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For the first month of my son’s life, I held my breath. In the hospital, his birth mother signed the adoption paper knowing that if his birth father—who had just barely learned of his existence—followed through with his threat to fight for Zac, the courts would decide between adoptive parents and a biological father. And there was little chance we would win that fight.
The day she transferred him to my arms, and our eyes locked for a long moment, I silently promised to love him with all that was in me, and fight to keep him mine. When she was gone, we carried him to the car and started our month together. We had thirty days until our court date.
Thirty days flies rapidly when you’re dreading the end of them. I wanted to slow the clock so I could hold on to him just a bit longer, but before I could believe it, the day came, and we sat by the phone and waited to hear if a judge was going to grant him to us, or force us to hand him over to a stranger. People from the west coast to the east were praying for us, and though I was too heartsick to pray for myself, those prayers held me up.
When the phone rang and our lawyer gave us the news—the birth father had failed to show up for the court hearing, and the judge had terminated his rights—I dropped to my knees and sobbed, and took the first cleansing breath I’d had in a month. He was ours.
But I won’t forget—ever—what I learned in those thirty days. Not knowing if my heart would be ripped from me at the end of them, I made them count. On the car ride home from the hospital, when Dave and I drove down an unplanned back road and past a car lot reader board that said, “Congratulations, Dave and Shannon! It’s a boy!” (No one ever told us it was for us, but we felt God had planned it nonetheless), I thought, “Little boy, this is your first car ride, and I’m here with you, and no one can ever take this from me.”
Days later, when the mid-May sun broke through our Northwest clouds and warmed the earth, I bundled him up and took him for a stroller ride around the neighborhood, and as I tucked his fleece blanket under his tiny chin, I thought, “This is your first time walking in the sun, and I’m here, and no one can take this from me.”
And a few weeks later, during one of our midnight feedings (which Dave and I vied for), and I opened the window just enough to let in a luscious, balmy breeze, and watched his tiny eyes widen at the first brush of wind against his cheek, I thought, “This is mine to remember. I’m here, and no one can ever take this from me.”
I memorized each curve of his sweet face, and relished the love each visitor lavished on him, and tucked each first in my heart, knowing that one day, those moments may be all I had left of him, knowing that each tiny memory might be the only comfort allowed to me.
My story ended beautifully. I’ve had that boy for almost thirty years now, and though I can’t say the years were painless (whoever said, ‘Little children step on your toes; big children step on your heart’ was brilliantly insightful), it was the normal pains of parenting—not the heart-ripping pain of watching your son dying on a cross.
Mary knew. I think she knew from the first minute, but Simeon’s words left no doubt: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
So like any mother who feared the loss of her child, she listened, and watched, and pondered, and stored. Because thirty-three years later, for three excruciating, unbearable, grief-filled days, those stored-up, pondered, tucked-away moments were the only remnants left her of her Child.