Words by Kara Holmes // Images by Candice Hackett
“. . . and [Jacob] loved Rachel more than Leah. . . .” (Genesis 29:30)
You’ve likely heard the story told before. Jacob, the son of Isaac and Rebekah, had fallen in love with a woman named Rachel. So love struck was he that Jacob agreed to work seven years for Rachel’s father, Laban, in order to marry her. Yet after seven long years of hard labor, Laban tricked him, and Jacob unknowingly married Rachel’s older sister, Leah. Understandably, Jacob was angered at Laban’s deception, so Laban agreed to give Rachel to Jacob in marriage, as well, in exchange for another seven years of labor. At the end of this great and disappointing tale, Jacob found himself married to two sisters. As we are told in the sad and revealing verse quoted above, Jacob loved one sister more than the other (Gen. 29:15–20).
So we meet Leah, plain in appearance, unloved in marriage, pitied in history. Scripture tells us that the Lord saw Leah, and he opened her womb. Leah became pregnant while her sister remained barren. But of all the female characters in Scripture, Leah probably isn’t the one you would want to relate with on a personal level.
Woven into the fabric of nearly every woman is the longing for children. Women alone are chosen by God to bear the unique privilege of experiencing life as it is knit together within their wombs. It is an honor that is not to be taken lightly, and it is an honor that most women long to see fulfilled. There is a dream that accompanies this longing for children. As is customary of most dreams, the dreaming of a mother or mother-to-be is romanticized when we imagine how life will be with children. The hope for perfection infiltrates every aspect of our lives, and parenthood is no exception.
I will never forget the day that my dreaming came face-to-face with a reality I had never before imagined. It was on a sunny Friday afternoon in May. My firstborn daughter was almost four, and after years of unexplained infertility, I was at last pregnant again. I had dreamed for so long of how life would be with another child in our home. Once we learned we were pregnant, my dreams were finally on the cusp of becoming reality!
It was on that day, though, that I ceased dreaming for my unborn child, a girl. It was on that day that I learned she had Down syndrome.
I must explain what I mean by that last statement. I loved my unborn daughter deeply, just as I loved my oldest. I was committed to her and dedicated to doing everything in my power to help her flourish in life. But in my grief, I no longer knew how to dream. I could not imagine how my life would be once she was born because I was not familiar with life as a “special needs” mom. I feared dreaming because I did not know what lay ahead. I only knew that life had taken a major detour from the dreams I once held.
I imagine Leah had similar feelings. Her circumstances were completely different from mine, but I think it is safe to say that Leah had dreams for her own life.
Like we all do, Leah romanticized how life would be once children arrived. In fact, she hoped that this first child she bore might stir in her husband affections that he did not previously have for her. She named her firstborn son Reuben, and she told herself, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me” (Gen. 29:32). The human heart is relentless in its yearning for fulfillment, and Leah was no exception. Three times she bore Jacob sons, and three times Leah dreamed that her children would cause Jacob to love her. But three times over, Leah found herself unloved, her dreams unfulfilled.
A curious thing happens in Leah’s story, though. Once more—a fourth time—Leah became pregnant, but at last, she dared to dream differently. With the sweetness that comes from surrender, Leah relinquished her dreams for the dreams of someone greater: “This time,” Leah said, “I will praise the Lord” (Gen. 29:35). She named her fourth son Judah, and Scripture tells us that for a season, Leah ceased bearing children.
There is a pause in her story, the natural break from one chapter to the next, that allows for the power of verse 35 to hang in the air. At last, Leah ceased her striving, and she praised the Lord. The glory of Leah’s story is not that her earthly anguish ended or that her husband finally gave her the love she so desperately sought. None of Leah’s children ever brought about the fulfillment of that longing, and Judah’s arrival was no exception. Judah was the fourth of six sons Leah ultimately bore, and the fourth of twelve sons total. He was Jacob’s fourth son, and he was born of the unloved wife. That’s not quite a glamorous place to be in the family lineup.
Yet Judah, meaning “praise,” is not a name lost somewhere in the middle of twelve brothers. In fact, his name is not lost in history at all. Leah praised the Lord at the birth of her fourth son. She traded her earthly sorrow for the eternal joy of knowing God, and at her surrender, God weaved into their story an even greater dream for Judah than Leah could have even imagined. God chose Judah’s family line to be the line of Christ Jesus, the Savior of the world.
Alisa was born on Oct. 29, 2015, and with her birth I joined Leah in trading my earthly dreams for the dreams of the Father. We laid aside our sorrow, and we praised God for her. We celebrate Alisa’s life and rejoice in the many ways the Lord has and will continue to use her story for his glory. Our story is still being written, but I know that God’s dreams for my family will far surpass the dreams I once held.
Leah discovered a secret in life that very few understand: no one can dream greater dreams for us and our children than the Lord. No matter where we find ourselves in the journey of motherhood, we, like Leah, serve a God who can redeem and restore all of our broken dreams. May we find hope today in that truth, and may we praise the Lord.