First Words

Adopted and loved

One of the greatest mysteries of faith is that God loves us as is.

Martha had an undeniably difficult childhood. “Mom regularly beat me with a strap. She was mean even when I did nothing wrong,” she told me. “My dad was cruel for reasons I don’t understand. He’d pack my lunch for school and often put a rock in it instead of a sandwich. As hungry as I was after school, I dreaded coming home.”

What’s amazing about this cruelty is that Martha’s parents had adopted her, a decision normally undertaken by adults who have a deep and caring desire to secure a child’s future. Something backfired in Martha’s case, and it may be due to the circumstances under which she was adopted.

Born in 1923, Martha was one of the last children to ride an orphan train, a transportation system that brought parentless children from eastern cities to prospective families in western and midwestern towns. Between 1854 and 1929, children’s aid organizations in cities like New York and Philadelphia placed an estimated 200,000 orphaned children aboard trains for adoption by families in other states. Many beautiful families were formed despite weak or nonexistent processes for identifying qualified parents. At times, an auction-like atmosphere filled train depots as crowds of rural townsfolk gathered to gawk at the children or choose a child on the spot. Not until government legislation established early child welfare laws did the orphan trains cease to run.