He’s outnumbered six to one by wife Sara and five adopted daughters from Colombia, and the Rev. Phil Zielinksi wouldn’t have it any other way.
As husband to Sara and father to five daughters — Yuliza (14), Lorena (12), Valeria (11), Yurledis (10) and Yesenia (9) — Pastor Philip Zielinski of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Valley City, Ohio, gives thanks for the little things, like a turn in the bathroom every now and then. Actually, “we have 2.5 bathrooms, including one off our master bedroom. God is good!” he laughs.
The Zielinski family is speaking up. By sharing their story through the #eyesoflife campaign, they are giving voice to what millions of others believe as well: that all life, from conception to natural death, is sacred, valued and a gift from God.
As early as premarital counseling, the Zielinskis talked to their pastor “about wanting a large family, having children through birth and adoption,” Phil recalls. “It later became clear that God was going to build our family through adoption alone.”
Their five daughters, originally from Colombia, now keep the pair busy — from activities to school to meals — even as they continue to adjust to family life, to being on the receiving end of their parents’ attention, love and care.
The girls have, in return, “taught us that love and parenting is about bearing crosses and receiving joys,” he says. “They’ve already learned — all too well — that life is messy and unfair. A child who leaves [her] birth family — for whatever reason and at whatever age — has experienced a trauma and a loss.”
Children can struggle to connect with their parents even as adoptive parents bear the cross of children who “turn their anger, sadness and fear towards them, even though they are not the source of it.” It isn’t easy for child or parent. But, he says, “the joy we have is in the sometimes fleeting moments when they reach for our hand, look to us for comfort or look into our eyes as they tell us something they’ve accomplished.
“Every day, they are learning what it means to be part of our family,” he explains honestly. “Being part of a family is hard for them to accept and embrace — let alone being part of the family of God in Christ.” And yet, “the Bible is full of accounts of how God’s love transcends earthly boundaries of geography, nationality and race,” he recounts. “God’s Word, the hymns we sing, the histories of our congregations and our family trees already show how diverse and expansive the Communion of Saints truly is.”
Ultimately, their five daughters are a daily reminder to Phil and Sara that “every human life has dignity and worth in God’s eyes,” he says. “The culture of death that surrounds us cheapens every life and treats the most vulnerable among us as the most disposable. It is by caring for children like our daughters that we stand in godly defiance to Satan, the world and our own sinful nature.
“Every person is one for whom Jesus came to give His abundant life,” he explains in his combination role as dad, husband and pastor. “By embracing adoption, we can live out our faith with ‘eyes of life’ to see the value in every child and every life.” Ultimately, he notes, “it’s not because they were adopted that our daughters matter or are special. Our daughters — all children — already matter to God and are precious.”
And what about the young men who will one day come knocking, asking for a date or perhaps one of his daughters’ hands in marriage?
“As for the boys, well, all we can do is model what they should expect from a man and what to expect in a Christ-centered and loving relationship,” he says diplomatically, “not perfection, but humility, love, repentance and forgiveness.”
And then, with a wry sense of humor only a father to five young daughters can possess, he adds, “But locking them in the closet until they’re something out of Great Expectations is a solid Plan B.”