An Act of Unselfish Love


I had the awesome privilege of meeting someone very special recently…my sister’s mom. Yes, you heard that right. And I have to tell you, it is a very strange experience in this life to meet the woman who gave birth to your sister, when all your life you have had the same mom…but now there’s this new woman who has entered the picture, who you have always known was there…but never knew. If that makes sense?

My heart is full this morning, and my heart’s desire is to capture this story in a way that pays it the honor and respect it is so deserving of, but I feel inadequate to capture all the different pieces of the lives involved here and what brought them to this long-awaited reunion. So, I pray that God will help me as I share this story with all of you.

Some months back, my sister called me. She said, “I’ve decided it’s time to find my birth mother.” I was excited and yet scared for her. You see, I’ve always encouraged my sister that she should look for her some day, but when the time came for the actual search and finding part…I didn’t want to be held responsible. What if she was disappointed? What if it didn’t turn out good? What if it totally screwed up her life? Sure, go ahead and find your mom, I’m all for it, but just don’t blame me for encouraging you if it doesn’t turn out right! We laughed about that together.

It didn’t take very long at all once Karen began her search—with the help of another person, she immediately began turning up bits of information that would lead her to her mom. She had enough information to begin the search, and after all these years, it was completed in about a week--unlike her mother, who had basically searched for Karen for almost 40 years, without being able to find her.

Once Karen had discovered her mother’s name and telephone number, she then had to make the decision whether or not she would call her or have someone else do it. Karen’s husband offered to make the call, as an intermediary so that he could buffer anything that might be harmful on both sides, but in the end, Karen decided it was best that she make the call. That way, if the woman who answered the phone said she was not interested in talking with her daughter, Karen would have at least had the opportunity to hear her birth mom’s voice over the phone, just that once.

The call was made, and after a few questions being asked about the woman’s name, and whether or not she had had a child in 1966, and if she had, would she be interested in getting into contact with her…it was revealed that Karen was that person, and the tears began to flow on both sides of the phone. Then the conversations began, and like mother like daughter, there was no shortage of words! They shared of their families, their lives, their interests, and in all of it many similarities were discovered about their personalities and the things they enjoyed most in life. Karen’s birth mom told me it was sort of like finding a twin.

We can say all we like about the environments we are raised in and the things we teach our children, but in witnessing this reunion, and meeting my sister’s birth mother, there is a whole lot to be said for genetics. When God creates us in our mother’s womb, there is a connection there that runs deeper than any 40 years that separates people, and it is an amazing thing to witness.

You made all the delicate inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Psalm 139:13-14 (NLT)

I rang the doorbell at my sister’s house, knowing that when the door opened and my sister greeted me, I would walk through that door and come face to face with the woman who gave birth to her. It was a very strange feeling. It was exciting and yet a bit nerve-wracking also. Who would this woman be? What would she look like? Where had she been, and what had she been thinking and doing all these years while we enjoyed having Karen in our family?

The first thing I noticed were her mother’s eyes. Karen had said it seemed to be the only thing that perhaps looked like her, and they definitely did, but I also noticed her coloring…it was the same as my sister’s. As I walked towards her in greeting, it didn’t seem appropriate to shake her hand, but much more so to give this woman a hug for the great gift she had given to our family. I think she was equally as nervous to meet those who she had given Karen to…how would we react to her entrance into our lives? There are too many stories of these types of reunions that turn sour. People are not who we expect them to be, there are a great many disappointments, too many feelings of abandonment to be overcome, whatever the case may be--but I believe, as in all things, when God is at the root of our lives, He helps us all to rise above the things that are most difficult and turn them into blessings beyond our imaginations.

You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
Psalm 139:16 (NLT)

I marvel at the maturity of this young woman, barely 17 years old at the time, making a decision for her child that was truly an act of the purist kind of love. She took stock of what surrounded her and made the very difficult decision to give her child away, hoping and praying that Karen would have a life that she could not give her at that time. That takes courage beyond what most of us possess.

