Living Epistle – Deb Jacoby-Twigg

Good morning.  My name is Deb Jacoby-Twigg and I have my family’s permission to share this story about a transformative moment Redeemer gave me.  Its structure is here-and-now / flashback / return.   

Our family moved to Lexington in August of 2017 and joined Redeemer that same month because it felt right here–there was no need to look further.  The very first Adult Forum that my wife Mia and I attended was led by Dr. Deborah Frank of the Grow Clinic at Boston Medical Center.  As she spoke about the clinic’s mission of caring for infants and young children who suffer from malnutrition causes, I thought of the baby that Mia and I had and lost before our sons Noah and Nate came along.  

His name was Caleb.  It was Fall, 2003.  We had become foster parents, hoping to create a forever family through the foster-to-adoption process.  Caleb’s birth mother was severely mentally disabled with an IQ of about 50.  Not knowing that newborns can only take breastmilk or formula, she was feeding Caleb things like strained peaches so he was spitting up, losing weight and, when we got him at 2 months of age, basically starving to death.  He rarely cried.  Classification:  “failure to thrive.” Father: unknown.  Maternal grandparents: unfit.  Over the days and weeks of October and November, we got Caleb plumped up and responsive, crying and trusting that crying would be rewarded with cuddling, formula and fresh diapers. Because the odds of adopting Caleb were excellent, we let our hearts go and dreamed dreams for him and for us as a family.  We looked forward to the coming holidays when we would introduce baby Caleb to our extended family.

Then, just before Thanksgiving, we got a call.  Our social worker who, even as a seasoned professional was surprised, informed us that a distant third cousin of Caleb’s had somehow discovered his existence and wanted to adopt him.  By law, as we knew from our foster training, blood trumps water.  The social worker had to come and get him.  Just like that, it was over.  We helped put him into a car seat in the back of the white and orange social services car, kissed his forehead, then stood on our porch and waved goodbye as they pulled out of our driveway.  In my mind’s eye, I can still see so clearly through the rear window, Caleb’s little face and head slightly bobbing as the car went around the corner and out of sight.  The next day, as a relative’s house filled with turkey dinner smells, people asked why we were so glum and we told them.  “But it was only a foster baby,” said one.

As if Thanksgiving wasn’t hard enough, we had to white-knuckle our way through Christmas with every child-centric reminder from the Nativity to the North Pole.  I couldn’t wait for January.  But grief would be neither tidy nor short-lived.  Easter gave us no relief.  Caleb was not coming back.  We left before the egg hunt.  

In August of 2004, exactly 9 months after Caleb’s departure, the social worker called again.  “We have a 3-day old healthy white male infant.  Will you take him?”  That was Noah.  Seven months after Noah, Baby Nate arrived.  Our lives were busy and our hearts were full.  

So fast forward 13 years to Redeemer in the fall of 2017.  I volunteered to make centerpieces for the Grow Clinic holiday party, bringing to it one long-ago, short-lived experience rescuing one starving baby before Noah and Nate were born. A good cause of which I had some understanding. The centerpiece design that I envisioned was barren white tree branches rising up out of containers filled with chicken wire, sand and glue.  To the white branches would be affixed shiny blue and silver unbreakable tree ornaments.  At the base of each “tree,” would stand a happy little snowman, placed at a jaunty angle.  The centerpieces would rest on tables covered with blue tablecloths and the containers would be concealed by miniature mountains of soft, fluffy, white artificial snow. 

Over several weeks that fall, I made multiple trips to Michael’s and disappeared to the basement for hours at a time, producing 15 of these centerpieces, obsessing over them like they were destined for the Vatican.  From a watchful distance, as he told me later, Chris Needham wondered if I had or needed a diagnosis of OCD.  Even I was asking myself why I was making such a big hairy deal out of this.  When my work was finished and the centerpieces were lined up and ready for transport, I stood back and snapped a picture to show Mia who couldn’t walk downstairs because of a knee injury.  Pausing to look at them again before I turned off the basement light, my heart suddenly realized what was going on.  I walked upstairs, showed Mia the photo on my phone and said, “I finally figured out why I was going so crazy over these centerpieces.  I thought I was making them for the Grow Clinic kids.  And I WAS but maybe I was mostly making them for Caleb.”

“I know, honey,” she said.  Mia always knows these things.  

It was a surgical operation but Erica Brotschi helped me transport these fragile centerpieces to Boston Medical Center and Redeemer volunteers did a beautiful job of building little snow mountains around the tree containers.  When the Grow Clinic families arrived, all the little snowmen faced forward to greet them.  After the party, those who wished could take the centerpieces home.  One man told me his centerpiece would be his family’s Christmas tree.  A little girl asked if it would be ok to take two:  one for her mom and one just for her to make her bedroom extra pretty.  

Redeemer did that.  Redeemer gave me a service opportunity that helped heal a wound I didn’t even know I still had.  Thank you.