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An extraordinary Mother's Day tale

By Judy Mitchell

What intricate patterns God weaves with our lives, the smallest details about each individual known and used to bring about His purpose. This year the church family at First Assembly of God in Jefferson City, Mo., will hear one such incredible story from the special mother who will be their speaker. And among her listeners will be another special mother, who will come from out of state to be part of this extraordinary Mother’s Day service.

The story began 18 years ago, in another Missouri town with another Assemblies of God church family.

Jodee was an active teenager … an Honor Star in Missionettes, and very involved in her youth group. She’d grown up going to church Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening. Her mother was the church organist and Jodee inherited the musical talent. Her first piano teacher gave up after a few lessons. “I can’t teach her anything. If she just hears a song, she can play it immediately, by ear.” Soon Jodee was playing for offertories.

Then, at 16, she was pregnant.

The reality shook the family. Jodee’s parents were devastated, but they went with her to talk to their pastor. He prayed with them and told them about an adoption agency run by the Assemblies of God, Highlands Child Placement Services in Kansas City, Mo. He gently assured Jodee that if she chose adoption she could be sure her baby would be placed in a loving, Christian home.

After weeks of agonizing prayer and tears, Jodee knew that what she wanted most was to give this baby the best chance possible for a right and happy life. And for her, that meant adoption. She knew she wasn’t equipped to be a mother at 16. Her baby deserved a loving, stable family with a mother and a father.

So in June of 1986 Jodee rode with her parents to Highlands, where she would stay until the baby was born. The time that followed seemed unreal, but she continued to cling to a deep inner certainty that she was doing the right thing.

For the rest of her life, September 4 would be a day Jodee could never forget: the day her baby son was born.

“My mom was there that day,” she says, “and she took several pictures for me to keep — pictures of this chubby, sweet, beautiful baby boy that I was handing over to complete strangers. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And yet I knew, I knew, I knew that I had heard God’s voice and He was taking care of everything, and so I trusted Him.”

Jodee tried to go back to life as it had been before. She couldn’t talk about what had happened and still function normally, so she suppressed the pain and guilt and shame. She just held on to God. And she never forgot.

“I kept telling myself that after five years it would be easier, or after 10 years I would be ‘over’ it and could finally let go of this enormously heavy burden,” she says. “But out of the blue I would see a boy who must be the same age, and I would immediately wonder what my boy looked like. Did he play sports or get good grades? It was such a long grieving process.”

High school graduation came in 1988 and Jodee felt God leading her to attend Central Bible College in Springfield, Mo. In 1990 she met Van Mitchell, a Bible major, and in 1992 they married. Their daughter, Marissa, was born two years later. Then came the call from First Assembly of God in Jefferson City inviting Van to be youth pastor. In 1997 a son, Mason, arrived. Van changed ministries to become the associate pastor and Jodee continued her ministry at the piano and organ. Her life as a pastor’s wife and a mother was full and very busy.

But each year as September 4 approached, she plunged into a dark emotional valley.

“Every birthday, every Christmas, was a deep hurt that continually haunted me,” she says. “I thought of that baby boy and wondered where he was. I prayed for him, and I prayed for his adoptive parents, and I trusted God.”

And then it was 2004. Jodee had almost dreaded this year because she knew when her son turned 18 the records would be opened and he could legally look for his birth mother. She was afraid the doorbell would ring one day and a stranger would say, “Guess who I am.”

But that August the Holy Spirit began impressing Jodee to contact Highlands to tell them that her son would be turning 18 and to request an update. Finally she e-mailed Highlands, asking if it would be possible just to have a picture of her son and to know he was safe and well.

A month later she received a lengthy questionnaire. She filled it out, explaining her intentions. Then she waited, trusting God again. She didn’t know that her son’s adoptive parents had also written Highlands around the same time to ask if their son’s birth mother had made contact.

