Eyes of a Stranger: Cowboy Hats & Tomato Sandwiches, Post #10

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March 26, 2014 by Renee Griffin

I am a list maker.

List making, whether in a linear form or splashed across the page like confetti thrown into the air, keeps order in my mind.  When I write out my thoughts and ideas, my things to remember, or all the stuff I have to do, a sense of order comes.  So, when I prepared to go and meet my birthfather, it only seemed natural that he would make a list too.  His list was the food list.  He wanted to have food on hand for us to enjoy a lunch together.

During one of our conversations, he’d asked me to list all my favorite foods.  We knew nothing about each other’s likes and dislikes so we started off our getting acquainted with the basics.  What are your favorite foods?  What are foods you totally dislike?  Etc.

I came across one of our lists this week as I dug through a box of papers.  Throughout my journey, I kept almost every single paper that had anything to do with my search.  It got to be quite a bit of paper so I put it all inside a huge plastic tub.  Up until I started writing, I would only occasionally go into the box and sift around.

The weight of some of the papers was too heavy to process so I just contained it all until I could process it.

I carried that box into the dining room a few weeks ago and tried to sort through, but everything was all jumbled up.  There was no order to any of it.  The prospect of organizing it seemed overwhelming.  I’d taken a day off work last week to just rest in the quiet, and during this day I tackled the box.

After a few minutes of looking and assessing this overflowing box, I soon realized that the only way to make heads or tails of all this was to lay it all out on the dining table.  Time had come to unpack the box.  Being the sentimental one that I am, I had to look at everything before laying it down and spreading it all out on the table.  Pretty soon it was looking like a gigantic mess.  Many times during the unpacking, I would get bogged down by a letter or a note and the process slowed.  I had to walk away from this mess a few times just to breathe…

My husband was working in the office, and I went to tell him what I was doing.  I felt he needed a warning.  I said, “If you hear crying, don’t worry about it.  You may hear laughter too.  It’s cool. I am really fine.”  Laughter and tears poured out as I unpacked the box of evidence.  It was all proof of the journey I had taken years ago, and it seizes me still.

I found the food list while I sorted, and laughed right out loud when I saw the menu he had planned for me.

Tomato sandwiches.

I don’t know about you, but tomato sandwiches are ridiculous.  My very best friend during my growing up days, introduced me to these culinary delights.  She served me my very first tomato sandwich during one of my many visits to her house.  She lived just up the hill from me.  We’d met around age 5 when she’d come to spend some time at her grandparent’s house.  Their house was behind my parent’s house, too.  Boy, those were some good times.  I would wait and watch for her to show up at the fence line on the hill every summer or school holiday, and I would go running up there to meet her.  We got into all kinds of trouble together over the years.  Being a foodie, the memory of that first tomato sandwich is burned into my brain.  She’d toasted that white bread and slathered it with mayo.  The thick slices of tomato were sprinkled with salt and pepper.  Yum…  I had never had anything like it.  I feel sure I told my birthfather all about that first sandwich.  Turns out he loved them, too.  So, we added that to our list of foods we would eat in our first meal together.  Sounded pretty good to me.

I was very cavalier about going over to meet him for the first time.  My heart was still so shattered over losing contact with my birthmother, that my emotions were just worn out.  I didn’t have any expectations of him either.  Since I had never really wanted to have him in my life, I guess it freed me to just do it.

The hubs had been working over in this city for quite some time, but on the day my birthfather and I arranged to meet, he wasn’t going to be there.  I went to meet him by myself. I should have been more scared than I was…

It had been two months of phone calls before I went over to meet him. There had been many lists made between us.  I had an instant connection to him, and our conversations lasted hours at a time.  No telling how many hours we spent asking questions and telling our stories.

During one call he mentioned that his caregiver was concerned about all this.  She wanted him to be sure he was talking to someone who was legit.  He said she  didn’t want him giving out medical information to a family that may or may not be his biological family.


Looking back now, her motives may or may not have been pure.  Other incidents prove the latter, however God can and will sort all that out.  At the time, I was willing to entertain her “concerns”.

