Who doesn’t love a good, old-fashioned fairy tale?
I certainly do – but I also love it when a traditional ending is given a twist. Whether Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes or Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, I’m a sucker for a twist in the tale, an unexpected outcome, a stereotype tipped on its head.
My adult life started as a bit of a fairytale. I met my husband at university, we got married, enjoyed a few years of childless bliss, then had a boy, followed by a girl. Sugary sweet, eh? Gosh, even I’m feeling nauseous. But then, just like a master storyteller, God intervened in our family’s tale, and our ‘expected ending’ changed direction.
God, of course, is the ultimate twister-of-the-tale. Just when you think Isaac is about to be slaughtered, Joseph will never be seen again, Ruth has destined herself for a life of single, childless widowhood, and Peter is about to be demoted for his cowardice, God intervenes and turns the story round.
In a much less dramatic (but still miraculous) way, He took our family life and began driving it down a different path.
When people ask me, ‘Did you always want to adopt?’ I reply, ‘No, the very thought scared me rigid’. When we were successful in conceiving our birth children, I breathed an inward sigh of relief. Great, now I can avoid any talk of adoption.
Don’t get me wrong. I thought adoption was brilliant and was in awe of anyone who’d done it, but I couldn’t imagine a world where we would be able to do such a thing, let alone mix birth and adopted children. That just seemed crazy.
But God started to tug at my heart strings in the early months of our daughter’s life. During long night feeds, I discovered the blog of an old friend who’d adopted a little boy. I started to become excited – jealous, even – every time I read her adoption posts, as if there was nothing I longed for more than to hold my own adopted child.
I’ve met Christians who say ‘I will never adopt’, and I wonder what place God has in their lives. Is He in control, or is He merely a consultant? Someone whose advice you can take or leave? Because the God I meet in the Bible demands my soul, my life, my all (as the hymn goes*).
Are we willing to allow Him to change our minds and our hearts? He changed mine. I was fearful – but perfect loves drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Whenever God challenged me on adoption, I would blurt out, ‘But I can’t do it, I don’t have that much love’, to which the answer came frustratingly clearly: ‘But I do. And I will give you all the love you need.’ He was driving away my fear with His love.
Four years on from those middle-of-the-night challenges, our beautiful boys came home to us, and this is what I learnt about the love God gives us for our kids: it doesn’t stem from pregnancy, labour or breastfeeding.
Sometimes I look at my seven-year-old son and think back to the big red baby I held in my arms after my first labour. When my five-year-old daughter is bossing her brothers around, I have flashbacks to the screaming missile baby who flew out of me five years ago.
But when I look at my twin boys, I don’t tend to think of their entry into this world – not that I don’t ever think of this, the bits I know, of course I do. But that part of their existence belongs to someone else, and I would never take it from her.
No, I think of the day we met them, how one of them commando-shuffled through to the hall of his foster home to see who was at the door (is it the postman? or my new parents?). How the other was content to sit and play and wait for us to come and join in. How they both belly-laughed when their new dad put a toy on his head and made it fall off.
I think of them then, and I see them now, and I feel equally proud of how far they’ve come, how confidently they walk and run, talk and listen, sing and dance. I didn’t carry them, birth them or breastfeed them. It doesn’t matter. It actually doesn’t matter.
If not from pregnancy, labour or breastfeeding, then where?
I know it hasn’t come from me. I’m weak and powerless, and my own ability to love is flawed and self-centred. No – this love has come from the One who created love and is love, the One whose own beautiful love story centres around adoption, the only One whose love is entirely and unreservedly self-sacrificing, and drives out fear.
When we commit our lives to Christ, we’re handing book and pen to God to continue the story. This is so good because, left to our own devices, we’d plan a Cinderella ending which is comforting and safe – but hardly exciting. God has so much more for us than that!
Proverbs 3:5-6 has always been significant in our marriage: ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.’ It seems so simple, but it’s true. God will never leave us. He won’t make life easy, but He’ll make the path straight. He’ll lead us – if we let Him.
It may have been comforting when Cinderella married her prince, but it was breathtakingly exciting when she rejected his wealth in order to marry a humble, kind jam-maker!**
When God writes the story of your life the twists can be breathtakingly beautiful, rip-roaringly exciting, overflowingly joyful – and can point the world to the brightness of His glory.
Because – who knew? God is even better at twists than Roald Dahl.
* “When I survey the wondrous cross” (Isaac Watts)
** This story appears in Revolting Rhymes (Roald Dahl). Highly recommended!