God walked with this mom whose dreams shattered for her child.
God walked with this mom whose dreams shattered for her child. (Carrie O'Brien)

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My son's desperate act changed our family's future. But God, in His mercy, brought redemption when our former dreams died.

I don't tell the story of my son in order to give anybody the impression that he is a hero—that is far from the truth, in the traditional sense anyway. He shot and killed a man in broad daylight. Instead, I tell it to share with others the painful, incredible passage of faith my family and I have trod for half a decade.

I tell this story because everything I believe about God has been tested by fire, and has withstood the flames. I tell it because my heart has been bruised and broken by sorrow, and then restored by grace.

Our journey began on Oct. 24, 1999. The telephone rang at 12:30 a.m. My husband answered, listened and informed me that our son Jason had been arrested for the murder of his wife's ex-husband. I stood to walk to the bathroom, then fell to the floor in shock.

We wanted to believe that for some reason the news was erroneous, but it wasn't. Our only son—who loved Christ, who was a model student, who lettered in sports, who was president of the National Honor Society, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, who donated his time, his money, even his blood to help others—had become so obsessed with the man who had molested his two stepdaughters that he followed him to a busy restaurant and shot him in plain view of passersby.

Six days after we learned of Jason's arrest, I finally heard my son's voice. A digitized message told me the call was coming from a state institution and asked if I would accept the charges. Jason wept into the phone, "Mom, I've just been beaten up by 10 guys here at the jail. They jumped me and started kicking me in the face. My two front teeth are broken off and these guys stole all my stuff. They took my deodorant, soap and toothpaste ... They just kept kicking me in the head."

My pain was too deep for words. We cried together, a mom and her boy, 1,100 miles apart, embarking on an odyssey of anguish, strife and prayer. When that first conversation with Jason was cut short by the institutional telephone system, I sat at my desk motionless as a deep, guttural wail rose from within. A shroud of grief and fear engulfed me.

Relinquishing the Dream

Maybe it was my training as a pastor's daughter, maybe it was my prayer life or the years I spent reading Scripture. Perhaps it was God's mercy—but through the darkness, I found a path to redemption in the story of Abraham and Isaac.

" ... God tested Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' Then He said, 'Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.'

"So Abraham rose up early in the morning and saddled his donkey ... Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, 'My father ... Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?' Abraham said, 'My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.' So the two of them went together" (Gen. 22:1-8, MEV).

I know that my son is not a picture of Isaac, who was blameless. I do not excuse what he did; I know his actions would not have been God's plan for his life. Yet Jason is my personal "Isaac."

God enabled me to lay down my claim to him with complete trust and submission, even while my mother's heart recoiled at letting go. In doing so, I recognized that what I sacrificed on the altar was actually my own desires: prideful ambition for my child, longings for family holidays and dreams of an idyllic future.

Abraham trusted God so completely that he was willing to surrender what he loved most deeply, even unto death. And through the blackest vale, I learned to trust like Abraham. Almost immediately after learning of Jason's devastating plight, I made a critical decision that the enemy would not win. I would choose hope. I would choose faith amid unthinkable circumstances.

I wrote a letter to my family proclaiming victory: Included in this walk through the valley of what feels like death is an awareness of His presence I have never experienced before. I can almost hear the sound of angel wings.

All of us have "Isaacs" that we need to leave on the altar—heart sacrifices that challenge us to the core. You probably haven't received a middle-of-the-night phone call informing you that your child has been arrested for murder, but I'm sure of one thing: You have had to let go of a cherished person, opportunity, position, habit or dream. True heart sacrifices involve identifying something precious to us (our Isaac), letting go of our control over it, embracing God's love in the process of the release and resting in the outcome—even if we do not understand the reason behind the sacrifice.

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