Saturday was my birthday. I turned sixty-three. I have no qualms about sharing my age. I never thought I’d live this long. My stubbornness, denial, and rebelliousness followed a downward path long past their expiration date. God had other plans and well, here I am – blessed to be one of His kids and grateful for the love, mercy, and grace He filled my life with.
I’m not big on birthdays. They’re just another day in my book. The farm still must be tended, chores still need to be done, and life doesn’t go on hold because its’ my birthday. However, this one was different. It was truly extra special.
I awoke to a message from my birth mother wishing me a happy birthday. I never thought that day would come. I called her later in the morning. She couldn’t believe the day had come either. Tears welled up in my eyes when she told me she had prayed for sixty-three years to be able to wish happy birthday to her firstborn.
Much has transpired since our initial phone call. We speak regularly. She’s waiting for the opportunity to gather my half-brothers and sisters around to tell them about me. Such things are better done in person. Once they know about me, I’ll be taking a trip to meet her soon. I’ll also be able to share more of the details of this miraculous time in our lives…
I learn more and more about my family history every time we talk. I’m constantly amazed by the synchronicities of my birth and adopted families. A bond has developed in a very short time.
She told me that August 17th was the birthday of her favorite nephew. Through family circumstance he became more than merely a nephew. He’s also sixty-three this year. She told me she often thought that God knew the pain of giving me up for adoption and placed Michael in her life to help deal with the loss. She told me that God sees us through loss in a loving and caring way. Her child was gone and yet she was given a special relationship with a nephew born days apart from me.
I thought about that a lot this week. My parents are both gone. Dad passed in 2002; Mom in 2017. My youngest son, Jeremy, died last year. God didn’t “take them” from me. The cycle of life goes on. Yet, God placed my birth mother in my life at just the right time. I’ve been given a special, special gift.
I’ve missed Jeremy terribly over these last few weeks. It was his constant urging that led me to find my mother. I wish he were here to celebrate this joyous moment together. I don’t know what it’s like in the world he finds himself in, but I do believe he knows. I did it Jeremy. Thanks for pestering me about it…
It was a typical hot July morning last Wednesday at the farm. The heat and humidity was already oppressive and it was only nine AM. I’d just set up the pump and started the irrigation going. I drove down to the section I’d be irrigating and got out to move the hoses, muttering all the while about the sweat that had already soaked my t-shirt. It was going to be triple digits that day. “Summer’s finally here!”, I exclaimed and started down the walkway between sections. That’s when the phone rang.
Normally, I won’t answer a number from out of state and with no identification. However, my insurance is in the same area code as the one on my screen. “This is Greg. May I help you?”
“Hello. This is ******. I received your letter. I am your birth mother”. (I’ll explain the ****** in a moment.)
I had to take a second to let it sink in. “Wow. Thank you for calling me”. Words left. Her voice. I heard her voice. I heard my mother’s voice. Sixty-two years of wondering. Sixty-two years of not knowing and dreaming about where I come from stopped with those words, “I am your birth mother”.
“I want you to know I’ve often thought about you, especially in August (my birthday month). I’ve hoped and prayed you’ve had a loving family and a good life.” Her voice was sweet and soothing, chasing away the doubt I often felt about being wanted.
Tears filled my eyes. My face flushed. Emotions went wild. She cared. She thought about me. I had no idea how much it meant to me.
I regained my composure and told her how blessed I was to have been adopted by two loving parents who wanted me so desperately. They told me I was adopted, that my birth mother loved me enough to give them a wonderful son. From the earliest I can remember, they read The Chosen Baby, a popular book among adoptive parents back then, to remind me how special I was to them. I couldn’t have asked for better parents. I hoped she understood what a priceless gift she had given me.
We talked for over an hour. She told me she had looked me up on the internet. People run so many scams on older folks I can’t rightly blame her. She must’ve seen an old newspaper article which quoted my mom about my gardening experience. It turns out I inherited some of my birth mother’s DNA for gardening as well. She’s no longer to work outside due to her health and she misses it dearly.
