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What Christmas Means for a Child Abandoned by Her Birth Father

Kentucky is the allergy capital of the US, and I am certainly not immune to effects of pollen that blanket our state.  I try to avoid the doctor at all costs, but my nose had had enough.  I knew if I wanted to ever breathe normally again, I would have to go back to the allergist.

I sat on the examination table feeling like a grasshopper under a child’s magnifying glass while the nurse asked a dozen questions.

“Why did you come in today?”  This is the office of an allergy doctor.  Why do you think I came in?

“What all are you allergic to?”  Isn’t that what you are supposed to tell me?

“Have you experienced any considerable weight gain?”  Since when?  Yesterday?  No.  Since high school?  No comment.

“Do any of your blood relatives have heart disease?”

My stomach leaps into my throat. I look away from the nurse and choke out a lie, “No.”

Well, maybe that’s a lie.  But maybe it’s not.

Here’s the truth.

The truth is I hate that question.  The truth is I want to snap at her and say, “That’s none of your business.”  The truth is I avoid the doctor because of this question.  The truth is—I don’t know the truth. 

I don’t know if someone in my family has a history of heart disease because there is a whole half of my genetics that are a complete mystery to me.

My father walked out on my mother and me when I was only six weeks old.  He chose drugs and alcohol over his family and never looked back—well except for that time he wrote me a letter from rehab while I was still an infant that promised me he would get clean.  Promised me he would come back. Promised me he would be a real dad some day because he promised me he loved me.

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That letter might as well have been just another fairy tale mom read to me before bed because here I am nearly three decades later, and he is as real to me as talking bears who eat porridge and sleep in human beds.

Actually, no. 

He is very real.

But I’ve spent the majority of my life pretending that part of me didn’t exist.  After all, you can’t be rejected if the relationship never existed in the first place.  And so, I worked hard for years to completely block the reality of this man from my mind.

And then I go to the doctor.  Why in the world an allergy doctor needs to know about family history of heart disease is beyond me, but they inevitably ask, and I inevitably pretend I actually know the answer to that question.  Then I spend the remainder of my day going through a playlist of questions that always come up whenever genetics are mentioned.

“What if he does have a serious condition that will affect my health?  What if he is dying of a genetic disease as we speak, and I have no idea?  Will I ever see him again?  What if he just showed up on my doorstep one day?  What would I say?  Would I let him in?  Why did he leave me in the first place?  Am I not worth sticking around for?”  Deep down, I always know the answer to that last one, but I still mull over the list of things that are wrong with me for the rest of the afternoon.

Life as That Girl

Growing up, I was the only person in my group of friends who had divorced parents, and so I was especially the only one with an invisible parent.  And I felt it all the time.  Little league softball was the worst.  I swear it seemed like every single dad of a player was a coach.  Except for mine of course.  After all, it’s hard to make it to practices when you are in jail.

“Let’s take a picture of the girls with their daddies,” a mom would shout after a game, and everyone would collectively sigh and put their hands over their chests like they had just watched a little girl get a brand new puppy.  And there I would be, standing just off the field wishing I were invisible.

But I wasn’t.  And everyone knew about my past—my friends, their mothers, my teachers.  I wasn’t treated overtly different, but you could definitely see pity in their eyes when I would only reserve one audience ticket to my recital.  My friends’ moms liked me, but I was always that girl.  The girl from a broken home.  The girl without a father.18485676_10212831698926109_7777954420817742207_n

My mother never really took me to church when I was child.  Between going to school full time and working a full time job at a local factory, she was too exhausted to get us both dressed in our Sunday best and out the door before 10.  But from the moment I heard about Jesus, I knew I wanted him.  I heard my friends talking about Jesus at school, and I loved a picture Bible that I had won the summer before when my aunt took me to Vacation Bible School at her church.

So, I accepted Christ when I was eight years old alone in my bedroom.  No one prayed with me or had me repeat a prayer.  It truly was my decision to follow Christ, and I meant that prayer with all my heart. I knew Mom would be too tired to really listen that night, and so I couldn’t wait to get to school and tell my friends who I had heard talking about Jesus earlier that week.

