Publication Information: Putnam, C. L. (2000, July / Aug). My Ebenezer: A Single Mom’s Journey. Christian Woman Magazine, 16(4), 50-51.
The weekend had been good, full of hiking, climbing and cooking outdoors, and now my 8-year‑old son and I were alone on the rocky beach at sundown. Stone after stone he gathered, fitting and balancing one upon the other in studied silence.
“What are you doing?” I asked finally. He hoisted another heavy rock into place and wiped his grubby hands on the seat of his jeans before answering.
“I’m building an altar,” he explained, “to show how far we’ve come. We can see it from a long way away.”
When it was high enough to satisfy him, we began the climb back to the cabin for the night. The soft pinks and grays of twilight washed over the rough boulders and over Adam’s face as we picked our way along the trail.
I knew he had only been thinking of our day’s hike – a single mom and a wounded little boy – but we had come a long way in our three years together. Just as the Hebrew nation had once erected altars and raised stones of remembrance and thanksgiving, perhaps it was time we marked our spot as well.
Adam was five when he first came to me as a foster child – a big-eyed, blond-haired bundle of fury and pain. Social workers, the state and the judge knew the life he had was not safe, but it must have been terrifying for him to be unceremoniously ripped from everything he had known.
He fought back with all his strength: screaming, kicking, flailing, cursing and spitting on anyone who tried to be close to him. At school he threw chairs across the room, kicked his teacher, refused to answer questions, and hid inside a cardboard box at naptime.
At church he crawled under tables, scowled at friendly overtures and kicked the pews while glaring straight at me. This was his first exposure to religion, and he was miserable. During the offering one Sunday, as the plate passed down our row, he demanded fiercely, “You mean we have to pay for this?”
Home was even worse. Angry, violent tantrums were the daily fare. Enforcing obedience and coming up with consequences and rewards that were even moderately effective were a struggle.
I didn’t want to ask for help. I wanted to think I could deal with Adam myself, but the severity of his behavior problems finally convinced me that I could not go it alone. Having been single all my life, I found it difficult to depend on other people for help. It was difficult, yes, but it was also crucial.
Looking back now, I can see that the foundation for the altar was being laid: God and the people He created can help us only when we admit our need, when we realize we are not all-knowing or all-sufficient.
Once I was willing to receive them, therapists, schoolteachers, coaches and Christians all gave themselves to be stones of help for our fledgling family. They were present in countless ways for both Adam and me, and their patience and wisdom slowly began to make a difference in the life of this child.
I began to get glimpses of Adam’s natural sweetness. He spent his allowance money to buy me a “diamond” ring at the yard sale down the block. He brought me beautiful feathers he had found. He even held my hand.
Sometimes he stuck out his little chest and declared, “Nobody’s going to mess with me. My Mom’s with me!” School and church settled into a routine, and although peace was often unpredictable, it was at least (sometimes) within reach.
Weeks turned into months, and the possibility of Adam’s returning to his original home faded. More time passed, and I was offered the opportunity to adopt him. By then, there was no question. He was in my heart to stay, and we both proceeded with joy to makes ours into a “forever” family.
I was thankful then and I am thankful now, two years later, for all of those who helped and nurtured us as we traversed an often-rocky road. When I needed relief, friends stood in for me. When I injured my back and had to stay in bed, food was brought to us. When I needed to talk, someone listened. God marked our way with the stones of faithful friendship. We never could have made it alone.
Adam and I have been together for five years now. He plays soccer and basketball on his school teams, makes honor roll, rollerblades, enjoys video games, craves pizza and milkshakes, and watches out for his newly adopted little brother.
Adam will always bear emotional scars from his early experiences and the subsequent separation from his birth family. He still experiences intense anger and bouts of severe depression, and he remains a challenge to parent. But l love him to pieces, and I know he is a very special gift from God.
Even more, I am grateful every day for those who go out of their way to touch Adam’s life. He participates in church activities and spends consistent one-on-one time with Christian men. One of those men went with him to his school’s “Donuts for Dads” breakfast this year.
Those who greet him, hug him and tell him he is loved, who care enough to correct him when he is wrong, who invite him over and talk to him and teach him about a Father who will never leave him have made a big difference in. his life.
At church he sees men who are willing to face their faults, who live lives of commitment despite failures. He is witness to their confession and absolution. Slowly, he is growing and changing into a person who can give something back to the world.
In the early days, if I thought of an altar at all, it was in terms of the one on which Isaac was nearly sacrificed. At times I might almost have been willing to strap Adam onto one myself and have God fire it up. But that was then, when I thought I had to do it all alone. Now I know that we as parents, as a Christian community, must be stones of help for one another’s children.
Isaac’s name meant “laughter.” When Adam’s adoption was finalized, he became Adam Lee Isaac Putnam, the son of promise.
Just as God redeemed that first Isaac from the very edge of death, so He has given Adam back his life and his laugher. He has fashioned a fine altar, and we can indeed see it from a long way away.