In February of this year, my 89-year-old mother, Irene, was hospitalized. During her hospitalization, I discovered that one of two things happens when she is given prescription pain medication; she either gets very sleepy or very chatty. The good news about this hospital stay is that she was released in three days with a clean bill of health. The even better news is the story that spilled out that demonstrates God never stops offering us His perfect love this side of heaven. At one point, while I sat at my mom’s bedside, she got very chatty and shared a story she had held as a secret for 73 years.
When my mom was 16, she made the first trip she could remember to Baltimore, Maryland. She was the youngest of three siblings, and both her older sister and brother had already left home. She had traveled to Baltimore with her mother and aunt. During their stay, she was driven to a house and told to knock on the front door and say to the man who answered, “I’m your baby daughter, Irene.” This may not have ordinarily been a startling event in one’s life, except for the fact that she had been told up to this point that her father had died when she was a baby. At 16, Irene did as she was told, walking up to the front stoop and knocking. She remembers a man answering the door, but little else about him. This was the first and only time she ever met her father. What she remembers most clearly is being invited inside to see his 6-week-old baby (her baby brother).
It happens that this memory was shaken loose when a new resident at her apartment complex moved in. He was 73 and it made her wonder if he could possibly be her brother, because this is the age the baby she remembered would be now. Although, it turned out he was not her brother, Jesus had unlocked a memory. It was a memory that needed healing in order for His work to continue to completion in her life (Philippians 1:6).
As she talked with me as I sat by her bedside in the hospital, she further disclosed that her mother had changed their last name several times while she was growing up. Her maiden name was Evans, yet it had been Eventoff when she was born. With this newfound knowledge, I began an internet search and soon discovered information about her father: Joseph Eventoff. The data I found showed that Joseph had five sons, all born in Baltimore. The first son listed was Franklin Eventoff, so I did a search for Franklin, and I found him! Within 30 minutes of my mom beginning this long-lost tale, I was speaking to her brother “Frankie.” And it turns out that he is 73 years old. He is the very brother whom she met as that 6-week-old baby. What are the odds that the name from the list of brothers that I chose to call would be the very one she remembered as that 6-week-old baby? There are no odds involved because this was not a coincidence. This is living proof that, on this side of heaven, God never stops working to bring us wholeness and completeness.
My mom, approaching 90 years of age, had held a secret for 73 years. It was a secret mixed with feelings of rejection, confusion, loss and longing. I learned during my first conversation with Frankie that his family knew about Irene and her two siblings. Not only did her brothers and their family know about them, but they had been searching for them too. However, they were missing the piece of the puzzle about the name changes. She has had contact with four of her five brothers so far. The oldest, Morrie, is now 80 years old and had this to say to her: “I remember how excited we all were when we knew you were coming to visit that day.” This statement has given my mom freedom in knowing that her dad had not hidden her existence – his new family knew all about her. Morrie went on to say, “I saw you and thought you were the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I’ve been in love with you, sister, all of my life!”
My mom doesn’t remember any other children on the day she knocked on the door of the house in Baltimore or even how she felt when she met her dad. She was 16 years old and experiencing a traumatic moment in her life. For her, it was the first day that she found out her dad was still alive. She followed instructions, but likely did not have the capacity or support to process what was really happening. The fact that there was a baby was basically the only thing that really stuck in her memory from that day. However, there was more, and God has graciously given her more.
I helped my mom step through the open door God provided that day in the hospital. The good work in my mom’s life — to fill the void of the loss of her biological father and the abandonment, rejection and shame that frequently accompanies that — was begun when she was 16 years old. It was a good work that God continued throughout her life because of His perfect love, and it has been brought to completion just this side of heaven. This has not only brought healing to my mom, but it has also changed the trajectory of our family’s lives, broadened the knowledge of our ancestry, and brought together a multitude of new family members. I asked my mom’s permission to share her story. She said she’d be honored to have this miracle that demonstrates Jesus’ perfect love told. She added that, as far as she is concerned, there are no more family secrets.
Carlene Nisley is the lead pastor of New Vision Fellowship in Beaverton, Oregon.