The last few months of my life have been – without going into too much detail – pretty intense. I’ve gone from an incredible high to hitting an unfathomable low. It sounds dramatic…and, well it kind of was.
I will try to break down an element of what happened this year and how it impacted me over the next few blog posts (if I try to put it in one, I may as well write a book ha!). I know writing is sort of therapeutic for me but publishing it I hope will help, maybe inspire and encourage at least one or two of you.
So here it goes.
In June this year, I found my biological Father.
Since I was a little girl, old enough to understand that my brother’s dad wasn’t my own, I had my heart set on finding him one day. Over the years I had made some feeble attempts – with very little information and not entirely convinced that what I’d find would be what I was hoping for, any attempt was proving to be unfruitful.
This year however, something was different.
Most of you will know that I’m a Christian. Without going into too much detail, the way in which this matters to this story is that part of my understanding of my faith involves a profound trust in God’s guidance and timing. So over the years, whenever I had thought about my dad in prayer, I got the feeling that it just wasn’t the right time. Until January this year.
I was visiting friends in New York and Washington DC and on that trip the desire to not only find my dad, but find out more about who I was, where I was from, what my heritage was grew so strong, that I decided in my heart the time was right to start the search one last time.
I had just turned 30 a month earlier and I guess with that comes a certain sense that time is precious. So there I was, at the airport after the most inspiring and profound trip of my life, journaling about how one of my goals for 2018 was finding my dad.
And somehow, this time, I knew it was going to happen. It’s so hard to describe, but I just had this crazy sense of confidence that the timing was right, God was in it, the stars were aligned – call it what you will.
So there I was, back in London with my heart set on the task. As reality started to set in, I realised quickly that just because I had a sense of divine appointment, my circumstances hadn’t suddenly changed. I didn’t have any more information than I’d had in the past, I was no wiser in regards to avenues of finding a lost family member, but I knew in my heart of hearts this time it was somehow going to work out. So I did what I’d tell anyone to do who felt like they had sensed a prompt of God into a certain direction: I started knocking at doors. From searching Facebook to putting out random requests into the inter-webs for anyone who had ever successfully tried to locate a loved one. From googling private investigators to starting a process with the samaritans, I obeyed the nudge in my heart and just started with what I had in my hand.
For the first month or so, all of this pretty much felt like stabbing in the dark.
You see, all I ever had in regards to information on my dad was his name (a pretty common one at that), his date of birth and a picture of him holding me when I was just a few weeks old (see featured image).
You’d think that’s enough, but let’s just say the equivalent to my situation would be someone looking for John Smith across the english speaking world.
The one piece of documentation I had was a court order from ’89, discussing the legitimacy of my mom’s claim that my dad was my dad and the final ruling that he indeed was.
Which again, though helpful once I’d find him, not helpful at all when it came to the actual process of getting there. So there I was, twinkling along, having chats with my grandma to work out any helpful memories she might have, not really getting anywhere, until one fateful Saturday afternoon.
I was about to chair a meeting at our Performing Arts Academy and while I was waiting, passing my time googling private investigators – as you do – when my friend Steph walked in, saw what I was doing and a small talk like conversation unfolded.
Steph asked what I was up to, so I proceeded to explain how I was looking for my biological Father and didn’t really know where to start. Forgetting that Steph and I had only known each other for maybe a year (which in our full and mostly fast paced world amounts to very few opportunities to have deep conversations about family history), she interrupted me and began asking the usual ‘oh wait so where are you from?’ questions. As I went on to explain that my dad had been stationed in Germany where he met my mom in the summer of 1987 and she eventually fell pregnant, Steph’s eyes got wider and wider. She proceeded to tell me that her dad too had been stationed in Germany and her little sister was actually born there in ’87.
Starting to feel like this conversation was heading into a strange direction, I apprehensively asked her where exactly it was that her dad was stationed.
Nothing could’ve prepared me for what followed: Her dad was in fact stationed in the Nuremberg area. Nuremberg. The place of my birth. At this point the tension in the room was tangible – could this be more than the most random of coincidences?
Our conversation had already run into the start time of our meeting, so we had to stop there and – feeling like everything had become a little bit surreal – carry on with our business. I was to leave on a work trip that same evening, so I just texted Steph my dad’s name and an old picture and said that if she was to speak to her dad any time soon, would she mind asking him – on the CRAZY off chance – whether he had maybe known my dad?