I saw my best friend first.  I tugged her shirt and the words exploded from my heart, “I got saved last night!”

She looked at me puzzled.  “What?  How?”

“I prayed and asked God to forgive me.  I’m so excited!  I’m a Christian now, right?”

My cheeks were hurting at this point from smiling so much, but with a scowl, she simply responded, “You can’t be saved.”  And with that, she rolled her eyes and walked away.  

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There, in Mrs. Farley’s second grade classroom, my heart was shattered into a million pieces, and it has taken me years to put them all back together.

She was wrong, of course.  And deep down I knew it. But it was why she said it that hurt so badly.

No matter how well behaved I was or how much I achieved, my past would always seem to define me early in life.  I would always be the girl that your mom would say, “Well, bless her heart” about after I left the sleepover.  I was always the daughter of a struggling single mom.  And I was always the daughter of a drug addict—even though I wasn’t his daughter at all.

The Perfect Man with a Far from Perfect Family

Far too often our family history defines us.  Even if we don’t define ourselves by our past, others do.  And no matter what your past consists of, whether it be broken relationships, substance abuse, an eating disorder, a specific sin that you can’t seem to let go of, sexual abuse, a deadbeat dad, or whatever else has been written in the story of your life so far that pains you, it does not take away the beauty and brilliance of the life God created—your life.

But, it took me years not to feel deep shame about my family history.  Like 25 years to be exact.  In the middle of an obsessive compulsive episode (that I will get into another day), I was hungry for godly wisdom, and I listened to several sermons from some of my favorite Christian leaders every chance I could get (probably a compulsion now that I think about it).  Of all the sermons I listened to, there is one that truly changed my perspective on my lifetime of hurt: a Christmas sermon about Jesus’s genealogy.

You think you have the crazy aunt that you have to warn your children about before going to Thanksgiving dinner?  That’s nothing compared to Jesus’s family.  Turns out, the Savior of the world had some pretty messed up people in his family background.  Seriously.  Prostitutes, liars, murders.  You name it, they are there.

In fact, one of the earliest ancestors of Jesus—and one of the most mentioned throughout the Bible—has a shockingly dirty record.  Chances are you have heard the story of Joseph.  You know, the son Jacob loved more than his other sons and who was given an amazing coat—a technicolor dream coat you may have heard it called—as further evidence of his father’s favoritism.  The Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers, ended up in the king’s home, and then through God’s providence and power was made royalty himself.  Yeah, that Joseph.

Incredible story, right?  Clearly God watched over him and chose him for His purposes.  He’s gotta be in Jesus’s lineage!

Actually no.  He’s not.

But one of his brothers is.

Now, I’ve never grown up with a sibling, but I have watched my sons do it, and I know the crazy jealousy that can creep into that relationship at times.  Jacob obviously showed more affection for Joseph, so you can hardly blame his brothers for disliking him.  It surely didn’t help Joseph’s cause when he started telling them about dreams he had been having where the brothers were bowing down to him.  Awkward.

So Joseph’s brothers had had enough, and they decided to deal with their feelings in the worst possible way.  They made a plan to kill their little brother, Joseph.

As Joseph’s doom neared, Judah, Jacob’s fourth son, spoke up out of the goodness of his heart against the plan.  Well, he spoke up, but I can’t say it was with pure intentions.

“Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?  Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers listened to him” (Genesis 37:26-27).

In other words, Judah told his brothers that it would be better to sell their brother into slavery than to kill him because they could at least make money out of the deal and not have to carry the weight of having murdered their own brother.  I mean, I’ve heard of siblings threaten to sell their brother or sister when they are young, but this is taking it way too far.image2-1.png

And so, Joseph is not in Jesus’s family tree.  The Savior of the world came from a different line.  A different son of Jacob: Judah.

I’ll go ahead and pause while you pick your jaw up off of the floor, but I’m warning you, that’s not even the worst part of Judah’s story.

