Three Years Ago . . .

Three years ago today, Mark and I woke up early in the morning with a brand new carseat, and drove up to Department of Children and Family Services. Three years ago today, we nervously buckled a six-month-old little boy into our car, and drove him home, stealing glances the whole way. Three years ago today, we placed a sleeping child in a crib in our home, and watched him sleep, still in shock that he was ours. Three years ago today, we lay on the floor with our new son, and got to see his bright smiles for the first time. Three years ago today, Jafta came into our family, and blessed us more than we could ever have imagined.

The Memory-Keeper’s Son

I just looked at Jafta’s baby book for the first time since we finalized his adoption. I hadn’t really thought about looking at it – India just pulled it out. But as I sat there flipping the pages, I was flooded with memories of assembling it. Making a baby book is something that should be a labor of love for a mom, especially a first-time mom. Choosing memories for a baby book should be a beautiful thing. But for me, this book was an EXTREMELY painful process. In fact, I could barely finish it, and it took over a year to complete, because I had to walk away from it so many times.

There was so much uncertainty about Jafta’s adoption, and the baby book, to me, seemed like a huge symbol of the potential loss. As I chose the pictures, I couldn’t help but think about his future. I would wonder what I would do with the baby book if he was taken from us. Would I send it with him? Would I keep it? If I gave it to his birthmom, would she even keep it? If I kept it, would I ever be able to look at it again? Every time I tried to work on this book, these thoughts would fill my head.

Making his baby book also brought up other fears. What if he never remembered us? What if all of these memories I had with this child were never known to him? Who would he become apart from our loving family, and what would that seperation do to him? It was even painful looking at family portraits back then. The questions about Jafta’s future lasted well into India’s first year. I used to wonder if, someday, India would look at these pictures and not recognize or remember the boy sitting next to her. I even had the awful thought, during those years, that perhaps we should be taking seperate family portraits without him, just in case. So we would not have a three-year string of photos that had to be stored away in case he wasn’t a permanent member of our family. What a terrible thought for a mom to have.
Looking at his baby book brought back all of these memories for me, and I felt a huge sense of grief for the joys of first-time motherhood I missed out on, for the magnitude of stress I lived under when Jafta was a baby. I found myself sobbing as I thought of the tightness in my chest I felt making that book. But then, I felt relief. I allowed myself to look at all the pictures in a new light. I gazed at the family photos as just a happy, PERMANENT family. I allowed myself to feel grateful that I will be the keeper of this baby book. I will be the one who adds to this catalogue of memories. I will be the one who shows embarrassing baby photos to high school sweethearts. I will be the mother watching these photos in a wedding slide show.
I am glad that I will be the memory keeper for Jafta’s life. I am humbly grateful that his memories will be made with me.

Jafta’s Adoption is Final . . . . Finally!

After three years, the courts upheld what we have been praying for the last three years – Jafta is an official member of our family. It was an incredible day. I can’t explain how surreal it was to drive up to the LA family court knowing that we were going there to finalize the adoption. We have made that trip so many times in the last three years, and every time it has been a feeling of dread and anxiety as other people made decisions about our son’s future. On our way there, I realized it was the first time that I didn’t have a stomach ache due to worry as we approached the courts. It was the first time I wasn’t petitioning God in prayer as we waited for our name to be called.

It was also a stark contrast inside the courtroom. We have always felt so alone and so intimidated in that courtroom. Today, as we literally had a room full of family and friends there to back us up, we felt so confident and supported as a family. It was overwhelmingly emotional. As soon as she had us raise our right hands and state our names, we were fighting the ugly cry. And losing.
We were asked to confirm that we wanted to adopt him, and then asked if we vowed to love him and treat him as we would any biological child. As we sat there with India, our little surprise in the midst of this journey, I knew full well that we did love Jafta as if he were our own biological child. When she announced he was now officially Jafta Jordan Howerton, the room erupted in applause.
When the day was done, we wanted to check in with Jafta to find out how he was feeling and what his thoughts were. This was his reply:

“It was a big day. We went to the court and we waited and waited and waited, for a really long time. And then finally, Ryder came!! And then everybody clapped for me. And then Ryder went down the elevator and I was sad, but then I saw him again!”

Leave it to Jafta to measure the gravity of the day by how much Ryder hangage he got! Love the 3-year-old brain.
As we process the end of this long road, we feel incredibly grateful for our son and for the friends and family who supported us and prayed us through this adoption. We can’t even begin to say the weight that has been lifted off our shoulders, and it has struck me in big and small ways over the last 24 hours. He’s ours. If someone had told me when we were placed our baby son that he would be in preschool by the time we finalized, I probably would have run screaming for the hills. But somehow, day by day, we got through it, and Jafta has been a gift worth waiting for. He teaches me daily with his ability to be in the moment, find the joy in small things, and live life with a zeal and energy that is inspiring (and yes, occasionally exhausting). We praise God for his hand in our family. Jafta, YOU ARE LOVED.