Leaving it at that, I headed to the airport that night. With a slight tingle down my spine I couldn’t help but wonder: What if her dad HAD known my biological Father?
I couldn’t go there. I headed to Budapest that evening and focused on the task at hand. I had a meeting when I got in that night and the next day was filled with an early morning at a new venue for a new campus our church was starting there – my mind was definitely taken off the subject! Sunday evening we gathered some of the key leaders in a home to talk all things Service Dynamics (if you’re not from a church background, it was basically a training session on why we do services the way we do etc). As I’m in the middle of talking about this (one of my favourite) subject, my phone starts ringing. I vividly remember it, as I was using my phone for notes and definitely wasn’t expecting a call. As soon as I saw WHO the caller was, my heart skipped a beat. It was Steph.
Now you have to understand that – though I love and appreciate Steph a lot – we weren’t on a casual Sunday night phone call level in our friendship.
As I was leading the conversation in the room, I couldn’t answer and sent her straight to voicemail. She called again. And again and again. After a few calls, I had to excuse myself for a second to text her that I wasn’t going to be able to take a call. At this point I was DYING on the inside. Why was she calling? Surely it had to do with my dad search?
Once our session came to an end and everyone stayed to mingle, I excused myself to call her back. Nothing, I repeat NOTHING could’ve prepared me for this conversation.
She pretty much immediately answered the phone. ‘Are you sitting down?’
Any conversation starting with that sentence promises to be interesting.
She went on to tell me that, though she didn’t know much, she knew this for sure: She had called her dad that day, asking if he had known a guy by my dad’s name back when he was stationed in Germany. Without hesitation he said yes. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Steph’s dad knew my dad. Someone other than my mother knew my biological Father. Not only that, but a woman I could’ve well NEVER met, moved to London with her family because her husband came to work for the same church I was working for and her dad knew my dad.
30 years ago, her Father and my Father would’ve been on a ‘hey what’s up’ basis not knowing that 30 years later their daughters would connect in London and one of them was desperately trying to find her dad.
Now I don’t know about you and I don’t know what you’ve been thinking so far but THAT IS NOT A COINCIDENCE. I was beside myself. I immediately called my grandma to tell her and once back at the hotel did a google hang out with two of my best friends in the world.
Now don’t get me wrong, Steph’s dad did not know where my dad was and had no way of getting in touch with him. But the fact alone that this connection had transpired was more than I could’ve ever dreamt of. Now I was CERTAIN that I was operating on a divine timescale.
Back home I took some time to talk this over with Steph. Her dad was blown away by the ‘coincidence’ himself, so he offered to help me find my dad however he could. We ended up face timing him one day and he said if I got him all the information I could get, he’ll track down my dad for me.
Now that was the tricky part. I had given him all the information I had already. Like I said, all I ever had was a name and a date of birth.
Wrecking my brain as to whether there was anything I could’ve missed, I went over the old documents at hand. I had read this court order so many times, I could quote some of what it said by heart. After all, this was the only connection I ever had to my dad!!
As I was flicking over the pages once again, I got held in my tracks as I came across a paragraph I had never seen before. Literally never. It read something along the lines of ‘Jessica’s father has submitted a handwritten declaration confirming that he is indeed her father.’.
Now this might not seem big to you, but to me this was massive for two reasons: firstly, how had I missed this for all these years?? Was there a significance in reading this now?
Secondly, I suddenly realised that there had to be a file on my case somewhere. Somewhere amongst hundreds and thousands of folders in some office, there had to be a file on me and my dad. And somewhere it that file, there was a handwritten proof of my dad’s existence. Even if that was all I ever got, I suddenly got determined to try and get a hold of this document. If you’ve ever tried to find someone you had a connection with, you know the feeling of wanting to hold on to anything you can get. Even if it’s a piece of scrap paper…So there I was, hunting down German officials, emailing social services and finally ended up on a call with a lovely lady.
After verifying who I was, she told me that I could’ve had access to this file pretty much my whole life (via my mom) and most certainly since I had turned 18. It was only at the end of our conversation that the significance of that statement hit home.
