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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Making Peace With the Outcome

When I finally saw Jason, it was through the filter of a thick Plexiglas barrier. He was beaten and bruised, and two front teeth were jagged pieces. He was broken, hurt and sad; and so was I.

As I looked at my son behind the glass, I knew that there was nothing I could do about the circumstances that brought Jason to that place. There was no way to bring the man he killed back to life. There was no way to fix things and make life as it was before.

Yet, God asked me to trust Him. I prayed and interceded for two and a half years before my son's trial eventually arrived. On seven different occasions, the court date was postponed.

When the trial finally took place, our family walked around the prison seven times in a Jericho-style prayer walk, petitioning God for His will. And when God's will, finally made plain, did not offer the results we had expected, it was Jason's faith that shielded us from despair.

We sat in the courtroom gallery and watched our only child, just 27 years old, face a verdict on his life. His dusty blonde hair was neatly combed, and his shirt was crisply pressed. He sat with his back straight and his clear blue eyes calm and intent.

The jury handed the judge their decision, and Jason stood with perfect composure. At that moment, I was more proud of him than I had ever been because he accepted his sentence with pure grace: life in prison, without the possibility of parole—ever.

He received the punishment with a demeanor of quietness, as if he had prayed much. He didn't break down. He didn't show anger. He was just at peace—much more at peace than any of the rest of us.

Then they put the cuffs on him and the waist chain, and they sent him out. As he left the courtroom, Jason glanced back at us and mouthed the words "I love you" and left.

When Jason returned to his cell in the faith-based area of the jail, a crowd of inmates gathered around him—murderers, child molesters, robbers, multiple offenders who had become Christians—and wept, "If a man like you got a sentence like this, Jason, there's no hope for us." More than two years had passed since his original incarceration and Jason had become a leader in his cellblock.

He stood up and preached, "Men, whether we walk in freedom in this lifetime or the next, one day we will walk in freedom because we know Jesus, and this life is not all there is." Shortly after he spoke, he was taken away to the Capital Life area, away from the men he knew.

Genesis 22 does not record any tears from Abraham. We do know that Abraham and Isaac traveled toward the place of sacrifice for three days, so I can't help but wonder about the many emotions that must have filled this father's heart as he made the most challenging journey of his life.

The Bible is full of stories of people like Abraham—like you and me—who were asked by God to be faithful in the midst of crushing circumstances. I find comfort in the fact that most of them did not get an answer to their "why" questions either. Heartache is a common denominator among human beings, and I draw strength from knowing I am not as alone as I sometimes feel.

The Power of Transcendent Joy

When my son was arrested and eventually convicted of first-degree murder, I was humiliated, embarrassed and ashamed. I believed I was a failure as a mother. Looking back, so much of my journey was about my pain, my hurt, my reputation, my devastation. Only when I began to look at my unthinkable circumstances through the lens of Jesus' death and resurrection did I experience a joy that transcends my heartache.

There are still days when I slip into that deep valley of despair. But I continue to learn, day by day, that there is no situation that Christ's resurrection doesn't give me the power to overcome. I'm discovering that writer Henri Nouwen was right: "The cup of sorrow, inconceivable as it seems, is also the cup of joy. Only when we discover this in our own life can we consider drinking it."

We spent Easter with Jason after his trial. We sat in the prison courtyard, and determined that we would not waste our sorrow. We would allow God to use our tragedy as a platform upon which to proclaim His goodness, and to declare that there is hope even in the most hopeless circumstances. A part of that declaration came through a book God enabled me to write chronicling our journey through this adversity.

After reading the manuscript, Jason wrote the following in a letter: "Dear Mom, I just finished reading When I Lay My Isaac Down this morning. Great job. It was a very painful read, but a good read. It taught my heart something. I know the truths of which you speak deep down inside, but I had never seen them elaborated on and explained and put into a coherent form as a guide or a map out of the nightmare. I felt God using it to minister to me and I know it's ministering to others too.

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