My dad is a genius. Seriously, I’m not even joking. He is the smartest man I know. He can argue with professors at theological colleges about Greek and Hebrew specifics of the Old Testament and preach up a storm. He can rebuild a car, run triathlons, play any sport, build a garage, play the piano (using all the black notes by ear!), and make beautiful furniture.
I remain completely dumbfounded at how my dad got to be so good at everything. He had no help.
There’s no easy way to say it — my dad was sold as a baby.
He did grow up with his “mother,” who was not mentally capable of raising a child, and a drunken father, which is why I guess they resorted to buying a baby instead of adopting one.
My dad grew up with the name Jackie Arthur. But it wasn’t his name. He wouldn’t learn his real name until much later when he told his mother he was getting married, and in response to the good news she threw him out of the house and threw his birth certificate out after him. My dad picked it up and discovered his original name—Robert John Strickland.
Many years later his mother died and my parents found the receipt in the attic for the purchase of a baby—for fifty dollars.
My dad found his way to a gang and was in the kind of trouble that people don’t often escape from. Somehow he was rescued by a lady from the Salvation Army — a door knocker who insisted on finding folks who were excluded and stuck in cycles and stories that had bad endings.
The Salvation Army gave him a brass instrument and told him they needed him to play it in the band. And because they needed him, he stuck around. He played his part. Not only did it make the band better, but it also made his life better, too.
My dad would say that that little community would put up with the shenanigans of a broken and angry young boy in a way that would explain love to him — for the first time. And that love would warm his cold heart and embrace him in a way that would help him discover another kind of Father. One that wasn’t drunk and abusive, like his veteran dad. One that wasn’t mean and crazy like his broken mother. One that would have him, love him, protect him, and invite him into what he always wanted—a place to belong.
My mother says she remembers the exact time and place she was when she heard the knock on the garage door. She was living in the garage of a loveless aunt who had rescued her from a violent home.
My mother wondered who they were and what they wanted. She heard them say they were from the Salvation Army. After they left, my mom asked her aunt, “What is the Salvation Army?” Her aunt answered her by suggesting she go find out for herself. And so she did.
She is forever thankful for her question that day. The couple at the door had an invitation for kids just like her who wanted a place to go—a place to belong. She was wanted. She was welcomed. She could not wait to make her way as fast as possible out of that house and into the church.
The way my mom describes it moves me to tears. She tells me that when she made her way to the Salvation Army, she found what she had always been looking for—home.
So, two unwanted, rejected, and broken kids found welcome, belonging, and salvation through a peculiar bunch of people who put on uniforms and knocked on doors in the poor parts of their towns.
I love the eternal sound of those knocks. I hear them sometimes in my own heart. A knock. From Heaven.
Someone is looking. Someone is wanting. Someone is waiting. Someone is inviting.
There are a lot of people who need to hear that knock. A lot of folks are stuck in cycles of violence and rejection and fear. They are trapped in all kinds of ways, externally and internally. And the greatest deception they will face is that no one cares. That no one notices. That no one will ever come for them.
But I know the real story. Because I’m the daughter of little Elizabeth and Jackie. There is no one unseen or unknown by God. There are no unwanted children in the family of the divine. Every. Single. Person. Matters. This isn’t just wishful, idealistic thinking; it’s hope.
Danielle Strickland is an author, speaker, trainer, and global social justice advocate. Her aggressive compassion has served people firsthand in countries all over the world, from establishing justice departments for the Salvation Army to launching global anti-trafficking initiatives.