A Better Family Tree

I don’t want to seem too hard on my birthfather. Everything in my life is real. That includes the man who wasn’t there for me as well as the man who was. They’re both vital to who I am. Of course, if we were writing the story, we would have scripted it differently. But then, God’s a better author than you and me.

My birthfather had his good points. People who knew him recall him as “a great guy” (the inevitable phrase). But there’s always a caveat. “He wasn’t a good family man,” they’ll say. Not until his third marriage. That one, he got right.

I don’t call him “Dad,” but now I think of him often. And, as it was his side of the family who discovered me, the whole clan has come to mean a great deal to me. I’m fascinated about what they’re like, as they are with me. We look so similar yet sound so different. I see the resemblance between them and our children. We’re family. We just have a lot of catching up to do.

Each adoption story is different. When the apostle Paul used the analogy of adoption as a picture of what God does for us as spiritual orphans, it doesn’t line up perfectly with earthbound adoptions. It’s simply an image to help us understand what takes place. It doesn’t mean I can never enjoy relationship with my birth family. That’s an overextension of the metaphor. (Admittedly, your adoption story may be quite different.) So I’m seeking and enjoying relationship with them on both sides of the ocean. I can be as inclusive as I like, providing they also desire the same relationship. We all seem to be looking for connection. My family has happily grown larger.

Paul points to a much larger family too, one that crosses barriers that previously divided us. Jews had traditionally looked down on the Gentiles as outside of God’s family. Now something new was happening, as Paul explains in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul, a Jew, wrote, “Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us” (Ephesians 2:14).

This God-ordained unification ushers in an unprecedented peace. “He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death” (vv. 15–16).

Paul then makes one of the most inclusive statements we can imagine. “Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us” (v. 18).

The conclusion is this: “So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord” (vv. 19–21).

Every human family has tremendous flaws. The ones that seem like they don’t are simply hiding something. God’s family, which transcends all notions of all earthly family lines, is “becoming a holy temple.” We’re “citizens along with all of God’s holy people.” It’s the biggest family ever, and it crosses far more than an ocean. God himself is perfecting us all, making us holy. Every barrier we can imagine is being demolished. And it’s because of what Christ did for us on the cross.

During that first surreal week after I had learned of my great big overseas family, I received a text while I was driving. Noticing who it was from—my brand-new Swiss cousin—I immediately pulled over.

He’d sent me a screenshot. The photo was of something he’d been working on—his family tree. He’d made a few changes to it.

There were the matriarch and patriarch who’d emigrated from Italy to Switzerland. Then there was the next generation, the first to be born in Switzerland, and then their five children. It included my two aunts and their husbands, my two uncles and their wives.

And my birthfather. And his three wives. And his two girlfriends by whom he’d had children. My mother was one of them.

Beneath that, a line descended to a photo of my wife and me. More lines led to each of our eight children. He’d gotten the pictures from Facebook. The screenshot had this simple caption:

“Welcome to the family tree.”


What barriers divide you from others?

Are some of the barriers inside the church? If so, where and why?

What prayerful steps might you take to help eradicate such a barrier today?

When in your life have you felt excluded by or from others?

How might you include others on the margins?

What does it mean to you to consider that God himself is “making us holy”?