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Our Adoption Story, Part 1

Updated: Aug 4, 2019

This is the story of how we became a family- in 2 parts. 

Let me start at the beginning...

In case you haven't heard our story, Joel and I {Lauren} were 14 when we met at a Disciple Now weekend {a weekend where youth stay all over the town in homes of other church members}. It was October 31st, 2003 to be exact. Most of you know the story... he walked in his house {which was my host home for the weekend} and my heart melted with one swoop of that shaggy blonde hair and big blue eyes... and that sideways smirk.

We started "dating" after that weekend {whatever datinglooks like at 14} I knew this guy was special. He seemed shy but super friendly and likable. After deciding to focus on my relationship with Jesus the following January, we remained friends for years. 

I cannot recall the first time I heard God speak to me about Joel, but in 2004 when Joel and I were just friends, God impressed upon my heart that I would one day marry Joel. That following Christmas I told Joel's grandparents I would marry their grandson one day {apparently I thought they needed to know- which is great because I don't really remember that conversation, but years later when we married, they sure did and told me all about it}. At the same time that I heard God speak that Joel was my husband, I also heard Him whisper that we would have a son. 

The year God told me that Joel would be mine. (We were not a couple, but he reluctantly agreed to go to a dance with me anyway. haha). 

I would beg God to know more. He would give me the number 27 repeatedly. That number was my sign and I clung to it. Biblically speaking, the number 27 means "the naming of a son". I knew these two things were promises from above. I treasured these promises.

{I know this might all sound crazy, but I told several people in my life, and they can attest to these promises God made me. And maybe, if you've never heard from God, it might sound strange, but I wanted to hear from God, so I pleaded with Him, and He answered me. I never asked Him specifically to reveal these things to me- that I would be a mom or a wife, this is just what He gave to me. And later when I needed them most, as you will read more about below, He knew I could count on Him. I would need to cling to them like I could never imagine. So Him telling me these things years before, it was for my heart and one day a much deeper faith.}

For years I thought we would birth a son at 27. It just made sense in my finite mind. So when 27 rolled around and we were barren, my heart wasn't disappointed, because I knew God would come through for me again, just as He did with Joel. You see, Joel died in 2009 at the scene of a horrendous car accident. You read that right. He died. He was 20 years old and thrown nearly half a football field. His spine was entirely separated internally from his skull- an accident that no adult in this hemisphere has lived through, except Joel. He was taken from one hospital to another in a helicopter and somehow God showed up. Or rather, He showed out. Joel was raised from death to life for a bonus life. Joel's encounter with God is one only he can tell, but simply put, God said He wasn't finished with Joel here on earth yet.

This story isn't about where Joel and I were at the time of that accident, but I need you to know that we hadn't spoke since shortly after graduating high school 2 and a half years earlier. We went our separate ways, and the accident was a wake up call for us both. And it took years to get to the point of dating and then marriage, but in September 2013, when Joel became my husband. Goodness y'all it's been 5 years {in a couple weeks}.

We started trying to have a family the good ole fashioned way a year after we were married. By this time we had we moved from South Carolina to Florida in 2014. I had always had adoption written on my heart, but I wasn't even having that conversation with Joel at the time. We bought our first home together and moved from Palm Coast to Jacksonville in March of 2016, to be closer to Joel's extended family and health resources.

The big moment we decided to move to Jacksonville, FL.

By this time we had been trying for a family for nearly 2 years. Negative test after negative test, infertility was winning and toying with our emotions. However, my own heart was convicted that we would never do IVF. First, we are a one-income family {so financially it just didn't make sense for us} and second, I hate doctors {Joel has enough to go around- anyone need any?!}. I am a home birth, give me a doula and midwife, all natural kind of girl. Hospitals freak me out. So IVF from cost to the invasiveness were a firm "NO!". But more than those things, I knew that there were kids that had been orphaned who were in desperate need of a family. Pouring out money for a chance to find out what our infertility issues may be, whether it's me or Joel, it wasn't worth it to us. There were kids here in our own city and neighborhood that needed love and stability. And that's something we knew we could give.

In 2015 a friend of mine's sister was adopting twins from foster care. I was hooked. God was preparing my heart and I would talk to Joel about it all the time. But it wasn't until 2016 that Joel and I began to consider adoption the way to grow our family- sooner than later. In May of 2017, we began telling our immediate family we had planned to adopt. By July that year we were in class and ready to learn about how to become a family and care for a child whose heart was wounded and abandoned. 

