The Satterlees

For National Adoption Month, we’re honored to share the stories of some of the Salvationist families across America who have taken James 1:27 to heart. by Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee

When my mother and birth father divorced, he walked out of our lives, not contacting us or supporting us. My poor mother fought to keep our family together even in poverty. I can’t remember the number of times there was absolutely nothing to eat until some neighbor came over with some food they thought we might like to have. Most of our clothes were hand-me-downs. We constantly moved from place to place because we were evicted. I never knew when I came home if the water or electricity was going to be on. We seldom went anywhere or did anything outside our home. In time, we joined The Salvation Army as our church home, but we also received groceries many times from the Army. I’m not complaining – many people faced what we did, and we got through it.

When my mother remarried, it was into a wonderful family named Satterlee. When the subject came up about our stepfather becoming our adoptive father, my two brothers and I jumped at it. I clearly remember the adoption hearing when I was asked by the judge if adoption was what I wanted. How could I not? One father had abandoned us while another loved us and wanted us. Our extended Satterlee family has been as warm and nurturing as any could be.

Our mother died when she was 44, having struggled through much of her life including numerous strokes and heart attacks. It was only after she died that my brothers and I found out that before any of us were born, she had had a baby while still a teen. The infant girl was adopted by a family. That was all we knew.

A few years later our aunt told us of a young lady named Melissa Montgomery who was trying to find us. She was that baby that had been placed for adoption. Unfortunately, our aunt could only give us a name, but nothing more since she misplaced the letter. It was never found. My brother Mark joined me in trying to find Melissa but our options for doing so in those days were very limited. We tried this and that because we knew that she was also looking for us.

In the meantime, my wife and I discovered that we were not able to have children biologically, so the only option to be a parent was adoption. Eventually Jay, Sharon, Jon and Anna were adopted into our family. Over the years I have heard insensitive people say things like, “I could never love a child that isn’t mine.” My answer is, “Then you don’t deserve to adopt any children.” I also bristle at those who call the birth parents the “real father” or the “real mother.” Real parents are the ones who dry the tears and hold and love and cherish the child placed with them, whether biologically or through adoption. I love my kids and if given the chance to have children biologically or through adoption, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Because of some unfortunate circumstances, five of our ten grandchildren came to live with us. We adopted them as well but because we want them to maintain a relationship with their parents (our children), we have them call us grandma and grandpa rather than mom or dad. Shannon, Jayme, Kayde and Cloey came first. Jayden joined us just a year ago. When I found we could not have biological children, I first thought that meant we’d never have children. Instead, we have been involved with raising nine.

A few months ago, my brother Mark and I got an email from Melissa! Bravely she offered that if we didn’t want to have contact with her, she would understand. Not contact her? We were all over it, sharing information about the mother we had in common, pictures, all the rest. Melissa had wonderful parents who adopted her but like a lot of adopted children, she just had to know who else was out there. 

This past summer, I met Melissa for the first time. Standing before me was a woman who was the build, the complexion, and had much of the appearance of our shared mother. She wanted to know everything about her birth mother and the life we lived while she was being raised in her own loving family. I thought we were there to answer her questions, help her find answers. But I found out that meeting her filled in a missing piece in me. After all these years of looking, just when it seemed this door was closed, it was suddenly flung open. 

Not all reunion stories of biological siblings being unified end as well as ours does. But we are happy where this road has led. Melissa is my sister. Different parents but my sister, nonetheless. 

The Lord’s ways are perfect.

All this reminds us that as believers, we are all adopted. “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’ For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory” (Romans 8:15-17 NLT, emphasis mine).

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