I’ve always loved children, but I didn’t want any. I’m not sure why, but I know my resolve to never be a parent strengthened each time I heard a tantrum in the grocery store. The expense of children deterred me, too. I knew kids were expensive because I remember being one. How many times did I have to go to the doctor as a kid? How many pairs of shoes did I go through? The costs and crying aside, I was happy with the life my wife and I had.
Child neglect interrupted everything. It was our niece. Her parents were abusing drugs and the neglect worsened with each high. One day her great aunt went to pick her up for the day. She parked the car and watched the father stumble out, nearly dropping the baby on the concrete as he made his way to the car. His aunt chided him then looked in the diaper bag. There were only two diapers. She asked him why. “You’re trying to steal our diapers,” he answered, peppering his response with curses. It wasn’t the worst report we had heard. The Department of Children’s Services soon stepped in. They told the parents if they didn’t let the child live with a relative they would put her in foster care. They asked us to take her.
My wife was in a new job and couldn’t take the 1600-mile round trip to pick up the baby. My mom rode with me to help and to give me a crash course in childcare. I had never even changed a diaper. How could I step into this child’s life and give her everything she needed? Images of all that could go wrong filled my head.
The door opened and I saw the little girl for the first time, her curly red hair framing her smiling face. I heard God whisper, “You’re meeting your daughter.” New pictures inundated me. I saw diapers, sleepless nights, a growing child, a teenager, a young woman getting married. The pressure crushed me and the fear was more real than before. I had no clue what I was doing.
We took her home and for a short time all was well. But soon the diapers caught up with me and screams woke me in the early morning. Requests for juice and food and perpetual playtime rolled on like a freight train. I looked around the bend, but the caboose wasn’t there.
Much of my free time was spent in ministry before she came along. Now instead of preaching the gospel or passing out tracts my time passed in waiting—waiting for her to fall asleep, waiting for her to wake up, waiting for the doctor, waiting for a family member to watch her, waiting for something to happen, waiting for peace. My soul was drenched in guilt because I knew taking care of her was a ministry, but I couldn’t settle down in my mind. I didn’t know, but it wasn’t mine to settle.
The months dragged on. Then God spoke. I grimaced while changing her messy diaper. The stench of human waste surrounded me and hovered throughout the house. I looked down at her and still loved her in spite of the mess and the fact that I had to clean it up. It must have been the same for my Father in Heaven. I was an atheist before I became a follower of Jesus. My life reflected my belief that this life is the only one. And my life was a mess. God loved me in spite of me and cleansed me.
The little girl learned quickly how to speak and once she did, she didn’t stop. “Uncle. Uncle. Uncle,” she called. “Juice. Juice. Juice. Eat. Eat. Eat.” The requests never stopped. I’d give her a cup of juice; she’d drain it and ask for more. God spoke again in the midst of frustration. He opened my eyes to see that He wants me to be like her. Jesus taught about prayer by talking about a widow who sought justice. She pleaded with a corrupt judge daily until she got it. He told another parable about a man who begged a friend for bread in the middle of the night and wouldn’t stop until he got what he needed. Jesus commended them both. My niece embodies the Lord’s lessons on prayer: be persistent and bold.
Worry and anxiety crippled me those first few months. I couldn’t see what God was doing, but God spoke again as we stood worshiping in church. The little girl lay in my arms guzzling a juice cup. I looked down at her and the Lord said, “This is how you should be. She knows she’s safe. She trusts you. You’re my child and I will take care of you. Trust me.” The tears flowed. I understood and accepted the concept of God as my Father, but until that moment, it only made sense from the neck up.
Our family is in transition. We’ve had her for 14 months and her parents haven’t changed. They’re still neglecting her. This month we started the adoption process. Soon this little girl, my niece, will be my daughter. I anticipate the many new lessons my Father will teach me. How much deeper my love and appreciation for Him will be once I understand firsthand what He has already done for me.
I didn’t want children, but God used our niece to transform my heart. He didn’t focus on what I wanted, but on what I needed. I hope that in the case of taking in children you can’t have too much of a good thing. We have a second niece in need of a home. Our house is too small for our growing family, but I’m not worried. If God can change a heart, He can change circumstances.