(***Read to the end for a special announcement.***)
“Then God said, “Take your son… whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you” (Genesis 22:2 NIV).
“All I want for Christmas is a ticket to California, to meet my birth father.”
Jacob’s words hung in the air.
“Are you sure, son?” my husband asked. “You’ve thought this through?”
He nodded. “I’m sure. Brian said he’d pick me up at the airport. We’ve been talking via FaceTime, and he wants to meet me too.”
Brian. The man who hadn’t wanted anything to do with paternity. Denied he even was Jacob’s biological father over two decades ago. What had changed?
Swallowing a lump, I managed, “Why now?”
Jake considered his words. Finally, “I just need to know, Mom.”
And I understood. This step, though wrought with unknowns, would fill a void—like the placing of a puzzle piece.
But in that moment, I was taken back. Once again in California, I stood in an apartment with a suitcase in one hand, a sleeping newborn strapped in his carrier in the other.
And again, I felt the heartache of saying goodbye.
Our middle child, like our other two, came to us through the miracle of adoption. But unlike his older brother and younger sister, both born in South Carolina, Jacob’s birth mom Michelle was married to a Navy sailor stationed in San Diego.
I knew of her, had prayed for her. Michelle became my friend Becca’s sister-in-law when she married her brother. Becca and I attended the same Bible study, and she’d asked for prayer for her brother’s wife on more than one occasion. I’d answered the call, and though I’d not met her, she felt familiar.
It was a delight then to finally meet this woman for whom I’d prayed when we attended a family barbeque in the late summer of 1998. Our Ian wasn’t yet a year, but Michelle marveled at his joyful spirit. “You need a sibling,” she’d said to him, winking at me, but I saw Becca elbow her a warning.
Awkward silence blanketed the space for a moment. Realizing the reason for Becca’s discomfort, I jumped in. “Yes, he does.” Then to Ian, “And what a wonderful big brother you’d be!”
Becca was merely trying to protect my feelings. After all, it hadn’t been six months since we’d lost a daughter to a failed adoption, though Michelle was unaware of this—unaware of how Becca had interceded on my behalf, asking the Lord to heal my broken heart. A true sister in the faith, my friend hurt over my sadness.
The uncomfortable moment passed, and I enjoyed getting to know Michelle. Before parting, we promised to keep in touch—a foreshadowing that still strikes me.
Less than six months later, we received word that Michelle was expecting. Sadly, she and her husband, Becca’s brother Jon, had separated. Her estranged husband out to sea, she’d gotten pregnant by another man.
Distraught, Michelle reached out to her sister-in-law. “I don’t know what to do,” she cried over the phone. “Jon and I planned on working things out, but a baby by someone else, well…” She paused, though Becca understood.
“Have you considered adoption?”
And, not long after, Michelle called us. “Might you?” she’d inquired. “Perhaps this little one is supposed to be yours.”
Bill and I prayed. My heart was still tender, having suffered such loss less than a year before. Was I ready to step out again, open my heart?
But we sensed the Lord’s nudge, and confirmation came when pain and doubt were replaced with peace and joy, and I heard Him whisper—
Over the course of several months, from March of 1999 to early August, Michelle and I grew in our relationship. We talked on the phone—birth mother to adoptive mother—sharing our hearts.
One thing Michelle confided, something I’ll never forget, was that she knew placing her child with another would be difficult.
“I’m not going to hold him after he’s born,” she’d said. “But you’ll be here, right? You’ll hold him for me.”
And that was the plan.
We received the call mid-August, and Michelle explained that she was likely going to deliver earlier than first thought. I made arrangements to fly to San Diego. Bill, a medical resident at the time, would come later, after we’d been discharged from the hospital, and my mom would travel with me, as well as our toddler who, by this time, was one and a half.
“Are you ready to be a big brother?” Ian’s smile told me he was.
Arriving at the naval hospital by the early afternoon of August 18th, my heart sunk when I entered the room.
