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Spiritual Formation

The Spirit of Adoption

One Challenge is blessed to have mission pastor Gill, and his wife Karen, at OC International for over 20 years. They have served as OC workers in Asia, and they are now based at the U.S. Mobilization Center in Colorado. In 2020, Gill took on the role of mission pastor to encourage, pray, counsel, and walk alongside OC workers in their ministry journey together.

In a recent weekly chapel meeting, Gill shared this special, personal story on adoption.

Father and the Father-less

“Father” – what a good word. Yet, not everyone has a father present in their lives. My grandfather, my father’s father, was killed in battle in World War II, and so my father grew up without the presence of a father. No doubt that had an impact on his life and has even carried on into my life. Yet, in my experience growing up, I was blessed to have a father who provided a sense of security and who was there when and if I needed him. I could count on that. I’m sad to say, though, he passed away in 2020, and I miss him.

God’s word talks about the fatherless. In the Bible’s use of this, the focus is really on those who don’t have an advocate, those who have been physically and literally orphaned on this earth. Most of us are not fatherless in this sense. In another sense though, we have all been orphans – orphaned from our Father in heaven. It was only when we received Christ (when we believed in his name) that He gave us the right to become children of God. We left our orphanage and we became heirs with Christ.

I have a bit of insight into what it is like to be an orphan and then to be taken out of an orphanage. In March of 2005, my wife Karen and I along with our two older kids got on a plane in the country in Asia where we were serving and flew to Calcutta, India. The next morning we took a taxi to an orphanage.

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Meeting Kaylee

I remember walking into the room to see baby Kaylee (who was about to become our youngest daughter). Along with about ten other kids in this room (all in white identical cribs), she was holding the side of the crib, standing and rocking herself.

As developing children, right from birth, we begin to learn our needs. We learn what it feels like when they are met and when they are not met. As infants, we need to experience safety, comfort, and joy. In fact, God’s original plan for us as human beings was to experience those things fully every day of our lives. But alas, sin entered the world and things went awry. But our need for these things didn’t change!

With children who had their start in life in a situation like an orphanage, this often doesn’t happen. Multiple caregivers care for many infants at one time. And so children often don’t get the experience of safety, comfort, and joy of a specific and singular mother and father. It’s in those first months and years where this sense of security gets wired into who we are. In fact, sadly what get’s reinforced in an orphanage situation is fear, lack, and the need to take care of one’s self – because there isn’t a parent to meet the need.

I remember seeing the kids in the room where Kaylee was. Many of them in their cribs rocking themselves – which is a way of being a self-caregiver, self-soothing. For that first year of life, Kaylee often had to be her own caregiver. On that day, now more than sixteen years ago, we began our journey of helping Kaylee to know she belongs, that she is safe, that she has specific parents who love her and want to protect her, and who want to meet her needs.

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Spirit of Slavery or Spirit of Adoption

As I’ve reflected on Kaylee’s life and experience, I’m struck by the biblical parallels.

Romans 8:15 says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”

A number of words in this verse catch my eye. Slavery, fear, adoption, Father (Abba).

Slavery and fear go hand in hand, don’t they? And sometimes this is where I live, and unnecessarily so. The Israelites had experienced slavery, and slavery was very much part of the Greek and Roman world as well. And of course it is not so far into our own past here in the US. Generally speaking, to be a slave is to have a master who doesn’t see you as more than just a thing. That is a reason to be fearful. In the Roman world, slaves were property without personhood, subject to corporal punishment and execution at the whim of the master. No doubt it was a fearful thing to be a slave. Because you are trapped where you don’t belong. In essence, you were an orphan without the authority of a loving father or mother to care for you, to protect you.

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The Israelites continued to fear even after coming out of the bondage of slavery. They had trouble connecting to God’s goodness and his provision after living as slaves. They seemed to continually fall back into fear – fear of pursuing chariots, fear at the Red Sea, fear of no food or water, fear of enemies, fear of those occupying the promised land, and so on.

