Welcome to this week’s installment of our series called “What Being Brave Looks Like.” If this is your first visit, be sure to go back and check out our earlier contributions.
My guest today is my dear friend, Katy Epling. Katy and I met through Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love Launch Team in 2015. For the last couple of years, she has been part of my inner circle of writing sisters. This squad of five, spread all over the country, communicates almost daily on Voxer. We read and edit each other’s work and cheer each other on in every area of our life; writing, marriage, parenting and faith. Katy is funny, kind, brilliant and, as you will soon see, a gifted writer and communicator. She is a blessing in my life and I can’t wait for you to meet her and hear this BEAUTIFUL story about reaching out to her biological father.
Welcome my brave and beautiful friend, Katy!
Reaching out to my biological father is one of the bravest things I have ever done. I had always known I was adopted, in much the same way I knew I had brown hair and a birthmark on my cheek. It was part of who I was, but it didn’t consume or define me. I had (and have) two loving parents and two big brothers, and my family was pretty complete. At nineteen I decided I wanted to connect with my biological roots, so I “met” my biological mother—although it turned out I had actually known her my whole life as a family friend. Though it seemed a bit surreal at the time, having that lifelong relationship with her is such a gift and made the biological link that much more special. I thought that was enough.
Months later, though, I found God placing a new task in front of me: finding my biological father. Um, no, God, I told Him, I think we’ll just let sleeping dogs lie. I already geared myself up for a search once, and I am so glad I didn’t actually have to do too much. It was easy. I think I’m good here. But gently He encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone, reminding me I would regret doing nothing. He compelled me to be brave and let Him handle the rest.
I didn’t have much to go on, and back in 2000 the internet wasn’t quite the wonder it is today. (Facebook hadn’t even been invented yet!) But God guided the search, and after a few months, his name and address appeared on my computer screen.
Now what? I wondered. Looking for him seemed innocuous enough, but now that I’d found him, I had to do something. I wondered if I should just walk away. Walking away was safe. Walking away kept me in control. Reaching out was scary. Although I can honestly say I didn’t have any great hole I needed my bio-dad to fill, attempting to contact him left me vulnerable. I would be giving him the power to reject me, an idea I didn’t relish. But at the end of the day, I knew I needed to be brave.
I wrote him a letter. I sent him a picture, told him a little about myself, and assured him I didn’t need family or money, but just wanted to know a little more about where I came from. I dropped it in the mail and let it go. That was that.
Or so I thought.
Six months later I was a newlywed, working my first real job as a software engineer, serving in my church’s worship ministry, making new “grown-up” friends—everything was falling into place. My letter to my bio-dad remained unanswered. Although I had told myself just sending the letter would be enough, the lack of response was a little harder to cope with than I had anticipated.
And then we went to visit my husband’s alma mater… which just happened to be in the very town where my bio-dad lived. At first it was just a joke: “Do any of the guys in this ice cream shop look like me? He could be here right now! Ha ha ha!” But as the reality of our words set in, my stomach twisted into knots. It was no joke—he really could be right across the room. My mind started to spiral. What if he hadn’t gotten my letter? What if he had tried to answer me but it had gotten lost in the mail? I couldn’t be this close and just walk away without doing something.
“We have to find his house,” I told my husband.
We plugged my bio-dad’s address into the GPS and realized we were literally around the corner from his house. We could walk there from the ice cream shop. Before I could really register what was happening, I found myself knocking on the front door of a cute little ranch home with no idea what was waiting on the other side.
A woman answered the door. “Oh, um, hi, um… is… Fred home?” I hadn’t planned on this. Was this his wife? Would she know about me? Had she seen my letter, my picture? Should I explain who I was? I didn’t think this through!!!
He wasn’t home, so I handed her one of my newly-minted business cards, asked her to pass it along, and walked away, visibly shaking. I spent most of the two-hour drive home numb with disbelief. “I can’t believe I did that,” I told my husband. “I can’t believe we were in his town all weekend. I can’t believe I could have passed him on the street. I can’t believe I went to his house.”
I went home and waited. I went to work. I came home. Life went on as usual. For a couple of days.
On Wednesday morning, I sat down at my desk, turned on my computer, and opened my e-mail to find his name at the top of my inbox. I caught my breath and hurried to open his message—my first contact from the man who gave me half of my being.
Kathy? Dear Kathy? All my life I had dealt with mix-ups over my unusually-spelled name. Katy Perry wasn’t a thing yet (Was Katy Perry even born yet?), so Katy-with-a-y baffled many people. Getting called “Kathy” wasn’t exactly new, but… but this man was supposed to be… something to me. He was supposed to be part of me somehow. At the very least, he should know my name.
I wish I could say it got better from there, but it didn’t. In fact, “Dear” at the beginning of the letter was probably the highlight. Although I don’t remember the exact content thanks to the passage of time, the overall message stuck: “I never asked for any of this. Leave me alone.”
I knew this was a possibility, I told myself. I knew the first time I saw his name and address that contacting him was risky. I knew he could reject me. But knowing that getting hurt is a possibility and actually feeling the hurt are two very different monsters, it turns out. His rejection hit me harder than I had anticipated. I felt like someone had sucked all of the air out of the room. And I just kept going over and over those first two words: Dear Kathy. He got my name wrong. He didn’t even take the time to know my name.
I spent the rest of the day in a fog, putting in my time until I could just go home. As I wrapped up for the day, though, I remembered that I wasn’t heading home just yet—I was driving straight to church for worship team rehearsal. I had no idea where I would pull the emotional energy to get through one more commitment, but I took a deep breath and pushed forward. I spent the drive having a very one-sided argument with the Lord. Why did You let me do that? Why did You encourage me to put myself out there? I was just fine before I contacted him. I was fine with not even knowing who he was! I tried to follow Your lead. I tried to be brave. I let myself be vulnerable And look where it got me!
That night, our worship director told us we’d be introducing a new song to the congregation. “And Katy,” he added, “I want you to do the first verse and chorus as a solo.”
I nodded and took the handout from him. I looked down at words and immediately started crying:
I have a Father,
He calls me His own.
He’ll never leave me,
no matter where I go.
He knows my name…
Our worship director had no idea of my story. He didn’t know about the e-mail I’d received that morning or about my attempts to contact my bio-dad, or even that I was adopted. He had no idea how very much I needed those words, he just handed me the song God had put on his heart to teach the church that week.
But right there in front of me was everything I needed to know. I am not rejected. I am not alone. I have a Father who knows my name. I realized then exactly why God had called me to contact my bio-dad in the first place. God wanted me to be brave, to make myself vulnerable, not for the sake of some man who had made a small (though important) contribution to my life 22 years earlier; but so that I could see precisely how loved I am by my True Father.
Katy Epling is a writer and speaker who encourages women to see themselves as “God’s masterpiece” (Ephesians 2:10). She loves playing board games with her family, singing in her church (and shower), and secretly correcting others’ grammar on Facebook. (She’s mostly kidding about that last one.) From adoption to infertility to special needs parenting, God keeps adding more chapters to her story, and she loves using them to point others back to Him. Learn more about her heart and ministry at katyepling.com.