She had suggested that we take a DNA test.  Yep, she wanted proof.  Whatever her reasons, she had somehow convinced him to mention this to me and he was all kinds of scared to tell me.  I didn’t hesitate.  I told him I would be happy to take a DNA test because that would silence anybody who had “concerns”.  Plus, if for some incredibly unforeseen twist, he wasn’t my birthfather, better to know that right up front.  Now, I didn’t doubt that he was the one.  He didn’t doubt that he was the one.  We’d both seen pictures of the other.  There was no doubt.  The medical histories proved it was true.  Countless other factors proved it was true.  My birthmother KNEW it was true.

You can know what is true, and there will always be those who cast doubt.


This character who inserted herself into the story tried to cast doubt.  No matter.

When God gives you a dream and sends you on a path, don’t listen to the doubters.

It was quite comical to me on many levels that I would be taking a DNA test.  I love to watch crime solving shows.  I hate the crime part and usually cover my eyes and plug up my good ear, but the investigation intrigues me.  It is so fun trying to figure out all the clues and guess who the culprit will be based on the evidence.  A DNA test was right up my alley.

I’d told my birthfather I would participate, but if he wanted the test, he would be picking up the tab.  He paid the bill happily.  Everything was arranged by him in advance.  I was given an appointment and off I went with my baby boy in tow.  He was not quite a year old yet so when the nurses at the hospital saw me at the window, they assumed it was my son that needed the test.

Ummm, no.  I know who his daddy is thank you.  I am the one needing the test.

Insert goofy, awkward smile.

My arm was fitted with a hospital bracelet.  It was ironic to me that there I stood as an adult wearing a hospital bracelet so my paternity could be discovered.  Funny… The kind  nurse lady laughed with me and swabbed my mouth.  My DNA was captured and more time waiting began.   Two weeks later, on the Friday before Father’s Day, the results were in.

Congratulations…it’s a girl.

No doubt about it, not that there ever was on our part, he was my birthfather.  It was a special day for both of us when the news arrived.  I may write about that day in the future.  Maybe…

Just like God put a love for tomato sandwiches into our DNA, He also gave us both the urgency to meet.  Now, with all doubters silenced, there was no reason to wait any longer and one week later I got into my car and drove northwest.

As I said earlier, I should have been more scared.  Most of the drive over, I had the expected jitters, but it wasn’t until I stopped inside the city limits to grab a drink, that the enormity of what I was about to do hit me full force.  I called the hubs from the parking lot of the fast food joint to let him know I was there safely and to go over the directions once more.

I can follow directions easily, but never count on me for a sense of direction. If you do, we will wind up in Mexico probably.

With a final pep talk, I got back into my car to complete the last leg of my trip.  As I got closer to his house, my heartbeat was screaming in my ears.

This was really about to happen.

All my cavalier, nonchalant, this is no big deal, I can handle this attitude flew right out the window as I drove down the street to his house.  There it was behind a huge church in a normal, suburban neighborhood.  There was no where to park in front so I drove around back and wheeled into a spot.  I can feel in my guts the nausea that I felt when I tried to put the car in park.  I finally remembered how to drive and got the car into the correct gear and grabbed my purse.

Before getting out, I took a huge breath and looked toward the house.  The image behind the glass door outlined the silhouette of a man’s face.  He was sitting by the door waiting.  It may have been fiery nerve endings that illuminated his profile, but what I saw was a black background with a glowing image.  It was like a spotlight was set on his profile so brightly that I couldn’t make out any features.

I almost puked.  No lie.  I will never forget it.  Never…

I had a tough time walking to the door.  Legs of jello moved, but I know The Lord carried me from the car to the door.  Seeing a glimpse of him was too much.  He was not only waiting for me, but he was listening for me, too.  Without much sight left, he had to rely on his hearing.  He’d heard my arrival and listened to my footsteps approach.  When I stepped onto the back deck, he opened the door.

When I stepped into the little brick house and stood face to face with my birthfather, time stopped.

I am pretty sure I stopped breathing for a bit, too.

He tried to hug me, but I stopped him.

