“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb…. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed” (Psalm 139: 13-16 NIV).
When I first laid eyes on these verses, I was dumbfounded. I read them again and again. Children who are abused or abandoned feel unwanted and deeply rejected, born into a circumstance of burden. I felt God’s truth rolling over my wounds, a healing that comes with a certain amount of pain. These words spoke of purpose and a God who wanted me from the very beginning. God had intentionally created me, and his eyes were on me before I was ever born. But if his eyes were on me from the beginning, there was a childhood that had to be reckoned with.
I went to elementary school in Markham, Illinois. White people were in the minority, and though there were many different nationalities there, I was never sure where I fit in. I remember being in third grade and watching a small group of students on the playground standing around and calling each other names. They were older than I was and used ugly, racist words that I didn’t like. One of them caught me staring.
“What are you staring at? You don’t even know what you are. You’re nothing but a mixed breed. A mutt!” he spat the words out and leaned in toward me.
I narrowed my eyes, stiffened my scrawny arms, and stomped away angrily. He was right. I had no idea what I was. My skin was yellowish-brown. My eyes were almost black, but they weren’t slanted up or down. My hair was dark-brown and stringy. I was adopted at birth by a Japanese woman and a white man into a household governed by fear and control and wallpapered in mental illness. There was never any room for questions.
My Adoption Story
Mrs. Wulf was full-blooded Japanese, and she resented us because we hadn’t come from her body. She came from a wealthy family who had lost everything in the War. Promised to a cousin in an arranged marriage, she escaped that fate by coming to the states with Mr. Wulf, who was fresh out of the Army. He couldn’t produce children, but because neither of them could speak the other’s language, they didn’t discover this problem until later.
After years of being childless, which was shameful in her culture, Mrs. Wulf agreed to adopt. They brought Linda home when she was less than a year old, a half-Korean and half-American baby. Three years later, I came into the household as a newborn: half-Chinese and half-Italian. Our adoptive parents knew our nationalities from the beginning, but they kept this information from us. Growing up unwanted in an adoptive home and knowing I wasn’t fully American—but knowing little else—left me feeling a bit lost. A mutt. A loose end.
As I grew older, I began to realize that what happened inside our house wasn’t normal. I started rebelling and threatening to tell, which led to my being booted out at age thirteen. To some this may seem scary, but to me—it was freedom. Freedom from the physical and verbal blows, freedom from trying to earn love, and freedom from a war I wasn’t equipped for and didn’t understand. The darkness in their home had pressed me until I was thin and empty, and every step away from them was weighted with relief.
No government system or oversight was involved. Various families took me in along the way, and I rode that wave of grace through high school and college. Statistically, my life could look very different. I could have ended up homeless, a drug addict, or dead. Yet, when I was the most vulnerable, there was no shortage of safe havens for me. The time I spent in an unstable home environment had a beginning and an end, but finding forgiveness in the aftermath of suffering is never an open and shut case.
Into the Ring
Long after that season passed, I found myself face-to-face with the knowledge that perhaps I would never fully know why I suffered so much as a child. God is ultimately sovereign over everything that happens to us, which means he allows suffering, but he also redeems every experience. At some point in our faith journey, we find ourselves at a crossroads. A heart-stopping experience or epiphany forces us to deliberately choose to follow Christ or go the other way. In my case, this path toward Christ has meant spending numerous rounds in the ring, fighting my way through the realization that God is good even though I was adopted into an abusive home.
In between rounds, an imaginary person walks across the ring holding up a placard. Instead of a number, the placard always displays the same word, forgive—not a word that’s easily packaged and tied up with a shiny bow. Round one: my adoptive family. Round two: myself for poor choices I made and blamed on my childhood. Round three: the God who didn’t answer in the way I wanted during that deeply painful season of my life.
The Mess of Forgiveness
For most of my adult years, I was terrified to forgive. I thought forgiveness would require reconciliation. I thought forgiving would release my adoptive parents from accountability, and it would mean that I deserved what had happened to me. I cried the first time I asked God to help me forgive, because I didn’t really want to. I wanted to hang on to the anger because it felt safe. I wanted to keep using my childhood as an excuse for the unhealthy relationships I seemed drawn to. If we sit in our wounds long enough, they become who we are.
I’ve since come to realize that God can handle my anger, and he is faithful and patient. He didn’t abandon me or stop loving me when I admitted that some of my anger was directed at him. When I got serious about fighting for forgiveness and surrendering my past, he got into the ring with me. But unlike a sanctioned fight inside a boxing ring, mine goes on for endless rounds, and I may win some—but others leave me flat on my face. Forgiveness is messy and blurry and seems to run just far enough ahead of our faith to be out of reach. But in faith, we keep grasping. We keep surrendering, and we keep believing.
Thank you for going first: for your love and forgiveness that call us to follow suit. May our hearts reflect you. May the world see you. May our stories glorify you.