The Potter and Clay

clay_gallery_bible.jpgWhen Clay was 29 years old, his parents received a letter from a woman claiming to be his biological mother. She said her name was Priscilla. And she had been searching for him for seven years.

Throughout his life, Clay had struggled with his identity as an “adopted” son. Reconnecting with Priscilla turned out to be more life-changing than either of them could have imagined. Clay discovered that he was the center of one of the greatest acts of determination and heroism he’d ever heard of, and Priscilla re-opened the deepest wound of her childhood. But in the process, both began a healing process that could have only come from dragging a lifelong secret into the light...

At age 18, in a women’s clinic in a small New England town, Priscilla confirmed that she was pregnant. Although that moment consumed her with raw fear, Priscilla rejected the “other choice” the counselor presented to her. At first, the birth father considered this same possibility: that they could simply “make this all go away.” But Priscilla saw things differently. “No. It would never go away for me.” They decided to marry, and they soon shared the pregnancy—and their marriage plans—with her parents...

Priscilla hoped her family would bless their plans to marry. Instead, they urged her to sever the relationship. The boy was asked to leave immediately. He did, but he secretly slipped into a wooded area nearby and slept outside—so he would be able to see her one last time in the morning. Years earlier, he had given Priscilla a Bible, writing his affections for her on its first page. Perhaps overcome with emotion, after the family learned of Priscilla’s pregnancy, one family member tore this page from the Bible. Her family sincerely wanted only what they believed was best for her; they strongly urged her to give her baby up for adoption...

Certain that her family’s impending shame would never be reconciled with her own faith-driven resolve to keep her baby, Priscilla left home soon after. Her family kept the entire pregnancy a secret. Although Priscilla had a deeply personal relationship with her grandmother, they withheld it even from her, expressing concern about how the emotional strain might affect her. Sadly, during Priscilla’s time away from home, her grandmother passed away from a sudden heart attack. Against her family’s wishes, Priscilla adamantly insisted she was going to attend the funeral, even if that meant risking revealing their secret...

During her pregnancy, Priscilla lived with her sisters, cleaning houses to earn money. A young mother she cleaned for told her about the Edna Gladney Home—where she and her husband had adopted their beautiful baby girl. Priscilla struggled day and night with the decision of whether to keep her baby or place him up for adoption. She thought, “I love my baby so much I would die for him. But do I love him enough that I could live for him—could live away from him—so that he could enjoy all the benefits I know I can’t give him?” Ultimately, her answer was yes...she did love him that much.

Priscilla resolved to go to Gladney. Although she was confident in her decision to give up her child, throughout her time there, Priscilla struggled at Gladney with profound loneliness and disappointment. She was not just giving up her baby; she had lost both her best friend and her grandmother. The shame attached to her pregnancy up until then eventually gave way to acceptance.

When Gladney offered Priscilla the opportunity to express what kind of adoptive family she wanted for her child, she asked only that they “really know Jesus, not just go to church.” Although general anesthesia was customary for deliveries at that time, Priscilla implored them not to put her under. “I want to remember this,” she thought. “This is all I’ll have of my baby. I need to remember.” And she did get to see her baby boy born. A few days later, just before she was to sign her relinquishment papers, Priscilla was allowed to hold him for a few minutes, to feel all his fingers and toes, to touch and kiss his face, and to whisper “Goodbye, sweetheart...”

Once Priscilla returned home, her pregnancy would never be spoken of again. Although her family had supported the adoption, Priscilla found herself fraught with despair, not just at losing so many significant people in her life all at once, but even more with the silence surrounding that experience. She left early for college to build a new life for herself. When she was 20, Priscilla was at church when she met a young man named Ed. On their third date, she nervously told him her story. He surprised her when he smiled and took her hands in his. “I wish I could have been there for you, Priscilla. I wish you wouldn’t have had to go through that alone.” Ed’s heart was one of the many reasons Priscilla fell in love with him. They have now been happily married for 28 years...

His sister was six years old when baby Clay was placed in her arms at the Edna Gladney Home.

Rebecca insisted that she should get to be the first one to hold the new baby. She was six years old when a nurse at the Edna Gladney Home gently placed her baby brother in her arms. As they stood by and watched them bond, their parents’ eyes filled with joyful tears. They named him Clayton Robert, a family name. As Clay’s only sibling, he and Rebecca grew up devoted to one another. So when Clay opened the second letter from Priscilla, he was astonished to find a photo inside of his little brothers—all five of them—each of whom bore a striking resemblance to him... 

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When Priscilla and Clay met in person, for the first time, her heart gushed. Finally, after decades of secrecy, she was able to release to him important details about their dramatic story. And when Priscilla saw a picture of Clay’s two beautiful little boys, the generational impact of her decision swept over her for the first time. For thirty years, she had sheltered those childhood wounds, camouflaging them from the outside world. Now she was free to weep openly. That tiny baby she fought to deliver and hold thirty years ago now took her hands inside of his. Looking into her eyes, he told her, “Thank you. Thank you for fighting to give me life.” It was true that it had cost her so much, but it had given him everything he had now: loving parents... a sister... a wife... and two sons.   Priscilla’s faith, tenacity, and bravery had gifted several generations with abundant life... 

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Soon after that first meeting, Priscilla knew it was time to reveal her past to her five sons. When shetold them about Clay, she couldn’t predict how they might react. After all, she and Ed had kept this secret from them throughout their entire lives. In hindsight, it probably should have been obvious.  They responded with the same unconditional love and grace their father had 30 years before. At first, they were heartbroken. “I hate it that you had to go through that alone! And that you felt like you had to keep it a secret for all these years!” And then, inevitably... “Wait... We have another brother! Our big brother!”

Just four days later, Clay’s plane touched down in the city where Priscilla and Ed had made their home. Over the next few days, all six shared an indescribable crescendo of redemption, emotion, and love...

At the end of Clay and Priscilla’s first meeting, she had presented him with just one gift: her old Bible, the one originally given to her by his birth father. Priscilla showed Clay a hymn she had taped inside the front cover after she left Gladney. That little scrap of paper, cut from a church bulletin, slightly yellowed after so many years, contained the lyrics to “Change My Heart, Oh God”:

“You are the Potter. I am the Clay. Mold me and make me, this is what I pray…”

For thirty years—Clay’s entire life—Priscilla had been carrying his name, close to her heart, without even knowing.