We think his story began with our prayer on our lakeside weekend get-away six years earlier.
On God’s calendar, He knew from the beginning of time.
Valerie was born to us after six years of marriage and we were told I would bare no more babies. While we would have preferred a different report, we accepted this as God’s prompting to start adoption procedures. As every adoptive parent knows, there is no simple adoption. When we collect, we recount our stories endless times and listen with great empathy to each other. I could fill pages with the process and its frustrations; I could describe children we thought would be Neff’s, but the crib remained empty. But that is not the purpose of this story.
I want to word sketch God’s large hand holding little John in His palm and intentionally matching Dad/Bob, Mom/Miriam, two year old sister, Valerie, and Charles and Rob yet to come. God’s hand sorted the papers, God’s hand placed the Chinese infant elsewhere. God’s hand placed our Holt adoption agency’s Vietnam three year old elsewhere. God’s not intentional, but permissive hand, even in our miscarriages which kept the crib empty for John. And then God’s hand on our front door as we opened it to our first son.
How can I say this with such certainty? Proof number one: John’s eyes.
In the early 90’s adoption forms included multitudinous questions regarding what characteristics we preferred, would accept, and would not consider. Bob and I diligently together pondered, talked, and checked. We presumed the child would be Asian as no American agencies would accept an application from us. Waiting lists were long, the incidence of abortion was rising, and we had one daughter. Holt Agency in Oregon placed children from Asia and did accept our application. They assigned Evangelical Child and Family Agency (ECFA) in Chicago to do our home study. We assumed our child would be older as most asian adoptions take several years.
Considering health issues, we took into consideration our daughter’s extremely high energy level and the demands of Bob’s career. We decided that taking a severely handicapped child would not be wise at the time, but correctable disabilities, especially eye problems would work. With our youthful naivety, we thought because our brother-in-law was an ophthalmologist and I had worked in his office three months, we would at least get helpful information regarding eye problems and go from there. God noticed the check mark in that box.
In the course of ECFA’s home study, they received an infant that did not match any of their couples checklist; he was not a newborn. Could they place a healthy, Chicago born baby whose birth parents had taken three months to make their decision? We were on their radar screen, and Holt gave them permission to speak to us.
Our answer was an unequivocal, “Yes!” Three months was not too old for us!
John entered our lives. Our love for him was no less than our love for Valerie. They were polar opposites. She never slept. He took three hour naps. She was constantly on the move to the extent we had to put a net over her crib at night for her own safety. During ‘pre-net’ nights, she climbed out, roamed the house, explored ashes in the fireplace, emptied drawers and closets, and got caught in the cold water of the toilet bowl.
What a delightful relief to receive a baby who never even had to be placed in a playpen. He was content to play near my feet, never roamed, and seldom reached for more than snuggles from those around him. We did not notice that his eyes ‘wandered’ past the age when most babies are able to focus. John was crawling before we took note of his eyes. A photograph captured the reality that his eyes were not working together.
Recognition of John’s eye problem for both Bob and I was an ‘Ah-ha’ moment of seeing God’s hand. John was placed at an age when baby eyes still wander. Only God knew they would not naturally develop focus. Only He knew John’s eyes would need us. We knew only He knew.
We could not have loved John any more than we already did. But we had room to grow in our God-trust. And we did. This was the first of many times that we placed John back in God’s large hand. A simple surgical procedure was successful. But more importantly, Bob and I had our first proof that God alone was creating our family.
During John’s adolescence when he was discovering his identity and researching his biological parents, Bob and I clung to our God sign that Father knew we were the right parents for our John, even though we felt like large failures at the time. I see now that few dads would have the patience wrapped with large measures of persistence like Bob did. John needed Bob’s pursuing love with boundaries to become the man of integrity he is today. I chuckle into my cappuccino realizing John worked at his dad’s beloved Moody Broadcasting for six years. I admire John’s work ethic, integrity, and willingness to risk all for truth-telling. He is, in fact, his father’s son.
In John’s own words today, John says, “My Dad was always an example of what path to take. If I ever wandered from that, I could just look at him for the correct direction I needed to take.”
He describes his dad with words like ‘character’ and ‘foundation.’ Seeing the man he has become today, he has embraced more than the name. He’s imitating a good dad. He is a Neff!