We’re creating a new Guideposts.org

It’s faster, it’s mobile friendly—and we’d love you to have a sneak peekClick here to preview

A Family Mystery

An unanswered Christmas card, a fading college yearbook and a phone call out of the blue connect a woman to her roots.

By Elise Breda, Delmar, Maryland

As appeared in

Then when she was 12, her mother announced that they were going on a vacation, a cross-country trip to New York City. Along the way they’d stop wherever they liked. A week later they pulled off Interstate 40, deep in North Carolina. Winston-Salem, the exit sign read.

They drove by the Bahnson family homestead, an impressive Tudor house. Deborah looked on, her eyes as wide as saucers. A few blocks away her mother stopped outside a beautiful stone building.

“This is the office of one of your father’s brothers, Dr. Reid Bahnson,” her mother said. “C’mon, let’s say hi.”

Featured Product

Guideposts Magazine - August Issue

Guideposts Magazine

Try Guideposts magazine Risk-Free! Get 2 Free Issues - plus a Free Gift!

Joyce introduced herself to the receptionist. Minutes later a tall, distinguished man in a white coat appeared, his expression puzzled. Deborah realized her mother hadn’t even told him they were coming.

“Dr. Bahnson,” Joyce said, “I’d like you to meet my daughter, Debbie...your niece.”

“Well, uh, it’s nice, I mean, welcome,” he said. “What brings you to Winston-Salem?”

They talked for only a few minutes. Dr. Bahnson posed for a picture with Deborah outside the office. And that was it. No hugs. No promises to keep in touch. What her mother hoped for, Deborah didn’t know.

But the name and the memory never left Deborah. Somehow this polite but reticent man seemed like the key that could unlock this hidden side to her family. But how?

She sometimes held the snapshot of herself and the doctor in her hands, as she did now before sending yet another Christmas letter to him in Winston-Salem, praying for an answer. It was 2001. Her son was 12 years old, her daughter, 10, old enough to have questions of their own about their ancestry.

Then one evening the phone rang. “Is this Deborah Breda?” a voice on the other end asked, a voice she couldn’t place.

“Yes,” Deborah said.

“My name is Fred Bahnson,” the caller said. “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but your father, Alec, has passed away. I’m the executor of his will and, well, I thought you should know.”

FREE eBook

The Power of Hope: 7 Inspirational Stories of People Rediscovering Faith, Hope a

The Power of Hope

7 Inspirational Stories of People Rediscovering Faith, Hope and Love

Questions whirled in her mind amid a sea of emotions. “How did you find me?” Deborah finally asked.

“I asked my uncle, Dr. Reid, if he knew how to reach your mother,” Fred said. “He had a box full of Christmas letters from you. We’re having a memorial service. Would you be able to come?”

In a church in North Carolina she listened intently to the words spoken of her father, a man it seemed no one could fully explain. He’d bravely served his country and devoted much of his life to missionary work.

But all agreed, after the war he wasn’t the same, his mind troubled, easily stressed, haunted, it seemed, prone to nervous breakdowns. She learned he’d been hospitalized for a time in the early 1950s.“I know your father loved you,” many people told her. “It’s just a shame he was so troubled.”

Yet at long last she had a family: cousins, aunts, uncles, people who wanted to keep in touch, to send Christmas letters, who invited her into their lives. She felt embraced and cared for, that emptiness in her finally filled.

She never got a full explanation of why they had kept her and her mom at arm’s length, but she sensed pretty clearly that they were protecting her from her father’s unstable behavior.

Suddenly that lifelong jigsaw puzzle felt nearly complete, as if God was putting in the final pieces, answering a lifetime of prayer. Through a Christmas letter.

Featured Product

Guideposts Magazine - August Issue

Guideposts Magazine

Try Guideposts magazine Risk-Free! Get 2 Free Issues - plus a Free Gift!

A few months later she was going through some of her deceased grandmother’s effects. And there in a box filled with old photos and letters she found an envelope addressed to her. Sent airmail from Israel. It was from her father, written on one of his missionary travels.

“I planted two trees here to honor your mother and you. You’re always in my thoughts and I love you very much.” Deborah’s mother was as shocked as she was. No doubt her grandmother had hidden the letters to protect Joyce and Deborah.

Deborah would never fully understand her past and her father’s pain or the desire of people to protect children, even from the truth. Yet now she would be able to explain the past to her own children.