Headlines from First Thoughts

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Treasure found- Op-Ed In Sunday's News-Sentinel

This article will appear in the Knoxville News-Sentinel's Community Columnist section Sunday, November 22.

My dad left one treasure for me to find after he died. Without a map for guidance, I needed providence and social media on my journey to discovery.

My father’s life was not scripted for a bookstore’s family section. After attending the University of Florida, his world, including his relationships, turned upside down. In the late 1950's, he and his wife Hilda had a son, David. After a few years, they divorced. My dad lost contact with David. Hilda remarried. The rest became a well-kept family secret.

Working in his brother's accounting practice, my dad met my mother. They married in 1970; I was born in 1972. While innocently flipping through a photo album as a child, I discovered a picture of a boy who looked like Dad and me. The long-buried secret was open, but the mystery endured. My father died in 1983; my mother did not remarry; and my half brother became the subject of much discussion and speculation. Dad's brothers began searching for David, but every road turned down a blind alley.

Upon moving to Knoxville five years ago, I resumed the search. Closer to my family of origin, I felt I had a chance of locating my half brother. In December 2007, I shared with my church a bit of Dad's past and my family’s odyssey to explain how God's providence works with divorce, redemption, and healing.

A strange series of coincidences followed. Two weeks later, I received a call from North Carolina. A critically ill great uncle, who had not heard the sermon, wanted to meet his “preacher great nephew” and give me pictures of my half brother, Dad, and Hilda. Before I had time for a visit, my great uncle and his wife died; I never received the pictures. Yet I chose to view this experience as a sign I was getting closer, a reminder to be faithful in my search. Turning to the social-media network Facebook, I posted family-tree information and waited. Occasionally, I googled my last name, checked ancestor.com, and hoped.

On October 2, 2009, I received an email message from David Andrews, a pathologist in Miami, which read: "I am most certainly your half brother David, son of Hilda, our father's first wife." On a whim the night before, he googled the name David Shiell, landed on my Facebook family tree, and discovered a half brother that he never knew existed. Our stories are remarkably similar, only 15 years apart. He’s 52; I’m 37. We were only children; we completed doctoral degrees; we have two sons.

When his mother remarried, his step-father adopted him when he was 12 and sealed the adoption, locking away his “Shiell” heritage. His mother and step-father never had children, and David has one memory of our father when he was four.

Most stories like ours do not have fairy-tale endings. Just because people are related does not necessarily mean they want to be family. Our case is different. Two weeks later, I flew to Miami and had my first sleepover at my big brother’s house. This week for the Thanksgiving holiday, David, his wife, and sons will travel to stay with us. We’ll join our uncles, their families, and my mother on Thanksgiving Day in Crossville for a reunion 48 years in the making.

If David had not reached out to me, he would have never been found. And somehow I think if my uncles and I had not looked faithfully, he would not have found me. To me, that’s providence: our faithfulness, God’s timing, and the surprises of social media and grace. This treasure named David courageously unlocked the mystery and found relationship. I am truly thankful.

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