The Stories We Tell

Worth the risk

I tell a story about a failed adoption, a story that is true, at least so far as I know. I lived it, endured it, fought hard to change it.

My story involves a teenage boy and a teenage girl, kids really, confused and broken and young, who conceived a child. It involves deceit and misdirection, abandonment, desperation. It involves a married couple, late twenties, ready to become parents. It involves a baby, of course, a little girl loved and cherished, the center of a court battle. It involves a long summer filled with many heartfelt prayers and the support of friends and family. It involves a misguided judge, a bad decision, heartbreak and loss and chaos. My story is one of sadness, of sorrow, of a broken system and a little girl who suffers for it.

I tell this story, but there are others who describe the same time period, the same events, and theirs is not a story of a failed adoption but of a successful fight for a father’s rights. Theirs is a story of a family reunited, of a baby girl returned to her biological family. They believed they were doing what was best for her, that things worked out as they should have and that justice was served.

How is this possible, that we should describe the same events in so drastically different terms?


A friend of ours is mentoring a young man who is working to turn his life around after being released from prison. He’s in the middle of a court battle, this young man, one he’s sure to win: his former girlfriend, the one who told him she had chosen abortion for the child growing inside her, the child they’d created together, lied to him. Straight-up lied, said the child was dead and gone, thrown away like so much garbage, when in fact he (she? I don’t know the details in this case) was placed for adoption. The young man is suing for custody, attempting to disrupt the placement, to maintain his right to parent his own child.

Our friend asked for prayer at a recent gathering of our small group, for wisdom and justice in this particular situation. Later, he said he felt awkward in the asking, knowing our history, knowing the way this group had prayed long and hard for our own little girl, our own attempted adoption. We weren’t there that night, on the night he shared this story; he said he was almost glad we weren’t, and I am grateful for his sensitivity. I do not know how I would have responded, had I been there.

Our friend stands with his friend, and I understand the inclination to do so, to hear the story of someone you know and to desire justice for him. If this man’s story is true, then it is unjust to keep him from his child. It is unjust that this young man should lose his right to parent because of a lie, that the girlfriend should be allowed to keep him from knowing. It is unjust, and it should not stand.

It is unjust, and yet I have been in those adoptive parents’ place, have known the joy and the love and the pain and the sorrow, and I long for some other way, some other resolution. I know the bond that forms. I have lived with the ugly knowledge that having two single parents who cannot get along is no kind of healthy situation for a child.

They have stories, too, those adoptive parents, and the birth mother, and even the little baby, caught in the middle of all this mess. They have a version of events they share with those around them, true or untrue, fair or not. They have stories, too, and I wonder what they are.


This young man, these adoptive parents, this young woman, this baby. So much ugliness. So many questions. So many stories, so many points of view, so difficult to sort the truth from the lies. And in the process of that sorting, so many potential broken hearts. So much pain, with a child at the center of it all, a child who will suffer the consequences for what the adults say and do.

Our story is different, of course. Our daughter’s biological father knew she was coming, was served papers notifying him of her pending adoption before she was born, and he did nothing. Did worse than nothing, in fact, denying paternity, spewing profanities at the courier in the process. Because of his denials, because of his lack of action before her birth, we believed (and still believe) the law was on our side.

Our story is different, but is it, really? At the core of it, it involves a young man, two adoptive parents, a young woman, a baby. What did our baby’s birth father say to his family and friends about the people trying to adopt his daughter, about the mother of his child? What stories did he tell? What was true, what was a lie? So many stories, so many points of view, so many broken hearts. So much pain, with a child at the center of it all, a child who suffered the consequences for what the adults said and did.


I have no pretty answers, no advice to give to this friend of mine who only wants to support his friend. I don’t know how to balance the different stories, how to weigh what’s best for the baby against justice, against government involvement, against parental rights, how to take my own pain out of the equation. How do you navigate such murky waters, such dangerous pathways, when sorrow will strike no matter what you do? What is right, here in this place of so much uncertainty?

What justice can be found here on earth, where we tell so many stories, where it’s impossible to sort the truth from the lies?


What justice can be found here on earth? Precious little among us human beings, broken and misguided as we are. Precious little, and there are days when I wonder whether it’s worth the effort, worth the fight, when despair seems like the only option.

And yet, I know of another story, a story woven into the very fabric of the universe, a story that somehow incorporates all our disparate stories, pulls them all together into one grand sweeping narrative. A story of justice reigning and truth being revealed, of love conquering all. Of redemption, of beauty from ashes. Of some good to be found even in the darkest situations, the deepest pain. It’s a beautiful story, this, one that sets the heart and mind ablaze, that sets the soul to singing. Counter your despair with this hope, the story cries: we are not made for earth; we are made for heaven.

It’s a beautiful story, a true one, but many days, I cannot tell it, cannot face it, for it seems so far off, so impossible. This young man, these adoptive parents, this young woman, this baby: what good can come of their pain, of the chaos of their lives? What redemption is there here? I cannot see it. The promise of ultimate justice, the hope of heaven – these things do not stave off the tears, do not erase the deep sadness in the here and now.

It’s a beautiful story, but many days, I cannot tell it. On such days, the best I can do is to whisper a prayer, to hope that maybe, someday, this one true story will so overpower and redeem and overwhelm any others in my life that it will be the only one I tell.


Today is an anniversary, of sorts: on August 20, 2013, we said goodbye to our first daughter. It is timely, then, that this post by Holly Grantham, on the slow work of grief, and this post by Addie Zierman, on the healing of our broken places, were both published today. Perhaps they will speak to you as they did to me.

Family and Parenting, Loving God

Tags: , , ,

3 Responses to The Stories We Tell

  1. Jean says:

    You don’t know me, Jenn – I’m an old acquaintance of Jonathan’s…(ask him about his experience fishing in Lake Tahoe armed with only a cut off water bottle and see if he remembers…) But I do still pray for you and him and your first daughter. (Especially for your first daughter – that she will be safe and well.) There are nights when I’m holding my son and you’ll come to mind and I do pray so hard for y’all. Thank you for sharing this hard anniversary. You are held and upheld.

    • Jenn says:

      Thank you, Jean. I can’t tell you how much your prayers mean to us.

      I’ll have to ask him about Tahoe. Sounds like a fun story. 🙂

  2. jywatkins says:

    Beautiful, complicated truth. Thanks for sharing.