My father-in-law found out he was adopted when he was 26, newly married, and weeks away from welcoming the birth of his first child, my husband. His family was never going to tell him, but the secret accidentally came out one day in the middle of a family dispute. Since then, it has been a long road of trauma full of a million unanswered questions that have battered and left him bruised.
But what could he do? He didn’t know how to process the pain he felt or make sense of a life he suddenly felt he didn’t belong in. So he tucked it all away. He continued with his life as usual, began his own family, and tried to forget about his past. Already a grown man with many responsibilities and a million other burdens to worry about, there was no time, really, to understand… or to heal this area of his life.
Then one day, my husband and I felt the calling to welcome children in need into our home, and because we live with my in-laws, we had to make sure they were on board with this too. This was something he was not prepared for. In fact, he strongly opposed it when we first brought up our desire to foster or adopt and became very heated. He never imagined that we, his children, would ever have a child in our home like this, and he was not prepared to reopen those old wounds. He also questioned our ability to love these children especially when we already had three kids of our own.
“When they all get sick, who are you going to love? Who are you going to take care of??You won’t love him the same!”
The words cut through us all because we knew he was still hurting and that he never got over the years of feeling unloved and abandoned. Yet because my father-in-law is a tender man, it only took him less than a day to come around. That same night, he came over to me and my husband and said, “We gotta do it. We’re Christians right? If we don’t do it, who will?”
I love my father-in-law.
So with his blessing, we started the process. Before we knew it, we got a call for our first placement and within a few days, this little boy was standing in our home. It was a very emotional time for us all, but there was no doubt that my father-in-law, who was never known to shed a tear, was by far the most emotional of us all.
Over 30 years after his moment of realizing his tragic loss as a child, he stood face-to-face with Rell, a little boy who carried very similar scars he had. At first, he didn’t know what to make of it, but he couldn’t even get through the first meal before tears began streaming down his face and he had to excuse himself to his room where he spent the rest of the evening. No one knew what he went through in that room, but what we do know is that from that day on, we have seen healing and freedom slowly take place in my father-in-law’s heart as he has had to walk hand in hand with Rell on his own journey of healing as well. Together, they have overcome mountains of tragedy and pain.
And for Rell, there was nobody more qualified and suitable to help him on his journey than my father-in-law. Because when no one else understands, my father-in-law does. To be honest, there have been very difficult moments. Moments when I am tired of dealing with his tantrums and behavioral outbursts that I don’t normally see in other children. Moments when I am tired of waiting for him to come out of his blank stares because he doesn’t know how to respond “rightly” when I ask him to do something. Moments when I just wished he didn’t need me to hold his hand every moment of the day and wished he could go about his day with security and confidence. I became tired of being patient, tired of being kind, tired of extending grace.
But when I and everyone else tires, my father-in-law comes in quietly and ever so gently, and with kindness deep in his eyes, offers this little boy a hand to take that next step. They both know how hard that step can be, but together, they can do it and they have done it together everyday.
We are so proud of them.
The other week, our family went on vacation to the beach and Rell was so excited. It was his first time going in the ocean, and when we got there, he ran straight in with everyone else. Unfortunately, the same second he ran in was exactly when a huge wave came and smashed down on top of him, leaving him gasping for air and choking in the salty sea water.
After that, he didn’t go in again.
Traumatized, he stayed as far back as possible and wanted me right beside him as he played quietly in the sand. Periodically, he would look up and see everyone else splashing in the waves, but nothing could convince him to go back in. Anytime I did try to get him to try, he would immediately shake his head no, and the one time he did get up to walk with me closer to the water, he ended up shaking and screaming at the top of his lungs until I carried him back to our towels.
Eventually, we all gave up and just let him be. That is, until my father-in-law drove up for the weekend to join us, and wouldn’t you know it that he was just who Rell needed to overcome his fear. I watched in fascination as the two held hands and slowly but steadily walked to the water’s edge. I knew Rell must have been trembling, but from behind, he looked peaceful and confident. Then slowly, the two began to touch the water with their toes, then with their fingertips, and soon enough, they were knee high in the water.
I couldn’t believe it. Before long, Rell was wailing in laughter as he kicked and punched through the wild waves that continued to crash onto his body over and over again. It was the most beautiful picture as I saw my father-in-law come alive from his past pain and use the most difficult time of his life to help another person in the same shoes.
And all the more I realized why Jesus had to come. Because in His life here on earth, He, too, experienced the same trials we each face and He is more than able to understand and to extend grace for each of us in whatever stage of life we are in. He does not tire of our situations and our unique trials, but He knows. He cares deeply for us and can help us take each next step. And with Him, we can overcome.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”