Chapter 1

Orphans No More

As is true for anyone, my story does not begin at my birth, or even my conception. Decades of events led to the very particular circumstances of my beginnings on this earth—my very messy beginnings. Although many of the stories that have led to my own include hardships and even despair, there has also been a golden thread of redemptive hope running through.

My story includes, on the one hand, my biological families. Let’s call them the Budinskys and the Gilmores. On my birth mother’s paternal side of the family was a Polish family that lived on the Canadian prairies. I don’t know much about them, except that my great grandparents were born in Warsaw, and that I got my prominent nose from them (as has my son). A generation after immigrating to Canada, their son, Stefan, would become my biological grandfather—a man I would never meet and who likely never knew I existed.

From what I’ve gleaned, Stefan was kind, a good Catholic boy who grew up to work on the railroad laying tracks. I think of him whenever I hear the tune “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” (all the livelong day!). Stefan was also a soldier, a member of the Canadian military who liberated the Dutch people from their Nazi oppressors. (Intriguingly enough, my future uncles from my adoptive family were German-speaking Mennonites. As teenagers, they were conscripted into becoming young soldiers, but purposely shot away from their targets so as not to take a human life. Did my biological and adoptive families ever face each other in the theater of war?)

It was in the Netherlands in wartime that Stefan would meet Kristina, a pretty Dutch seventeen-year-old who fell in love with her handsome “Johnny Canuck” liberator. Can you feel the emotional climate of the place and day? Near starving, and incoherent with relief and gratitude, the Dutch could not stop thanking the Canadians. To this day, a special friendship exists between the two countries. Every spring, endless acres of color-bursting tulips flutter in the Canadian capitol of Ottawa, Ontario—gifts from the Dutch and colorful monuments to a long-ago liberation.

Long before I knew my history, tulips have been my favorite flower. My story intersects with that scene of jubilation—in fact, my birth mother was conceived in it.

The jubilation was not to last for Stefan and Kristina, or for their firstborn child, Theodora. Kristina crossed the ocean as a young war bride, her Canadian baby’s heart beating inside her. Soon enough, and despite having five more children in short order, Kristina and Stefan’s love was stamped out by loneliness, homesickness, and resentment. Kristina seemed to resent her daughter Theodora simply for being born and took out her anger and sadness on her. The family splintered under the pain, with Kristina and Stefan eventually divorcing, and their children carrying their wounds each in their own way—some of the siblings struggling with addictions and other issues.

Desperate to escape her family’s toxic environment, at one point Theodora even toyed with the idea of becoming a nun. After that didn’t pan out, she jumped at the chance to go to the nearest big city to study to become a teacher. It was there, when she was 21, that Theodora would meet my birth father Ted. Older by a few years, Ted was handsome and charming. The privileged son of a judge, Ted seemed to have the world by a string, sitting on a rainbow, as the song goes. What could be more fun than a summer fling?

It was 1967, and the future physical education teacher and teacher’s college student had a fleeting romance, or, as my birth father would describe it to me forty-five years later, “four or five encounters.” At some point in those “encounters,” I was conceived. My first parents did not love each other. In fact, they would grow to loathe each other.

When Theodora found out she was pregnant, Ted fled the scene with dizzying speed. Vulnerable and alone in the big city of Winnipeg, my birth mother would resolve to give birth to me in total secret. Only her best friend knew she was pregnant.

I was born on a snowy Wednesday in March of 1968, to a 22-year-old mother who wept as I was taken out of her arms at the Women’s Pavilion Hospital. She was alone in the cab which drove her from the hospital to her shabby apartment with its mattress on the floor and a sleeping bag for a bedspread.

My story began in this mess, this debris of lust, loathing, abandonment, and grief. Yet this messy beginning would not have the last word.

My story began in this mess, this debris of lust, loathing, abandonment, and grief. Yet this messy beginning would not have the last word.

All our stories begin this way, spiritually speaking. We are each born in need of adoption, each born with wounds and an indefinable, desperate longing for the unconditional healing love of our heavenly Father. When God describes his adoption of us, of course, there are ways in which the metaphor does not apply. God has never abandoned us, and we have always been beloved children to him. However, the metaphor of adoption powerfully captures the idea of humanity’s shared alienation from the experience of life lived in the care of God&squo;s love. In a way, we might say, being “adopted” by God is a bit like finally finding the love and family we’ve always been looking for.

This adopting Father promises to not leave us in our orphaned, alienated, separated state. He pledges in His word to come for us, no matter how estranged we are from Him.

This adopting Father promises to not leave us in our orphaned, alienated, separated state. He pledges in His word to come for us, no matter how estranged we are from Him.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you,”(esv) He assures us in John 14:18. And He never breaks promises to His children.

As for me, this Adopting Father stood tall in the rubble of my story. Before my birth, indeed before time began, He had planted the seeds of redemption, and He rolled up his sleeves and got to work, making all things new. When he crafted me with his two hands, he made a girl who loved books, friends, and red tulips. He knew—though I didn’t for a long time—that my biological great-grandfather had excelled at lacrosse and hockey, at a hall of fame level, and that my future son would flourish playing those two sports. God was there through it all, stitching a golden thread of redemption even within and through the tangles. Just wait until she finds out about the hall of fame thing, I can picture Him thinking, smiling as he stitched. She will flip!