Hope for an Adopted Sister — part 9

In 1949, when my mother was 18, she had a child out of wedlock. That was a big deal back then so the stress from that may have been what caused her schizophrenia to kick in. My mother’s eldest sister took care of the baby for a couple years while my mother was receiving psychiatric help but, eventually, child welfare took Bonnie away. They may have taken Bonnie from her mother’s presence but they did not remove her from her mother’s heart. My mother was thinking about Bonnie throughout the years. She talked about her as if she were just next door playing with friends. We even had this picture of Bonnie to look at all of our lives:

In the meantime, Bonnie went through a few foster homes before she was finally adopted. She says that one of those homes “sent me back to the social worker complaining that I looked Japanese because of my eyes. Many Finns have eyes like mine.” At the time, however, Bonnie did not know she was Finnish.

I asked Bonnie to share her story and this is what she wrote:

“Despite having loving, God-fearing adoptive parents, I felt I had no one that understood my hurt, anger, and longing to go back to the people I missed. People thought I was ungrateful, aloof and difficult. My adoptive mom cried a lot at first and her friends told her to send me back. But she refused to do what others had done. I remember clearly, one evening at dinner when I was a teenager, the thought struck me that ‘this is my family now. I’m not going anywhere else!’ Why it took years to figure that out I’ll never know. Despite the lack of bonding and complete difference in temperaments, my parents did make me feel physically safe and loved. I had come to believe that if I didn’t find my birth family and foster families again, I would see them in heaven. This thought consoled me and relieved some of the grief I felt.

If my birth mother hadn’t had me baptized, I might never have found my birth family. That’s how I found her maiden name and my identity. At long last my first six years of life were acceptable to talk about and the people I constantly dreamed about really existed! I was not the unruly, difficult ‘orphan’ anymore. I was just a good ol’ feisty Finn!

I was 18 when I discovered my heritage but it wasn’t until the age of 44 and the encouragement of my pastor and my husband that I actually felt comfortable enough to reach out to my birth family. I decided to look up those with my mother’s maiden name in my birth town and my first call ended up being her brother. This put me on the path to find the people I remembered so fondly, and the ‘new’ family I would get to know. My uncle gave me the phone number of my sister down in the cities. And, before I could call her, my grandmother called me with the announcement ‘I’m your grandma and I don’t want to lose you again!’ Then, with my husband by my side, I called my sister and a whole new wonderful world opened up to me.”

I remember the day Bonnie called me in 1994. When I answered the phone, she started the conversation by saying “you may not know me but my name is Bonnie.” As soon as she said that, I some how knew she was the only Bonnie in the world that would ever call me. I responded with “Bonnie! We’ve been waiting for you to call!” Needless to say, she was overwhelmed not only to find out that she had two sisters and a brother, but that we were waiting for her. She told me how she had found us and I carefully told her about her mother hoping that she would understand her mother’s mental condition. We both recognized God’s preparation for this situation. Bonnie was working at a psychiatric hospital with chronic schizophrenic patients so she knew what to expect.

At times, my mother would nonchalantly say she saw Bonnie in the neighborhood or down the road waiting for the school bus. She was still saying this when I was an adult so I don’t think Bonnie grew up very fast in my mother’s mind. Therefore, when it came time to tell her about Bonnie, I was a little worried about how she would react. As Bonnie and I were planning how we would approach mother with the news, our grandmother was so excited that she called her and told her before we could. After all the worrying, my mother took the news, again, as if Bonnie had just been visiting the neighbors. Bonnie made arrangements to meet OUR mother and the rest of the family arrived right afterwards for the reunion. This is the photo from that day and mom’s smile (far right) says it all! Bonnie is third from the left in back.

I smile as I write this because I realize healing can eventually come out of a broken home. These are Bonnie’s closing words: “God understood that I was grateful for a safe and loving home, and then He gave me another gift. He gave me back those 6-1/2 years that I was missing: A new family and a sense of belonging.”

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Hope for a Young Child’s Future – part 1

When people hear my story, they ask how I made it to this point in my life. Circumstances dictate that I should be living on the streets doing who knows what. Many think I am strong. But I say it is not me. I am as weak as the next person. As I was learning to adapt and survive in an environment of neglect, and physical and sexual abuse, God was working in the lives and circumstances around me (John 5:17). He was my ultimate father, protector and provider.

Even though my mother and father were alcoholics, God still provided my father with enough sense to know that he needed to buy food and pay the rent so we didn’t end up on the streets. Yes, for years I was terrified because we had to share a bathroom with the strangers next door and because rats would run across the room when you turned on the lights, but as a child growing up in a poor inner-city neighborhood, you just accept that as normal.

Even though my mother was schizophrenic, she knew enough to leave her chair in the corner of the living room once in a while to cook balanced meals for me, my sister, and brother. Granted, they never threw us a birthday party and my hand-me-down clothes were out of style, but my parents made sure we were fed, clothed, warm, and physically safe — to a point.

I have forgiven my parents for their neglect because I know that they were sick and, considering the circumstances, I am thankful that none of the physical abuse came from their hands. It is alarming to know, however, what awful things children can do to one another. Although the abuses were not my fault, I was a target because I did not have adults in my life to tell me that I could say no to inappropriate behavior or that someone would be there to protect me from the boy across the street with the hammer.

As you can imagine, because of their addiction and my mother’s mental illness, I never knew the warmth and smells that most people experience from the embrace of a parent’s hug and never knew the security and joy that comes from the tender sound of a parent saying “I love you.”

So, back to the question, how did I make it to this point in my life? Experts will tell you that a child cannot survive without love. Well, He who is love (1 John 4:16) was drawing me to Himself (Romans 8:30) and showed me love through teachers, people in the church, and the one time I can remember being comforted in my grandmother’s arms.

As Paul goes on to say in the rest of Romans, chapter 8, nothing can separate me from the love of God. This was the hope I would need to rely on through my childhood and teenage years. That is where I will begin next time.

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