Are You Adopted? Part 2
About the Guest
Lois had been lied to for 48 years. Was it God's will that she found out the truth now? Author Lois Rabey talks about discovering the truth about her birth.
Lois RabeyLois Mowday Rabey has been writing and speaking for over fifteen years on a wide range of topics. When Your Soul Aches, her sixth book, draws from the wisdom she obtained after losing her first husband when she was 34 years old. Lois is married to writer Steve Rabey and has two married daughters and four grandchildren. She resides in Colorado.
Lois had been lied to for 48 years. Was it God’s will that she found out the truth now?
Are You Adopted? Part 2
Bob: Lois Rabey was 47 years old when she learned for the first time that she had been adopted. Her mother was already dead; her father was developing Alzheimer’s. Lois had to wonder, “Why did my mom and dad keep this information from me?” Here’s Lois.
Lois: For me, the attitude was that—when a child is adopted—you don’t tell anybody because you’re covering up this very shameful thing instead of saying, “This was a result of something that somebody chose to do—a parent, choosing to relinquish a child—may be a great act of love and not covering up shame.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, December 26th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What happens in your 40s when you learn that who you thought you were is not exactly who you are? Lois Rabey joins us today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. We’re going to hear Part Two of a story today that takes us to a unique circumstance. We’re going to hear from Lois Rabey, who was a guest on FamilyLife Today many years ago. She shared with us, Dennis, about her experience when she was in her 40s. Her mom had died; her dad was developing Alzheimer’s. As he started to lose memory, he started asking her the question. He said, “Are you adopted?” She had been an only child; but to her knowledge, her mom and dad were her mom and dad. She had never known anything differently.
Bob: And when her dad asked that question, “Are you adopted?” she said to him, “Well, no, Daddy, it’s me. It’s Lois.” He kept asking the question, and it made her wonder.
Dennis: It really set her off on a mission to try to find out if there was something behind that. As I recall, it was her uncle—
Bob: She started calling relatives. She said, “Daddy has started talking about my adoption,” which was true. That’s when the relatives, who had all apparently been sworn to secrecy, started opening up and telling her the story that, in fact, she had been adopted. She learns this for the first time in her 40s. All kinds of questions come flooding into her heart and into her mind.
Dennis: Yes; and here’s the thing—being adopted really comes with a package of a little bit of an identity crisis—of wanting to know, “Who are my biological parents? Where am I from? What were they like? Who are they genetically? Who am I?” and, “How do I mirror who they are?”
For a young person, who is a teenager—that can be an identity crisis, at a certain level—but here’s a woman—fully grown; a mother herself—who has grown up under one set of assumptions. Now, the rug is pulled out from under her. This can be a different identity crisis for someone who’s adult—who’s mature, who’s got all of life wired—and now, all of a sudden, the rug is pulled out from under you.
Bob: We’re going to hear from Lois today how she processed that news as she learned it and about the quest she went on to see what she could discover about her biological parents.
Lois: I accepted Christ when I was 13—and part of the context of accepting Christ—I was at a Bible camp. I heard the Gospel, and I accepted Christ. Part of the context was that God, to me, was a father figure who was more accepting than my human father. My dad was tough and angry. So, I didn’t compare God to him; God was the opposite for me. I’m not sure why that happened for me that way, but it did.
So, when I got this information, I think that I had been used to a lifetime of saying, “My identity of where I’m accepted is in my relationship with Christ. It’s not in my relationship with my parents.” So, it’s almost the spiritual counterpart had been active in order for me to relate okay with my adoptive parents. Had there been a little bit more positive in that, I think it would have been tougher.
I have a tougher time when I think about my mother and the fact that my mother didn’t tell me the truth. I think that not knowing the truth is the toughest thing. How could my mother—who I felt real close to, and was very sweet, and loving, and kind—never, ever have told me the truth?
Dennis: So, your struggle is not so much with the identity issue but with feelings of betrayal.
Lois: Yes, with feelings of betrayal. From the standpoint of the identity, it’s feeling like you’re a second-class citizen—a person who is somehow less-deserving. Now, part of this is because of the court system and the way things work. I had a judge say to me, on the phone—the judge answered the phone, which I’m not sure why she answered the phone. She didn’t usually, but she answered one day when I called. She said to me, very sarcastically, “The state of Delaware cannot afford to find your mother.” The connotation is that, “There’s a bad seed, and you’re part of that. Therefore, there are rights that you don’t have that the rest of us get to have.”
Now, my response to that is not to say, “I want to see complete open adoption—complete change—all this stuff.” But I do think that, somewhere in the system, there needs to be care given to how adoptees are talked to, how they’re treated—the messages that we’re sending to them because the identity that is attached to you is that you are tainted.