I asked about my birth father. She confirmed what I’d figured out through DNA Detectives, the folks that started me on this journey. I suppose I have a half-sister in Southeast Texas.
I asked if her family knows about me – that a child was given up for adoption. She told me that no one has ever known except one of her sisters. The pregnancy was hushed and never spoken of again. She was sixteen, Catholic, and it was a different time. Such things were best left secret. Add her father (my grandfather) to the equation and it all makes sense. He was an alcoholic. She never wished to upset him. I understand completely. That’s for the best in an alcoholic home. Apparently, addiction and alcoholic DNA skip a generation, but that’s another story…
She raised a family of her own. I have half brothers and sisters, but time and circumstances prohibit me from contacting. If things were different…
For this reason, my birth mom shall remain nameless for now. I’m careful to omit any details that might reveal who or where she is. It’s out of respect for this sweet woman who gave me life. I tried to have no expectations when I began this search. It could have gone in directions I’d rather not go. My letter could have gone unanswered or worse, I could’ve heard “please don’t ever contact me again”. Like my friend Edgar always tells me: “Pray for the best and prepare for the worst…”. My prayers have been lovingly answered.
Now I know. I wasn’t discarded or placed for adoption because I wasn’t loved. I was given a chance at a wonderful life by sweet, probably scared, sixteen-year-old girl because that’s just how it was sixty-plus years ago.
This might not make sense in today’s culture or to someone who isn’t adopted. What does it matter if anyone knows about it? For one thing, it was a closed adoption. Neither party knew little, if anything, of each other. That’s the way the system kept it. It was 1958. There were few open adoptions in post-WWII America and even fewer in 1950s Texas. Besides, adoption agencies often painted a pretty, but blatantly false and misleading, picture of the biological parents so the baby would be more appealing to the new family.
I had a Zoom meeting getting ready to start so I had to get off the phone. I had to ask, “May I call you?”.
“Of course, please call”. Her voice cracked just a bit and I heard, “May I call you, too?”
My heart leapt out of my chest. She wants to call me! “Yes, yes, of course. Please call me anytime”.
She softly said, “I love you”.
I managed to blurt out, “I love you, too” before I hung up the phone. The tears flowed freely. “I love you, too…”
I immediately called my wife. “You’ll never guess who I talked to for the last hour. My mother.”
“Wow”. She said all she could say was wow. I get it.
I’ve had some time to think about my next steps. In fact, I’ve thought of little else. I’ve started a list of questions. I also want her to know how blessed my life is and I have her to thank for it all. After all, she put the ball in motion…
I’m adopted. I often think about my birth mother. It doesn’t diminish the love I have for my adopted parents. I couldn’t have asked for a better mom and dad (and they were my Mom and Dad). I’d just like to know where I come from. Do I have siblings? What is (or at my age, was) my mother like? Does she ever think of me? Is the profile the adoption agency gave my parents even true? A recent NPR/Think interview with Gabrielle Glaser, the author of American Baby: A Mother, A child, and the History of Adoption, casts doubt on the adoption process during the post-war Baby Boom years.
I get all stoked up to find my own birth mother every time I hear of miraculous reunions of birth families. It quickly ends up on the back burner and is soon forgotten. The desire to know about my birth mother is real but, if I’m to be honest, is also terrifying. What if she was glad to send me away? Would she even want to meet me? Would it be too traumatic for her? Am I uncovering things best left buried? The list of questions goes on and on.
I’m told by those closest to me and, most importantly, by someone who has given up a child for adoption, that not a day goes by that the child is not thought of. I’d like to think that is the case with my birth mother. Like the story that caught my eye, I’d like to think that my birth aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings have been looking for me; that I’d be welcomed with open arms. It’s a great fantasy, but reality can have a far different result. They are more likely to be somewhat apprehensive of someone claiming to be a long-lost family member. It would be for me.
