I grew up always knowing I came from another mommy's tummy. I was told that I was my parents' special gift, and there was a lady named Catherine out there somewhere, who kissed me goodbye the day I was born.
She was 19, fragile in the wake of her parents’ divorce and the unreciprocated love of the man she felt deeply for, who left town to study abroad. When another came along and pressured her to sleep with him, she thought he could give the affection she craved. She traded her virginity for the hope of genuine love, but what she got in return was the news she was pregnant.
Like most teenagers, Catherine was unready and unable to raise a child. She was still in school and had no committed partner to share the responsibility of providing for a baby. The only financial support she received was my biological father’s offer to pay for the abortion.
With no one to turn to, Catherine sought guidance from a crisis pregnancy center, where her counselors educated her about fetal development. She began to see a new story that God was writing for her if she chose to read it. As she turned each page one day at a time, she felt convicted that there was a new soul growing inside her and decided to carry the pregnancy to term.
Week after week, people poured into Catherine’s life who showed her the everlasting love and care she lacked belief in. Friends became like family. The man she loved and thought was uninterested returned from Europe and pursued a relationship with her despite the pregnancy. She found a couple struggling to add a second child to their family, and she committed to bless them with her baby.
While I grew up in a home of privilege and stability, Catherine was left to piece together the remains from leaving the delivery room with an empty womb and empty arms. She slept with my unwashed hospital blankets and tiny hat for a year after I was born and would leak milk for weeks at the sound of an infant's cry. There was no regret in her heart, but there was certainly pain all over for a long time.
When I turned eight years old, I asked my parents if my birth mom had left anything for me. That day I received a small Bible covered in white lace, with my name, "Lisa Marie," embroidered on the front. They also gave me a poem that had been written on a red paper heart wreath, like a Valentine. These gifts were from the woman who allowed me a life, and they became my precious treasures.
From then on, Catherine and I began to write letters. She would send me a birthday card each year, and I would write a thank you note in reply, updating her on my hobbies and interests. I learned that she was happily married to the man she loved, and they had four beautiful children of their own. I loved it when she would send me their family photos; I would study each of their faces to find any resemblance between us. We stayed in communication like this until the summer I turned eighteen, when I met her in person for the first time.
I would say our first time meeting was surreal, but really, it was just like catching up with a close friend I hadn't seen in a while. Catherine was always so intentional and transparent with me; I never doubted her love. Simply knowing that she sacrificed her body and emotions for my sake is one of the greatest ways I have ever been loved.
If there is any area of my past that revealed my life has value and purpose, it is the way the Lord placed me into the family He knew was best for me all along. Jesus’ evident hand in bringing me home has led me to want His fingerprints to continue to saturate my life forever. He knew I needed the late-night "meaning of life" discussions I would have with my dad, the professor of theology. He knew that with my predisposition to fall into anxiety, I needed the grounded wisdom of my mom, a woman who never lets fear overtake her. He knew I needed the relationship and example of an older sister who has taught me what it looks like to be loyal, sincere and perseverant. He knew I needed to witness the radical generosity displayed by my grandparents, who invested in people and gave so freely. And He knew they all needed me too.
If I wasn't adopted, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to go to college in San Diego, where I met my husband, whose devotion and friendship are the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. We wouldn’t have our son, who is the most tangible joy in our lives. There is nothing about being adopted that is sad or less than perfect in my eyes. This wasn’t the backup plan or a lucky turn of events; this was the way my story was written from the beginning. The redeeming path the Lord paved for Catherine was not easy, it was not painless, it was not understood or condoned by most of the people around her at the time. But she followed it, and for this I am eternally grateful.
There is the bond of flesh and blood, and then there is something deeper that makes a mother. What being an adopted daughter has shown me is that a mother’s face is not a reflection of hereditary likeness to her children, but of God’s love, sacrifice, mercy, and faithfulness. Romans 8:12 says, “You have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” Knowing our identities as heirs with Christ has freed my husband and I from the idea that our family should be filled with exclusively biological children. It gives us the peace that God will paint a beautiful picture over our mistakes if we allow Him to use our lives as a canvas. We are free because we can be still and trust. We are free because we've been adopted.
This article was featured on The Village Magazine blog on 12/06/16.