When God Changed His Mind–Altars and Isaacs
“When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood” (Genesis 22:9 NIV).
The word ‘altar’ appears nearly 400 times in the New International Version of the Bible, mentioned first in Genesis 8:20 after Noah and his family survive the flood. Throughout the Old Testament, one finds various purposes for the building of altars–some of which were for:
- recording an encounter with God
- providing refuge
One of the most well-known accounts of altar-building is undoubtedly the one built by Abraham in obedience to God’s call to sacrifice his own son Isaac. In this story, we read how, despite Isaac being a son of promise, God calls Abraham to trust Him, asking him to erect an altar upon which to sacrifice his beloved boy.
With all the elements of a well-developed story, the climax of this true tale comes when Abraham’s blade hovers over his son, ready to be plunged to fulfill God’s directive.
Resolution (and a deep sigh of relief) arrives, however, when God calls out–
“Abraham! Abraham… Do not lay a hand on the boy… Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” (Gen. 22:11, 12).
Was it that God changed His mind in this harrowing moment? Or was it that such was His plan all along, but He tested Abraham to increase his faith and make him an example for God-followers down through the ages? (See the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11!)
No doubt, this story points to an even more redemptive one concerning the ultimate sacrifice our Savior made—one we’re preparing to celebrate—that we might experience new life and eternity with Jesus.
One such God-follower, someone I’m privileged to know and call friend, is Christina Custodio. In her new release with Redemption Press (2022), When God Changed His Mind–A True Story of Trial, Triumph, and Finding Joy Beyond Circumstances, she shares the personal story of when she, too, was called to sacrifice her hopes and dreams when her son Isaiah experienced a life-threatening brain bleed. In the hospital, she was asked to “lay down her Isaac”–trusting God for His ultimate best despite facing the dark possibility of her son’s death or, at the very least, the likelihood of lifelong disability.
“From the time he was born, I always knew my son, Isaiah, would die young. This knowing always lingered in the back of my mind. Nothing about him justified my expectation. I just knew. So when the day finally arrived, I wasn’t shocked” (When God Changed His Mind, p. 17).
So begins Christina’s true story–a testimony of God’s goodness, even in the midst of heartbreak.
I recently sat down with Christina and two dear friends–the founder of The Special Link, Carri Uram, who now serves as the executive director of Adoption Options, Inc. and Cindy Abrams, who happens to be the birth mother of our oldest son. Both Carri and Cindy, like Christina, faced moments when God called them, too, to place their hopes and dreams, as well as their literal sons, on the altar, trusting God to fulfill His promises for them despite difficult circumstances.
The following is a portion of our conversation, those moments shared between sisters with similar experiences– each who loves the Lord and has been called to “lay down an Isaac” that God might be glorified and her faith might increase. And the result? Others then see the goodness of Him who is faithful.
Cindy and Carri, like Christina, you were called to lay something down and trust God with the outcome. What was that for each of you?
Cindy: I learned I was pregnant when I was 18 and a senior in high school. Because I was preparing to go to college, and because I didn’t feel I’d have the support I’d need to parent this child, I chose to place him for adoption. I had to literally lay down my son and trust that God would provide the right family for him and give me peace in the letting go.
Carri: In 1992, on New Years Eve day, my husband and I suffered the loss of our 7-week old son John to SIDS. He was asleep in his infant swing one moment, and the next, he was gone. God called me to lay down my dreams and to trust Him for my healing, as well as believe His promise to bring something good from the pain of this sudden loss.
Christina, from your own experience, what would you say to each of these women who understands that God’s ways are best but who has also seen that sometimes He doesn’t change His mind and make things the way she wanted?
Christina: To Carri–I, too, have struggled with feelings of, not so much guilt, but the question of why my son, my baby, was allowed to live while others’ babies weren’t–why so many other mothers’ sons die, but mine didn’t. I can only look to my faith. I believe God allows bad things to happen because, from His perspective, He sees things we never will. I choose to believe good things can come from even one life lived and lost. Tragedy often draws our attention to matters we would not have seen otherwise. Important changes are made when we are forced to sit up and recognize a problem we would not have known existed. We have to remember that God sees the whole picture. Even when life feels bad, God is still good.