Another Layer of Disgrace for Judah

Although much of this particular storyline in Genesis will follow Joseph, the very next chapter details Judah’s life after he sold his little brother into slavery.  It may seem as if it is an unnecessary or random interruption from the story just as it is getting good, but ultimately, the entire Bible is about Jesus, and as I already told you, Jesus was a descendent of Judah—not Joseph.

So in Genesis 38, we learn that Judah further proves his rebellion from God’s law by leaving his family and his home to marry a Canaanite girl.  More than likely, this doesn’t sound that offensive to you.  It’s not odd for you to pull up Facebook and see someone you graduated high school with living in a different state now or married to someone outside of your hometown.  However, leaving your home was very significant to God’s chosen people, and marrying a Canaanite woman was even more offensive.

Okay, that’s a little harsh.  All we know about her is that she was a Canaanite woman—isn’t it a little unfair to assume she wasn’t a worthy bride?

It’s not so much her as it is her ancestors.

The Canaanites descended from a man named Canaan, who was one of Noah’s grandsons.  If you’ve gotten most of your Old Testament knowledge from children’s stories, you likely aren’t familiar with what happened after the rainbow.  Hmmm, that’s kind of catchy.  After the Rainbow.  Sounds like the perfect television drama, and Noah’s story would fit right in with networks’ current primetime lineup.  After all, it’s definitely too scandalous for children’s illustrated Bibles, and you will soon see why.

You know Noah—the obedient man who stepped out in faith and built an ark as God commanded even when it didn’t make sense at the time, gathered all of the animals two-by-two, and survived the flood that took the lives of everyone in the world besides his and his family’s.  After he returned to dry land, Genesis 9 tells us that Noah had a little too much to drink one night and fell asleep without any clothes on. 

Yes, the man who built the ark got drunk and passed out naked.

Noah’s youngest son, Ham, was the first to find him.  Instead of covering his father, he further robbed Noah of his dignity by going to get his brothers and telling them what he saw.  His brothers, Shem and Japheth, then entered Noah’s tent backward so they wouldn’t see his nakedness, and they covered him with a garment.

When Noah woke up, the Bible says Noah responded to Ham’s degradation of his father by cursing Ham’s son, Canaan:

“Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.  May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant” (Genesis 9: 25-27).
And that was the beginning of a long history of Canaanite rebellion against God and his law.  So, fast forward to Judah. 

The romantic in me wants to read that this woman was different from her ancestors—that she fell in love with Judah because of his zeal for God and then he took her as his bride and they lived happily ever after, serving God obediently together as husband and wife. 

But there is no such story.  In fact, this is all the Bible says about the start of their relationship: “And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua; and he took her and went in to her” (Genesis 18:2).  The verb “saw” here most likely means that she was a beautiful woman and that is why Judah took her as a wife. So basically, Judah had one requirement for his future wife: she had to look good.  Wow.  He’s a real winner, right?

From this marriage, Judah had three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah.  Don’t worry about writing those names down in your notes—they won’t be around long.  But you will want to write this one down: Tamar.

“And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord put him to death” (Genesis 38:6).

So God took the life of Er because he was wicked, leaving his wife, Tamar, widowed. According to Jewish custom, Judah was to then give Tamar to Onan, his second son.  Onan complied but didn’t want to have children with Tamar, so God took Onan’s life, too.

Instead of recognizing the disobedience of his own sons, Judah incorrectly attributes his sons’ peril to Tamar, and so he hesitates to marry his third son, Shelah, to her.  Judah instead sends Tamar to live with her father.  As time passes and Tamar realizes that Judah has no intention of marrying her to Shelah anytime soon, she decides to take matters into her own hands.

When Tamar heard her father-in-law was going out of town to sheer sheep, she followed.  Waiting for him by the side of the road with her face covered, Tamar looked like a prostitute.  You see where this is going.  Judah asked her to sleep with him, and she did.

image1-1.pngSo, Judah slept with his daughter-in-law, but he didn’t know it was her at the time.  No, that revelation came three months later when he heard Tamar was pregnant, and what happened next would have made the producers of Dr. Phil salivate if it had happened today.

