There once was a little girl. She was feisty and creative, talkative and headstrong. She heard her parents fighting every night, on every trip, at almost every meal. She heard the arguments, accusations, and animosity between them. She knew they were unhappy together. Sometimes the fights annoyed her, sometimes they scared her, but rarely did they surprise her.  

She was not shocked or saddened when she packed her belongings and left with her mother because she knew her parents were better off apart. 

She didn’t anticipate, however, how her own life would change. 

The girl heard her mother crying at night, both mourning and relieved. She saw her mother struggle to make ends meet, working whatever jobs she could while juggling a child and the costs that come with them. She moved a lot, this girl, and missed a lot of school. Other kids teased her for her poor attendance, her hand-me-down clothes, her tattered backpack. 

RELATED: Dear Single Mom, I See Your Heart

The girl moved again, then again. Her mother tried and tried, but life didn’t seem to be set up for a single mom to succeed. She missed work when the girl was ill, then got fired for not being there. She missed school deadlines and events so she could work, then was judged for not being there. The girl missed so much school she was threatened with court dates nearly every year, for which her mother also had to miss work. 

Every few months her address would change, her mother’s work number would change.

Every few months the girl and her mother had to start all over. 

The girl was alone a lot . . . as was her mother. The girl sought entertainment when none could be afforded and the mother sought companionship when none could pass inspection.  

They struggled a lot, this girl and her mom. Knives and bats were hidden to keep them safe, gifts were returned to keep them fed. They only had each other, but often this was not enough.  

So God made a stepdad.  

He was patient with the struggles and did not judge or discount the package deal he encountered.

He worked all day, then talked on the phone for hours with the mother. The girl saw her mother happy, excited, feeling worthy for the first time in a long time. 

He didn’t push the girl to accept him and he bent when she pushed to exclude him. Bent, but never broke. 

RELATED: Here’s to the Stepparents Who Show Up

He provided without question and supported without reason. The feisty daughter became a feisty teenager, and he didn’t run away. He knew he wasn’t always welcome but never returned the sentiment. 

They were safe, finally, the girl and her mother, in a home that couldn’t be taken away, at an address they’d have for more than a little while. They were loved, this girl and her mother, by a man who didn’t have to. They laughed and cried, made memories and had arguments, ate together at a table, and made trips to see grandparents.

They became what the girl had not known for many, many years—a family. 

This stepdad came to concerts, bought season tickets to football games. He danced with the daughter at her wedding, and he loaned his name to her newborn son. He loved them through the storms, committed to them both in sickness and in health. He raised another man’s daughter, paid another man’s debt. He met them in their chaos and he offered them welfare. He worked hard, both to provide and to hold his tongue when the teenager he didn’t have to love gave him many reasons not to.  

Related: To the Daddy Who Didn’t Have To Be

He calls the girl his daughter and her children call him PawPaw. He cares as much as ever, works as hard as ever, and has been a steady rock to a girl who didn’t realize how much she needed one. 

God dealt the girl a rough first hand, but then God made a stepdad.

And I’m so grateful that He did.

Jennifer Vail

Jennifer is married to the very handsome man she's loved half her life, with whom she juggles 3 hilarious, quirky, sometimes-difficult-but-always-worth-the-work kids. She is passionate about people and 90's pop culture, can't go a week without TexMex, and maintains the controversial belief that Han shot first. She holds degrees in counseling and general ministries, writes at This Undeserved Life, and can often be found staying up too late but rarely found folding laundry.