But what about us? What fears do we carry along with us? I’ve certainly never been a slave, not in the sense that the Israelites were in Egypt. But, we have all been slaves to sin and death at some point in our lives. We all had a master who didn’t care for us, one bit. Perhaps that’s enough to cause us to fear. What do I fear? Failure, embarrassment, hurt to my children, broken relationships, COVID, illness, losing a loved one, and the list could go on. I find that it’s actually quite easy to fall back into fear – and in essence become a slave.

And so Paul gives us this contrast between:

a spirit of slavery that falls back into fear and a spirit of adoption as sons (heirs) by whom we cry Abba, Father.

That is a dramatic contrast. In fact, I’m not sure I can think of a much more dramatic differentiation.

More of Kaylee’s Story

Our youngest daughter, Kaylee, is adopted. She was born in Calcutta and spent the first year of her life in an orphanage there. Because of adoption, I learned something about the importance of bonding and attachment. As I have, I’ve been amazed at how much it connects with Scripture in this amazing verse in Romans 8.

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I remember well, the journey towards adoption from the decision to do so, to God’s miraculous provision (and amazing answer to prayer), to receiving the referral for Kaylee, the long wait to be able to go and get her, and the day she joined our family, and every day since. I try to be a good father to Kaylee every day, and yes at times I struggle and fail.

But we, you and I, have been adopted by a perfect Father, one who knows exactly what is good and what we need. He provides ultimate safety, comfort, and joy. He provides eternal security. He cares and loves beyond anything we can imagine.

And so we no longer need to live as slaves to fear, we can instead live as children of God. We can lean in close to him, speak with him, rest in him, and know his safety, comfort, and joy. He is our Father. We can trust that this is fact, truth, reality.

I want to share with you one more part of Kaylee’s story. (She has given me permission to share this.) On the first day that Kaylee was with us, she clearly felt some fear. She didn’t eat for almost 24 hours – I think she was in a bit of shock. And we obviously felt concern, too. Slowly, she began to be more comfortable, and we found some things she liked to eat.

The Photo and The Wallet

For me, a very special moment happened on Kaylee’s third day with us. From Calcutta, we flew to Delhi to go to the embassy to take care of her visa for the U.S. While we were in Delhi, she began to be more comfortable with us. On day three, we went to a park in Delhi for a little picnic on the grass. I was holding Kaylee, and I laid back on the grass. She put her head down on my chest, and amazingly she fell asleep!

Karen took a photo to remember that special moment, lovingly placing it in a photo album for Kaylee. Through the years, Kaylee would look at the photo. It clearly became as special to her as it was to me. And then, just last Christmas, Kaylee (a high school junior) got me a special Christmas gift. A wallet made with that picture embossed on the front of it. Because of the gift, I realized more clearly how special that picture is to her. What a special gift.

I don’t want you to think that I am anything near the perfect father. I haven’t always done a great job. Kaylee and I have certainly had some challenges along the way. I think this moment in time, represented on this special gift, was certainly one of Kaylee’s first experiences of freedom from fear. Her first experience of the spirit of adoption as my child – where she could lean in to her father and know safety, comfort, and joy. It was certainly a joy for me – a father who loves her and wants to give her exactly what she most needs. Even if it’s not always what she thinks she needs.

Reflection

In keeping with this, I want to lean into my Heavenly father, like I am resting on his chest and hearing his heartbeat. To simply know his perfect love for me. Knowing I don’t ever need to fear, because he has adopted me as his child. He wants me to know his safety, comfort, and joy.

Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own son, but gave him freely for us all, how will he not also freely give us all things”. Let’s lean into Him now, Abba, Father. Know that he is always listening, that we are his children, and that he wants to give us freely what we need in this life and in the life to come.

The Spirit takes up residence within us in a way that we can say we have the power of the Holy Spirit in our Christian life. The power of the Spirit was there when the whole universe was created. The power of the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead lives within us. That is the power we have access to, if we use it.

How have you experienced God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in your life?

More about Gill

Take Heart from Pastor Gill

One Challenge is blessed to have mission pastor Gill, and his wife Karen, at OC International for over 20 years. They have served as OC workers in Asia, and they are now based at the U.S. Mobilization Center in Colorado. In 2020, Gill took on the role of mission pastor to encourage, pray, counsel, and walk alongside OC workers in their ministry journey together.

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