I love learning. I love reading and writing and new ideas and stretching myself.
I was the first of my family to go to college. My parents didn’t graduate high school. I had made it through the two years of a community college, gotten an AA transfer degree and was attending a university.
The Bible as Literature seemed like a good choice. It was a summer course, it fit my schedule nicely, and it would be good to come at the Bible from a fresh angle.
In the lit class we were to select a particular story from the old testament and analyze its literary qualities. Did it have the elements of an oral tradition? Where there parts of the story that had deeper meanings, double meanings, unclear meanings?
Since we had wanted children for so long (and we had recently realized that it would never happen), I chose the Abraham and Isaac story.
Abraham, a successful shepherd from Ur, and his wife Sarah believed that there was only one God who was everywhere, all knowing, and all powerful. This creator of the universe wanted to work through Abraham to create a nation, a people through which He would interact.
The problem was that Abraham had no children. God promised to remedy that, and though the years passed and this couple grew old, Abraham held fast to that belief.
So I chose that story for my final project. It’s a fascinating story. It culminates with Abraham having two children, an illegitimate child of his wife’s maid and, surprisingly, a child from his aged wife. This child of his old age, Isaac, he loved dearly. God tested Abraham’s obedience and devotion by asking him to sacrifice Isaac (or Ishmael according to the muslims) on the very hill upon which Jerusalem is built.
I read that story, I studied that tale, I wondered, and pondered, and prayed.
“Lord, if you give me a child, as you did for Abraham, I promise I will give him to You. I will raise him as You wish, I will dedicate him to Your service. Let me have a child as well.”
I met a pregnant 16 year old who asked us if we wanted her child. I took her to her doctor visits. I made sure that she was eating well. I prayed for guidance. Should we adopt this child? Is he Isaac, the child the Lord has for me, or Ishmael, the child that came first, but is not the child?
We made an appointment to see a lawyer, to begin the adoption proceedings. We hadn’t much money. Is this the child we were to have?
As we went to bed the night before our appointment with the attorney we prayed.
“Lord, please give us the wisdom to make the correct choice. Is this the child that you want us to have? We haven’t much money, and tomorrow we begin spending what little we have toward this adoption. If we go through with this how will we pay for it? We pray that when we wake in the morning we will know clearly what we should do.”
We drifted off to sleep.
And I had a dream.
Not the usual sort of dream that has the flotsam and jetsam of a rattled subconscious. No rhinos pulling tractors in the mud or Bill Clinton selling flavored ice at the fair. This dream was different.
It felt different. There was a choral note hanging, reverberating, in the air. There was a sense of deep calm. Everything was still, dark. And in this vibrating stillness a pool of light formed. In the center of the light was a treasure chest. The sort one sees in pirate movies. The chest opened. It was empty. A gold coin dropped in. And another. And more, and a steady stream of coins flowed into that empty chest until it was heaped up. The unseen choir grew more intense as I looked at that pile of gold filling that chest to the top.
A dollar bill floated down and landed atop the gold. And another, and more, until every bit of the gold was covered with currency.
I rolled over, woke B. up.
“I know what we are supposed to do.”
I told her the dream.
“It sounds weird, but I know just what it means.” I was actually choking up. I felt so happy.
“We are supposed to adopt the baby. What has been missing in our lives is coming. The treasure we have been looking for will be ours and it will fill us up. We aren’t supposed to worry about the money. It will all be covered. Whatever the baby needs we will have the money to do it.”
And we did it.
We adopted that baby, born two weeks early, on B.’s birthday. We took him home when he was less than a day old.
And people helped. Mostly folks from our church. We got gifts of clothing. We got cards and cases of baby formula and diapers and everything we needed. We were so happy it is not possible for me to express it.
I loved holding him and feeding him and changing his diapers. I even loved it when he spit up on my shoulder while I burped him. I wasn’t so fond of the 3 a.m. feedings and the fussy way he cried at odd hours.
Close to Thanksgiving we had a special meal with our friends to thank the Lord for this blessing. And with those close friends I said a prayer something like this:
“Thank you Lord for this blessing of our child Willy (we had named him after me). I will always remember this wonderful gift. And this afternoon I keep the promise I had made with you last summer. I read of Abraham’s desire for children and I promised that if You gave me a child I would dedicate him to You. And I do that now, Lord. This child is Yours. I will do what You would have me do. I will raise him as You wish. Thank you for giving him to us, and now I give him back to You.”
