One afternoon, when I was three years old, I found my younger brother kneeling on the living room floor. He was on a mission to decimate an earwig that had unfortunately found its way into our home. Realizing the situation, I rushed over and fiercely picked up the insect. I cradled that poor earwig next to my cheek and whispered, “It’s OK, my special, special one.” I’ve always been a sucker for the underdog.

Growing up, I read and re-read stories about Jane Addams, Amy Carmichael, Harriet Tubman, and Mary Slessor. These women became my heroines and I determined to be a world-changer just like them. Over the years my dream became focused. What better way to change the world than through adoption? I imagined how many babies I would rescue, cradle to my cheek, and to whom I would whisper words of love. But unfortunately, as my dream grew, so did my pride. Through His grace, God brought me to a place where I could experience the true state of my heart.

In 2003 I got married and began having children—three in less than four years. At the same time, my husband was in the middle of his six-year surgical residency which kept him working 80 hours a week. Inevitably, with the birth of each child, I felt the grip of exhaustion and depression tighten. My middle son, especially, was a conundrum. I couldn’t understand why so many seemingly random situations triggered extreme meltdowns. Once he was in a tantrum, I struggled to help him calm down. My son had outbursts that were different, and much more frequent, than my other children. The cherry on top of this toxic concoction was that he slept horribly from undiagnosed sleep apnea for his first three years. 

My life quickly became a nightmare version of Groundhog Day. There seemed to be no escaping the trap of each desperate day that morphed into another sleepless night. I kept thinking as my son grew older he would get better. He didn’t. His struggles only changed.

Unfortunately, I had changed, too. I couldn’t keep it together for five minutes without flying into a rage. Too often, I disciplined out of anger and my mouth had morphed into that of a sailor’s. I spewed such awful words that my oldest, when he was three, let out a verbal bomb as casually as though he was asking for milk. Of course this happened in front of my mother. I shriveled inside. Never before had I seen my heart with such ugly brokenness. My deepest prayer became, “God, please change me . . . ”   

As difficult as life had become, I still held onto my dream of adoption. Adoption, I reasoned in a twisted way, would allow me to do something truly important for God, and therefore truly satisfying. Then, a few years ago, that dream officially blew up. After two days of testing at the University of Washington, my middle son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. His needs were not going away. There was no cure, no fix, no pill that would solve his problems. Having more children in our home would only add to his strain and stress.

In my economy this simply didn’t make sense. If I didn’t have a child with special needs, I told God, I could do so much more good for the world! Over time God has gently opened my heart to see why His plan for my life was different from my own. In His sovereign, mysterious way, God was answering my prayers from those difficult years.

He didn’t want me to change the world; He wanted to change me. 

God is beginning to set me free—free from my deadly penchant for pride. Free from the lie that I have anything good to offer God. Free from thinking He cares more about my social activism than my spiritual growth. Free from the false belief that I am most valued when I am needed by others. Free from pursuing my dream instead of pursing Him. God has used my child—my special, beautiful, intricate child—to change my heart. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The glorious truth is that God still wants me to care about the underdog. He created me to love the unlovable, help the helpless, and encourage the misunderstood—the one right here in my own home. On many nights now I find myself nuzzling my son’s little neck in the peaceful moments before he drifts off to sleep. I often breathe in the smell of his skin and think, “It’s going to be OK, my special one.”

If I listen closely enough, I can hear those same words whispered to me.

Heidi Cox

Heidi currently lives in Washington State where she has one husband, three children, 28 coffee mugs, and too many stains on her carpet to count. Heidi has been published in the anthology, Just Moms: Conveying Justice in an Unjust World and on the MOPS blog.