One of the books that sits on a shelf at home is James Schaap’s CRC Family Portrait: Sketches of Ordinary Christians in a 125-Year-Old Church.
Recently I reread these stories and was struck by the breadth of our shared stories, already more than 30 years ago. Yet as officers of Synod 2014 looked out over the delegates, I’m sure they saw an even more vibrant mosaic of the CRC. The number of delegates reflecting ethnically diverse backgrounds was the greatest ever.
Our CRC family portrait continues to change, and I’m grateful to be included in my new role as executive director. I decided to use this opportunity to introduce myself and my family—ordinary Christians in a now 157-year-old church.
If my portrait were a montage of still shots, I could include a picture with my parents and sister of my baptism at South Grandville CRC and then, over time, a series of pictures of me in Sunday school, catechism, youth group, and finally in front of the church for profession of faith.
The next series might include snapshots from my college days—serving Calvin College’s KIDS program, counseling at Camp Roger, student teaching at Pine Rest, and going on a first date with my wife after our fall Campus Choir concert.
At this point, selecting the pictures becomes overwhelming. Some of the pictures could be drawn from my career journey: starting as teaching principal at Christian Learning Center in Grand Rapids, Mich.; attending the University of Michigan for graduate studies; serving children and families as a psychologist in a rehabilitation setting; and then moving into Christian higher education in a variety of roles, concluding with serving as president at Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, Ill.
Another set of pictures could show where we’ve lived: Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, Mich.; Rehoboth, New Mexico; metropolitan Chicago, and the Christian Reformed churches we attended in each place. Each of these pictures would show a growing family filling a pew: Katie, Paul, Becca, and Jessica, and then, via adoption, Getenet and Fekadu, and finally Yaineabeba.
Schaap’s writing reminds me that telling one’s story is helped by focusing on one or two significant events. For my wife, Barb, and me, our family portrait becomes a testimony particularly because of our son Paul and our adoption story.
Paul is 28 years old. One look at him signals Down syndrome. Like all new parents of special needs children, our initial reaction was shock and uncertainty. Yet after 28 years of being Paul’s parents, we’ve learned that he often understands things more clearly than we do—and he always leads us in showing how to be accepting of others. We see his growth into young adulthood as testimony of God’s faithfulness. Those whom the world might consider as least can be great in God’s kingdom.
Four years ago, we adopted Ethiopian brothers Fekadu and Getenet, now 15 and 19, and later welcomed their older sister Yaineabeba into our family in a more informal sense. Even though their lives were thrown into disruption and uncertainty when their parents died, God’s promises endured. And while adoption didn’t result in anyone’s name being changed, our initial uncertainty and lack of confidence has been transformed, through God’s grace, into gratitude and thanksgiving for a family rich in love, despite our differing backgrounds, abilities, and ethnic identities.
I’m grateful that our family portrait belongs in the CRC story, as does yours. In some respects, our family—with Barb and me and seven kids between 15 and 29, as well as those being added by marriage—is a microcosm of the CRC. It’s a portrait that keeps needing to be updated since the group keeps growing in number, in diversity, in its impact, and, most of all, in faith.
Perhaps you remember the “Psalty” children’s video series of two decades ago. From this series comes our son Paul’s favorite song—a song aimed at children, but helpful for us all:
“Welcome to the family. We’re glad that you have come to share your life with us as we grow in love. And may we always be to you what God would have us be: A family always there to be strong and to lean on. May we learn to love each other more with each new day. May words of love be on our lips in everything we say. May the Spirit melt our hearts and teach us how to pray that we might be a true family.”