Raising a child is an amazing experience. For those who have never had a child it is difficult to understand. But when you are handed a baby and you look down on that small wiggling bundle, something clicks deep inside. You become something different. You are no longer a husband, or a student, or employee. You are suddenly FATHER. You realize that for the next two decades every action you take you must consider how it affects this small life. You have a new task that takes precedence over everything else. You are a parent.
There are hopes and dreams and plans and things to do. There are rooms to clean, dishes to wash, and traditions to start. On December 15 I started a tradition. I took my infant son out to cut down our Christmas tree. OK, he didn’t do much more than ride in the car seat and watch (sort of) me cut the tree, but we did it together. Our first Christmas and there would be at least 17 more of these trees that he and I would cut.
I put him in the car, tied the tree to the roof, and took him home.
I changed him, fed him, and laid him down to sleep.
He didn’t want to sleep. He screamed and hollered. I sat nearby at the computer (it was 1992 and I had a computer I was very proud of. It had a whole 64 mg of RAM and a huge hard drive of one gigabyte!). Willy screamed and hollered and cried, and whimpered, and moaned softly, and finally drifted off to sleep while I tinkered with my computer. (It was the first time I had let him fall asleep crying. I felt he needed to learn to sleep without my holding him.)
I waited a few minutes to make sure he fell deeply asleep, and I went over to check on him.
He was gone.
What was left of him looked like him, but it was cold, and blueish, and not him at all.
“Oh God no!”
I called 911. They took him away. I met B. at the hospital. We picked out a tiny casket and held a memorial service for him with all the pictures we had of him taken a week before at K-Mart. I took a large piece of petrified wood to Washington state where it could be cut into a headstone.
And it was the beginning of a very bad year. I struggled on as a double major for most of it, but finally I dropped the art major and stuck with the path that would lead to teaching language arts. Grey started appearing at my temples and in my beard, and I needed glasses for the first time. I thought of suicide. I started really reading the book of Job.
After his death we received a flood of cards. Many of them had money in them. A lot of money. An awful lot of money. I counted it all up. Then I started thinking about what it cost us to adopt and care for Willy, including the funeral. To my best calculations the two numbers, what we spent and what we were given, were within $10 of each other.
There were three calamities that fell on Job. First his possessions. He lost his livestock, his wealth. Then he lost his servants and employees, his business. Finally, the worst came. He lost his children.
“Lord, You asked Abraham to offer up his child to You and I did it also. But You didn’t take Isaac from him! Why did you have to take my only child? Why did you have to have the one thing I prize over anything else? Why did Willy have to die?!”
I studied hard (I graduated with a 3.96 g.p.a.) because there wasn’t anything else to do. I mowed the lawn. I went to church. We went to a SIDS support group and a grief group It helped a little to know we weren’t alone. Mostly I simply shuffled along.
They put me on prozac and the scream deep inside quieted down.
As the anniversary of Willy’s death drew near I insisted on dropping the prozac so I could know that whatever I felt was truly me and not some drug.
How could this be? The Lord had clearly told me that I was to adopt that boy. Even after all that had happened I still knew that the dream was unique. It was a message for me. But how can this be right? This child was my Isaac and God took him.
He didn’t die from pneumonia. There wasn’t a car accident or a drowning or food poisoning. He just went to sleep and died. He simply died.
Job’s friends tried to comfort him, but they were no help. My friends tried as well. But in the end what carried Job through was simply being steadfast. I determined to stand steady.
Now this is a sad chapter in my story. But it is only a chapter.
About a year and a half after Willy’s death we got a phone call. The woman, a missionary, had heard our story somehow and said that she had been praying for us. She said that “your quiver would be full”, a reference to children (Psalm 127). She told us about a fertility doctor in New York and a woman with war orphans from Haiti in Florida. We made a call.
I told the woman there about our situation, that we were looking for a child to adopt. We wanted someone very young. Skin color did not matter.
“We have just the child!” she said. “His name is Isaac.”
A few weeks later during a follow up call she told us that Isaac’s best friend’s adoption had fallen through and would we be interested in adopting J. as well?
June 1st is family day for us. That is the date we first laid eyes on our kids. We were in Florida at the foster home, and the overworked dynamo who ran the place asked us between straining spaghetti noodles and emptying the trash if we wanted to see the boys.
“I think Isaac is awake. If you look out the sliding door across the back porch you should see him in the first crib in the bedroom on the other side.”
I looked where she directed. There was a crib by the bedroom’s sliding glass door and a big eyed little boy was jumping up and down in his crib watching me and yelling “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”
I had my Isaac.
“The LORD blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first. . ." --Job 42:12