Naming Rights

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.


An End and a Beginning (Part 4)

On Tuesday, March 22, our travels take us from Austin to Fresno, California via Los Angeles.  From Fresno, we rent a car and drive 30 minutes to a small town north of Fresno called Madera.  No trip I’ve ever taken, regardless of distance, has felt longer than this one. When we arrive, there remains only a hint of the setting sun on the horizon and the weather is cold and wet.  It matched some of what we’ve been feeling.  California’s Central Valley is like a scene straight out of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.  It’s all farms and pastures…and it feels very, very far from home.

After traveling all day, we finally arrive at Madera Community Hospital.  It’s almost 9:30 pm and it’s after hours, so we have to enter the hospital through the Emergency Room.  Surprisingly, every hospital worker we meet seems to be expecting us and we are quickly ushered to the Maternity Ward.  One nurse smilingly asks if we’re excited to meet our son.  Our son?  Wow.  Yes, our son!  We are excited beyond words.  There is a child – a boy – somewhere in this hospital who needs a family and parents to love and protect him.  We are determined to be his parents.  But, in the back of our minds, there remains the sobering possibility that it could all change when the sun comes up in the morning.

We arrive at the door to the Nursery.  I am not kidding, I felt the passing of time slow and everything seemed to unfold in slow motion.  We’re led inside and we notice, in the nursery, one solitary infant in an otherwise empty room.  Is that him?  We strain to look past the nurse’s shoulder hoping for a better glimpse. Surely, that’s our boy!  As the nurse begins to wheel his little plastic bassinet towards us, I am overwhelmed by a flood of emotions.  I find myself weeping uncontrollably at the intensity of seeing my son for the first time.  At some point in those tears, I notice Carita clinging to my arm, hand over her mouth, crying along with me.  I’ve often felt, in the 9 years of infertility, that my life was stuck. Sometimes, I felt as if a new day was just my pseudo-future, a pale imitation of what life should have been like.  But when I gazed upon the sleeping, peaceful face of our baby boy, it was as if life suddenly became very unstuck.

At that moment, one thing was very clear to us.  No, the answers to the mysteries of the Universe did not unfold before us, but it did feel like a long journey was drawing to a close.  We knew with every fiber of our being that, had our path deviated at any point in the last 9 years, we wouldn’t be holding this boy – our son – this day.  Had we gotten pregnant 9 years ago, or 8, or 7.  Had the China adoption proceeded in the expected pace.  Any of those happen and we aren’t there in Madera, California that night.  At that moment, everything that we’d endured seemed worth it.

With shaky hands, I reached for him.  Holding a newborn and knowing that there isn’t another person on earth more responsible for his well-being than you is a powerful moment.  Looking down on him, I choke out the words, “Hello, son.  I’m your dad and this is your mom.  We’ve waited so long to finally meet you.”  That’s all I can manage through the tears.

We named our son Jacob Dylan.  Jacob, after Jacob of the Old Testament.  The specific reasons for this choice we’ll share in a different blog post.  Dylan, simply because we liked it.  I did joke with the nurse that we were inspired in equal parts by Bob Dylan – the legendary rocker, Dylan Thomas – the Welsh poet, and Dylan McKay – the side burned anti-hero in the ubiquitous show Beverly Hills 90210.  I think the nurse believed me.

The nurse showed remarkable sensitivity to our situation.  We were provided two rocking chairs, a private room, and all of the time we wanted to soak up the moment.  We’re so grateful to the medical professionals at Madera Community Hospital.  I do remember holding Carita’s hand, as she took her turn holding our son.  We tried to pray a prayer of thanksgiving, but the words kept escaping us. It’s still comforting to know, that even as our words failed us, God could listen to our hearts.  Our hearts were indeed praising Him.

The rest of the time at the hospital was a blur of filling out forms, receiving baby care instructions from the nurses, and basking in the joy of the night.  Finally, we wrapped baby Jacob in some swaddling cloths and left the hospital at 11:30 pm. Our first night as a new family was spent in the Springhill Suites off of Highway 99 in Madera, California.  There has never been a more joyous night of sleepless child care than ours on March 22.  We got a couple of hours of sleep that night.

As the sun rose on March 23, we both knew it would be a momentous day. The birth mother was supposed to sign her Parental Rights Termination papers today. Once she did that, we would sign our own documents, assuming full legal responsibility over the Jacob.  Once signed, these papers would be binding and irrevocable.  She could also, for whatever reason, refuse to sign it. That morning should have been full of tension due to the uncertainty.  Instead, we felt an indescribable peace from the Lord.  The old hymn, “All the Way My Savior Leads Me” was on my mind that morning:

All the way my Savior leads me, what have I to ask beside

Can I doubt His tender mercy, who through life has been my guide…

…For I know whatever befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.

While we wait at the hotel for the lawyers to arrive, we have lunch at the restaurant across the street.  Our first family meal.  It’s a greasy diner off the highway in the middle-of-nowhere-California-town called Madera. That meal wouldn’t have been more special had it been in the fanciest restaurant, in the most beautiful setting on earth.  Of course, Baby Jacob slept through the whole meal.

At 4:45 pm, our lawyer, Ted, and his wife, Sheryl, finally walk into the hotel lobby. There are big smiles on all of our faces and hugs all around.  The birth mother signed the papers, without hesitation!  As they tell us more about their interaction with her, we get the sense that God is writing a much bigger story here than just our adoption story.  Ted and Sheryl tell us about the small ways that redemption is entering into the birth mother’s life and how, through all of this, there are glimmers of hope that she can turn her life around…that she might one day experience her own redemption through the Cross.  We are elated, inspired, and humbled that God assigned us roles in this narrative that is still unfolding.

On March 23, 2011 at 5:12 pm, Carita and I sign the four pages of documents that now give us the legal rights as Jacob’s parents. More importantly, we receive the spiritual stewardship of raising Jacob as our son.  We have never felt more dependent on the grace of God, nor more confident in the sufficiency of that grace.

There’s so much more I could write, but those will wait for future posts.  For now, we are content to let this story come to an end, as we look forward to a new beginning as a family.

In closing, here is a picture of our son, Jacob Dylan Chen.  I hope you enjoyed this ride with us.  For those who, in tears and in hope over these many years, beseeched the Lord on behalf of our family, reflect on His answered prayer and the knowledge that Jesus doeth all things well.


Here is the world, son. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.