There, tucked in among the bedsheets, nestled upon Michelle’s chest, was our baby, and her words from months earlier echoed. For an instant, I couldn’t breathe.
But fear was dispelled when I heard her say, “Jacob, meet your momma. Your big brother too.”
She nodded toward the bundle in her arms, an invitation for me to take him, and I did.
He was so small. Ian looked from him to me. “Ba-by?” he asked.
“Yes. This is your brother.”
A day later, we were discharged. Michelle signed consent forms, deeming me Jacob’s guardian. California law required birth moms to be home and medication-free prior to signing relinquishment papers, and that was fine. Everything was going well.
But when our hotel phone rang and I answered, heard anguish in Michelle’s voice, my heart again ached.
“I can’t go through with this. I… I just can’t.”
There was nothing for me to do. I spoke with my husband and our attorney in South Carolina. Both confirmed what I already knew—I had to return Jacob.
Standing in Michelle’s apartment, suitcase in one hand and, in the other, a sleeping Jacob tucked in his carrier, I felt I might collapse.
Placing both the bag and carrier on the floor, I knelt to fix my eyes on the infant, to memorize his face so I wouldn’t forget. And in that moment, I heard again—
Standing, I turned to Michelle, and our eyes met. “I’m here for you, should you… change your mind.”
Stepping forward to hug her, she choked, “I’m… I’m sorry.”
I then took one final look at the child I thought was to be my son and whispered, “I love you, Jacob. I always will.”
As I opened the door, crossed the threshold to take that first step into a future wrought with unknowns, I heard, You’ve been called to lay down your son just like Abraham was asked to lay down his promised Isaac.
Then, once more—
The plane ticket purchased, we spoke to our adult son one last time before he headed to the airport.
“I love you, Jacob. I always will.”
“I love you, too, Mom.” He paused, then added, “And don’t worry. I’ll be back.”
And he is—with one more puzzle piece set in place, though the full picture of his life is still incomplete.
One thing’s for sure. We’re in that picture—his dad and me—as well as big brother Ian and his younger sister too. So are a birth mother and father.
And what have I learned?
When we’re asked to lay down an Isaac—sacrifice something dear—the One who calls is faithful. No matter the circumstances, no matter the pain, God always walks with us. Can you hear Him?
Dearest Father, You gave up Your sweet Son for the sake of the world, that we might be adopted as Your sons and daughters. You understand pain and anguish. Indeed, You understand our pain and anguish. Thank you for always walking with us, no matter what this broken, sin-stained world brings our way. Help us remember we can always, always trust You. Amen.
- Has the Lord ever asked you to lay down an ‘Isaac’—to sacrifice something you prayed about and received, only to then be asked to give it back? What emotions did you feel? Anger? Fear? Confusion?
- Was there a particular passage(s) of scripture that spoke specifically to that situation?
- Many of the classic hymns were written out of great pain. Reading their lyrics or singing them can offer comfort and strength. Is there one particular song that speaks to your pain or fear? Perhaps write it out as a prayer.
(This article appeared first in Refresh, an online magazine published by Lighthouse Bible Studies Publication–Fall 2022, Part 1.)
This will be my final “weekly” blog post for a season. After several years of posting new material each week, it’s been difficult to make this step, worrying that I’ll disappoint people or lose readership.
But the Lord has encouraged me to cling to the message here, saying, “TRUST ME!”
And so, in obedience, I am stepping out–with HIM–in faith, trusting Him. The next several months, I’ll be focusing again on edits to my work in progress, prayerfully asking the Lord to guide me in this ongoing endeavor.
In the words of the late Eugene Peterson, it’s “a long obedience in the same direction.”
Thank you to all who’ve read and encouraged me. I’ll still be posting (likely 1-2 times per month) but not on my regular basis, sometimes posting “recycled” stories.
Much love to those who’ve walked with me through life’s garden.
I’ve enjoyed Penning Pansies with you!
See you on down the path.