As I sat on the chartered bus in the parking lot outside an orphanage in Beijing, I was struck by how my life would completely change within a few short minutes. Making this moment even more poignant, I reflected on how God led me to this point. I experienced years of intense longing, tears, and pleading with God for a child. While I didn’t see God moving in those moments, sitting on the bus I saw clearly how He was sovereignly and providentially working out His perfect plan.
From the many small bumps in the road with the adoption process, to the cancer diagnosis and bone marrow transplant that put that process on hold for over a year, God had faithfully walked with me and Jenn and had led us to an orphaned boy in China. He had plans greater than we could imagine, and the magnitude of those plans brought me to tears while we sat waiting to be let into the orphanage.
Just minutes later, I was introduced to a healthy looking, nearly two-year-old little guy that from eternity past God had planned to be my son for this short earthly life. As Jenn and I tried our best to communicate with him and win him over with toys we had brought from America, he stared back blankly at us, clearly overwhelmed by all that was happening. I realize now that I may have been one of the first adult males he had ever seen.
Over the next two weeks, Jenn and I would go through all of the necessary steps to make the three of us legally a family in the eyes of both the Chinese and U.S. governments. After countless meetings and appointments this little boy became my son and I became a father.
Fatherhood has been an adventure that, at times, has felt more harrowing than the journey to China. Yet fatherhood has taught me much about my heavenly Father and my relationship to Him.
My Abba Father is Compassionate and Delights to give His Children Good Gifts
Since being married, on many Father’s and Mother’s Days my mind would drift to the story of Hannah in the Bible. I would read of her agonizing desire for a child and in my shared longing, cry with her. During those often melancholy holidays, I would focus more on the pain she felt and not on the God she was crying out to.
After adopting our son, Hannah’s story took on more meaning. Yes, I always knew that she eventually gave birth to Samuel. However, it wasn’t until God answered my own prayer that I was profoundly struck by the realization that my heavenly Father is compassionate. He saw each tear, heard each prayer, and ultimately granted my request. Like Hannah, I can now say, “For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him” (1 Sam 1:27). My heavenly Father is generous and does not withhold any good things from those who fear Him (Ps 84:11).
If experiencing the incredible gift of a son wasn’t enough to convince me of the generous and compassionate heart of our heavenly Father, becoming a father reinforced that fact. As soon as I became a father, I realized how deep in my heart I wanted only good things for my son. I wanted to shower him with gifts. I was able to relate to the rhetorical question that Jesus posed when He asked, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion” (Luke 11:11-12). And knowing of my desire to give good things to my son made me appreciate better how much our perfect heavenly Father delights in giving us good things. He is not a stingy, cold God as some would believe, but rather He joyfully and generously bestows on us blessing upon blessing.
My Abba Father’s Discipline is Perfect
Just as my desire to shower my son with gifts taught me about the generous heart of our heavenly Father, learning to train my boy and deal with his sin likewise taught me a lot about the Father’s discipline toward His children.
Upon returning home to the U. S. with our son, I learned why people call it the “Terrible Twos.” He really began flourishing in our home and began understanding us quickly. However, with his understanding and communication skills improving, he was very quick to disobey whenever what we told him something that conflicted with what he wanted to do.
As I adjusted to life as a new parent, one of the hardest challenges was learning how to deal with a rebellious and strong-willed two-year-old. The first few transitional months were stressful, and I’m ashamed to say there were times I lost my patience and had not disciplined my child with love. After one such occurrence, I sat next to his bed in tears. I began thinking about all the times I had sinned against my heavenly Father in ways so much worse than the expected rebellious behavior I was seeing our son, and yet he extended patience, grace, and forgiveness time and time again. I knew in my heart that my son was no more sinful than me; I was simply better at hiding my sinful nature.
While it’s true that God has extended me grace beyond measure, I know that He has and will continue to discipline me because He loves me (Heb 12:6). And through my deepening love for my son, I’m seeing more clearly how God’s discipline comes from an infinite love that longs to see me more like Christ. When it comes to disciplining my son, I know I will fail many times, but I pray that he would one day know with certainty that his heavenly Father’s discipline is perfect because His love is perfect.
My Abba Father Loves when His Children Reflect His Character
While wrestling with the idea of adoption, I would constantly think about how I would miss out on getting to see if my child would look or act like me. I think this feeling is natural since from creation, God intended for mankind to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28; 5:1-3). Yet, I ultimately came to realize that this was a poor reason not to accept the gracious gift of God for a child.
When we first saw that little boy at the orphanage, it didn’t seem like we had anything in common. To me, he looked like a cute kid that I was overjoyed to call my son, but I couldn’t say that I saw myself in him. Strangely though, while in China, we sent photos to friends and several people commented on how he looked just like me (mainly in his facial expressions). I scratched my head a bit, but it did make me smile.
Once we returned back home to the states and our boy began transitioning to life in our family, we saw more of his personality come out. To my surprise, there were so many times when Jenn or various friends and family members would point out that he acts a lot like me. He’s definitely drawn to music (my heart swells when he asks to listen to hymns), he can chug a cup of milk in an instant, and for some reason, he tends to like walking around with one pant leg rolled up.
Reflecting on this, I’m filled with such joy and gratitude to God that even though I may not know what it’s like to see myself physically in my son, I still get to see my son mirror many of my quirks (for better or for worse). Upon thinking about it more, I realized that while I was happy to see him mimic a lot of my behaviors and actions, I would be even more thrilled to see him grow up and have the same values that I have. It’s my heart’s prayer to see him grow to love God, to long to serve others, to work hard, and to be generous.
And here yet again, God used our son to teach me more about himself. Just as I am excited to see my son act and behave like me, my heavenly Father is even more overjoyed to see me reflect his character. From birth, I was a child of the devil, and I was a slave to sin and lawlessness just like my father. Yet, by the grace of God, I was adopted into the family of God and became a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). As a member of God’s family, He delights when I set my mind on the things above instead of the things on earth (Col 3:2). He wants me to stop the sinful acts that I committed when I was a child of the devil and instead put on the new self (Col 3:10) and be holy as He is holy (1 Pet 1:15-16).
Becoming a parent has been an answer to so many prayers, and yet it’s also been incredibly challenging and humbling. I’m confronted time and time again with how much of an imperfect parent I am, especially compared to my perfect Abba Father. And yet, it’s my prayer that just as being a father has taught me much about my heavenly Father, my son would similarly feel the love I have for him and grasp in some measure that his Abba Father loves him infinitely more.