It was Christmas morning, and I sat amidst the hubbub of gift opening commotion. My brother and sisters were to the right and left, excited and squealing. But not me. I was hurt.
Outwardly I was your average 10-year-old girl. But inwardly, down in the deepest recesses of my heart, I bled.
“This is proof,” my heart said. “You really aren’t loved. You really aren’t wanted.”
The same lies that were nearly constant companions overtook me as I weighed the gift-opening disappointment that had tears burning, begging my eyes for release.
Though not overly familiar with Scripture at that point in my life, looking back, Proverbs 13:12a, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” was an apt description of my posture. It would be another two decades before I could look on that childhood memory and others like it through the second portion of the Proverb, “a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (13:12b).
In the meantime, that cry of lies in my heart continued to build.
My broken place
I was a trauma child, and research now shows it is normal for trauma children to have significant trigger moments during holidays. So while childish disappointment over gifts isn’t particularly unusual, the way the disappointment completely demolished my spirit was.
For me, being on the receiving end of a pile of gifts was stressful. Gifts were a source of great fear because dashed expectations always brought the lies up from the place I worked so hard to stuff them.
I couldn’t simply smile and accept gifts that didn’t fit my personality or my likes. Instead, my thoughts raced down a rabbit trail of pity. “Bad” gifts equaled a lack of understanding, love and concern. “Bad” gifts meant the giver didn’t know or care who I was. “Bad” gifts reflected the weight I daily carried.
Until the last several years, I didn’t think the beginning of my story was significant. I grew up with my siblings in a small Kansas town. I read books. I played. I participated in athletics and music. But my original trauma, being abandoned by my biological father when I was a year old, deeply impacted my life, thoughts and decisions.
When my biological father left, there was something very primal that started growing. No matter how much I knew I should feel secure and happy, there was always a part of my brain telling me I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t understood, that I was second-rate and that if I messed up enough, eventually I’d be left again. I even doubted that I was loved and wanted. And from there, trust issues developed along with a deepening negativity.
Eventually, my biological father signed away his rights to me. I used to think, “If my own dad didn’t want me, why would anyone else?” I reacted from that broken place, believing that lie and making decisions based on it. That broken place was the reason “bad” gifts hit me so hard. It was the thought that counted, and I felt brushed to the side.
I used to look on my childhood with sadness. It’s not that there weren’t good things, but ungrounded emotions largely skewed my vision. The truth of the matter is, my story gives me a taste of something much bigger and worthy of my attention.
Seeing and accepting God’s good gift
Through a combination of help and hard work, God has brought me a long way from there. He has removed the scales on my eyes and softened my heart so I could fully see and accept his good gift. At first, though, it was a gift, like all the others, I was scared to open for fear of disappointment.
Instead, when the wrappings came off, I was left reveling in joy at the beautiful connection to my own testimony.
Several months after I turned two, my mom remarried. In that act, I gained another set of grandparents, more aunts and uncles and some additional cousins. But I also got something else.
Dad. The man who made a decision for me.
As a general rule, parents don’t choose their biological children. But in adopting me, my dad did. I was old enough to have a personality. I was old enough to display a temperament. I was old enough for him to look at me and say, “no way.” But he didn’t. He picked me. He gave me his name. He claimed me.
It took me over 30 years to fully understand and claim the enormity of my forever dad’s decision to bring me into his home, his heart and his life. In ways only God, working all things together for our good, can do, he took the most precarious, painful pieces of my story and showed me how it reveals his glory.
Earthly adoption mirrors heavenly adoption
My earthly adoption speaks volumes of the love my God has for me. My earthly adoption is a picture of my heavenly adoption—that adoption where God said, you have a personality, a temperament, a wayward tendency, but you are mine. I give you my name. I claim you.
And to that gift I say yes. I am no longer afraid to open it. I wholeheartedly choose to claim my new names, looking at my dad’s decision to take me and make me an Olson as not only a blessing but a picture with heavenly implications. I also say yes to claiming a heavenly gift: my standing as Child of God.
Physical gifts come and go. On occasion, I still struggle with holidays and gift opening, as the old triggers try to flood my mind. But God, in his great mercy, continues to call me out of what was and into something new.
My Savior continues to press his gift into my hand. And Christmas is the perfect time for me to rest in the security and promise of Christ: “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, ‘Abba, Father.’ Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir” (Galatians 4:4-7).
My biological father chose to walk out of my life. And then I chose to let that define me. But I’ve learned that I’m more than that. I am an Olson. I am an adopted heir. I am a child of God. What a glorious gift! One I will always cherish, no matter how old I get.
Malinda Just graduated from Tabor College in 2005, and along with her husband and three children resides in Hillsboro, Kansas. She writes Lipstick & Pearls, a monthly op-ed column in the Hillsboro Free Press in which she seeks to authentically pair a splash of light-hearted humor with pearls of truth, wisdom and encouragement. She has a heart for raising awareness of the effects of childhood trauma and for encouraging others to develop deep roots around Christ. A stay-at-home mom and assistant track coach, Malinda also finds time to blog at www.malindajust.com. For more, follow her writing page on Facebook, Malinda D Just – Writer.