It was this week twenty-one years back that I was standing at an airport gate and my life changed. This was back in 1997 when you could still walk all the way up to the gate. You didn’t have to wait to see someone at baggage claim.
Coming though that gate were the two people that 7-year-old me loved the most. At least most of the time. And with them, a little girl that I had seen a few months before, a thousand miles away.
Twenty-one years back my family got bigger. Because twenty-one years back my little sister became my little sister.
I think I may be a bad big brother because, honestly, it had slipped my mind until I saw my litter sister post about it being her A-Day. If you’re not familiar, that is short for adoption day. The same way that B-Day has become short for birthday.
My little sister was born into a poor slum called Lipstick. And it wasn’t named that because they sold cosmetics. The day that she was born the dice were cast, and she was born owing the house. Because of nothing more than being born, her life was set for her. And the lucky way out for a pretty girl was to starve.
She was born in the summer. It was hot, and she was malnourished. The first time I saw her she was rocking in a crib that was made from a tire cut in half hanging from the roof of her shack. I ran in a few moments before my dad, we were down in Mexico for a summer mission trip, and when he saw her he though that she was dead. We have never had the same skin color, me and my sister, but this first time I saw her, she wasn’t the sun kissed brown she is now. That first time I saw her she was grey.
The next few months happened as only providence could have orchestrated. My parents weren’t seeking someone to adopt. But that little gray girl was never far from my father’s mind. And then in September of 1997 he got a call that the mother wanted to give her up. Give her to us. This was not a decision that cam easy, this mother had seen another child starve to death and saw on my Dreamer the signs of the same.
So they went down. And they flew back with a family that was just a little bit bigger.
And just like that, adoption became something that changed me. This little girl didn’t look like me. She didn’t have my blood or my cheekbones. But she was mine. Because of a decision that I had no part of, this little girl who the world had sentenced to death had a life. And her life was right next to mine. She was born owing the house, but without even asking for it someone had paid that bill in full
It wasn’t all roses after that. I can still remember being a teenager hell bent on fighting a bunch of kindergarten kids because one day my little sister came home covered chalk dust. She just wanted to be white like all the other kids. Damn, kids can be cruel some times. Or maybe kids just say what a lot of people are thinking.
But 1997 had more than one A-Day in my family.
Earlier that year I was riding down to Thomasville, AL to preach at a youth weekend. And as I often was, I sat shotgun. Somewhere between here and there I asked my dad what it meant to be saved. He is a Baptist preacher and it was a phrase I had hear a lot. And then on the side of some country road I had my own A-Day. In a moment my dad was my brother. In a moment a family got a little bit bigger. All because a Father couldn’t get this snotty-nosed kid off of his mind. I had been someone born with a debt I could never paid paid, but someone else paid it in full. On top of a hill, on top a a tree.
My sister’s adoption has shaped so much of who I am. I’m single now, and I may always be, but if I get married I want to adopt. I want a family that looks like the family I was adopted into. I want a family that looks more like the gospel than the Grand Ole Party.
Her adoption has shown me the huge hypocrisy that is at the heart of the pro-life movement. Because if the people that made up the majority of the pro-life campaign took the risk my parents did there would a lot less kids wondering where their next meal would come from. And a lot less that died because that next meal never showed up.
Her adoption has shown me that people aren’t family just because we look the same. Family is a lot more than that.
In the church today we have a vocabulary that says that we are all adopted into the family of God. But so few of us live that way. So may of us see that kid covered in chalk dust and say that they should know better, work harder, or stop being upset. But that’s not the way that family works.
When I think about my sister’s adoption it always makes me step back. Because I always have to remember that she was. That there was a time in her life, and mine, that she was outside of my family. But because we now have the same father there will never be a time when that is true again.