It was a perfect December sunset in the Texas Hill Country. Under trees and a sky with stars beginning to appear, friends were getting married. The ceremony felt like a reunion, and the reception was a time of warm introductions and catching up on life.
We were all there – my husband and me at one table, and my son and his beautiful wife at the next.
“Wait, I know you,” a stranger said as her eyes gleamed a familiar approval. “You’re Ian’s mom.” I smiled and peeked back at Ian and Gina, and then looked at her with a smile. “I am indeed.” It doesn’t take much to look at the two of us and know we’re related. It’s in our eyes and the way our face scrunches just-so when we laugh. It’s in the way we gesture when we tell a story. Nature and nurture are strong in us.
She then said something that brought me to tears. “I could have guessed it. He looks just like his dad,” motioning to Brad as she spoke.
Brad and I looked at each other. My friend, Teri, leaned in and hugged me. She knew what was going through my mind, knew that my heart was overwhelmed by the moment. Her husband, Del, whispered, “It happens to us sometimes too. Pretty amazing, huh?”
The stranger didn’t know. Family and close friends do – and those who have heard Ian include his testimony in sermons – but I realize I’ve rarely written about the story of how we came to be. And what we are is beautiful.
I have to admit, I forget sometimes that we three are not all linked by DNA. But we’re not. We’re connected by something far more powerful. We are family through the power of adoption.
Ian had just celebrated his first birthday when I traveled five hours to tell my parents about the difficulties in my marriage and in our home. Divorce had taken its toll on other members of my family, and I wanted so much to be the one who had “happily ever after” on the pages of her scrapbook. But pain has a way of shredding those pages, and after three years of a relationship marked by struggle and fear, I fled. My mom said she felt something was wrong because I had faded into a shadow of who she knew, and she had become afraid she’d get a call saying I had been institutionalized. As a pastor’s wife, I knew the repercussions of my decision would be difficult – but an angel of a friend helped pack our meager belongings into her Plymouth Arrow, stood between her car and his as he returned from Sunday church services to find us leaving, and delivered us safely to my family’s home.
Three years later, parental rights were relinquished, Ian’s last name was changed to mine, and we moved to the Lone Star State as the duo known simply as “me ‘n Ian.”
Relationships ebbed and flowed over the years like murky water on Texas beaches, and there were fleeting moments I thought marriage might once again be a reality. I even remember standing near the hospital bedside of one suitor’s mom as, trembling, she held my hand and said she had been praying I would come along to marry her son – followed by the visceral quake as my fearful knees fought to keep me upright. It felt like a scene from “While You Were Sleeping.” I smiled and squeezed her hand, knowing I wasn’t the answer to that prayer.
I broke up with him, and swore I wouldn’t date again unless God literally dropped someone in front of me.
I didn’t realize it then, but the “someone” was standing by me as we taught children together at church. He was the straight man – the one with the “what do you think Jesus wants you to learn from this?” questions. And I was the crazy drama lady with costumes and voices and always awkward moments. A year after working together, he asked me out for coffee as we stood in the church parking lot. I told him I was too busy. An hour and a half later, we were still standing in the parking lot, talking. We said our “goodbyes” – and three days later had coffee on our first date.
On our second date, savoring a great evening at a local Italian joint where the owner gives kisses and the waiters know everyone by name, I asked Brad if he wanted to be a dad. “I do. I can’t wait to have kids,” he responded. “Then I wish you the best, and pray you find the most amazing woman,” I said. I was a single mom of a son in middle school, and I was unable to have any more children. Over penne pasta and wine, I said “goodbye.”
And he said, “Not so fast. I said I wanted to be a dad. I didn’t say the kids had to be biological.”
A year later, we were married. And Brad set out to give Ian his name. At 14, Ian got to watch the entire adoption process take place. Though I had sole custody, there were background checks and home studies and interviews. Brad’s past was picked through in detail, and even Ian was asked if he wanted a father – and if that father could be Brad. As his biological parent, I could spend a few hundred dollars and, with a court visit and the stroke of a pen, write away responsibility and legacy. But as his adoptive parent, Brad was legally bound to protect, honor, and care for Ian. Adoption became Gospel – lived out for all to see.
It would take close to a year for the adoption to be finalized, and we celebrated with a party that included family and the friends who had stood by us through it all. I can still hear Ian’s voice as we left the courthouse after the judge’s gavel had echoed through the chambers. “I. Rock. That’s pretty sweet.”
Brad wasn’t the only one who adopted Ian. His family embraced him too as he took his place in the lineage of Rock grandchildren. In pictures, Ian is the elder statesman in a group that even looks like him. Years ago, I was asked, “Do you see Ian’s father in him at all?” My response was an easy one. “Yes, I do. You see, God attends to the finest of details. Ian is just like Brad – a tender man with a brilliant mind who loves well and serves without limits. He is fascinated by technology, loves to grill and entertain friends, could live on the water or in the mountains, and is unafraid to adore Jesus.”
It’s been 18 years since Brad’s name was placed on Ian’s birth certificate, and still the story of who we are is being written. In a family full of brown and hazel, when asked where he gets his sparkling blue eyes, our grandson Sawyer says, “They’re just like my Poppa.”
That’s right, little man. Family is more than blood. A dad is more than DNA. And God attends to the finest of details.