I have a remarkable birth and adoption story that my family and I have told countless times to friends and strangers. It is interesting, unusual and touching. All my life, in the retelling of this story, I have given credit to God for saving me from a sad and harsh beginning and delivering me into the arms of a loving family.
But I have never been able to let go of the idea that I was an accident, a mistake.
I was born to 19-year-old Abbie, the oldest daughter of an Episcopal priest. She had gone off to college and in the first semester met a boy. By Christmas break she had to tell her family she was pregnant. With her dad being an Episcopal priest in the mid-1960s, there was more involved than just family dynamics and choices – the church had to be considered. So Abbie went to “visit her aunt in Florida,” the story the church heard. But truthfully Abbie was sent to live in a Florence Crittendon house for unwed pregnant girls in Washington, D.C. When I was born, she signed away her rights to me and I was placed in the foster care system. She went back home, where no one spoke about it again for 30 years.
Lutheran Social Services placed me in a family who had their own biological children and other foster children. It turned out to be a place of neglect and abuse. By the age of 2 ½, I was having grand mal seizures daily. I did not speak. I was not toilet trained, despite their efforts by tying me to the toilet. I was deathly afraid of dogs and water. I had a cataract in one eye, which was removed surgically when I was a baby, but they did not follow up with the prescribed physical therapy. The family concluded I was “mentally retarded,” a phrase that was common then to describe an umbrella of issues. Lutheran Social Services agreed, deemed me unadoptable and then looked for a safe place for me to stay temporarily.
The social worker knew a family in her church, a couple with three young children. The wife had just suffered a miscarriage. The social worker approached the family, who
opened their arms and their hearts to me. Thus began my journey out of darkness into healing. From the first day I arrived in my new home, I never had a seizure. My new mom threw away the huge bottle of phenobarbital I had been prescribed to prevent the seizures. While I had some emotional issues to overcome, my family quickly realized I was not mentally retarded. In the next few years I was rehabilitated, not through doctors and therapy, but through the love a family had for an orphan. And finally, when I was 5 years old, they adopted me and I legally became what God always intended for me to be – their daughter. In the retelling of the story, my mom always gets emotional, as she concludes the story with, “All she needed was some tender loving care” — something so basic and so easily given.
I have always been grateful to my parents and to God for saving me from disastrous consequences that could have included being institutionalized. Yet I have always been troubled by the fact that I was an accident, a mistake — that my mere presence at conception caused so much angst and turmoil and forever changed the trajectory of my birth parents’ lives.
Recently, as I was pondering my birth story, God gave me a new perspective on it – His. I have always approached this story from the angle of how my birth affected the people around me – that at first I was a mistake and was the cause of grief and then as a baby was unwanted, unloved. And then my family and I were given a second chance.
But what if I took one step back – before conception – and approach the story from God’s perspective?
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Psalm 139:13-16:
“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”
I have always been comforted by this passage and in fact shared it with other adoptees. But I could never fully believe this truth. I never allowed myself to believe that God really did plan me, since people on this earth did not. How could my awful beginning be something God planned?
And then God gave me the answer recently:
Even if my birth parents did not plan me, God did. He knit me together in Abbie’s womb. He did not knit me anyway or accidentally, He knit me ON PURPOSE! He chose them to give me the DNA to fulfill His purposes for me. Even though my presence at conception probably scared, disappointed, and shamed Abbie and those around her, God Himself was not scared of me, disappointed in me, ashamed of me. Just the opposite! That realization took 47 years to be born, but now it has freed me.
He has plans for me that I had been too timid to chase because I was relying on my pitiful self, a person who according to human ways was not intended to be born. But God has made me whole. I am nothing on my own – but everything when I am with Him.
This truth does not just apply to me. It applies to you as well. God knit you in your mother’s womb for His purpose. He created you to do something only you can do – but not on your own. He wants you and me and all of us to humble ourselves and put Him first so that His power and good works can live through us.
This truth applies to everyone who has lived, is living, and will live. God knit together everyone — the orphan in rural Africa, the beggar on the 14th Street Bridge and that crazy cat lady in your neighborhood. Each of us, each of them, are all His, planned for a purpose – no accidents, no mistakes.
That is a remarkable birth and adoption story for all of us.