The week before Thanksgiving brought more information. The caseworker told Jodee her son was very musical and involved in several ministries. He was away at college now, his first semester, but when he came home for Thanksgiving, his adoptive parents would tell him that his birth mother had inquired about him. He had known from a young age he was adopted, and the choice to pursue the connection or not would be up to him. Jodee would have to wait now for her son’s decision.

The Monday after Thanksgiving the caseworker called again. This time she told Jodee that her son’s name was Neil, and he was currently a student at Central Bible College. Amazingly, he was in a class taught by one of her husband’s relatives. Van’s father, aunt and uncle are still members of the music faculty.

Jodee and Van were awestruck. Van immediately called to ask if his father or aunt remembered a student named Neil, and Van’s aunt recognized the name.

That was when Jodee began to understand more fully what God had done. She learned that her son’s last name was Hubbard, and that Van’s father, aunt and uncle had been at Neil’s music scholarship audition that summer, all the while having no idea who he was. They had been impressed with his talent at the piano and with his ministry as a worship leader in church.

Jodee learned that Neil was a self-taught pianist who played only by ear — just like she did. It was like a special gift from God that went straight to her heart. “When you have cried and prayed for 18 years,” she says, “and then the realization of those prayers comes to pass, it is an overwhelming feeling to know that the King of the universe has heard you.”

It wasn’t long before a package arrived in the mail from Neil’s adoptive parents. It contained a picture of Neil and a CD of Neil playing the piano. Jodee sat in her van listening in awe as her son played worship songs to the One she’d trusted all these years.

There was also a letter from Neil’s adoptive parents telling Jodee they had always held her in high regard. She learned that 18 years earlier Tom and Wanda Hubbard had been involved for years in youth ministry and Teen Bible Quiz, but were praying earnestly for a child of their own. God’s answer to their prayers was a beautiful baby boy from Highlands. They had raised Neil at First Assembly of God in El Dorado, Ark., watching with joy as his musical talent developed and began to be used for the Lord.

Through those years they prayed for the girl who’d given Neil up for adoption. When they learned Jodee’s name, they searched the Internet and were thrilled to find her listed as a pastor’s wife on the Web site of an Assemblies of God church.

Answered prayers on both sides were revealing the divine design only God had seen.

When Neil learned about the contact from his birth mother, he said he wanted to meet her, and a meeting was set for January in Springfield.

That first meeting took place in a friend’s home. There was no discomfort, just hugs and happy tears and an overwhelming atmosphere of love. For Jodee it was a tangible revelation of God’s unfailing love and answers to years of prayers for her child.

“I could not have chosen better parents myself,” she says. “Tom and Wanda Hubbard were exactly what I had prayed for. And my first thought when I saw Neil was, ‘He’s not a baby any more, but he has my eyes!’ Neil told us he had always wanted a brother and sister. Now he’s met his brother, Mason, and his sister, Marissa. They get along like they’ve always known each other. Seeing the three of them laugh and play together has been such a healing for me. The day I met Neil, God took that heavy bag of grief and guilt and shame away. I have had a thousand pounds lifted from my shoulders!”

Wanda gave Jodee a photo album chronicling Neil’s life from the day they brought him home to high school graduation. There were tears in every eye when Wanda brought out the baby clothes in which Neil had first come home from Highlands, and the little outfit he had worn at his baby dedication.

The next afternoon the families met in the chapel at Central Bible College. Van’s relatives from the music faculty had heard Neil play at his scholarship audition. Now they listened in wonder as Jodee and Neil sat at adjoining keyboards and began to play worship music together, the amazing blend of their matching styles and musical language so clearly coming from the same innate gifts.

This Mother’s Day, Jodee will tell the congregation of First Assembly how amazingly God “worked all things together for good” (Romans 8:28) in circumstances which had once seemed tragic. Then she will introduce Neil, who will play and sing. She will also introduce Wanda and Tom and thank them for loving her baby boy and raising him in a Christ-centered home. She will read from Psalm 40:

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:1-3, NIV).

Judy Mitchell lives in Springfield, Mo. Her son, Van, is married to Jodee Mitchell.

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