I feel like I just gave birth to an elephant. Elephants have the longest gestation period of any land mammal, typically carrying a child in the womb for 21 months or more. Together, my wife and I just bested Mrs. Jumbo; after more than 26 months of waiting, we have a son. Fittingly, March 20 - the day our adoption was finalized and this young life cleaved legally to ours - is the day all creation affirmed new beginnings with the onset of Spring.
In an attempt to put into words that which cannot adequately be put into words, I want to share the three things that, upon initial reflection of our son's adoption, I cherish most from that day.
1) My Wife is the Best
As we sat in the court room answering a litany of “yes” or “no” questions from our lawyer, Erica reached over and grabbed my hand. Her thumb was rubbing the top of my hand excitedly, like it does anytime she is nervous and joyful and overcome with emotion. I glanced down at Matthew, who was drooling all over a red Tootsie Pop, and had a split-second realization that this child sitting in my lap would not be here if not for Erica. To be fair, she had at least a minor role to play in both our other children coming into the world, but our third - this one was different. I had long been open to the idea of adoption, but foster care was not on my radar at all. Frankly, it terrified me. I was ready to fly to Uganda or India or France (there are orphans in France, right?) to adopt a child, but the thought of temporary guardianship of a series of different children over a long period of time? I wasn’t sure I could handle that, nor did I want to.
But Erica was clear in her conviction. Her rationale was solid. Her faith was firm. Her empathy and compassion for kids in broken homes was tangible. She was the driving force behind our decision to become foster parents. I reluctantly started attending the certification classes with her, thinking that we’d have plenty of time to back out, yet her resolve only stiffened the farther down that path we walked. For the six months we spent preparing to open our home, and for the twenty six months since Matthew was placed in our home, Erica has filed paperwork, kept a photo album “Life Book,” turned in receipts, gone to WIC appointments, served as the primary contact for all our social workers, guardians ad litem, and lawyers, and ever so much more.
I just come home, wrestle with the kid, play choo-choos, and tuck him in.
None of our children will be short on love because they have a mother who loves them fiercely, and for that I am grateful. And without her conviction and obedience to the Holy Spirit three years ago, I would not have found myself sitting in a courtroom with a two-year-old in my lap drooling red sucker juice all over my new American Eagle Extreme Flex jeans, listening to a judge confirm our adoption request.
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2) It Takes a Village
The mechanical ding from the elevator signaled my arrival at the second floor, and, after a slight jolt of the lift coming to rest, the doors opened. I was immediately greeted by a lobby full of glowing faces and open arms. In-laws, coworkers, and friends who had all taken time off of work and out of their day stood smiling, ready to celebrate this moment with us.
We had told only a handful of people about the court date and invited them to join us, but we weren’t completely sure who would show up. Though a few could not avoid work responsibilities, most dropped everything in order to be with us. I walked around the circle of friends, exchanging hugs and trying to hide my amazement. Initially this was almost overwhelming, and even a little awkward. There were at least three distinct pockets of people, connected to one another but strangers to the rest. I tried to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable, but probably failed miserably. A few minutes later the bailiff called us, and our tribe herded itself into the court room. Erica and I crossed the bar with Matthew and sat next to our lawyer; the others filed into the gallery and sat expectantly. I turned around and was struck with the sight once again: the wooden benches were filled almost completely from wall to aisle with our people.
Early the following morning I sat quietly at my dining room table, finding for the first time since the adoption a few moments of silence and solitude. Reflecting on the finality of the court proceedings and all that experience held, I was struck anew with a love and deep appreciation for the people in my life. I have previously written about some of the emotional challenges I was facing at the time Matthew was placed in our care, and, elsewhere, about the friends who carried us while we tried to carry Matthew. All of that came crashing down on my spirit, gratitude overflowing, as I pondered the events of the previous day.
There were friends who supported us and encouraged us as we took the initial steps to become foster parents; friends who wept with us and shouldered burdens with us when our world was falling apart; friends who threw baby showers and provided clothes, diapers, and toys when Matthew first came home with us; friends who took care of a baby who wouldn't sleep so that we could; friends who knew it was time for us to move on and selflessly paved the way for that transition; friends who cleaned and packed our house and prepared for us to move so we could simply take care of the kids; new friends who welcomed us into a new city and a new home, picking right up where the old ones left off; friends who volunteer to babysit so we could go on a date once in a while; friends that simply love us so much that they want to share moments with us, because our joys are their joys.
On Facebook that night, an old friend from another life saw the picture of the courtroom crew and commented, “Matthew’s village looks proud and full of love.” She was right in every sense. This is Matthew’s village. This is our tribe. This is our Church. They have been with us through various seasons and have in their own ways put our interests above their own. We would not be who we are - and Matthew would not be who he is - without these people. I am eternally grateful for those relationships and for the chance, even for a few short moments on adoption day, to have felt God’s faithfulness in all things through the presence of His people.
3) A New Name
When God encounters people in the Bible and transforms their heart, their purposes, and their identities, He has a tendency to also change their names. Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob become Israel, Simon becomes Peter, Saul becomes Paul. The name change signifies an internal, spiritual alteration that has taken place and is representative of a new identity formed and originated in God the Father. Ultimately, all who come to the Father through Christ the Son are given a new name - His name - signifying our relationship and standing within His family for all eternity.
No other moment at Matthew’s adoption was as poignant as when he received his new name. The lawyer read through the name change in standard, unemotional legal fashion. “Is it your desire that his name shall henceforth be Matthew Peter Jackson?” My eyes welled up with tears in standard, overly emotional softie fashion. A name conveys meaning and belonging, heritage and inheritance. Matthew is forevermore part of the Jackson family. Nothing can ever change that. Of added significance is his new middle name, Peter - his father’s father. Receiving this new name was a fulfillment of all we have prayed for these past two years, and a reflection of all we hope for ourselves as we await the final declaration of our own adoption into the family of God on that day of glory.
Thank you, Jesus. Come, Lord Jesus.