Dennis: How has this changed how Lois Rabey thinks about herself?
Lois: Well, I’ve had a lot of wonderful fantasies about what my life could have come from; and that’s real typical, too. It adds a little drama, and I like drama—so, that’s okay. But, I think, in terms of how I feel about myself—there are two parallel lines that happened. One is—I prayed that God would reveal the truth to me about my relationship with my father. That happened, rather dramatically. So, I tend to think that I need to be careful about how I pray because that prayer was answered. I really do not think that my father would have ever told me if he had not had a mental situation happen to him.
The other thing— that is right along with that is—this free-floating anxiety—that’s probably too strong a word—but lack of identity issue—lack of being “in” anywhere, lack of being part of—completely part of any kind of a community. There’s a little sense of detachment or disassociation—that the only place where I feel real secure identity is on a spiritual-level. On a human-level, there is a sense of, “I don’t belong. The world is not open to me to know who I am because I got here in a way I shouldn’t have.”
Dennis: Let’s say, right now, we had your birth mother here in the studio and you could only ask her three questions.
Lois: Oh, wow!
Dennis: What three questions would you ask?
Lois: Well, how I was conceived, what my ethnic heritage is—I’m not real sure why I’m so curious about that, but I am—and—
Dennis: You get one more. This is a cruel, cruel exercise.
Lois: Yes, this is really cruel—if she remembers me.
Dennis: You wouldn’t ask her the why?
Lois: You mean why she gave me up?
Lois: I guess I feel like I’d have the answer to that if I knew what happened.
Dennis: On a ten-point scale—ten being, “Glad” —are you glad you found out the truth?
Lois: Oh, 11; absolutely!
Bob: Even if you go another ten years without learning anything more?
Lois: Oh, if I never know any more, it’s worth knowing this.
Dennis: Even in the midst of the identity crisis?
Lois: Oh, absolutely. There’s no comparison between the identity crisis and what I felt before in not knowing—in knowing something was wrong—but not knowing what. There is no comparison.
Dennis: What would you say to parents who are raising children who are adopted today?
Lois: Well, I think the biggest thing—and this seems to be what adoptive parents fear the most—is to not consider a child’s desire to know about their birth, or to meet a birth parent, as a betrayal of their love for the adoptive parent. Recognize, on the frontend of an adoption, that it is not the same thing as bearing a child. I mean, I certainly believe that you can love an adopted child as much as you can love a child that you bear; but it doesn’t mean it’s the same thing.
Lois: So, that being something different isn’t something negative and that that child deserves to know the truth—and that that isn’t something that they have to be afraid of—for the child to know the truth—so that there’s not so much shame connected. You know, when the judge said to me—talked about, “Your mother—” what’s translated to me is, “Tremendous shame.” I think that’s where we need to relieve adopted children from bearing the burden of shame that they grow up with that people put on them.
Dennis: Let’s talk about that for a second. How would a parent do that?
Lois: By being truthful—number one—and being able to recognize that people make mistakes. There are consequences in mistakes, but that a human life is more than just a consequence of a mistake—that it’s a person that, obviously, God ordained to be alive, and that they have value, and that the way that they happen to be born does not predetermine the rest of their lives.
Bob: It doesn’t shape their character.
Dennis: They are God’s handiwork.
Lois: Yes, and that a parent—choosing to relinquish a child—may be a great act of love and not covering up shame.
Dennis: If you had 30 minutes with your mom—who’s now deceased—the mother who adopted you—
Lois: Right. What would I ask her?
Lois: I would start by reassuring her that I did understand why she didn’t tell me and that I’m sorry she carried that secret because I think it really inhibited her life and our life together. So, I’d really want her to know that I wish she hadn’t felt she had to do that; but I understand why she did.
Bob: But you understand why she did—why did she?
Lois: Because, in that day and age, it was covered up. Then, I think the reason they did it was—they were fearful that I would leave. Part of that was because of my relationship with my dad. With my dad being kind of angry and difficult, I think that my mother would have been very afraid to tell me—for fear that I would leave.
Bob: Do you think, if you had found out at age 17, you would have gone on a search?
Lois: No, I don’t think I would have. I think a lot of that would have been based on what it would have done to them, and I wouldn’t have; but I would want to know how they came to adopt me—you know—the circumstances of that for them—how they decided to adopt a child at all, why she couldn’t apparently have children because she loved children and was—I mean, wonderful grandparents to my children.
