by Ellen Foell, Heartbeat International Legal Counsel
For years, our children begged us to add a dog to the mix of our already busy family. Finally, when our twin sons were 11 years old, we relented and welcomed Gabby to our family.
When we picked her out at the animal shelter, Gabby was still a puppy—active, untrained, mischievous, and always hungry. It had only been about three weeks since we brought her home, when that puppy energy and our busy family life collided.
Before we left to spend the evening at the local zoo, I planned ahead and put a 12-quart pot of beef vegetable soup on the stove—out of harm’s reach, of course—on the back burner where Gabby couldn’t reach it. Everything was going according to plan, as we came home, ate dinner, and the boys headed upstairs to get ready for bed.
The situation went south, however, when I was interrupted from cleanup detail by two boys needing tucked into bed. Without thinking to put the soup back to its proper location on the back of the stove, I answered the summons. But no sooner had I entered their room, than the three of us heard a loud crash and an unmistakable yelp!
We arrived on the scene to see Gabby, standing in the middle of the kitchen floor, lapping up beef vegetable soup as quickly as she could. There was soup everywhere—on the cabinets, under the refrigerator—some had already spread to the living room carpet. It was a nightmare.
To make matters worse, I instinctively scolded the dog, which caused her to lie down—right into the soup. My follow-up rebuke led to the next mishap, as she stood back up and shook her entire body, flinging soup into every conceivable nook and cranny that hadn’t already been tainted by the initial spill.
Since the entire mess was really their fault (they had asked for the dog, right?), I yelled at my sons, “Go straight upstairs to bed!” Paul pitifully asked, “Mama, you aren’t going to send Gabby back, are you? I’ll help clean up the mess, Mama. Don’t send her back.” One withering look from his frustrated mother was all Paul needed to dutifully trot off to bed.
Instantly, I felt terrible.
And so, in the wake of this disaster, I found myself gingerly navigating my way through a soggy bog of soup and upstairs to my boys’ room to apologize to them, reassuring them of my love and care for them. At the same time, I had to ease their concerns about Gabby, who they now assumed was on her way back to the shelter.
I said, “Boys, you need to know that Gabby is part of our family now, and just because she does naughty things, it doesn’t mean we are going to send her back. Things don’t work that way when you’re a family.”
As I soon found out, I was totally unprepared for my sons’ reactions. Sam reminded me that I’d signed a contract with the animal shelter, so of course I wouldn’t take Gabby back. True enough, I supposed. But Paul nearly broke my heart when he piggy-backed on Sam’s appeal:
“Yeah, just like you signed a contract with the adoption agency in Thailand that promised you would take care of us and keep us even when we do naughty things.”
In that moment, I was struck with just how sad and pathetic it would be if all that held us together was some kind of paper-and-ink contract, signed many years before.
Still trying to take all this in, I answered, “Boys, a contract is not what makes us a family. Love makes us a family—God’s love, and the fact that God has chosen us for one another.”
In that moment, I wanted to convey a sense of security, a sense of belonging, a sense of family—even a sense of uniqueness in having been chosen and adopted that far out-weighs any sin, imperfection or mistake. My family is not my family because of paperwork, contractual agreement or any other impersonal force. My family is my family because we love each other.
And isn't that what our Heavenly Father has been trying to teach us all along? His acceptance of us, His children by faith in Christ, is based on His love, and His love alone. Just like my love for my children, God’s choice of us is no mere contract, or impersonal set of paperwork. It’s deep, personal, and real—even to the point where “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
By taking on flesh and dwelling with us—and by dying in our place and defeating death for us—Jesus identifies with us in such a deep, personal way that Hebrews 2:11 says, “He is not ashamed to call us brothers.” In other words, we’re family, and since we are, we have no need to appeal to contracts, paperwork, or performance.
Our status as God’s family, His sons and daughters, is infinitely secure because it’s based on the love of the God who always makes good on His promises. This faithful God is the God who is eternal, infinite, all-powerful, and extravagantly near.
Each one of our children—three adopted and one birth child—was placed into our family by God Himself, and we are constantly affirming each one with the words, “You are ours. God has chosen you for us and us for you.”
In the same way, I hear my Heavenly Father say, “You are mine. Nothing changes that. I have chosen you. You have been adopted as my daughter, and I love you.
“Even when you spill the soup.”