The Red Thread by Jennifer Grant

(excerpt from Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter by Jennifer Grant)

An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time, place or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.
(Chinese proverb)

Chinese folklore uses the image of the red thread to describe destiny. A proverb says that invisible, red threads connect newborn babies to all the people who will be important in their lives. The threads shorten as these people, bound from birth, come together.

The belief that God guides our paths is found in many religions, but it sometimes leaves the faithful troubled. How do we reconcile the idea that God has a divine plan with the reality that about half of the world’s children are born into poverty? Given that, what are we to make of God’s assertion to know “the thoughts that I think toward you…thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11, New King James Version).

Is there a big, generous God who created us the way Max Lucado’s Eli created the Wemmicks in his children’s book You Are Special? Does this God hear us, love us and want the best for us? If so, why do some people live lives of comfort while others pick through dumps for the scraps of garbage that will keep their children alive for one more day? What is the “future and hope” God has planned for the 160 million orphans around the world?

I wonder if we could have something to do with it.

Has God given a mandate to those of us who are materially blessed to serve the poor? World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns thinks so. In his book A Hole in Our Gospel, he challenges American Christians to take responsibility for the poor. “…it is not our fault that people are poor, but it is our responsibility to do something about it. God says that we are guilty if we allow people to remain deprived when we have the means to help them,” Stearns wrote.

Is there an invisible red thread that ties me to the world’s poorest people?

Faithful practitioners of all major religions believe that the rich must help the poor. Kabbalah is a form of Jewish mysticism recently popularized in the U.S. by its celebrity devotees. The word Kabbalah means “that which is received” or “tradition.” Its teachings explore the mysterious relationship between the eternal, invisible God and God’s creation. Those who practice Kabbalah wear red, knotted threads around their left wrists as witness to their devotion to that invisible God. They are urged to share in the suffering of the poor.

Buddhists explain tragic, fateful events, as well as serendipitous moments, as stemming from karma, or the effects a person’s actions and intentions in former existences as well as in the present. Compassion toward the poor and serving them creates good karma. Those who practice Sanatana Dharma, which we often call “Hinduism” and Sikhs are compelled to help the poor as well. Islam’s holy book, The Qur’an, teaches that those who do not help orphans or feed the hungry will be punished. (Hmm…sound familiar? Think of the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25, for instance.)

Perhaps one way that God engages with humankind is through our compassion.

But God seems to do some pulling of those red threads without our help as well. Doesn’t it seem that some accidents don’t feel very accidental at all? Some things just work out serendipitously. Serendipitously: a pretty word that lets us wave away the possibility that these things just might be divinely ordained.

Mother Teresa wrote, “God made the world for the delight of human beings – if we could see His goodness everywhere, His concern for us, His awareness of our needs: the phone call we’ve waited for, the ride we are offered, the letter in the mail, just the little things He does for us throughout the day. As we remember and notice His love for us, we just begin to fall in love with Him because He is so busy with us – you just can’t resist Him. I believe there’s no such thing as luck in life, it’s God’s love, it’s His.”

So many parents who have adopted a child are surprised to discover a curious similarity between themselves and their new son or daughter. That similarity can feel like another gift, or like icing on the cake. Maybe you and your child share a freak allergic reaction to watermelon. An inexplicable love for opera. An aversion to cats. A passion for thunderstorms. After seeing the first pictures of my daughter and me, several friends were astonished: “She has your eyes,” they said. Or, “How is it that she has the ‘Grant’ nose?”

“It just seems like we were meant to be together,” many adoptive parents say. “Like we were always intended for each other.” Adoptive parents find the red thread story helpful in describing the miracle of how their families were created. It’s as beautiful and useful a story as any to talk about the intersection of fate, love, friendship and family.

Blessed be the tie that binds, the old hymn says.

Divine providence.

The red string of destiny.


I believe God nudges us toward the people with whom we’re meant to share our lives. And, sometimes, I think God uses adoption to rip away the curtain that keeps us blind to poverty and suffering. In finding our children and falling in love with a country far from home, many adoptive parents find a calling to change their lives and serve those whom they have met there. They know that members of their children’s first families struggle just to survive; suddenly the crisis of global poverty is personal.

Is that part of the divine plan of adoption? Not only to give permanent loving families to orphaned children and to answer the prayers of the childless, but to link those who have much with those who do not have enough? To make us all, truly, extended family?

More and more, I think so.