So, I mean, I almost wouldn’t take the time—if I had only 30 minutes. I wouldn’t take the time to say, “Why did you not tell me?” because I think I really do understand that. So, I’d want to know more about how she felt and how she felt about me being her daughter. Did she really have a peace about that? There seemed to be more peace from my mom than from my dad.
Dennis: You know, Lois, I found it interesting—as you responded to Bob’s question about if you had found out when you were 17—“Would you have thought about leaving?” I found your answer to be a powerful statement on behalf of even an imperfect family—of the power of a family to bond, even in the midst of dysfunction, lies, deceit—but nonetheless, a caring family that loved you and that grafted you in, and that raised you, and cared for you. That love had evidently been communicated enough to you that you wouldn’t even think of leaving, at that point, and rejecting that family in search of your birth mother.
Lois: No, I wouldn’t have. I think part of what I’m able to see is that, when I was 17, we didn’t have the tools, then, that we have now. What was happening, then, with an angry father in the house, we didn’t talk about. I mean, the word codependency wasn’t even coined yet. What people did was—you tried to get along. So, a lot of things were covered up; but I really fully believe that they loved me the best way they knew how. I don’t mean that as an excuse for some of his behavior but to understand that he was doing what he could with what he had.
Bob: Do you now, once a week, think to yourself, “I wonder the background?” Is it one of those nagging things that just kind of always—when you’re lying in bed at night—it just comes to you?
Lois: It’s not nagging as much as it is curious. Steve, my husband, and I were in England and Ireland recently. When we go places, I try to identify. I do this identification game of, “I wonder if I’m from here.” I miss that. I miss being able to have a sense of a heritage and a sense of, “These are places I came from,”—that kind of a thing. But it’s more on a curiosity level than a nagging level. I pursue a search in a very laidback fashion, compared to a lot of people. I think that is based more on the way I feel spiritually than the way I feel pragmatically.
Bob: One of the things you found out that I’ve been fascinated with is that the name you’ve grown up with is not the name you were given.
Lois: Yes, right.
Bob: What’s your name?
Lois: My birth name is Rose Marie Reynolds. The funny thing about that is that, growing up, my maiden name was Cornwell. I always wanted a normal name because kids made fun of that name. Then, when an abnormal name would be helpful in a search, I find out that my birth name is Reynolds, which is almost as common as Smith or Jones.
Lois: So, it’s Rose Marie Reynolds. I love roses. That was the only association I could get with that.
Bob: Does it feel—to find out that the name you were given at birth is not the name you’ve lived with—that would feel a little weird to me.
Lois: Yes, but that actually felt like a positive because I thought, “Well, at least my mother thought enough of me.” That is a big question, “What did my mother think of me—to be able to give me away?” At least, she thought enough of me to give me a name—so that, if she thinks of me, she thinks of me with that name. That’s a plus.
Dennis: Do you think you’re going to find your mom?
Lois: You know, I really don’t know. I do not want to sound trite and over-spiritualize this. I really don’t— but because of the way God answered my prayer of, “Please tell me the truth,” I really believe that, if God wants me to know, and I move along a particular path to try to find out, then He’ll let me know. If He doesn’t; then, I’ll find out the other side of this life—if it even makes any difference. So, it’s not a dramatically- plaguing drive for me.
Dennis: Contrast that perspective with an article that appeared in Newsweek, May of ’96, by G. William Troxler. It is an essay by this gentleman, who is as you are. He is adopted, but unable to open the files that contain the information—the genetic information that will allow him to find out where he came from. In this article, he talks about how he took an eight-month sabbatical—a full-time quest—where he scrutinized tax records, birth certificates, divorce filings, old newspapers, high school yearbooks in about 100 different counties “on a good day”—he said—scanning 200,000 handwritten records.
He said, “I do not recommend this activity unless myopia is one of the more significant life goals that you have.” He has written more than 3,000 letters to individuals who might know of his mother. The internet has yielded no answers, neither has the Library of Congress, nor the Family History Center of the Mormon Church. He’s even hired a private investigator—all in vain.
I get a different feeling from reading his essay. He’s angry. He doesn’t have an eternal perspective of what’s taking place in his life. Lois, I think all of us, in our hearts, reach out to you to share the complexity, the crisis—the identity crisis—you find yourself in. Yet, we have tremendous admiration for being reminded of our spiritual perspective—that frankly, that’s the way we all ought to live. We’re all pilgrims who haven’t landed where we really belong. In a sense, you’re almost like an Old Testament book, reminding us of a great spiritual truth that God is trying to impress on all of us: “We’re all passing through—we just think we have roots here. Our real home is in another place, where we will bear another name, and we will see Him face-to-face.”