“And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant” (Genesis 38:24b-25a).

Much to the horror and humiliation of Judah, Tamar brought out a signet, cord, and staff that Judah had given her that night three months before.

“And she said, ‘Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.’ Then Judah identified them and said, ‘She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah’” (Genesis 38:25b).

I’m telling you, if you like drama, save your money!  Don’t buy cable—just read your Bible!

The Significance of the Virgin Birth

But let’s not miss the point of the message here.  This man wanted his brother dead, then kept him alive only to profit financially, left his family, married a Canaanite woman, raised wicked sons, refused to take care of his daughter-in-law, and then later slept with his daughter-in-law because he thought she was a prostitute.

This man is an ancestor of Jesus’s mother, Mary.  A forefather of Jesus.  That means that Jesus, the One who was perfect in every way, shared this man’s DNA.  And Judah wasn’t the only other person in Jesus’s lineage that would make you blush either. 

But honestly, this shouldn’t be surprising to us.  After all, just like you and me, they all came from Adam, and based on Romans 5, the curse of sin that was put upon Adam after he ate from the tree is seemingly passed down from generation to generation through the birth father

This is why the virgin birth is so incredibly significant.  Not only does Mary’s ability to conceive a child without ever having sexual relations with a man demonstrate God’s unlimited power for the miraculous, it also explains how Jesus escaped the curse of sin.  Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit; therefore, Jesus came into existence free from the curse of Adam. Free from the sinful nature passed down through the father.

Abba Father

Well, that’s great for Him, but what does that mean for me—the girl who undeniably shares DNA with the man whose name is on my birth certificate?

For so long, I have felt doomed to become like my birth father. Half of what makes up my physical being came from him and that broken part of my past. The power of genetics is undeniable.  Just Google “twins separated at birth” and you will find numerous stories of the influence shared DNA can have on the lives of individuals. 

But the creator of the genetic code is far more powerful.image2

There is no denying that I am made up of the very genes that I am embarrassed by; however, because I believe in Christ and His resurrection and have asked him to make me more like Jesus, the Bible says He has made me “a new creation,” and that “the old has passed away,” and “the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

Don’t miss the power of this verse.  The old you—the “you” that came from brokenness and shame—doesn’t exist anymore if you are in Christ.  It is gone.  It is dead.  And what has taken its place is a new creation. Did you hear that? New. Not simply improved.  Not simply forgiven.  But completely new.  John 1 says:

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (12-13).”

So, yes. I still have my earthly genetics, but my soul—the part of me that makes me me, the part of me that will exist long after my earthly body leaves this world, the part of me that will live for an eternity in heaven with Him—has been completely reborn and is now free from the curse of sin.  And because of this rebirth, my father is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, not a broken human who neglected me years ago.

God has broken the bondage associated with my ancestors and calls me His daughter. And here is the most beautiful part of it all.  Romans 8 says:
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  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!” (v. 14-15).

image1.pngAbba Father.  The sweetest sound in Scripture for a broken daughter like me.  Abba Father is Aramaic for what we would call, “daddy.”

Daddy.  A word that signifies the unbreakable bond between a father and his child.  A word that can bring peace and comfort to a broken heart.  A word that can protect even in the most fearful times.  A word that can bring joy to the weary and strength to the broken.

A word I longed to use nearly my entire life.

“Daddy” carries a different meaning than “father” or even “dad.”  “Daddy” demonstrates a childlike need for a father, a protector.  And the Bible makes it clear that God fills that role for all of those who call upon Jesus and are reconciled to Him.

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So now, instead of being the child of a drugaddict doomed to forever carry those blemished genes I inherited at birth, I am now a new creation known as a child of the God most high. And while this realization about who I am still doesn’t help me answer the unavoidable questions about my family history while a nurse takes my blood pressure, it reminds me that the only blood that truly impacts my life now is the blood of Jesus that claimed me as a child of the God most high.

 

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