There I was, on the phone to this stranger in Germany, telling me things I had never known before. I won’t go into detail – some pieces of this story aren’t mine to tell just yet – but let’s just say my whole world got turned upside down that day. A lot of things I thought I knew or thought to be true turned out not to be. And a lot of information I thought I never had was right there at my fingertips this whole time.
Armed and wounded at the same time, I hung up the phone.
One of the most significant pieces of information was that this lady told me where my dad – and therefore I – was from. He wasn’t from the midwest like I had believed my whole life, but he was as a matter of fact from Alabama.
Again, this won’t mean anything to you if you don’t know me. But let me just say that I’ve been obsessed with the southern states and the history of our people in that part of the country my whole life. Felt drawn to the culture, people I met and stories I found about our ancestors there. Never knowing why – I wasn’t even from there right?
And now suddenly there I was finding out that in fact I was.
The connection I had felt in my bones every day of my life was based on facts.
At this stage of the search the emotions hit hard. I hadn’t even found him yet but a lot of what I did find out turned out to be hard to swallow, so I put the search on hold for a while. Wrestling with questions of why, how and whether it was all worth it.
And loss. Already at this stage I felt such deep loss. I could’ve known all this for years…and yet. Even through the grief I somehow knew that any sooner wouldn’t have been the right time. I was still walking in God’s perfect timing.
After giving myself a few weeks, I got back in touch with Steph’s dad. Armed with everything I had found out, I handed the search over to this kind, god-sent man who was willing to help me with something I could’ve easily had spent a lot of money on.
And then it happened. Early June, 2018 I received an email from him with a simple PDF attachment – name, DOB, state identical. Along with a phone number and an address. There it was. I now had everything I needed to get in touch with my Father. The only thing was that there was a tiny yet potentially significant piece of information that didn’t quite match with what I thought I knew. So I held off contacting him for a couple of weeks, trying to find a way to be 100% certain that the man I was going to call was indeed my Father.
Over those two weeks we celebrated Father’s Day here in the UK – I remember it clearly as I had the privilege of being involved in crafting a moment to honour all the dads in our church. It was a strange experience as the whole dad search had caused me to think about Fatherhood, its impact and importance a lot. So when we came up with a theme for Father’s Day I knew it had to be something that was going to honour those who were already actively fathering their children, but also prayed that we could create something that would encourage those who maybe had children but were absent in their lives. And I prayed at the time, that though I still hadn’t found my own dad, maybe what we created might be something that would stir and challenge them to reach out to their children and be the dads they needed them to be. Not only that, but that night I wrote a post for my blog (you can read the post HERE ) considering some of my new found thoughts on the importance of Fatherhood…By the end of the actual day, after seeing the piece we had created inspire the guys in our church, I felt a strange sense of peace. I knew that even if the man on the other side of that document wasn’t my dad, I had been on an extremely important journey and had been able to deal with a lot of internal things that would set me up for my future.
But God wasn’t finished yet.
A couple of days later, on Wednesday June 20th 2018 I asked my good friend Dan to make the call.
I wasn’t quite ready to call him myself as I wanted to make sure not only that it was him, but that he actually wanted to be in contact with me. The last thing I could’ve handled was direct rejection from the man I had – in some way or another – been looking for my whole life. So there we were, at our church spaces, and Dan took my phone and called. I had sent him to the other side of the auditorium as I didn’t want to hear what was going on. When I tell you my heart stopped for a moment when Dan came back I am not exaggerating.
I remember clear as day sitting there asking ‘It wasn’t him right?’ and Dan looking at me saying: ‘Oh no it was. And he wants to speak to you as soon as he gets off work.’.
Boom. There it was. The moment I had been waiting and hoping for for so long. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening.
I had found my Father. Found my biological dad. And not only that, but he wanted to speak to me.
Trying to describe the emotions I felt at that moment would keep us here forever. Suffice to say that I was beside myself, excited, nervous – all at the same time.
(This was my facial expression – Steph and Dan by my side. We took this moments after Dan had spoken to dad for the first time)
That same evening I spoke to my dad for the first time. We talked on the phone for over 90 minutes. I actually recorded the conversation as for all I knew that could’ve been the only time we’d ever speak…
But again. God wasn’t finished yet….
(To be continued)