I’m sure many of you weren’t expecting to see the word fostering staring back you on the screen. There was a time I didn’t expect to hear that word, either.
Let me tell you the story.
I remember the odd, eclectic pastor speaking from the stage. No bow tie. No combed, slicked-back hair. No hair at all, actually. Just honest thoughts from an ordinary, city-dwelling man.
It was years ago but I can still see and hear it like it happened yesterday.
With a rough-around-the-edges personality and a beard (and a joy) that just wouldn’t quit, he was like a thin, urban, theologically-educated Santa.
I remember his words more than I can remember any other word from that pulpit in all of 2013. He said something piercing and beautiful and unexpected.
It changed me all the way through.
“When God chose to adopt us as his own, we weren’t his back-up plan.”
I squirmed a bit in my seat and whispered to Cole, “What does he mean we weren’t God’s back up plan?”
Cole, true to his type-A nature (and unfamiliar with my church antics since we were still newlyweds), glared at me with wide green eyes that said you think you’re whispering, Ash, but you’re not.
I looked around. Other eyes of many different colors glaring. Point taken.
I covertly scribbled the question down and pointed to it, hoping Cole would communicate through writing instead of speech. My efforts were in vain. Cole wasn’t budging. He was listening quietly and intently, as internal processors (that I seriously envy) do. Thankfully for me, the strange man kept going.
“Ephesians 1:4-5 tells us that God desired to bring us into his family from the beginning of time. That was always the plan. You, me, all of us. We were God’s plan A.“
Wow. I had never thought of that before. God’s plan A was to adopt me as his own?
“And how can we treat the orphans of the world, the orphans that sit right here in our city, and act like they are our backup plan? Why do we treat orphans and natural born children differently? Doesn’t that show that we don’t understand the Gospel at all?”
He rearranged his notes and then said it one more time, letting it sink in.
“How can we say we’ve been personally changed by the adoptive love of God, that we truly believe Ephesians 1, and then ignore orphans the way we do?”
I’ll never forget that moment. That was the moment it all came to me, a flooded mess of consciousness and Bible verses I had never linked together before.
See, I say I believe the Gospel—God showering on us the exact same status and love he gives to his very own Son. I mean that’s amazing, right? All the inheritance, favor, status, love that is bestowed on the Son is bestowed on you and me when we come to Him. And at no cost to us!
No proving ourselves. No making a case for why we deserve it. No laying out all our qualifications or reasons we’re worth loving.
God set his love on us before we were even born. He chose to love us before we could prove or disprove a thing. He looked at our future life coming down the line of history—before we even loved him or hated him or mocked him or considered him irrelevant—and chose to offer us the unmeasurable, empowering favor and love he offers his own son.
I remembered it in that moment:
The Gospel is God giving us everything he gives his own son, even though we don’t deserve it.
That was God’s Plan A from the very start.
And then the aha-moment happened.
That’s what we’re supposed to do with others. Everyone loves their natural born children—the ones who have “belonged,” so to speak, since the beginning.
But to be like God, we are not only to love “our own,” but love the orphan, the ones outside our family unit, to the very same measure we love our own flesh and blood.
We’re supposed to draw them in, regardless of their past or their shortcomings or their “disqualifications.”
Because that’s the way God loves people. That’s the way God loved me.
God offers me the very same things he offered his true son who “belonged” from the start. He didn’t disqualify me because I was outside the family unit.
It was clear: if God had only “stuck to his own” when it comes to family, I would have never had the chance to know him.
I teared up a little as we headed to our car.
Cole fumbled with his keys and said, “I know that message was for everyone in the room, but Ashley, that man was talking to us.”
All I could muster up was, “I know.”
God, in only the way he can, pressed in. He prompted and prodded at a strange idea, unearthing it in all its glory and intimidating implications. It felt…uncomfortably different. Paradigm changing. Rash, even.
It was something risky. Something I had never seen or heard about before. This idea; I didn’t have a category for it. Something that would raise a lot of eyebrows and bring an onslaught of questions and potential judgments.
I took a few breaths and said the thing I knew I had to say, regardless of the fear lodged in the bottom of my throat.
“I know we are supposed to love the orphan. We’ve both talked about our interest in adoption since we started dating….but I also think something else.”
“And what’s that?” Cole asked.
I gathered all my gumption and finally just said it.
“I think we’re supposed to love the orphan before we try for a natural-born child, if we ever decide we want one of those.”
Cole’s eyes flickered bright, but his eyebrows furrowed in disbelief.
“Um. I was just thinking the exact same thing. How can that be?“
I let out a deep sigh and looked up.
“I have an idea.” I wiped my eyes and then looked in the car mirror to make sure black goo hadn’t run down my cheeks. Not as bad as I imagined.
Cole’s blazing optimism made a perfectly timed appearance. “Well, we know God’s plans are always good, right?”
As did my realism/pessimism. “Yes, his plans are always perfectly good.” I darted my eyes upward ruefully. “They just always seem to be so perfectly troublesome to mine, yes?”
Knowing I was talking to God, Cole chimed in as he backed the car out of the parking lot.
“Don’t let her forget it’s the best sort of troublesome.”
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