Jessica Ringler walked up to the welcome desk at the Billy Graham Library. It was late morning Dec. 18, 2019, and the facility was decorated for Christmas at the Library.
She’d been to the event before. She loved the horse-drawn carriage rides and the sounds of Christmas carols. But this wasn’t an ordinary holiday visit. Jessica was here to see her daughter, Rachel.
The last time she had laid eyes on Rachel was 20 years earlier when she was 10 weeks old, and Jessica was leaving her with her adoptive parents. Jessica told the two women at the desk why she was there, and they prayed with her and agreed to video the reunion with Jessica’s cell phone.
Jessica’s heart wouldn’t slow down. She’d waited all these years to be reunited with her daughter, and with her chronic health issues she sometimes feared she might not live to see it.
Finally, the Library door swung open and Susan, Rachel’s adoptive mother, walked in. Beside Susan was a tall, slender young woman with long, dyed pink hair and a hesitant smile. She froze for a moment, as the people near the Library entrance started clapping, and then in a split second, she and Jessica were in each other’s arms.
After a long moment, Jessica pulled away from the embrace and looked up at her daughter. “You are so beautiful,” she managed to say, her emotions threatening to take over.
Birth mother and daughter made their way over to a booth in the Library snack bar. Susan brought them some water and vanished so the two could visit. Rachel wanted to hear all about her two biological brothers. Jessica wanted to hear about Rachel’s growing up years, her homeschooling and high school prom and her future plans. They talked about Rachel’s friends and Jessica’s life since Rachel was born; and, of course, how Rachel came to be adopted.
Jessica was a sophomore in college when she became pregnant. She and her boyfriend were planning to marry, but his parents had other ideas. His mother favored adoption, and his father, a Presbyterian minister, favored abortion. Jessica made it clear—under no circumstances would she abort her baby, and neither did she plan to give her up for adoption.
That was, if the baby survived. Jessica had every reason to fear she would not make it to full term. She’d been pregnant before, the unfortunate result of a rape at 16, and she had lost the baby at 26 weeks, due to persistent health issues she later learned was Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Doctors told her she would never be able to carry a baby long enough for it to survive.
But two months into this pregnancy, Jessica sensed God assuring her that her baby would survive. So, bearing through an arduous nine months, she held on tight, through drugs to stop labor, regular hospital visits—and at four months, the strong feeling that God did, indeed, want her to give her baby up. She was overcome with grief. She had her parents’ full support, and she felt completely capable of raising her child. Plus, if her health issues persisted, this may be the only child she would ever have.
But God didn’t let up. “He kept giving me these feelings, and all I could see was my own childhood, growing up in a stable, two-parent home, and I couldn’t shake it.”
God seemed to be saying He wanted the same experience for Jessica’s baby. She asked the Lord that if this was what He wanted, to bring the right couple to her, and He did.
Susan and Neil had been trying to adopt a child for 10 years. Their pastor heard about Jessica’s situation and connected them.
“I knew the moment I met them that they were who God wanted for my baby,” Jessica says. They agreed Rachel would be allowed to meet Jessica whenever she was ready. For two years, Susan and Neil sent Jessica pictures and videos of Rachel’s milestones.
“I saw her first steps and her first time in a swimming pool,” Jessica says. “After two years, I received a letter and pictures once a year.”
Meanwhile, Jessica married and twice more beat the medical odds. She had two sons, Jordan and Scott, five years apart. But she still ached for her oldest child.
“We always had an 8×10 picture of her on our wall of family pictures, so my kids have always known about their sister,” she says. “My oldest son had asked to meet her since he was 5.”
Meanwhile, Rachel grew up happy. She knew Susan and Neil cherished her and called her their blessing. When she received Christ at age 9, they nurtured her faith, making sure she attended church and other Christian events.
She knew Susan talked to Jessica on occasion, and she became aware as she grew older of a box from Jessica that she would receive at age 18. But at 18, she didn’t feel ready to meet Jessica.
“I wanted to get through part of college and grow up a little bit more before I actually met her,” Rachel says.
In January 2019, Rachel turned 20 and began reconsidering the possibility of meeting Jessica. That’s when Susan gave her the box. Rachel held her breath when she saw a photo of her birth mom and pulled a diamond necklace from the box that Jessica had purchased for her while she was pregnant. Then she cried as she read letters written between Jessica and her boyfriend that discussed the fact that his father didn’t want Jessica to continue with the pregnancy.
“Until that moment, I had never seen a picture of her,” Rachel says.
She cried more when she read letters Jessica had written directly to her, telling her how much she thought about her and loved her. Early last December, she asked to meet Jessica. The news couldn’t have come at a better time for Jessica, as she had lost her nephew tragically to suicide and her family was dreading the holidays.
“I called my mom and said, ‘I know I can’t bring Aaron back, but Rachel wants to be in our lives now,’” Jessica recalls. “And once we all got to meet her, it was like some joy was given back to our family.”
Sitting at the Library booth, Jessica and Rachel felt completely comfortable together. And although it wasn’t a holiday visit, their reunion did add to the significance of the season.
“The void I’d had for 20 years was filled back up again that night and the emptiness left,” Jessica says. “It was as if my baby grew up overnight and the 20 years never happened.”
Above: Rachel, second from left, and her birth mom, Jessica, with Rachel’s half brothers: Scott, left, and Jordan, right.