I was talking with Kelly. She was looking at me with lights in her eyes, like a kid in a candy store, or as if she had somehow entered into a fairy tale. I told her something like this: “Kelly, whatever love you are feeling from me now (and I hope she was feeling all that was there), multiply it several million times, and you will be starting to get the picture of how much God loves you.” You recall that her communion message was that she could see God as a Creator or a Judge, but not as a Father. Well, it was some weekend, as you can imagine.
She came back a second time with her sister, hoping we could influence her, and on that trip, I think we spoke at a Single’s Service and shared “our” story. We’ve come a long way together since then. She came a third time to introduce us to Kye, to whom she was engaged or about to become engaged. Our next time together was at their wedding in Savannah. She told me that since I was her dad, she wanted her step-dad to walk her only half way down the aisle, and then have me take her from there, and then perform the wedding. She also wanted Theresa to share some thoughts for them in the ceremony – all of which we did. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful setting. As I was waiting in the garden where it was to be held, someone came for me and said Kelly wanted to see me upstairs in the Bride’s Room. She, the bridesmaids and her Mom were all fully dressed and ready, but as I entered the room, “Butterfly Kisses” started playing and Kelly came over to me for a father/daughter dance in front of that small, but special audience.
That girl is so far down in my heart she couldn’t find her way out if she wanted to (and, of course, she would never want to). But to me, here is perhaps the biggest shocker of all. Several years after our relationship began, her biological father (who had rejected her earlier because of her not being “normal”) got in touch with her and wanted to get with her, to which she agreed. He expressed regret about not being there for her when she was growing up and wanted to have a relationship with her now. She told him that she was fine with having an adult relationship with him, but that she couldn’t go back to being a little girl again and make up for all of those missed years. Then she added the kicker. She said, “Gary (I think that’s his name), as I said, I’m happy to have an adult relationship with you, but to be honest, I don’t need an emotional relationship with you as a dad. I have that with Gordon.”
Knowing the longing that adopted kids and others in similar situations to Kelly’s have to connect with their biological parents, this one blew me away – totally! I still find it almost unbelievable that I could be the chosen one for such an exalted role. Kelly is as much of a daughter as anyone could possibly be, bloodlines notwithstanding. She is probably more like me in character and personality than anyone I know, which can only be one of those “God things.”
So those are the highlights of the continuing story. Pretty good ones, wouldn’t you say? Sadly, there have been long periods when I haven’t stayed in touch with Kelly very well. I recall writing her once (probably more than once) and apologizing for being a poor dad to her by not keeping up with her better. (That has been one of my weaknesses in the past with loved ones.) In reply to my apology, Kelly said, “Dad, you were there for me when I needed you most. We’re good.” I don’t deserve that kind of love, but it has helped me repent – with her and others.
Something over a year ago, I was teaching a Texas staff training session in Dallas while working with the Houston church, and Kelly and Kye were in San Antonio visiting his family and their church friends there. I flew down for a day to see her. She and Kye took me out for lunch when I arrived, and then he went back to visit his relatives, while Kelly and I sat in a Starbucks outside seating area and talked for hours. (I have to fine-tune my feminine side for such lengthy conversations!) Not long before we moved to California, Kelly visited us in Phoenix for a few days, and we had another one or two dad and daughter times at Starbucks (her favorite coffee place, being a Seattle resident!). She is now planning a trip to visit us in California at our new home. Thankfully, Kye is always willing to keep the kids when she spends time with us because he understands the importance of her being with her adopted dad.
And so the story continues with Kelly, as Jesus’ perspective about his church being true family continues to be fulfilled in our relationship.
Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.”