Adoption & A New Identity
We see all throughout Scripture how the Lord has a heart for the weak and the Fatherless (Ps. 146:9, Ps. 10:14), and how He desires that our hearts mirror His concern for the same (James 1:27, Prov. 31:8-9).
There is no doubt that our God is one with special care and favor for the most vulnerable demographics here on earth, and that He takes His role as Provider, Father and Justifier very seriously. And we are charged to do the same: to share our resources to meet their needs and to be a voice that speaks in defense of those who cannot defend themselves.
And my personal effort to follow this specific call has found its peak in adoption.
I shared a few weeks ago about the journey which led me into Foster Care, and ultimately adoption. (Read it for yourself here!) But as I have walked through the ins and outs of the American legal adoptive process, some of the beauty and mystery of the biblical metaphor of adoption have been brought to light to me in ways I had never noticed before.
While God's heart for the Fatherless is made clear throughout Scripture, the metaphor of adoption extends far beyond merely meeting an orphan's needs. We see God's passion for radically re-writing family lines all throughout the Bible, and we see it most beautifully in the invitation He gives us to join His family.
Jesus turned the definition of family upside down from the outset of his ministry, all the way through to its end. From calling his disciples to counter-culturally leave their boat and father in order to come and follow him, to assigning the disciple John as his mother's "new son" and primary caretaker - above her other remaining children - in dying breaths while on the cross, Jesus made it clear that he is the ultimate author of family.
And we see the height of this beauty in how God describes His adoption of us.
"He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." John 1:11-13
"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, bywhom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." Romans 8:14-17
"Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved.
We have redemption in Him through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure that He planned in Him for the administration of the days of fulfillment —to bring everything together in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth in Him.
We have also received an inheritance in Him, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will, so that we who had already put our hope in the Messiah might bring praise to His glory. When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. He is the down payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory." Ephesians 1:3-14 HCSB
Adoption means so many things. It means gaining new family members, establishing a new home and receiving a new name. It means accepting provision, protection and permanency. It means acquiring security, confidence and unconditional love. It instills hope, value and inheritance. And it gives a new identity.
All of these beautiful truths can be seen in both earthly and spiritual adoption. But if I'm being honest, I think for most of my life I took the immensity of what this means - of being invited into God's family - very much for granted. I grew up in an incredible family where I felt my physical, emotional and spiritual needs were met and that my unique, created person and purpose were deeply encouraged to flourish. For me, it took a firsthand experience of the transformative effects of adoption to realize how life-changing adoption into God's family really is, and why a new identity in Christ is so needed.
"Forever Family." This is a term I have become all too familiar with as I taught my daughter the security she should strive to develop in regards to "family" and "home." When something, or someone, that should be "permanent" in one's life proves not to be (whether for good reasons or bad), it is understandable for it to take some time to reattach faith and confidence that something, or someone, truly can be relied upon unconditionally. And it became both a burden and a joy for me to strive to exemplify faithful, consistent love and acceptance to my daughter as I made it my mission to prove day in and day out that her position in my family was secure.
It is amazing to observe the affect it has in one's life when they become sure of the foundation on which they stand. I watched a 3 1/2 year old with every reason in the world to doubt me, her newly painted bedroom and the roof over her head, become a strong, confident little girl whose curiosity, learning and social life sprung from a well of security which assured her that at the end of each new day of adventuring, she would come back home to the same place, wrapped in the same arms and always, always loved. She couldn't do anything to shake that love. Discipline became less scary when she realized love not only remained the same, but was the motivator behind it. And new names like "mom" and "daughter" were spoken more and more confidently as the roles increasingly appeared both permanent and earned.
