Love Big Enough to Share
Gaining more through letting go. by Mary Roedema as told to Sharon M. Knudson
"I think I know who Kristin's birth mother is."
These words hurtled at me during a telephone call from my new friend, Pam. My daughter, Kristin, had become best friends with Pam's daughter, and she'd called our house asking for Kris.
My whole body started shaking, but I kept my voice calm.
"What makes you think that, Pam?" I asked, thankful to be sitting down.
Pam told me she'd suspected it for a while but hadn't said anything. She said in high school she had a girlfriend who'd become pregnant and asked to live with her. Together they found an adoption agency nearby called Bethany Christian Services. Soon after, Paula gave birth to a baby girl.
My heart pounded like crazy. I went through a mental checklist as Pam spoke:
Bethany Christian Services? Check.
Birth mother from Iowa? Check.
Baby girl? Check.
"What was the birth date?" I asked, reluctance coursing through my body.
"July 18, 1972."
I asked a few more questions for clarification, then ended the conversation as quickly as I could. As I hung up, a fear came over me. I remembered the five-and-a-half-week-old baby girl my husband and I had adopted 15 years before. She was a "peanut," weighing six-and-a-half pounds, her pink cheeks matching her little pink dress.
We'd always been honest with our three children about the fact that they'd been adopted. Still, I'd pictured a different scenario, with Kris initiating a search for her birth mother after she was married and had children of her own.
Kris bounded through the back door a few minutes later -- far too soon for me to have gathered my composure.
"Pam called while you were out, Kris," I said. "She thinks she knows who your birth mother is."
"Who?" Kris asked nonchalantly. "Is it Paula?"
Shock gripped me. I almost toppled over.
Although I hadn't been aware of it, Pam started suspecting that her daughter's best friend was actually her own best friend's child. Although she never said anything disruptive to Kris, she knew Kristin's birth date was a match and that the adoption process had taken place through Bethany. So Kris had been gently prepared for this news. I had not.
I couldn't sleep that night or the next. My heart's floodgates opened wide, and I ached with loss equal to that of my mother's death. I cried and could not stop. Was I going to lose my relationship with Kris? Would she adore her birth mother, abandoning me and our family?
I kept thinking about Kris and Paula. Wouldn't it be a dandy little foursome when you added Kris' best friend and Paula's best friend? What would that make me? A fifth wheel, at best.
"Don't cry, Mom," Kris kept saying. "You'll always be my mom."
Still, Kris was full of excitement. Could her birth mother be the best friend of her best friend's mother? What a concept for a teenage girl to comprehend!
A mother's struggle
But I was still having trouble accepting the whole thing. All these years my worst fear had been that one of my children's birth mothers would show up to retrieve her child, or at least try to win his or her affection and spoil our family life.
That week I phoned Bethany to verify our information.
Yes, they said, Paula is Kristin's birth mother.
Bethany contacted Paula, who had since married and settled in Texas, to let her know that her birth daughter wished to meet her. They suggested a plan where Kris and Paula could write letters through Bethany using just their first names. Meanwhile, Pam kept her friend's confidence and told Kris only what she thought she could handle.
Stop the clock! I kept shouting inside. Lord, you know I need time. This is happening too fast!
Kris received her first letter from Paula a few weeks later. She showed me several photos Paula had sent. We poured over them, looking for resemblances, and found them. These were Kris' blood relatives!
Kris started calling Paula, talking and laughing for hours with the excitement of new friends enthralled with each other. My worst fears were coming true: I was losing my daughter!
"You have to let her go," my husband, Bill, advised me.
"You have to let her go," echoed the counselors at Bethany.
But my loss would be too great; I drowned in grief just pondering it. I kept thinking about Kristin and Paula, Kristin and Pam, Kristin and me. I wondered if it would ever be Kristin and me again.
Message from God
To ease my suffering, I memorized Psalm 91:1, 2: "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust'" (NIV).
The message in that psalm corresponded to Elizabeth Elliott's book Shadow of the Almighty, which I read on our Colorado camping trip with the two younger kids the following June. A clip from one of Jim Elliott's letters says, "We are called to sacrifice family ties. Nothing else will do."
I knew God was talking to me through those words and that I would have to be obedient in releasing my ties to Kristin. I quietly wept into the night.
I awoke early the next morning to bright sunshine and a clear mountain view. I decided I had to obey and let go.
"OK, God," I said. "I'll do it. I'll let Kristin go even if it means she never comes back to me."
God immediately infused me with incredible peace. I couldn't believe the change. It was as if God was comforting and preparing me for whatever would happen next in these complicated relationships.
On our way home, I wrote a lengthy letter to Paula describing the highlights of Kristin's growing-up years. I wanted to fill her in on all the things she didn't know. Paula was no longer someone to be feared; she was my friend. God had completely transformed me during that experience in the mountains.
Plans were made for all of us to meet a few weeks later. Paula would stay at Pam's house, and at an appointed time, she and Kris would meet face-to-face at Bethany.
In the meantime, Paula requested a telephone conversation with me. She asked to know more about Kris, and we talked for an hour. We laughed and genuinely enjoyed each other. It was wonderful.
The big day finally arrived, and Kris was so excited. She told me she wanted to go to the agency alone.
"I'm leaving now, Mom," she said, grabbing the photo album I'd made for her and heading out the door.
How precious to be called Mom by this beautiful teen. Will she still call me that after meeting her birth mother?
Waiting and wondering
Hours went by. I watched the clock. . . . I wondered. . . .
I was already in bed, but not asleep, when Kristin came home that night. She crept into my room and, finding me awake, told me what had happened. She and Paula had both been nervous and couldn't think of a lot to say at first. The two had hugged, then kept staring at each other, noticing their common features. While their hair color was similar, their eyes were identical. Wow! They were too distracted looking at each other to page through the photo albums they'd brought. Then they'd spent the day together -- a wonderful but exhausting day.
The next morning, plans were made for our family to meet Paula. Seeing her in person at last, I smiled, and we walked into each other's arms. I was amazed to notice I wasn't troubled. My husband took photos of the three of us -- Kristin with her two mothers.
Kris showed Paula our house and her room, and then "the foursome" headed for the beach: Kris and her best friend, Paula and her best friend. I had worried about this -- about being the fifth wheel -- but now it was okay. The Lord had prepared me thoroughly.
Load of love
Over the next few months, Kristin met her extended birth family in Iowa and Texas, experiencing a wide range of emotions from exhilaration to extreme awkwardness. She loves Paula, but she loves our family, too.
I remember how I kept repeating the same two prayers to God throughout my ordeal: "Lord, give me a love big enough to share," I'd said, and "Don't let this experience be wasted. What You're doing is too amazing."
When I think about it now, I see how God worked to fill us with all the love that He is. He gave Pam enough love to take Paula in when she needed help. He gave Paula love enough to give up her baby for adoption when she couldn't provide a stable home herself. He gave Kris love enough for two moms. And He gave me love enough to share my precious daughter.