"Come now, the judge will see you," our attorney murmured softly. We frantically gathered up all the bits of toddler and baby entertaining gear that I had packed in anticipation of a lengthy wait, and the four of us were shuffled into a tiny room which had just enough playthings to serve as evidence we were in family court...but also enough filth and despair in the sad little box of headless dolls and trucks with missing wheels to indicate this was a place of Hard Things.
No one played freely in this place. No one had fun here.
The Captain was dressed in his very best suit, no small feat for him and especially given that we were on the African Equator without the slightest hint of air conditioning. Three year old Sassafras and thirteen month Pearl were in matching white linen dresses, painstakingly selected to communicate to our judge that this child was our daughter and sister, and that this child would be very well cared for. After just a few days of bonding with her (and struggling to do that despite the 35 other babies in the orphanage who desperately wanted a mama and daddy), I was a nervous wreck to appear in court, thinking that somehow fault would be found in how we were or weren't appearing together...that though we had cried and prayed and fought and saved and sacrificed and literally crossed the world for this child, that it wouldn't be good enough. That was, after all, a real possibility.
It was a fragile moment.
We had been told that the judge could say no at whim. Even if there wasn't a good reason to deny us parental rights of little Pearl, the judge had the right to do just that and so we had to enter in those chambers understanding that it was a significant possibility.
There has never been another moment in my life when I have been more terrified than in the moment we stepped foot into that judge's chambers. So much was mounting upon the words to be said in the next few moments that it literally sickened me and all I could think about was how badly I wanted to flee, to just run away as fast as I could. What if the judge wasn't pleased with our petition and paperwork? What if the judge didn't like something about us? What if the judge didn't rule at all, and decided to shift our case to the outskirts of the nation? What if the answer was no? What then? After loving this precious child and her story from afar, then having the privilege of meeting her and snuggling her and smelling her and taking care of her through a bout of e. coli poisoning and starting to see maybe a tiny little glimmer in her sad little broken and empty eyes? What then? One thing I knew for certain...I could never let her go. This was my child. This was my daughter. And just like with her older sister, born of my body, I would move heaven and earth to mother her. One truth in my heart in that moment of the unknown was that either this baby girl was going home with me or America could send me my stuff, because I wasn't leaving this place without her.
The attorney indicated for us to sit, and the judge read some seemingly innocuous words from a hand-written sheet of paper. Thanks to open windows, construction outside, soft voices, and thick accents I had absolutely no idea what was happening. There was no emotion in the room, and to me that felt like a bad sign. Heart pounding through my chest and eyes brimming with tears, I stared down at the tiny little princess in my arms, knowing that one way or another, this moment was one of eternal significance for this little girl and for our family.
Four years ago The Captain and I stood in a judge's chambers on the far side of the earth.
And that judge said, "Yes."
And just like that, she was ours.
And we are so, so, so glad that she is ours and we are hers.
Every single year on Adoption Day, we do something of her choice as a family and we take turns telling Pearl Girl some reasons why we are so thankful for her. Every year it grows harder to summarize all the ways we love and thank God for her in just a few sentences.
We needed this sweet girl more than she ever needed us.