One day in 2006, I woke up and realized I was 39 years old! The prospect of turning 40 made me reflect on where my life had been and was going. I was happily married with a wonderful wife, three sons, and a good job. I was a follower of Christ, active in my church and missions, and had a host of close Christian friends. I appeared to have it all!
But there was a huge hole in my story: I was adopted. I knew nothing about the beginning of me! Where did I come from? Who were my people? I was adopted at three months of age by a loving, childless couple who had raised me in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They were wonderful parents. Dad was a pastor and college professor, and Mom was a schoolteacher. Two years after they got me, they added my adopted sister. We were the perfect nuclear family of the 1970s.
Growing up adopted was interesting! During my younger years, my church and school were supportive and allowed me to talk about it, though I rarely did. My extended family was also supportive, even as they frequently introduced my sister and me as “adopted,” not realizing how awkward it made us feel. We were also very different in temperament and interests from my parents. When we’d express a certain emotion or talent that was totally opposite from my parents, someone was sure to comment, “Well, where did that come from?” As a result, I developed a sense of being “incomplete” that was not healthy or positive, even though I felt completely loved by my family.
So, here I was, arriving at age 40. I knew I needed to seek out answers about my adoption. I felt somehow that God would use it to do a greater work in my life—and perhaps in others as well.
My parents had always been very open with my sister and me about our adoptions. They shared the few details they knew. They even told me the awful name a foster parent had given me—Delbert Pope. Beyond the trip they made to Fairfax, Virginia, to pick me up, they knew nothing of the circumstances of my birth or my birth parents.
Starting with the State of Virginia, I learned that the first step to finding my birth parents was requesting my adoption records. I was shocked at how difficult it was to get these records. But after finally receiving them, I was able to see where I was born, my weight, and a general description of my birth parents. However, all names and specific information had been blacked out. Many hours were spent with the records, holding them up to the light to see if I could read through the black. Eventually, I had to hire a private detective who specialized in adoptions. He led me through the process, and within about a year of work, I had my birth mother’s name—Dale.
The email with my birth mother’s name came one morning while I was at work. Within five minutes of internet searching, I had a picture, work bio, address, and phone number. When my office friends—who by now were intrigued with the process—saw her picture, they all screamed. Dale looked just like me! We found out that she had a son and daughter who, again, looked just like me. I was speechless and filled with questions. What if she has an illness? What if she’s crazy? What will my mom say? And my dad, who had died the year before—what would he think?
After praying, I mustered my strength and decided to schedule a call with Dale. She had been contacted by the State to give her permission to the reunion several months earlier. She was at a pizza restaurant with her family when I called. The conversation was short, sweet, and open. I think we were both in shock. Frankly, her more than me.
Dale’s story, like so many birth moms at the time, was incredibly sad but also hopeful. She had been living in Colorado with her large working class family. She was the oldest of five siblings, and was terribly smart. After graduating from high school, she was expecting to attend college in the fall on a full academic scholarship. At her graduation party, she met Wayne. He was musical, from a well-off family, handsome, and popular. A month later, Dale found out she was pregnant. She contacted Wayne, and he refused to acknowledge the baby or help in any way. By the end of the year, he would join the Navy and be sent to Vietnam.
When Dale told her family about her pregnancy, they were supportive. They moved to the east coast for work, and Dale went with them. She worked as a waitress until the day before I was born. Because of the times and her economic situation, Dale decided not to keep me. Her dad drove her to the hospital where I was born, but she did not see me. She was told it was best for both of us that way. I was taken away and placed in foster care after leaving the hospital. Dale stayed one night in the hospital and was waitressing again the next day.
That fall, Dale moved to Tennessee to attend college. She chose the only college she could find that did not require her to acknowledge if she had a child. She threw herself into her studies and eventually met David. He was a kind, "nerdy" physicist, and they instantly fell in love. After marriage, David did time in the army, and eventually both earned master’s and PhD degrees. Dale became a math teacher, and her story of overcoming would inspire students for the next 30 years.
Dale and David would have two children, a boy and a girl. Having children brought much joy to Dale while also arousing an unsettling fear. She opted not to tell the children about me, thinking to save them the pain and questions. She kept that secret until the day a social worker from Virginia called. The next day, Dale told her now-grown children about me. Needless to say, in a very close-knit family, it was a scandal. She, David, the kids, and their spouses would spend a few years sorting out the details.
In the fall of 2007, Dale and I, along with our spouses, met at Disneyland. I was there with my family from Texas, and Dale was there from Northern California, where she had lived for many years. The meeting was full of many tears from Dale, stories, gifts, hugs, and lots of talking. Dale is a feeler and expresses emotion. I was a 40-year-old man, so we had to learn to meet in the middle. That first trip led to others and, eventually, to a yearly weekend together. We also exchange weekly emails and birthday and Christmas presents.
Our reunion (as such meetings with a birth parent are known) was pretty unusual. I am aware that most do not go as well as ours. Dale became part of several adoption reunion support groups where she hears mostly horror stories. It is unique when both birth parent and adopted child are on the same page. All too often, one party wants the reunion and the other does not. Sometimes there is anger and secrecy about adoptions. And quite often, it is the adoptive parents and their spouses, as well as the other siblings who do not support the reunion. Often after a reunion, some will try to make up for lost time, expecting the other party to become an intimate family member, which is usually not the case.
So, why did ours work so well? Plain and simple, it was the Lord Jesus Christ. His favor and blessing are all over our story: Dale’s strength to carry me to full term and give me up for adoption; my adoption by strong Christian parents; Dale becoming a teacher, wife, and mother, and finding her way into a Methodist church in California in the 1970s to grow in Christ for decades; God’s dealing with my heart as He was conforming me into His image; and our families on both sides being incredibly supportive and engaged in the reunion. All of this was God’s doing! I give HIM glory for all of it. The timing could not have been more perfect. My only regret is that my father did not get to meet Dale. But my mother has been so amazing and strong throughout the entire process. She has welcomed Dale as a sister, and they are close.
I am reminded of Galatians 4:4–8 (NKJV):
“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that he might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore, you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.”
What good news this is for adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents, and for all people! Like the gift of life that Dale gave—and the gift of a loving home that my parents gave—our God gives us even more blessings and hope through Jesus.
The enemy wants us to believe we are “incomplete.” He tells us we are orphans, outsiders, failures, losers, and unloved. He wants us to run from relationships and our past. He tells us our brokenness is bad, and God cannot love us because of it. These are all lies! He is the perfect parent, our heavenly Father, who runs to meet us. Even when we were still in our sin, He seeks us out. He wants to restore a relationship with us through Christ. He wants a reunion like Dale and I had, but so much more. He is the originator of adoption—and adoptees are close to His heart!