April 23 marks my life in a way no other date affects me. On that date four years ago, I adopted my sons Roy and Nathanael. They were 25 and 21 years old respectively, but I had already been their stepmother for 19 years. I’d had no idea, during those often painful yet rewarding years, that the day would come when they would choose to be my legal sons.
When I married Richard I knew I had to be as committed to caring for his sons as I was to loving him, but I had no idea what that would mean. I discovered, to my naive surprise, that my commitment to Roy and Nathanael meant a commitment to being a mom, not just to being a peripheral “cheering section” for somebody else’s kids. God is faithful. He taught me to pray that I would love those boys for Him, and He made my heart soft and deeply knit me to them. He made them the children of my heart, not just of my husband.
Then came what Richard calls “the golden day”. We met three long-time friends, who had known us since our boys were smal, at family court. In the judge’s chambers, Roy and Nathanael became my legal sons. I learned something about adoption that day that I had not known before. The judge asked me if I was willing to make Roy and Nathanael not only my sons but my heirs, and then he said something surprising. After completing the legal process of adoption, I could never disinherit Roy and Nathanael. They were permanently, legally my own sons—and this new legal bond was even stronger than that of a natural parent. Natural parents can disown their children (not that many ever would), but because of the transaction that required my sons to give up their original maternal inheritance, I would not be allowed to undo my legal commitment to them What’s more, each of them received a new birth certificate naming me as their mother.
The legal process did not change anything between my sons and me; we already claimed and loved each other. Nevertheless, having the legal status of being mother and sons instead of stepmother and stepsons has solidified the foundation of our identities. We no longer have to use disclaimers: “Uh—they’re actually my stepchildren,” or “Well, she’s really my stepmom.” I am no longer a stepmother, and they are no longer stepchildren. My heritage is their heritage.
I cannot articulate how profoundly my adoption of Roy and Nathanael has affected my understanding of being God’s adopted child and heir. I had wondered why Scripture tells us we are both born of God and adopted by God. John tells us that when we believe in the Lord Jesus, we are born again, born “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:13). Paul, on the other hand, tells us that when we are born of the Spirit, we are adopted by God. He puts it this way:
“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!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…” (Rom. 8:15-17).
Now I think I understand this dual identification with God. God gives us His own self when we are born again. He indwells us; he brings our dead spirits to life with His life and makes us His own children. We share His “DNA”, in a sense; He makes us His by giving Himself to us, not figuratively but substantively.
Even more, He declares a legal transaction. Just in case there’s any doubt about the security of our identity in Him, He claims us and gives us a legal right to share His eternal and heavenly heritage. When we renounce our “right” to remain Adam’s heirs, God gives us His name, and all He has is ours. What’s more, as our adopted Father, He cannot disown us.
God claims us with a double claim: He gives our spirits birth with His own Spirit of life, and He gives us the legal right to call Him “Father”. He is no longer merely “God” to us; He has brought us into His intimate space. We are His children, not merely His creations.
To my sons I am now Mom, and they are my sons. People who don’t know our past sometimes tell us we look like each other; I believe God has given us a family resemblance—in much the same way He gives us a family resemblance to Him when He makes us alive with Himself and adopts us as His children.
On this fourth anniversary of our family’s adoption, I am praising God for redeeming the pain and the judgment that marked those early years of my being a “stepmother”. I praise God for redeeming the pain and the fracturing that marked Roy’s and Nathanael’s being stepchildren.
They are the children of my heart and my legal sons. We claim each other and share a family identity. More wonderful than our legal belonging, however, is the miracle that they, Richard, I, and now also Roy’s wife Adrienne share the family identity of our true Father.
Because of Jesus, we are all adopted into God’s family; we are His sons and daughters. Our relationships will not end. Because of Jesus, we are family for eternity.