It was late summer or early fall—beautiful, breezy weather.
We had been in a season of life that was rich with abundance. We had recently accepted a position with a ministry that included free lodging. We were stocking up funds this way, living simply, loving our new place and new town. We had a baby girl, and God had laid it on our hearts to pursue adoption. We were five months, one home study, and $5,000 into the adoption process, completing trainings and talking to people who had adopted. We were expectant in the way a couple is in the nine-month process of pregnancy.
That afternoon, I took my daughter to the store with me to pick up some ginger beer and give my wife a break. It was a Saturday, and I was in no hurry. I cradled the six-pack in my arms across the store, stopping once for a sample of guacamole. I had just paid for my purchase when it registered suddenly that there were red-and-blue lights in the parking lot, and they were near my car.
I'd left my baby there.
To this day, all I can come up with is that I forgot. I was a young dad focused on something else, unused to caring for a baby. She had fallen asleep on the way over and was quiet in her car seat. I have silly reasons like this to account for the terrible thing I did.
I sprinted across the parking lot, wrenched the car door open and unlocked the straps. She was wailing but unharmed, and I drew her to my chest and held her. I heard the man who had called the police say, "There he is, and he was buying beer." Illogically, I retorted in my head: It’s non-alcoholic.
The police were matter-of-fact. They took my name and details and said things like, “That’s a pretty important thing to forget,” and “We’re going to have to call this in,” and over and over I said I was sorry. Not to them—to her.
When they left, I took my daughter home. My wife held me and we talked for a long time, and she didn’t blame me. In fact, she named me, affirming that this didn’t define me as a dad, that I was still a good dad. Inside, all I could think was this: a good dad doesn’t forget his baby; therefore, I am not a good dad.
The truth? I’m actually not. I never have been. I shout at my kids when they need a kind word or understanding. I carry unrealistic expectations of them. I value my alone time more than making memories with my children. I interrupt my son instead of hearing him out. The mistakes, whether small, large, or in-between, are always happening. This one was huge.
At the end of the week we got a call. The person who took our case was kind and positive and said that this happened more frequently than we might imagine, and that to him it was obvious we were good parents. He told us it was a fluke. We asked him about the adoption. If “they” also decided our case was just a fluke, we could continue. If they decided we should be watched, we would get a five-year black mark on our record—and the adoption would be off.
So we waited.
To this day I don’t understand why God allowed this to happen. It would be easy to say that I needed to learn something or that I needed to be punished for some sin. I believe this from time to time, but then I have to push the thought back, because it only makes me resentful. The questions surface: How could God put my child in danger because of my forgetfulness?
Job, the great sufferer, asked God “why” 1,000 times. Satan killed all of Job’s children in a single day, and in the midst of Job’s agony, his three “friends” told him God was doing this to produce piety. They suggested it was Job’s fault because he had sinned. They said he needed to humble himself and accept this trial as due punishment.
Job rebuked his friends because they reduced his anguish to what only their human minds could gather. Job knew their reduction did not stand, but in the end, he didn’t remember his place. His desire to know the reasons for his suffering escalated into a demand.
In the end, Job was left only with the fact that he was human, not divine. This is not a hollow idea, for in it is the reminder that God loved humans enough to come to Earth and take on flesh, “the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Jesus went through agony we will never know, and he didn’t deserve it or need to learn anything. He asked the Father to take away the suffering, and God said no. Then Jesus walked straight into the anguish of the cross because in order for us to be with him forever, he would have to take our suffering on himself. He chose suffering so we might be God’s children.
The phone call came a week later. Our case worker said he was sorry, but there was nothing he could do.
When we got the news that our adoption was annulled and I had been labeled a five-year hazard, I believed the entire year had been a waste, and I was the one who had wasted it. I believed this knowing what I know as a Christian in my head. And in that moment, in spite of my doubts, Christ held us. He let us cry, let us question, let us doubt the usefulness of his plan. He was simply there. It was enough, because Christ is enough.
A broken world wants answers, but it needs Christ. As a broken dad, I want answers, but I need Christ. If I am in Christ, no moment is a waste, no failure severs me from his presence. He restores every situation—not by changing it into what we humans wish it could have been, but by revealing his presence in it.
It is more than six years from that day. We’ve moved twice since then, and my daughter is now a coltish little girl with huge, curly hair. She calls me “Daddy,” as she has every year since she could talk. Every day, she, my three other children, and my wife name me a constant. I am a dad, it’s true. And every day, by his death, resurrection, and continued presence, Christ names me his child.
Editor’s note: Every year, children are accidentally left in the car. To prevent this from happening to your child, experts suggest leaving an item you’ll need at your next destination—a cellphone, a purse, a briefcase—in the backseat.