Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My Grace Story

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve poured my mind out on this virtual paper. DS’s graduation is coming closer and closer and I am finding less and less time to do the things I want to do rather than the things I should do. That subject (want vs. should) is definitely for another posting on another day. Today I need to tell you my story – or at least one of my stories.

Sunday at church our Youth Pastor (I’ll call him PJ) delivered the message and I was really touched by it. It all led into one of my guiding scriptures for my life – Romans 8:28 – All things work for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose. PJ shared that we all have stories of grace in our lives and that those stories will do more to further the kingdom than all the logical arguments for the Christian faith that we could ever utter – not his exact words and he did a much better job of explaining it but I’m hoping you get the picture. I started thinking about my own stories and one that I believe is more grace filled than any other is the one about finding my birth father. I’ve never actually put it down in words so I have no idea how this will come out and even if I’ll be able to get it down in one sitting but here we go…you might want to take a potty break before you start reading cuz I’m expecting this to be a little long…

I grew up in a loving middle-class family with my mom, my little sister, and my dad, who even though his DNA did not pulse through my body he never treated me like I wasn’t his own flesh and blood. I had the same trials and tribulations as most kids. I got in trouble for various misdeeds and was on restriction from time to time. I was also of the generation where you did not spare the rod in order to spoil the child so I also got my fair share of spankings (the majority were deserved I’m sure!). All in all I think it was a fairly normal childhood.

But I also had a biological father out there somewhere that I did not know. My mom and he divorced when I was 2 years old and that side of the family was not a part of my life. My mom would tell me snippets about him and the family from time to time which are really not important to this story but suffice it to say that I pretty much felt deserted by this person. However, over time I started create this fantasy father who would show up at big events in my life – dance recitals, band concerts, birthdays, graduations, etc. But he never did show up. This just reinforced to me that he did not want me.

As most kids do I also fantasized about becoming a famous celebrity – in my case a singer. I had vowed to use my real name so that my father (so you don’t get too confused in this story when I say “father” that means my biological father and when I say “dad” that means the dad I grew up with…ok?) would see me on TV and know it was me and we would have this wonderful, fuzzy, heart-warming (enter your own adjective here) reunion that would be carried by all the major TV stations and newspapers in the free world. I know, I know, I have quite the creative imagination! Oh, the burdens of being me!! ;-) Well…I never did become the famous person I dreamt of being but that’s ok. I’m very happy and have a great life with my family and friends. I get to use my voice to praise God and that is really the best use of my talents that I could ever hope for. But…I digress…so this story doesn’t become as long as the last Harry Potter let’s move time forward a bit…

In 1990 I had my wonderful DS and he was such an answer to prayer (although a bit unexpected at the time) and I could never imagine the course my life would take after seeing that little plus sign on the good ole “most advanced piece of technology you will ever pee on” – gosh I love that commercial! Anyway…while I was pregnant I had some complications and was continually asked for my entire medical history including the histories of my parents. Unfortunately I was only able to provide half the information needed since I knew virtually nothing about my father. This began the renewed longing in me to find him more for the logical reason of medical information as opposed to the fantasy world of this amazing person suddenly showing up in my life and we all lived happily ever after.

After the health issues with getting DS into this world had subsided, the urgency of locating this person became less and less important. It was still in the back of my mind because you can’t help but wonder how someone could not want to spend every waking moment with their child. Having just had a child myself and experiencing that instantaneous infatuation with this little person made that question loom ever bigger but still the nagging question resided in the back of my mind – lots of interesting (and even sometimes disturbing) stuff hangs out back there so I’m sure it was quite a party for the next 14 years.

So fast forward to late winter/early spring of 2004 and our Pastor (not PJ if you are keeping track of that sort of thing) is doing a sermon series on forgiveness. The gist of the series – again not in his exact words and I am most likely doing a very poor job of capturing the true brilliance of the original – was that in order to receive the full joy that God intends for your life you must be willing to forgive those who you feel have wronged you. During the prayer at the end of the messages each week he would invite us to spill our guts (again not exact words) to God about those who we need to forgive. The only person who would come to my mind is my father. Over the years I had become angrier and angrier that he could desert me like this. I fell more in love with my DS as each day/week/year went by and it was just unfathomable to me that he did not want to be a part of his child’s life. Those of you who are parents know exactly what I am talking about here. There is a line from Where the Heart Is where after the birth of her daughter the main character asks the age-old question, “How can you love someone so much that you just met?”

The fact that my father kept coming to mind each week while I was praying really was annoying. (I’ve found that sometimes the annoyance factor is one of the best weapons in God’s arsenal to get my attention but I’ve discovered it is a weapon best used by Him and not by me.) I finally made a deal with God (because He really likes it when you do that – NOT) that I would look for my father and when I didn’t find him that I would be given the full joy I wanted. (Can’t you just see a snotty little kid stomping her feet at the check out counter when they are denied that candy the store so artfully places there?) It is amazing that God did not strike me down at that point but He has much more patience than I would for such a bossy, snotty little kid. Not only did I tell God that he would give me this joy at the end of the search but I even set the parameters for the search. Have you realized yet that I am a total control freak?!? If you are still questioning this, just ask my family sometime – I’m sure it’s not been a total joy for them to live me all these years! ;-)

The parameters I set would be that I would look for my father using Switchboard.com (a compilation of the telephone white pages from across the country in case you’ve never used it) and would only search using his full legal name. My father has a very common name that can be shortened in various ways. I even insisted that I use his middle initial as well. The beauty of Switchboard.com back then is that you only got what you searched for. Let’s say for instance his name was Samuel L. Jackson (which it’s not by the way) and you told it to search for “Samuel L. Jackson”. It would only find that exact listing. It would not give you Sam Jackson, Sam L. Jackson, S.L. Jackson, or even S. Jackson. And to make matters worse you had to search each state one by one. Another problem with it is that if he had an unlisted number it would not show up at all. So…you can see the odds were already stacked against me and when I put those further stipulations on the search I was pretty much setting the search up to fail. For those of you familiar with Switchboard.com today it has changed and is much more useful now than it used to be…but again I am digressing….

