A few days ago, Jacob’s Social Security Card arrived in the mail. I am not sure of all the reasons why this felt significant to me, but there are a couple of reasons that jumped out at me:
I recently tried to obtain a copy of my own Social Security Card. Due to discrepancy in the spelling of my middle name between federal records (passport) and state records (driver’s license), it became a big hassle. Such are the joys of having an English middle name transliterated from a Chinese name…just like the first day of school in every grade from K-12 when teachers stumble over its pronunciation or having to spell it out while speaking to customer service over the phone. With that in mind, the ease by which we obtained Jacob’s was a relief.
It was also significant to see our son’s name on an official government document. Although the card itself is none too impressive, looking like a dot matrix print job circa 1986, there’s still something “real” about having that card. Maybe this is made more significant in context of adoption, but our son’s name is really Jacob Dylan Chen. That isn’t just what we’re choosing to call him…that’s him, that’s his identity.
A name is an identity. This is the reason why corporations pay millions for naming rights to stadiums, for example. It’s why Reliant Energy pays a whopping $10 million a year to have the Houston Texans call their football stadium Reliant Stadium, on a contract that runs through 2032. It’s why the Houston Astros, after the Enron scandal, couldn’t wait to change the name of their baseball stadium from Enron Field to Minute Maid Park. If you can’t buy a name, you can buy a close association. It’s why you see corporate sponsorships on everything from the AIG on the front of Manchester United’s soccer jerseys to Lowe’s Home Improvement on Jimmie Johnson’s number 48 car to POM Wonderful pomegranate juice on the title of Morgan Spurlock’s new movie. Since Google wouldn’t pay us to name our son Google Chrome Chen or to plaster “Google” all over his onesies, we had to put some thought into what we’d name our son.
We chose Jacob as his name, after Jacob of the Old Testament. It was a choice rooted in hopes for our son. The Old Testament Jacob was a flawed man with a track record of scheming, lying, and trickery. But, he also wrestled with God and was a man who refused to settle for the circumstances he’d been born into. He fought for a different inheritance and the blessing of God. As we thought about this adoption, we prayed for God’s redemption to extend to baby Jacob. We prayed that he, like his namesake, would refuse to settle for the circumstances under which he’d been born. We prayed that he’d fight for a different destiny, a new future. We prayed that he’d be willing to wrestle God Himself for his inheritance and His blessing.
When our son was born, he was officially called “Baby Boy” by the hospital staff. He was given no other name because, for the first 2.5 days of his life, he had no other identity. In fact, he was the only baby in the nursery because every other baby born in that hospital was with his/her mother. Alone in an otherwise empty nursery. No parents. No family. No home. No name.
Then, we arrived. When we showed up, suddenly he had parents who loved him already. He had two sets of grandparents. He had aunts and uncles and cousins. He had friends and community. And he had a name: Jacob.
Now being part of a Chinese family, we needed to give Jacob a Chinese name, too. For that, we asked my Dad to pick out a suitable Chinese name. Chinese names are somewhat complicated and beyond our knowledge of the language to pick out. Also, with Jacob being the first Chen grandson, we wanted to honor my father in this way by having him name his grandson.
Chinese names can be full of meaning and blessing. We were expecting Dad to pick out something very Chinese, with references to mountains and trees and lions and courage. Instead, the name he picked out was the Chinese name for Jacob of the Old Testament. The first character is the last name, Chen. The next two are the name Jacob. It’s pronounced Chén Yǎ Gè in Chinese Pinyin (2nd tone, 3rd tone, 4th tone). According to Dad, the reason he chose that as Jacob’s Chinese name is because the reasons for why we chose his English name should be the reason for all of his names. Pretty cool, Dad…
When we say that adoption is the Gospel, we’re not talking in an illustrative sense. It isn’t simply a metaphor. We’re not just making a comparison. The Gospel is adoption. So the earlier scene at the hospital is very much what happens in us when Jesus intersects our lives. He enters in and, having chosen us, gives us a family (the Church) and a Heavenly Father. He brings us into community and gives us a new identity and a new name (Rev. 2:17, 3:12). All of this because He showed up. We are His and He is ours. Consider this as you consider why Adoption should be an important “cause” for the Body of Christ.