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FIRST-PERSON: Happy birthday to us

DULUTH, Ga. (BP)–Three years ago, I got a birthday present that can never be topped. It can only be equaled if the same thing happens again.

To greatly condense it, 2006 was a very hectic and trying time for my wife and me. It included emotional highs and lows we’d never encountered as a couple. But in what has personally been the clearest example of God at work outside of my view, the entire year changed Nov. 3.

It would require a sit-down over wings or barbecue to tell the whole story, but a four-day avalanche of activity around Halloween put us in another city, staying in touch with various officials and skyrocketing our cell phone bills. This was our first foray into adoption and we didn’t know what to expect in so many areas.

Even though you mentally prepare to receive a baby you haven’t seen grow in a belly nor gazed at on a monitor, there is still an element of surprise when a nurse brings him in to you, checks his vitals, then leaves. The responsibility of it hits you, not all at once like a runaway truck, but gradually. A checklist forms in your mind of who is counting on you. You owe your gratitude to the birth parent who chose your profile. You owe your best to the bundle you cradle as your own, even if the DNA is different.

At three years old Nov. 3, Jackson (we pondered the name a few weeks earlier at the homecoming parade of our alma mater, Jacksonville State, where we met) has already established a legacy. He was the first adoption in our family. Since then we’ve adopted another son, Bryce. My brothers and their wives have adopted as well. Just more than three years ago, my parents had one grandchild. Today they have seven, six of them adopted, with Jackson the oldest. On Mother’s Day this year his Grammy stood fighting back tears much like she fought back breast cancer before the arrival of her first grandchild. That day she watched something she once thought may never happen — a gaggle of grandchildren climbing over a jungle gym in her front yard.

Biracial, he’s softened hearts and changed long-held, if subliminal, attitudes toward race among our extended family. The birth parents of his brother and cousin chose to make adoption plans with my family largely due to Jack’s presence.

He’s a typical toddler. He has tantrums, but his smile can warm an IRS agent. He hits his sister on occasion, but is obsessed with protecting her. His favorite game with me — “knock you down” — is simple and self-explanatory and I’ll admit I’m fine with it because it’s essentially him practicing his speed rush toward the quarterback. He always declares he’s mommy’s boy. His brother stares at him like he invented baby bottles and all things rattle-y.

In an upcoming movie, “The Blind Side,” Sandra Bullock’s character takes a homeless African-American high school student into her posh, upscale home. You can imagine how those dynamics play out in the plot. At one point someone remarks to her how she has changed the teen’s life.

“Nope. He’s changing mine,” she says.

Jackson, three years ago on Nov. 3 — my 33rd birthday — we met you for the first time. We couldn’t wait to get you home so you could meet your grandparents and uncles and aunts. We’d already prepared for how we were going to provide for you and love you and give you so much.

Whatever we did, you’ve returned the favor. And we’ll never be able to top it.
Scott Barkley is production editor at the Christian Index, the newspaper of the Georgia Baptist Convention.