And to Cindy–when a mother chooses to give her child to another, it is one of the most beautiful acts of sacrifice. To choose life, then, even more, to choose to give this life to another family–sacrificing one’s own hopes and dreams on the altar–shows a level of trust that most of us will never experience.
These are beautiful ways of seeing God’s hand in even our hardest moments, Christina. Thank you for that. Cindy and Carri, what “good things,” as Christina called them, can each of you see from the vantage point of many years now–having laid your sons on the altar and trusting God more than two and three decades ago?
Cindy: God did provide a family for my son–the perfect family, I believe, for him and for me. Because of open adoption and their love for me, a birth mother–something you, Carri, always encouraged in your work at The Special Link–I not only found a family for my son, but I, too, am part of the Miller family. I was able to pursue my dreams by attending college, and I eventually received a masters degree in social work. When I married in 2011, Maureen was my matron of honor, and my biological son Ian was Best Man. His younger brother Jacob was our ring bearer, and Bill was our photographer. It truly was a family affair, in all the best kinds of ways. Furthermore, as a social worker, I am able to help Carri with pre- and post-placement home studies for adoptive families, and I will always hold a special place in my heart for birth mothers.
Carri: Out of the pain of our loss of John, God made us aware of a great need in our community and beyond–out of which, The Special Link was born. As a mother of four, with one more in heaven, I love and value family. And because two of our children came to us through the miracle of adoption, I have a special place in my heart for birth mothers. Though God didn’t change His mind and bring John back, He did bring beauty from our brokenness, purpose from our pain. My years with The Special Link and, now, Adoption Options, Inc, add up to nearly three decades of ministry, advocating for the unborn and harder to place children, as well as for birth mothers. Oh, the joy of seeing God do good things. My cup runs over!
These are beautiful testimonies of God’s goodness–of His faithfulness! To each of you, what’s an anchor verse, a promise from God’s Word, to which you’ve held in life’s most difficult storms, comfort that’s given strength, no matter how weak you’ve felt?”
Cindy: “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).
When I questioned whether or not I could go through with placing my child–to lay him on the altar and walk away–these words brought comfort, because I knew I could do it with God’s help.
Carri: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face” (Job 13:15).
I quoted this aloud hundreds–thousands–of times in the months after John’s passing. Even though I didn’t feel hope, I knew God would honor His promise to me.
Christina: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Isaiah 43:2).
This passage brought such peace during the darkest season of my life. What a promise!
(All the above scriptures came from the NIV.)
As one considers the purposes for altar-building in the Bible, each one truly fits Christina Custodio’s story.
- She was called to be willing to sacrifice her hopes and dreams concerning her son.
- God’s goodness encouraged her to worship her ever-faithful Father.
- She experienced many personal encounters with God.
- The promises from His Word were a covenant to her.
- His Word was a refuge for her and her family.
One quote near the end of her book sums all this up–for Cindy and Carri, and for each of us who desires to trust God at the deepest level.
“The story of Abraham and Isaac comes to mind. That life-changing night, I truly had to give Isaiah over to God–to sacrifice him in a way [on the altar]. I knew God could save him, but I didn’t know if He would. There it is again: I know He can, but will He? That night I had to open the grip I had on my son and present him to the Lord, trusting God to do what was best…” (When God Changed His Mind, pp.233, 234).
Thank you, Christina, for being willing to sacrifice yourself to share your personal story of pain and provision. God shines through you, dear friend. For His glory and the good of His people…
What “Isaac” might God be calling you to lay on the altar that you might come to know Him more intimately, trust Him more completely?
Do you have an “altar” story? Please share!
***Leave a comment for a chance to win an autographed copy of Christina Custodio’s wonderful book. (Drawing held on Friday, April 29, 2022.)***
Thank you, Sweet Savior, for the stories You give us to share–for your glory! May we always point others to You, even in our pain. So be it!
Christina and her family reside near Greenville, SC. This was her first book, but I’m guessing it won’t be her last. To purchase When God Changed His Mind click the title.