Bob: Well, today, we’ve been listening to the second part of a conversation we had, a number of years ago, with Lois Rabey, who had, at that point, just a couple of years’ prior learned that she had been adopted. I think the point you made, as you drew that interview to a conclusion, Dennis—the point that our identity is, ultimately, rooted spiritually more than biologically. That’s the message for all of us; don’t you think?
Dennis: We’re made in God’s image. If you want to find out who you are, you look in the Book. You look in the Bible and find out Who He is and that you’re in His family. You’ve got a home in heaven, if you’ve placed your faith in Jesus Christ. That’s why I said what I said at the conclusion of that interview. Our real identity has not yet been revealed. We’re going to see Him face-to-face, and we’re going to be at home in heaven. Frankly, the older I get, the more I look forward to that. Heaven looks better and better all the time. There is less here on this earth to keep me here, other than fulfilling what He’s called me to do.
Bob: I had the opportunity, earlier this year, to meet some FamilyLife Today listeners who live in western Nebraska. As I met them and got to know them, they shared with me that, in their family of five children, one of the five is a child that they had adopted from an eastern European country. They said, “Part of the reason we adopted that child was because we heard you guys talking about adoption on FamilyLife Today. We’d thought about it, we’d talked about it, but God just used that to kind of nudge us in that direction.”
They said, “It’s one of the hardest things we’ve ever done.” They said, in fact, “We were very glad when we heard Barbara talking on FamilyLife Today—,” —your wife, Barbara—“talking about adoption. She talked about the challenges of raising a child who had been adopted.” This mom said, “I was so glad to hear another mom say, ‘This has been hard,’ because it’s been hard for us, as well.”
When I got all done with that conversation, I said, “Would you do it again?” They said, “Oh, yes.”
Dennis: Of course.
Bob: Not a hesitation.
Dennis: There’s no question about it.
Bob: And then they said this, “In fact, we’re thinking about adopting another one.” Here they are—they’ve got five kids—and they’re thinking, “Maybe our house is big enough for another one.”
Dennis: Well, maybe you’re in need of considering a call by God to add to your family; or maybe you’re in need of considering a call by God to represent the orphan in your church. We have a dream of having literally thousands of churches, all across the country, that have orphan care, foster care, and adoption ministries that are led by individuals who want to give voice to those that have none. I think the organization that has the greatest message and, frankly, the best chance of making a difference in the lives of orphans is the Church.
Dennis: We have resources, here at FamilyLife, that were developed by a division of FamilyLife—Hope for Orphans®—that are designed to equip you to start an orphan care ministry in your church.
Bob: If you go to FamilyLifeToday.com, and you click on the link for “Hope for Orphans”, that will take you to an area of our website where you can see all that is available to help you get involved, individually, or launch an orphan care ministry in your church. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. If you have any questions, give us a call. Our number is 1-800-FL-TODAY; that’s 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
Dennis: Yes, Bob, and when they go on the website, check out: Launching an Orphan’s Ministry in Your Church. It’s a small book that just lays out some very simple steps that you can go through. It’s really not that difficult to do. I think it’s one of the most rewarding things you can possibly do, as an individual or as a couple.
Bob: Now, you know, a week from now, it’s going to be 2013. We’re going to be in a new year. Anything you’d like to say about the last few days of 2012 and about the matching-gift opportunity that’s before us?
Dennis: I’d love to do that. All you have to do is go to FamilyLifeToday.com and check on the thermometer that’s there. It shows what our current match is—how much money has been put up by a group of families who want to keep FamilyLife Today on this station and in ministry around the country. You’ll see, by looking at the thermometer, that we’re way short of the—
Bob: It’s chilly. The mercury is down.
Dennis: It’s down, and we need your help. I need your help. I’d say, “If you agree with what FamilyLife Today is doing on behalf of orphans, on behalf of marriages, families, legacies— equipping you in life’s most important commitments—then, I’d encourage you—really, there’s no gift that’s too small. You can make a gift and help us take full advantage of this match. The end of the year is approaching, and we need more people to step up and stand with us.
Bob: Our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can make a donation online, or you can call to make a donation at 1-800-FL-TODAY. We just want to say, “Thanks,” in advance, for whatever you are able to do. We appreciate your partnership with us, here, in the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Dennis: And if you’ve already helped, let me say, “Thanks for your help in the past. Thank you for standing with us.”
Bob: Tomorrow, we are going to talk about how you and your family can engage in some meaningful discipleship—some family times together that are fun, engaging, interactive, and where the kids can learn some important spiritual truth, as well. Kurt and Olivia Bruner are going to join us tomorrow. Hope you can be back with us, as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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