In my sermon this morning I told a story (it happens to be a true story) about a family I knew growing up. They were friends of ours from church, really good friends of my parents, maybe almost their best friends, actually. I didn't say that, though. The family had two children, a daughter and a son, both adopted. They were younger than I was, and I got to babysit them on occasion. Okay, I think I babysat them a lot. I babysat them so much that I really got to know some of the books that I read to them at bedtime.
There were a couple of books about adoption, and one line that I remember to this day, that explained adoption: "You are really special because we chose you for our daughter or son." Maybe I remember it because I was, at twelve years old, already sort of a proto-theologian. I read that book, and that line, many times.
As their daughter grew up, she became troubled. She rebelled fiercely. She experimented with drugs and alcohol. She went with a rough crowd. She ran away more than once. She ended up in jail a couple of times. For the longest time her parents didn't know what to do, and all at once it came out: She never bought the line from the book on adoption: "You are really special because we chose you for our daughter." Instead, what she had been thinking was: "My real mother didn't want me. My real mother gave me away. I must be worthless." And the voices of those thoughts drowned out the voice of love and belonging given to her.
I told this story because I wanted us to consider that our basic identity is child of God, but it's so easy to believe and even seek other things for ourselves. The popular one, the successful one, the failure, the one who dies with the most toys, the one who works the hardest.
Child of God. We are tempted to exchange this identity for a thousand glittering ones, which in the end will fail us.
As I was greeting people after church, someone took me to task, gently: You didn't tell us if the story had a happy ending, he said. He hoped there was a happy ending.
I told him that yes, the story had a happy ending, which is true, but that was all I said.
The story had a happy ending, but it took a lot of time and heartache. There was a lot of pain for this family, a lot of prayer and bearing-with, a lot of worry about what would become of them. Eventually this young woman returned to her family. She has a husband and two boys, both grown. She hasn't returned to her childhood faith, but she is doing well.
I remember sitting with her and her parents not too long ago, when we all met for the funeral of a family friend. There we all were, sitting in a row at the church: my mom and my brother and me, her mom and dad sitting with her and one of her sons.
Her mother is losing her memory now. Now they have to remind her about who she is. They have to remind her that she is beloved, that this is her name, that she is really special, that she is a child of God that she has a name. This is holy work. This is the mission of God.
This is the mission of God: To go out and remind people: You are beloved. You are children of God.