So I did this search using his full legal name (with middle initial) starting in the last state I was certain he had been in 36 years earlier. Lo and behold I ended up with about a half dozen names from just this one state! Oh, my, this was going to be a long, expensive search. I wrote a very non-descript little note saying I was looking for my birth father and didn’t wish to place any claims but merely needed some medical information. Partially true but really all I wanted was to fulfill my part of this condition-riddled deal I had placed before God and if by some unbelievable chance I did find my father, then I would have someone I could vent my anger against. I didn’t include my name because I wasn’t sure what kind of creepazoids I might find. I printed out each letter, addressed the envelopes, and set out to get a P.O. box to use as a return address. I was very happy to find that one of the people who came up on the search was computer literate and had registered with Switchboard.com adding his e-mail address to his listing. For that one I sent an e-mail using a non-traceable e-mail account I had. I sure was hoping I would run into more listings like that one. Postage can start to add up!

The next day before heading out to the post office to get the P.O. box and mail the letters I checked my e-mail account and I had a response from the person who had registered their e-mail address. Little did I know that God was about to bonk me on the head and in no uncertain terms notify me that I was never to test Him again. The response I read was unbelievable and had I looked at it through a different lens I probably could have seen right away that it was not someone messing with me but rather was truly my father. (I’ll pause here so you can take in the enormity of that sentence – I had just found my father after contacting one person!!)

He started the e-mail by addressing me by my name (which was spelled right and that doesn’t usually happen!) and saying that he had prayed for this day for 36 years. I didn’t believe him and sent him a lot of questions that only the right person would be able to answer. He answered all those questions and more. The emotions that ran through me that day and the following weeks while we exchanged e-mails, pictures, and phone calls were all over the place.

It was at this point that grace truly entered into the situation. Here I had demanded that God give me something and I even dictated how it would be given. By all rights He should have shut me out and let me drown in this scummy pond of demands I had created. But for some unfathomably reason He ended up giving me what I wanted and even more. I found that the anger I had been carrying around had suddenly disappeared. I wasn’t angry at him and I wasn’t angry at my mom. In fact, I wasn’t angry at anyone. This is a forgiveness that I couldn’t define or comprehend for myself. At the time it seemed like I was moving through my days in a fog. I was ecstatic that I found this person who completed the other half of my DNA but at the same time I was terrified that he would turn out to be this complete lunatic and here I was walking around with his DNA in my body. I was also worried about how do I tell my mom that I found him. When I started the search it was between God and me. I didn’t even tell my DH about the search.

There are lots of other stories that happen after this and maybe I’ll share those with you someday, but the true point of this one is that despite being my own worst enemy God found a way to show me not only that He is the one truly in control, but that I can trust Him to always give me things that are good for me. I still stand here several years later truly amazed that I found my father. There were so many ways it could have failed but God was in control despite my best efforts to derail the process. I am thankful beyond words that God was able to step over and around the obstacles I placed in his way to bring me to where I am today. What I saw as impossible, God showed me was possible for Him. I’ve learned that you may think that you could never forgive the wrongs committed against you and in that you are absolutely right. Oh, wait, what did she say?!? Hear me again – you, all by yourself, cannot truly forgive others. However when you include God in the process, the forgiveness will flow like you cannot even imagine. You will find you have no control over the emotions that come with the process but to use a very old phrase you must let go and let God! Lay those burdens at the cross of Jesus and no matter how tempted you are do not pick them back up.

Through this process I am a much more joyful person. I feel more complete but by no means is my life perfect now. I have experienced grace in my life that I never knew existed and that having now experienced it, I cannot imagine my life any different. Finding my father has created problems that I would much rather not have to deal with but the rewards of finding the family I was separated from for so long far outweighs any difficulties that come with the package. It really reminds me of the process involved when you decide to turn your life over to God and become a believer in Jesus. In my own walk that transition has not made my life any easier, and in some ways has made it harder, but the rewards so far outweigh the costs that I find I am joyful in the difficulties. I am still an imperfect, unfinished, rough-around-the-edges, sinner who does not deserve the full joy of God but I am immensely thankful everyday that God thinks otherwise.


Debbie said...

Rene, I am truly speechless and in awe of your story. Wow.

Gramma 2 Many said...

What a story!! The awesome power and wonders He can do for us. I learned so long ago not to question him. How he rewarded you for your reluctant obedience.
I clicked over to your blog from Debbie. Sure am glad I did. I am sure I will be back. Come visit me anytime. Leave me a note so I know you were there.
I think, if you do not mind, I will add you to my list of friends so I do not forget to come visit again.

KitKatKolorado said...

Rene, Even though I was your friend during your search and was aware of some of your emotions you went through during that time, I was amazed at your story of grace and forgiveness. You are a wonderful writer. Keep it up.
Blessings, Kathy