The search for “bio-mom” didn’t feel right when my mom and dad were alive. They had provided me with the personality profile of my birth parents that was given to them at the time of my adoption. That should be enough. I didn’t want to cause them harm or unnecessary anxiety. That was more in my head than theirs. Several years before Mom died, she asked me why I hadn’t tried to find my birth mother. She let me know that it was perfectly fine with her. She wasn’t offended or stressed out. It would be perfectly natural to be curious. I’m good at offering excuses – adoption searches are costly financially, mentally, and time wise. Besides, I’m too busy right?
The quest became more important after my son Jeremy died last May. Jeremy was always frustrated that I wasn’t diligently searching for my birth mother. He wanted to know more of my past than I did. He loved his grandparents but never hesitated to remind me that we weren’t blood related. He wasn’t content knowing we were supposedly of Irish and Scottish descent. He wanted to know who we really were. Maybe it would answer other questions too like the addictions and depression that lived in our little family.
I’ve thought about this a lot over the last year. I joined Ancestry.com a few months back. Jeremy always reminded me how meaningless it was to look at the Joel family tree – it simply wasn’t us. So last year’s birthday present to myself was a DNA test.
It wasn’t unexpected when DNA matches began to arrive. We’re far more connected and similar to other folks than we’d like to think. We share 99.9% of our DNA with other human beings. The .1% sure seems to cause big problems for such a small percentage, but that’s another story…
I have a plethora of 3rd, 4th, 5th, and so forth cousins. You get the picture. There have only been three close family matches so far. I ventured messages to each, but I’ve never received a response. I’m not sure how to process that. It’s early in the journey so I’ll let it slide for now.
I’m finally stepping out Jeremy. Your brother and the three grandkids will keep me on task. So, this is how it begins…
It’s been busy the last few days. Spring planting is in full swing at the farm. New areas are being plowed and tilled making for a full acre expansion to Opal’s Farm. Meetings, continuing education classes, and discussion groups have filled my evening schedule. It’s all good stuff, mind you, but then the rain came…
Work is great therapy, but eventually the rain comes. It slows me down long enough for my mind to wander into places I’d rather not visit. Unfortunately, I must. It’s part of the grieving process. I only mention it because I got a text today that Jeremy’s mural at Manana Land will be taken down at the first of April. It’s to be replaced by one of Deborah Peoples, a local candidate for Mayor, to encourage folks to vote. A worthy replacement most times – getting out the vote, even in local elections, is a great endeavor – but not so much right now. I simply don’t want to let go.
Jay Wilkinson’s mural of Jeremy at Hop Fusion Brewery is the one I spend the most time visiting. Jay was Jeremy’s long-time friend and art partner. It means more to me a Jay wasted no time in getting the mural done. It was an incredible effort by someone who knew Jeremy well and painted as such. Still, I drive by the one at Manana Land on the way home some days and wave hello to my son. I won’t be able to do that much longer.
I didn’t want to hear that right now. I’ve been a ball of feelings the last couple of weeks. I’m not even sure how to label them as they change so rapidly. Grief is like that. I’d love to define them and to put them into words, but everything seems to fall short – shallow and meaningless.
The other day I was out at the farm. Roman, our Volunteer Coordinator was out there with me. He tilled one last row before he headed on to other obligations. I stayed behind to seed the newly turned soil. About halfway down the row I saw a toad that had been hit on the shoulder (do frogs have shoulders?) and was bleeding. I took him to the side of the bed and put him in a cool shady spot to rest. When it occurred to me that it might be a fatal wound I began to sob uncontrollably – over a dying toad.
It seemed like it the weeping would never end. What was wrong with me? “It’s a damn frog Greg! Get over it. It’s part of farming, right? He didn’t mean to hurt it. It was an accident.”
I don’t when it happened but suddenly, I realized that the tears weren’t only for some old frog. They were for my son. They were for the folks in line at the food bank up the street. They were for all the broken people in a broken world that no one sees nor tries to help.
