There has been an unexpected drop in student enrollment for this coming term. Unfortunately, that means some of you will have your teaching hours cut in half.”
The director of our department was telling us the bad news at a teachers’ meeting at the university where I taught English to foreign students. Having less seniority than the other teachers, I knew that I would be one of those whose hours would be cut in half. This meant my paycheck would also be cut in half. It would be impossible to support a family of five on half of the wages I had been earning.
I received the news with mixed emotions. I felt some disappointment, but I also saw this as another indication that perhaps it was God’s time for me and my family to leave Illinois. For some months my wife and I had been thinking and praying about moving to New York. Then the owner of the house we had been renting informed us that he was planning to sell the house. And now this sudden change in my job was giving us another good reason to leave.
One thing that made us reluctant to move away was the poor health of both my mother and my wife’s father. My mother had been suffering from cancer for over four years, and my father-in-law was still weak from a stroke he had suffered some months earlier. We hated to move away from our parents, but it seemed that circumstances were forcing us to move someplace where I could find a new job. So in September 1992, we left our parents in the care of their spouses and moved to New York, hoping to drive back to see them as often as possible.
Ten days after we moved into our house in New York, my mother passed away, and we returned to Illinois for the funeral. Six months later, my wife’s father died. So we quickly prepared to drive back to Illinois for yet another funeral.
It was right before Passover when my father-in-law died. We had been planning to go to the Passover seder that was being held by our congregation. Now instead of celebrating over a nice meal with friends, we had to improvise in a motel room somewhere between New York and Illinois.
We took along a cooler filled with cooked meat, parsley, and horseradish, and in the crowded motel room, we held our own abbreviated Passover seder with our children. We found a Bible in the motel room and read the story of the first Passover in Egypt. Then we prayed and ate our cold meal with matzoh, the unleavened bread the Bible calls “the bread of affliction” (Deuteronomy 16:3). Like the Hebrews in Egypt, we had to “eat it in haste” (Exodus 12:11) so we would be ready to leave early the next morning.
We arrived in Illinois, had a tearful reunion with family members, and attended my father-in-law’s funeral. Then we returned to our home in New York.
The previous months had been difficult due to the loss of my mother, whom we all had loved dearly. Now we had a second loss to grieve over. But life goes on. We continued to struggle onward, trusting God and time to comfort our sorrow and heal our wounds.
About three months after my father-in-law’s death, my wife, Teresa, unexpectedly became pregnant. Our children were 15, 13, and 8 years old. We had planned on having only these three, but the Lord had other plans. Though concerned about the added expense, we accepted God’s plans and trusted him to provide for our needs.
Early in Teresa’s pregnancy, we felt that God was sending us this unexpected gift to comfort us after the loss of our two parents. This became even more apparent when we found out we were not going to have one baby, but two! We saw this as an indication that heaven had decreed that we receive two babies because we had lost two parents.
There is a Jewish tradition which claims that even before conception the human soul pre-exists in heaven. If this is so, I wonder what might have taken place in the celestial realm before the conception of our twin daughters. I can imagine the Lord telling my departed mother and father-in-law to pick out a baby to send down to comfort their children and grandchildren. Unable to agree which of two wonderful choices would be best, they decide to let God settle the matter. Since they cannot agree which of the two to send down, God decrees that they both be sent.
Abigail Jo and Anna Joy—God’s unexpected gift of comfort to us in our time of grief.
God’s timing for the birth of our daughters was perfect. They came during Passover, on the very afternoon when preparations were being made for our congregational seder that was to be held that evening. Teresa missed the seder, of course. I left the hospital after she and the newborns were ready for bed. I drove to the seder and arrived shortly before it ended. I just had enough time to share the good news with everyone and eat a meal.
As I sat at the Passover table with our three older children, surrounded by good friends, good food, joyous music and dancing, the marvel of God’s timing occurred to me. One year earlier on this night, we were eating a hastily prepared, cold meal in a lonely motel room on our way to a funeral. This year we were celebrating not only Passover, but the joyous birth of two daughters, Abigail Jo and Anna Joy, whose names testify to the joy they bring—Anna by her middle name and Abigail by the Hebrew meaning of her name, “joy of my father.”
It was at that Passover table in 1994 that I realized how completely the Lord had fulfilled his promise to “provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3). That Passover was, indeed, a night “different from all other nights.”
Daniel Botkin is a believer in Yeshua. He and his family attend Beth Am Messianic Congregation.