Nathan and Leah Nickell didn’t think they would adopt a son in 2018.
Nor did they expect to adopt a child with a physical disability. However, over the past three years, that’s exactly where their journey has led them.
It was never a question of whether they would foster, but when. The Nickells figured they would do it as empty nesters. Things started pretty much as expected with the birth of their first son, Bentley. But when it came time for a second child, they weren’t able to conceive.
Around that time, Leah was involved in a group for mothers at a church called Crossroads. As the group followed a church-wide study around bravery, she began feeling nudges to foster sooner rather than later. A presentation from a foster services agency was the final push. “Focus on Youth came in to talk to Moms Group,” Leah said. “That was, like, literally God sticking it on my forehead.”
Nathan was a little more apprehensive. He and Leah had recently purchased a house. What was the financial impact of adding another person to the family? Could he protect his wife from the grief of sending a foster child back home to birth parents?
But one morning—a Tuesday, he recalls—Nathan woke up with a sense of peace greater than his fear of risk.
By October 2016, he and Leah were licensed to foster. The Nickells eventually got a phone call for an emergency placement. A 16-month-old child needed a home immediately.
Nathan was once again hesitant. The young boy, named Kyle, was born with spina bifida, meaning his spine and spinal cord hadn’t formed properly. Nathan and Leah weren’t even licensed to care for a child with medical needs. After discussing it, they agreed to foster Kyle until the county could find another home for him. He was permanently in the custody of Hamilton County and available for adoption, but they weren’t sure they were suited to care for his needs long-term.
Kyle arrived at the Nickell home on July 20, 2017. By the time Leah and Nathan went out for an anniversary dinner on July 23, they had both independently concluded that they wanted to adopt him.
“I knew the moment I pulled him out of the car that he was my kid,” Leah said.
As they began taking steps toward adoption, Kyle was taking steps, too. When he arrived at the Nickells’ home, he had a walker to help him get around. With the help of physical therapy, he began walking on his own within two months. Leah and Nathan donated his walker to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to help another child in need.
The adoption was finalized in November. And Kyle, who is now two, is an active little boy. He still has some medical issues, but he’s able to do nearly anything a typical two-year-old would.
“Doctors say, ‘This is not the kid we’re reading on the chart,’” Leah said.
She and Nathan see the improvements as a testament to God’s faithfulness.
“His progress has just been a miracle,” Nathan said. “Saying yes is what we were asked to do and what we were called to do, and the rest is working itself out.”
Their faith has grown through their fostering and adoption experience, too. Like Nathan, Leah was apprehensive about the loss of sending a child home to birth parents. However, when their first foster child reunited with her mother, Leah felt a peace she’s certain came from God. That peace led her to publicly declare her faith by getting baptized during a Crossroads service. Baptism is simply an announcement that symbolizes a surrendered life to God because he is good and worthy of fully following.
For Nathan, their adoption journey brought greater confidence that he’s where he’s meant to be and doing what he’s supposed to do—and that God will do the rest.
“It really speaks to God’s ability to be able to put the puzzle pieces together,” he said.
The picture created by those puzzle pieces is continually changing. In addition to their two sons, the Nickell family also currently includes a one-year-old foster daughter, and they hope to welcome more in the future.