Mark Shultz has a song that he has written about his own adoption. He sings:

I must have felt your tears
When they took me from your arms
I’m sure I must have heard you say good-bye
Young and so afraid…had you made a big mistake
Could an ocean even hold the tears you cried

You had dreams for me
You wanted the best for me
And you made the only choice you could that night
And you gave life to me…and a brand new world to see
…So if you worry if your choice was right
When you gave me up…oh, you gave everything to me…
(Everything to Me by Mark Shultz)

Margaret tells the story of my sister’s birth with tears in her eyes. She tells of how difficult it was in 1966 to be pregnant, out of wedlock, and the scorn and shame that were cast upon a young woman at that time. No one was to know, and young girls were sent away to have their babies. She tells of how she scoured the medical journals in the library looking for some sort of “disease” she could tell everyone she had that would cause her to be sent away and isolated for a few months. Everything was covered up with lies, and there were not many that showed the kindness and love that she needed most.

Margaret left her junior year of high school when she was about five months pregnant, and went off to have her baby by herself. The treatment from the nurses during her delivery, that she told us of, was appalling--and because no one in her family knew about this pregnancy, and her parents were dealing with their own issues, she grew up quick in a harsh world. Karen was born in a home for unwed mothers, and Margaret was told she was not allowed to even hold her baby before she gave her away. Only in building a relationship with one of the night nurses, was Paula, as Karen was then named, “sneaked” to her in the middle of the night for a brief five minutes as mother met daughter for the first time.

Margaret was young, and so afraid, and unlike most 17 year olds whose world revolves around themselves, she stepped outside of that and made the very difficult choice of giving her daughter a life different than her own. With the help of her social worker, she also found out the approximate time that Paula/Karen would be taken from the hospital nursery--and so Margaret positioned herself where no one else could see her, and she watched as they came to take her child away to a new life… a life that God would bless in many ways, but ways that Margaret would not know about for more than 40 years.

You know there had to be “tears when she was taken from her arms.”

As the years passed by, Margaret searched for her daughter. She remained in San Jose for most of her adult years, hoping to catch a glimpse of Karen everywhere she went--hoping that as she poured through any documents she could find she could learn of the life she had given to her daughter--but she always came up empty. All the official adoption papers were sealed, and all her searches led to dead ends.

Mark goes on to sing:

And if I saw you on the street
Would you know that it was me
And would your eyes be blue or green like mine
Would we share a warm embrace
Would you know me in your heart
Or would you smile and let me walk on by

I asked Margaret if she had seen Karen on the street during these last 40 years, would she have known that it was her? She said there was no way she would have. Although it was clear when they were together that they were mother and daughter, without knowing that, they could have passed one another on the street and never have known. Although they both have the same brown eyes, the same skin tone, the same likes and dislikes in many ways, they were strangers connected only in the depths of their heart in ways that God would reveal in His own perfect way.

We talked of that first phone call and when it had hit Margaret that she was indeed talking with her daughter…she said that although she had been warned by friends in her search to be very careful of someone who might scam her, she knew deep in her heart that this was truly her daughter on the phone during that first conversation. She said she knew it in her heart, and also that God had told her that this was the baby girl she had given up so many years ago…you see, although Margaret had given her baby girl the name Paula, that was not truly the name she desired her to have. She gave her that name, not really even liking it, because she was told she could never use that name again for another child. The name she really wanted to give her was…Karen.

Karen told me that when you’re adopted, “You go through your life with a sense of not really knowing who you are.” She said, “It’s a small part, really, but there is also a weird sense of confusion upon hearing that you had been given a different name.” She explained, “There seems to be some whole other identity that you can’t relate to.” But when Margaret told Karen that in her heart, she too had picked the same name for her, Karen felt at long last like, “That’s who I am. That’s who I was meant to be.”

Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!
What joy!
Restore our fortunes, Lord,
as streams renew the desert.
Those who plant in tears will
harvest with shouts of joy!
They weep as they go to plant their seed,
but they sing as they return with the harvest.
Psalm 126:3-6 (NLT)

Through the years, Margaret told of the huge hole she had in her heart. As each June approached, she would begin to sink…this was the month of her daughter’s birth. Where was she? What was she doing? Was she okay? Had the right decision been made, or had it been a huge mistake?

And not more than three hours away from her in Fresno, California, Karen was enjoying the life she had been given. Having been adopted into our family, Karen was now the youngest of six children. Due to the fact that my parents always wanted six children, and they already had four boys and one girl, they decided instead of having another child of their own it was time to invite a little girl who needed a home to finish off our family, and Karen entered our world.