They were for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for Armaud Aubery, for Tamir Rice, and the list goes on and on and on.
They were for the 500,000 plus people that have died from COVID and the over 81,000 people that died from overdoses in the wear prior to May 2020. The tears were over the families of those lost – the fathers and mothers that lie awake at night, tears rolling down their cheeks, asking God why – why their child, their parent, their brother, or sister.
They were for Sandy Hook, for Columbine, for Parkland and all the schools, places of worship, or public spaces where mass shootings have taken so many.
All of that because of a bleeding Texas Toad…
Sometimes I simply need to let go, to cry it out, and even question the God, the Abba, who loves me more than I can possibly imagine. Why’d you let it get this way? Why, why, why? “My God, why have you forsaken us?
My sobbing eased and the tears began to slow. I slowly gathered myself together and resumed planting. The smell of freshly turned soil filled the air around me. The sun felt a little brighter and warmer. I remembered the days Jeremy came out and worked with me. God, I miss that, but at least I have that memory. My grandkids will soon be out here more when school is out and I get to see Jeremy in them.
My sadness and anger had passed. God didn’t make or let any of this happen. We did. Perhaps that’s where the anger comes from. I’m not doubting God as much as I’m doubting myself and doubting people. People let us all down at some point. That’s what all humans do. No one’s perfect, right?
Then I remember all the people I’ve met along the way that work diligently, often with little or no reward, to make our community a better place. I have faith God will set all things right one day. I dream of the promised “new heaven and new Earth”, but what’s my part today? God can create universes. I’m sure He could straighten this earthly mess out right away, but He invites me to be a part of the solution. He reminds me that we can do this so just do it…
“We must use our lives to make the world a better place to live, not just to acquire things. That is what we are put on the earth for. Solitude with God repairs the damage done by the fret and noise and clamour of the world.”
– Dolores Huerta
I looked back on saw that everything had been planted before the forecasted rain for the next day. I felt strong, no longer defeated, and hopeful. My tears washed away the frustration and grief that had been building up inside. Now I had a little more clarity. Vision returned. All of this because of an old toad…
I walked back to where I had laid the toad. He wasn’t there but I could see a place where he’d burrowed into the planting bed. Maybe it wasn’t a fatal wound after all. He may end up scarred like me, but we’d both be out there doing out part at the farm. That’s all we can do…
“It’s frigging cold!” I used to laugh it at my neighbors who complained about the cold in in Texas. We’ve had above-average temperatures this year. Fifty degrees is not cold folks. Today? “It’s frigging cold!”
We’ve haven’t gotten above freezing for the last couple of weeks. The high temperatures are only projected to drop for the next few days. The forecast calls for a possible three inches of snow over the weekend and more later in the week. Much of the country is in the deep freeze so we’re not alone. It just doesn’t happen here often, so this is a major “weather event” for us. There was a 133 car pile-up on I-35 yesterday with six fatalities and 80-plus people sent to the hospital…
Opal’s Farm has come to a bit of a stopping point in our late winter planting because of the weather. It didn’t stop the Tarrant Regional Water District though. The started on the infrastructure for our new pump and irrigation this week and are almost finished. I’ve been doing the “Happy Dance” all week. TRWD is so good to Opal’s Farm. The best way I know to show them gratitude is to grow lots of food for our neighbors. TRWD has always believed in Opal’s Farm’s mission and their support has been invaluable.
Please keep us in your prayers as we go through this week and freezing temperatures. We planted all our onions (around 6,000 of them!) in the week before we knew about this coming in. Onions are hearty plants but so many freezing days in a row will inevitably hurt some of them.
I was once asked what our “Plan B” was in the event of a flood or other disaster. It’s simple – we replant! The farm is a great example of what to do in life – replant. Life throws out some hard lessons. Sometimes you just have to replant and go on from there…
I know this has been a tough year on everyone. If you are able, please consider a donation to Opal’s Farm today. You can donate securely at www.unityunlimited.org/opalsfarm.