Our Adoption Announcement.

I've always had a desire to have a BIG family. I told Joel I wanted 3 or 4 kids. He wanted a max of 2. However in our journey to become a family, at one point I had him considering a set of 3- two twin boys and a girl {hahaha}. I told him "I had already made our minds up" and we should do it so not to separate siblings. We looked at the heart galleries all throughout Florida almost daily. Our hearts were so expectant to see how God would grow our family.

We finished adoption and parenting classes in October 2017. Our homestudy and everything was ready December 19th. We were set, and then we waited. The offices were closed for Christmas and New Years and then recruiters were on vacation too. So we waited some more.

We had the unique opportunity to have 10 kids from care over last Thanksgiving, because I am also a volunteer photographer for our local heart gallery. That's when we changed our minds again. You see, in our heads we were thinking younger kids, originally Joel had thought 3-5 years old {he was bat crap crazy y'all}. We settled on ages 8-12. But, after meeting the local kids here, we realized it was true, most kids available for adoption in our county are mucholder. There was one 10 year old. But there are 75 kids available all the time. Most kids are teens. And we had bought the lie that we couldn't make a difference with an older kid... that they would be set in their ways and wouldn't open their hearts to us. And, we were wrong!

After that Thanksgiving meal, we were told repeatedly of how this teen we call "T" had blossomed that day in our home. He never smiled, but he smiled in every photo I took of him. He was a different kid here.. He ate a plate full of food and spoke more than he ever had in front of his recruiter. He was 14 at the time. 

Once our homestudy was complete and the recruiters received our file in mid January, the recruiters sent us some general info on 5 kids. One was a sibling group- a boy and girl {who were 3 and 4}, but they were younger and we had decided that there were an abundance of families looking for younger kids, and we wanted the opportunity to love on a child that may get overlooked just because age is just a number. T was only one on the list we had met in person. He was also the oldest. By this time he was 15. He loved sports like Joel. And Joel handpicked him. We told them immediately we had chosen a kid, which was shocking to me, because I didn't think it would happen so quickly.

On February 13th, 2018, we were officially matched. And on the 14th, he was told we wanted to adopt him. I had made a book just for him, filled with pages about our home, us, and our extended family. It had his name printed in it. He smiled even more and got excited when he was told that we had chosen him. Our connection with him was immediate. He was super quiet and shy, but he blossomed when he was at home. We played basketball at the children's home together. It was easy to connect, because Joel and I loved playing since we were kids. 

We were so happy to bring T home. We went and got him every other day after school. And then he had planned to come home for an extended 13 days straight, on Joel's birthday weekend. 

He was staying in one of the worst boys homes in the state. Dropping him back off there after our one-on-one time felt like sending him to prison. And I'm not exaggerating. There were no rules, no real authority. I showed up one Sunday morning and kids were doing drugs in plain site. And, the lack of rules there became an issue for us at home. We were told that kids in care need and thrive with structure. But he was given total and complete freedom there. He was being torn between lives- the life at the boys home during this transition and his future with us.

When asked if he wanted to be here, he would say yes, but he would never get past that. He would never say how he wanted things to progress. I believe he couldn't imagine a good life for himself because he had never had that. Our normal was odd to him and he was at war with himself to choose us or what felt natural to him. All the horror stories of things that happen with older kids, we were living them. Life was hell. You see, T had been through so much in his life. This new normal felt weird and undeserving to him. He would say things like, "I just don't fit here. This isn't the place for me." He didn't feel like he was good enough for us. And his behaviors would reflect that.

Thankfully our training prepared us to expect some of that. And, I was too expectant, now looking back, I began to excuse the behavior, so not to cause a bigger outburst. By late March, T had decided that he didn't want to be adopted. We were broken into a million pieces, but it was gradual. We felt the weight during the entire process of trying to hold it altogether. We saw it coming, but we were so lost. In adoption world, we call this event disruption. And, we never heard anything about T again. Which, at times, was the hardest part, because for 42 days we had fought every last battle for this kid day in and day out. 

Stay with me, because it's about to get crazy.

In the same breath that our adoption coordinator told us what T decided, she also said, "But I have a kid who I think you and Joel would be perfect for and his TPR (termination of parental rights) and case file just landed on my desk." ...

To be continued... to continue reading, here's the 2nd part

Love makes a family, 

Lauren Jackson 

Jackson Pine Farm

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