The first day I saw Karen, we were still living in San Jose at the time and I was about ten years old. We had all been called into the formal living room of our home, the room that no one used in those days. We had been positioned on the couch in a row and each one of us took a turn at holding our new baby sister. Her hair had been combed into a sort of Mohawk type of curl on the top of her head and she had beautiful large brown eyes. She had not come to stay, but merely to visit so that it could be decided if this was going to be a good home for her.

It wasn’t long after that when Karen joined our family. Each June when Margaret’s heart was breaking, my parents were giving thanks for the gift of their daughter as we celebrated her birthday. Our mom knew that her birth mother was thinking about her, especially on her birthday, and she talked about it with us. It was never a secret that Karen was adopted. She grew up knowing and hearing the story of how my parents jokingly said they found Karen in a park; since that was the first place they saw her with her social worker. Being adopted was just a part of who Karen was. Our mom had always said, if Karen’s birth mom ever showed up on our porch she would give her a big hug and thank her for the gift of her daughter. Our parents are very pleased that Karen and her birth mother have been reunited after all these years.

In a world when many homes have great difficulties, our home was truly blessed with loving parents, fun times, healthy relationships and large family gatherings. We grew up thinking that the Beaver Cleaver household was every home in America; because that’s the kind of home we grew up in. We didn’t know the difficult struggles that so many had, and the life that Margaret had experienced and wanted Karen to have no part in. We grew up in a home where we ate dinner together every night as a family, one our mom had prepared. We rarely ate out. Our dad would go off to work each day and our mom would be at home, apron on, baking cakes or cookies and keeping things neat and tidy. We were strictly disciplined and greatly loved, and although we never had a great deal of money, we were never in want. We had aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents that were a big part of our lives, and each summer we would rent a trailer, hitch it up to our station wagon and travel around the western part of the United States as a family of eight! To many moms and dads, that doesn’t sound like much of a vacation, but our parents loved it. They must have had the patience of saints!

Our lives were not perfect, but we thought they were. It was all that we knew, and probably from Karen’s point of view, it was a very fast 40 years until she found her birth mom. In that time, she had grown up, graduated from college, gotten married and was raising her own children. For the first time in her life, at the birth of her daughter, she saw a part of herself in someone else. Something Karen had been missing, even in the fullness of the blessings that surrounded her. When her daughter, Roxanne, was born, Karen examined her feet, looking for that distinct toe that she had that no one else in the family had. She saw it, and the awesome thing is that when she talked to Margaret, Margaret said that when Karen was born, she too looked for that toe on her daughter. Last night as we were together, socks and shoes were removed as the toes of mother, daughter and granddaughter were compared! What once seemed so very far away, had all been put back together by our mighty God. He had a plan in all of it, one that continues to unfold each day.

I asked Margaret if she could see God’s perfect timing in this reunion. She said she couldn’t see it as yet, it was too soon. I think there were so many words that needed to be spoken, stories that needed to be told, pictures that were being shared, that it would take some time of reflection for it all to come together. In being a new grandma myself, I wondered how Margaret felt about the grandchildren she now had. In looking for her daughter all these years, she had hoped that she had not missed out on at least watching her grandchildren grow up--but she had to admit that it was hard to even absorb that she was sitting there with her daughter, let alone that these young children were one-fourth her. These are gifts that will unwrap themselves in time.

After 40 years of searching, it must be very strange to be able to stop…to know where your child is. To be able to pick up the phone and call them, and visit them, and to celebrate birthdays and holidays with them. Just to know what they look like…Margaret arrived with all kinds of gifts to share with her new family. You could see the excitement in her eyes as she handed out the packages…her search was over, but it would still take some time to absorb the reality of all of it.

You may wonder about Karen’s dad, any other siblings, other relatives etc…her dad died when he was 36 as a result of postwar trauma conditions after serving in Vietnam. Karen’s mom and dad were never married, and her mother never had any other children. She said that if she couldn’t have Karen, she would never have another child, and she didn’t. She has lived her life searching for her daughter, as well as many other interesting careers and traveling adventures she’s had along the way.

