ex nihilo

I never liked babysitting. I only did it to earn enough money to buy my first topical study Bible, and then I was done. I didn’t volunteer to help in the church nursery – ever. Kids and I weren’t an easy fit. I knew early on I wouldn’t be a mother.

When I married, my husband was of the same mind. As an African from a large family, he reasoned he already supported a tribe of siblings, a hoard of cousins and aging parents. No need to add more mouths to feed.

We envisioned a life lived between Burundi and the United States, traveling together and always tickets for two. The reality and responsibility of children did not fit into our plan. So we took precautions; birth control for me, a more ‘significant measure’ for him to ensure no accidents, no surprises.


A few years into our marriage we traveled to Burundi for a summer visit. I met up with a missionary to hand-deliver a package sent from home via my suitcase. She ran a home for abandoned babies. She insisted on taking me there.

I remember her leading me room by room, introducing the babies and revealing bits of their story. Most were sick children recovering from neglect or malnourishment. All suffered abandonment. The nannies did their best to care for these children; my new friend did her best to reunite them with extended families.

She pointed out one boy, chocolate skin and long banana-shaped dimples, saying he needed a family to adopt him. He arrived to the center days after his birth, healthy but alone. I hoped someone would adopt him; he looked so small under that soft afro, so ready for love.


‘Will you make room for him in your life?’ The question shook me, jarred me out of my sleep. “Would you open your home to him and create a family for him?’ This could not be right – I’m not a kid person. But the question came like the tide, again and again.

The one thing I knew about myself was my lack of maternal urge or credentials. Why deliver this invitation to me? Considering this question could upend the life my husband and I imagined. To be open to this question was nothing short of revolutionary for a woman like me. Dare I consider this question, this child, the chance he could change everything?

I snuck over to the center one day. The nannies welcomed me. I cradled the baby boy, hoping it would feel natural and make it easy. Or not. Maybe it would remain awkward and I could say the maternal prerequisites are lacking in me. Question asked and answered.

But I studied his dark eyes, wondering if I could make room for him. I rocked him while walking the perimeter of the compound. We sat together under the canopy of a whispy tree, staring at each other. What my mind could not do, my body did. I tried to be open to that radical question.


Still – how could I do this? How could I transform into mother? Honestly, I told God, there’s so little maternal material to work with here. Your hands, even divine ones, would be fairly tied. And then I heard a whisper – ex nihilo. God’s gentle reminder that He’s created out of nothing before.

Out of my maternal nothingness He could create a mother. I felt formless and void, a soup of undefined nurturing and lack of motherly wisdom. But if I could summon some courage to answer, He assured me He could create again. It would be like a new creation for me…

But He’s created out of nothing before. And He would again. And so He did. He reached into my formless mess and fashioned a mother for this boy – and a girl, too!

Our God still creates out of nothing.

 { This is part of imperfect prose link up with Emily Wierenga. }





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20 thoughts on “ex nihilo”

  1. Sarah Bessey
     ·  Reply

    This story still gives me chills, Kel. Love it.

  2. Laura Wilson
     ·  Reply

    Ah, yes…so many discussions of how life would be! God is a trickster for JOY!

  3. idelette
     ·  Reply

    You wrote it so beautifully … powerfully.

  4. Amy
     ·  Reply

    your openness is inspiring.

  5. fiona lynne
     ·  Reply

    I can see you walking the pathways with your little one. What a beautiful mother he made in you.

  6. Janel
     ·  Reply

    Kelly, thank you so much for this post. It is beautiful…and God does work so many things from HIs ways and creates so much through us from Him eh? love it. I am so thankful that he has created this love for so many in both of your hearts.

  7. Mia
     ·  Reply

    Hi Kelley
    I am also from Africa. My home country is South Africa. Your story is heart rendering and I just know that you would be the best mom for this little one … you were chosen for this role from ex nihilo. I would love to see pictures of your son and daughter!
    Bless you XX

    • kelleynikondeha
       ·  Reply

      Mia, if you click over the the About page, you can see them! I love SA… such a lovely, complex land!

  8. Brenna D (@chicagomama)
     ·  Reply

    I told you this earlier, but I’ll say it again. Holy Spirit tears. You are anointed.

  9. Tina/ @teenbug
     ·  Reply

    So much beauty in the post that others have already touched on, so I’ll say this:
    – “long banana-shaped dimples” – love the imagery!
    – “he looked so small under that soft afro, so ready for love.” – Ahhh. Just ahhh.

    I feel *so* close to you when I read your words. It’s what is allowing me be a wife and not panic about missing our Skype dates.

    Love you so much Kels,

  10. Sherry Naron
     ·  Reply

    This is so beautiful to me…I’ve always loved your story and terrified by it at the same time. I can relate so much because I too have no desire to be a mother. I’m still hoping God agrees with me, but I do know if He doesn’t, then He will give me everything I need…just as He did for you.

  11. Syd Shook
     ·  Reply

    Beautiful Kelley! Thanks for sharing. Reminds me of a Franz Wright poem, particularly the end of it:


    Death, heaven, bread, breath and the sea

    to scare me

    But I too will be fed by
    the other food
    that I know nothing
    of, the breath
    the death
    the sea of

    when the almond does not
    blossom and the grasshopper drags itself along

    But if You can make a star from nothing You can raise me up.

  12. Melisa
     ·  Reply

    Wow…what a testimony. SO thankful that He can do this…The seemingly impossible things. Thanks so much for sharing this…

  13. Kati Woronka
     ·  Reply

    Wow, what an amazing story! This is indeed the true act of creation… And, I’d suspect that you’re actually a particularly amazing mom exactly because this is your story.

  14. Laura
     ·  Reply

    Today, as I began a new journey, about which I feel quite ambivalent, as I walked up the granite steps to open the old wooden door, I remembered reading your story this week and more importantly I remembered the Truth that God still can create from nothing. I’ll wait and see what He wants to create and build and grow and bring in and to this insecure, somewhat-lost daughter. I do believe I’ll remember and recall and “re-teach” to myself your story and this Truth many times in my future. Thanks again for sharing your gift of words.


  15. Holly
     ·  Reply

    Your transparency is riveting and oh so refreshing. Your story was a fascinating read for me as your experience to motherhood was so very different from mine. But isn’t that how it all works? God, meeting us where we are, moving, touching, creating a fuller expression of who we really are. Truly beautiful.

  16. emily wierenga
     ·  Reply

    Out of my maternal nothingness He could create a mother. I felt formless and void, a soup of undefined nurturing and lack of motherly wisdom. But if I could summon some courage to answer, He assured me He could create again. It would be like a new creation for me…

    oh my goodness. i feel like weeping. for the beauty of the sacrifice, for the way you worded it all, for the desperate need… bless you friend. SO glad you linked to IP. xo

    • kelleynikondeha
       ·  Reply

      Thanks, Emily. The prompt was a good one. What surfaced was unexpected… forgot about that moment until the Gentle Reminder whispered again.

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