Getting married and having children are fundamental desires of the human heart. Family, as they say, is what makes a house a home. For most people, life slips naturally onto this path. For others, the journey isn’t so easy. My friend Cecil Stokes is one who waited years for God to patch the hole in his heart. Healing began with a child’s words. Here’s his story:
I had wanted to be married since I was 12 years old. Not very typical for a guy, most would say. In high school, I was playfully voted “Most likely to be married by sophomore year in college.” Those days came and went. There was a hole in my heart.
But I had God’s promises. Near the end of my college career, I heard a direct word about my future. There was a large hill near my dorm and I often drove to the top of that hill for my prayer time. I just felt closer to God overlooking the city. One night, I heard him tell me I would have a son. I saw this beautiful baby boy in my mind and I was satisfied.
Later in my 20s, I again went higher. I took a prayer weekend on a mountain retreat and God confirmed again that I would be the father of a son. In my 30s, I wondered what was wrong with me as almost all of my friends married and began families. I tried to ease the pain with work, friends and travel.
Late in my 30s, I was on a trip with one of my buddies and sure enough, God spoke to me again from the mountain. This time he was more specific. He said I would be like Joseph and have a son that was not mine biologically. I had always wanted to adopt and mostly dated women who wanted to adopt so it made complete sense.
When I reached my 40s, I began to ask God if I could adopt on my own and I heard him say no. Then when a relationship ended with the woman I thought was perfect for me, I asked again. I heard yes! But after all those years, I needed confirmation. I buried my face into the floor and asked again and I heard yes. Guttural sobs wet the carpet.
But this was too big. I needed a sign. For the next four Sundays in a row, I received signs through my pastor’s sermons, books I was reading, the Bible and a speaker at my church. I knew it was a go. I looked up the information to adopt from foster care in my city and there was an orientation class the next day with one opening left. I signed up. Is this how God would fulfill His promise and fix my aching heart?
After seven months of classes, books and interviews, I had my foster care license and waited for a child. A few options crossed my path but I did not hear the voice I was waiting to hear. Then I received an email with the photo and background of a small eight-year-old boy.
He had been abused in every way, taken from his birth parents and separated from his siblings. He was then tossed through 10 different foster placements in three years, learning every three to four months that he wasn’t wanted anymore.
I asked that I be submitted as a permanent placement for him and was rejected because his last two “permanent” placements called to have him removed after three months. But God whispered that he was mine. So I asked to write a letter to the decision makers and while that was unheard of, I was told I could. So I wrote to them my plan for his life.
The next day I was sitting in the head office being interrogated. The meeting ended with a statement every child deserves to hear: “Nobody has fought for this child in his entire life and you are fighting for him without even meeting him.” He arrived two days later just as a massive summer storm passed and the sun broke through the clouds (literally and figuratively).
I knew in a moment he would be my son forever and truly, and he always had been— on every hill and mountaintop experience and through the long, dark valleys— we just hadn’t known each other. He tells me now he knew it too the first time I hugged him; he said no one had ever hugged him like that before.
As I look back now, those first few weeks were a whirlwind. He started second grade in less than three weeks and I probably attempted every “father/son” moment within the first month—playing baseball, tossing around the football, putting together model cars. I made it a routine that each night before bed, we cuddled up on the couch and said 3 Blessings before we prayed. It was hard for him in the beginning but that was exactly why I knew we had to do it; he needed a paradigm shift.
We had some really hard days, filled with the examples we were warned about in foster care classes. I was not the perfect dad and made my share of mistakes. Then one night, I sat on the side of his bed as I tucked him in. I sang to him and rubbed his back. As I said good night and started to leave, he sat up and said, “You know, I came here with a broken heart, and something tells me you had one too. But now, together, we have a whole heart.”
That night, salty tears caressed his head as I rocked him close. He wasn’t the only one who had been looking for home. And he wasn’t the only one who’d found one.
I was 42 years old when my prayer was answered and God allowed me to become a father.
Cecil and Boone Stokes