Mark finishes his song with these words:

Knowing you had dreams for me
You wanted the best for me
Oh I hope that you’ll be proud of who I am

You gave life to me
And just to find my dreams
And a chance to fall in love
You should have seen her shining face
On our wedding day
Oh, was this the dream you had in mind

When you gave me up…oh you gave everything to me

As Margaret visited Karen’s home for the first time, she met Michael, Karen’s husband. She met her grandchildren, Roxanne and Max. She met me, her “much older sister,” as Karen and I like to joke about, and her brother-in-law Jim. Karen told Margaret that she doesn’t know life without Jim, because he entered her world when she was about six. You see, I am “much older”!

Margaret viewed pictures of Karen’s growing up years and of her wedding day. For a brief time, she stepped into the life of her daughter, the one she dreamed of for her when she was just a young girl with her own dreams. In all the scenarios that Margaret had imagined, she said she had never imagined this one--too many she knew had faced disappointments when they found their children. There were regrets for not having kept their children to raise them, since what they had given them up to turned out to be no better than the life they could have offered them. In all the ways she had played this scene out in her mind, she never dared hope that it would be everything and more than what she wanted for her daughter... but it was.

Margaret gave Karen a wonderful life when she gave her up, and any mother would be proud of the woman that Karen has become. Was this the dream she had in mind for her daughter? I believe it truly was, and it’s been a privilege having Karen as my sister and watching as God is bringing her life full circle now. Because of the very unselfish act of a young teenage mother back in 1966, a precious little baby did not have to endure some of the wickedness of this world.

I look to you for help, O Sovereign Lord.
You are my refuge; don’t let them kill me.
Keep me out of the traps they have set for me,
Out of the snares of those who do evil.
Let the wicked fall into their own snares,
but let me escape.
Psalm 141:8-10 (NLT)

Who can know the ways of our God? Through the years, as Margaret struggled to live without her daughter, she learned to live each day with the Lord as her strength. She shared that with us. It didn’t take the place of the child she was missing, but it helped her to go on with her life, to live fully and to always remain hopeful that God had a perfect plan in all of it. Just because this story has a happy ending, it doesn’t make God any more God than He already was. God is. He is ever watchful in our lives, ever working, always loving and always willing to help. Just as giving Karen up for adoption was a choice on Margaret’s part, choosing to live each day with God as our strength is also a choice we must make.

Margaret sacrificed what was most precious in her life, willingly. She held her tiny baby daughter in her arms, knowing she was not going to keep her. She watched as strangers carried her out of the nursery, maybe to never see her again. Who could have counted the tears that she cried… Through it all, God was counting them, He was watching--Margaret was not alone in her distress. In all the days of those 40 years until they were together again, Margaret said there was not a day that went by that she did not think about her daughter. To Karen, those years probably flew by, but to Margaret, they crept.

Perhaps it is the same as with those who go ahead of us to Heaven? I told our son, Phil, who now lives in Heaven, that he would not miss us, but that I might have to miss him for the next 40 years, if I were to live that long. Some days creep by for me, but not for him. Every day that he lives in Heaven, he is at peace and full of joy. He is at home with his Heavenly family, in the presence of his Father. Seeing Margaret reunited with her daughter, to know that she remained faithful through all those days of missing, I am assured even more on this day that our God will see us through these years of missing--and that there is a wonderful reunion waiting for this mother also, with our child that was given up into the arms of God.

When we believe in our Lord, Jesus Christ, our names are written in the Book of Life. God knows our name, and He loves us. Margaret knew Karen’s name in her heart all these years, and every time she met someone with that name, it made her think of her daughter. In the wonderful ways of God, this was an awesome touch of His love--a blessing that He alone knew would bring a smile when this reunion took place.

Every situation will be different. Other reunions will be blessed in other ways, with their own special touch from God. The important thing to always remember is that God’s hand is upon all our lives…we need to focus on Him and watch, because when we do, we will see His glory shine through what the enemy would like to keep hidden in darkness!

Lord, we thank you and praise You for Your goodness. Help us all to have hearts that are full of Your unselfish love. It can be so hard sometimes to know what we should do, but through it all, You are there. Thank You for this reunion of mother and daughter--one You had planned from the beginning. What a privilege it has been to have Karen in our family all these years, and to now see her connected to her birth family--while knowing that as believers, we all belong to Your family, and that we will meet You face to face one day too.

What a grand reunion that will be!