And I, simultaneously, was being introduced to the realities of being an adopter. She truly was gaining an inheritance in my care. She was carrying my last name, perpetuating the reputation of my family heritage and living daily off of the provision I extended. She took up my space, contributed to messes and used my things. She was more than a human I was helping, or someone I was doing life with, she had become a part of my family, and with that came special privileges. The unconditional nature of love is different within a family compared to friendships, and the love shared between a parent and a child is further unique yet! While one's mind can seem to grasp the kind of inheritance she was receiving as my new heir, the inheritance I was receiving in exchange seemed incalculable. I had heard jokes made about the worry-filled nature of parenting, but nothing could have prepared me for the amount of concern, passion and sleepless nights that come when you are responsible for, and deeply love, a little life. I watched this motherly instinct display itself in the form of specific worries tied to each new season she passed through, discipline which attempted to patiently turn her heart and behavior back towards Christ, and a strong desire to bring her joy.
The passage into becoming a parent unlocks love and loyalties I had never experienced before, and revealed characteristics about my Heavenly Father that I had not previously understood.
But perhaps the most striking realization I gained through the long, grueling legal process of adoption came at the very, very end when my daughter attained the final stamp of her new identity.
Along the way, we shared so many amazing moments as our family of 2 became more and more concrete. Of course, adoption day and the legal declaration of our family will forever be remembered and celebrated. And I will never forget holding her new birth certificate, which displayed both her new name and my name as her legally recognized mother. But surprisingly, the most striking moment of her new identity came when we received her new social security card.
You see, due to the nature of being adopted through the Foster Care system, it is recommended that most children not only receive a new card displaying their new name, but that they also apply to be given a new social security number as well.
As I stood in the Social Security Administration Office, yielding every piece of paperwork ever printed regarding my daughter and I's identities, I was finally told that the process had been completed. This, after SO long and SO much paperwork, was the very last thing that needed to be done. I was informed that she would receive her new card in the mail in a few weeks, but before I could walk away from the desk, the worker asked if I would like them to shred her old card for me. A red flag went up in my head because for the two years of my life leading up to this I had been told to meticulously save every piece of paper and documentation on my daughter, and to destroy such a vital piece of her information now seemed very foreign and strange. I asked, "Is that what is recommended?"
And she responded, "Well... nothing on this card is relevant anymore. This identity no longer exists."
I was struck by the truth in that statement. The identifying number and name given to my daughter at birth were no longer recognizable or of value to her new future and identity. They were gone, done, wiped away.
I joked later that I had created a new human that day, but the heaviness of it stayed with me for a while. And when I finally received her new social security card in the mail, it was a pretty overwhelming moment. Her new name. Her new identity.
As I stood there and pondered the power of a new identity, I realized a beautiful thing. Although such a powerful portion of her past seemed to be wiped clean in this legal declaration of her family and identity, the experiences of her past were not undone.
And isn't that so much how our testimonies work as well? When Christ beckons us into salvation, to join his family forever, we receive a clean slate and proudly inherit a new name and identity in Christ, and in His family. But it doesn't erase the years of lessons and experiences that took place up to that point. The foundation of our life's beginning remains the same, whether that was rooted in pain and difficulty, or perhaps blessing and ease. And whether or not those beginning years were lived for Christ, they still serve as the experiences and foundation He intended each of us to have as we accept the ministry He has called us to on His behalf.
Not every effect of our past disappears when we enter into Christ's family, but we receive a freedom from being defined by those things, and an invitation to allow God to use and redeem our past for His purposes and glory moving forward. Our names are no longer tied to sin, hurt or shame, rather our names and identities are made new and our eyes set on the hope of a Redeemer who can make all things new, who turns mourning into dancing and who ushers us into the hope of a future in his inheritance.
Adoption is a part of all of our stories, and I am thankful that my understanding of my adoption into God's family has been deepened by the experience of gaining my daughter. May we not cheapen the understanding of our inheritance in Christ's family by not fully understanding the miracle of being considered His heirs! And may we never cease to rejoice for the new identity and hope we have received by stepping into the family of Christ!
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come." 2 Corinthians 5:17