Every nerve ending in my body was surging with adrenaline and I know I would’ve passed out if he had touched me.  Here in front of me, stood my real, live birthfather, and I couldn’t take it.  I am prone to be dramatic at times, but when I try to describe this first look, I can’t find words big enough.  When I tell you that all I did was stand in his kitchen, only a few steps inside that back door for over an hour just looking at him, that is exactly how it went down.  Yes, I cried.  If you have read any of my story you know that tears are a common thread here.  I did cry some.  Mainly, though, I just looked and breathed.

It was all I could do.

My frozen feet wouldn’t budge.  I had dropped my bags on the floor and simply faced him.  He stood facing me, looking hard to see me.  He was crying, too. There we stood as the minutes crawled by.

What I find amazing is that he just let me stand there.

He didn’t try to change our location or convince me to move, he just let me stay right where I was until I was ready.  He knew I needed to look into the eyes of stranger until I had memorized those eyes.  He was such a gentleman to me in every way and I am so thankful.  My heart wasn’t able to process this quickly so I had to just absorb it all.

When the emotions began to die down a bit, to a point where I could breathe without feeling like I needed a paper bag, we went into the den to sit.

He had so much he wanted to show me and tell me about.  I was like a sponge soaking it all in.  As we talked, we suddenly realized that we were both dressed alike.  We were both wearing black shirts with blue jeans, and black shoes.  Twins… He told me that his outfit wasn’t complete until he put on his hat.  So, he went to the back bedroom to get his favorite hat to show me.  When he came out wearing his favorite cowboy hat, he was holding another one in his hand.

 “This one, baby girl”, he says, “is for you.”

It was his “dress” hat.  A beautiful, black cowboy hat was one of the first gifts he ever gave me.  As I took the hat from him, I automatically put it on my head and said…”Let’s go see how we look.”  Into the guest bathroom we went, and stood in front of the mirror just looking at ourselves.  It was weird and silly and wonderful.  It didn’t take long for the laughter to ring out of both of us because THIS WAS CRAZY!!!  Oh, did we laugh at ourselves.

It was just the medicine we both needed.  The magnitude of the meeting eased and we moved from shock to joy.

I was getting to see my blood face to face.

And he was no longer alone.

The doubter came by to check on him further into our visit and for the record she was very nice to me.  He’d wanted her to come by so somebody could take our picture together.  We posed in his easy chair with me sitting on the arm.  Seemed only right to wear our matching black hats for our first official photo.

I treasure that picture.

When I look at it, like I did before writing this, I can clearly see the  happiness radiating off my face and his.

It was a day of joy.

When God knitted me together in my mother’s womb, my future may have seemed on the surface uncertain.  Two words resound all throughout scripture that prove otherwise.

“But God…”

Two people, faced with a pregnancy make two different decisions.  One turns away and goes back to his life.  The other faces 9 months of carrying the weight of the baby, and a lifetime of carrying the weight of heartache.  Choosing what was best for the baby at the expense of her heart and herself, was a gift that only God can repay.  My future in the hands of a social worker may seem very uncertain.

“But God…”

God knew all this, and none of it took Him by surprise.

When others were making a list of options regarding my life, God was there writing out the ultimate list.  The creator of DNA, the One who wrote out the story from the beginning, organized every step of this life I live.  Where we see chaos, He makes order.

That chaos on my dining room table has finally shifted into organized piles.  After digging up all the papers of the past and laying them out before The Lord, He showed me how to order them all.  Yesterday, I came home from work, walked into the dining room, and within a short time, I had arranged orderly piles.  A few days ago, I wasn’t able to do that, and then suddenly the order made sense.

Just that easy.

You know why?  Because Jesus makes it all make sense.

In time, everything that you and I lay out before Him, He will show us how to put it all together.  He is the Master after all.  He’s been organizing us even before He strung our DNA together.  His plans and order many times don’t make sense to us, but He never makes mistakes.


As I drove back home, I was both happy and sad.  I had spent an incredible day with my birthfather in the same city where my birthmother lived.  My heart was still hanging on to her even though it appeared that God had taken her out of my life.

There was still chaos.  He would soon make order.

Before that day came though, God had plans to add another unexpected character.  She wasn’t supposed to be in this story at all.

“But, God…”

By the way, in case you are wondering, we never ate our tomato sandwiches. I didn’t eat a thing that day.  I couldn’t.  I didn’t need to.  God had given me a plate piled high with joy and my heart was full.

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