Starting Our Family Together
“Our love story started in high school, our sophomore year. We even went to driving school together, that’s how long we’ve known each other. We talked about wanting a loud chaotic house full of kids, barking dogs, and crazy Christmas mornings. Joe and I both grew up in divorced homes with one sibling. We were loved and cared for, yet I remember being jealous of my friends with lots of siblings and crazy household happenings. We were married after college, while Joe was finishing law school and I was working full-time as a high-school teacher. Once my graduate degree was complete and Joe was officially a working Corporate Litigation attorney, we started our family.
Our first son was born and 20 months later our second. We settled into the routine of working, daycare, brothers, and good suburban life surrounded by close family and friends.
A small window before the next pregnancy came and this one with a real big shock: TWINS. No, they do not run in our family or any other myth you’ve likely heard. They were a surprise, a double surprise! When we brought the girlies home we had 4 children, 4 and under. Our house was FULL. I stepped away from the classroom; it cost more than my salary to send all four children to daycare. Staying at home was not something I dreamed of doing. I’m a woman who enjoys working, structure, and grown-ups from time to time. I was thankful we had the choice with Joe’s career and benefits, but also anxious about how my mind would cooperate.
A few months after the girls were born, Joe decided to take one for the team so we would no longer be able to have children. The day of the surgery he said to me, ‘I’m only going through with this if you promise we can adopt someday.’ I giggled, patted him on the head, and said, ‘Yeah right, sure, whatever babe.’ We were in no position to adopt, I had no desire to adopt, and I was done with the raising of babies.
In the summer of 2013, I started a new business. I had been home with my little people for 2.5 years and it was time for mom to have something for herself. Thankfully, Joe agreed and supported my decision to start something new. The additional income was nice to have, but it was the community and grown-ups I desired the most. That same summer Joe was looking for a new opportunity, a new challenge. This led us to move states away from where we grew up, where we met, where all of our family was. We packed up and headed to North Carolina. Thankfully, my business is one that moves with me so I was able to keep the community and continue to work for extra income. It wasn’t our brightest season as a family; we all struggled in our own ways for a bit. As our comfort in a new place grew, we met new families and neighbors, and the pieces fell into place.
While enjoying a trip I earned with my business, Joe and I met a couple we instantly connected with. Jason and his wife, Erica, are the founders of THE RAINING SEASON, an orphanage located in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Joe and Jason became good buddies and spent lots of time talking about their passion for children and what each of them was doing to make a difference. Joe expressed an interest in going to visit the orphanage next time Jason went. As a family, we sponsored children at TRS and made donations whenever we could. Joe is the giver that likes to get his hands dirty, play with the kids, make connections. I am more of the write the check, connect the donors, spread the word kind of giver. I had no desire to travel to this part of the world, to visit the orphanage, or ‘get my hands’ dirty so to speak. Joe couldn’t wait to get there.
Visiting The Orphanage
January 2019, Joe prepared for his first visit to Sierra Leone. Lots of shots, the VISA paperwork, bug spray, and supplies the orphanage asked travelers to bring. This wasn’t the first time we’d waved him goodbye for an adventure trip. The previous year Joe traveled to Guatemala with the Pencils of Promise organization. He had fundraised enough to build two schools through their organization. They selected him among other big givers to travel to see their dollars at work. Joe had walked away from his legal career and turned his attention to coaching others; he became John Maxwell certified and held a variety of learning masterminds for adults. What he charged for the course, he donated 100% to POP. All that to say, we were used to Joe going away to foreign lands for children in need. Kids are his jam.
I had to look on the map to identify Sierra Leone the first time I heard of it. Found on the western coast of Africa, it’s the 7th poorest country in the world and not very easy to reach! Planes, boats, and autos are required. Joe arrived at the hotel on Saturday night, took a shower, and got his rest for a full day at the center. They made the short walk up the hill to the orphanage from the hotel Sunday morning to a group of singing, clapping, and joyful children. Followed by devotions in the church, led by a young man named James. Joe was impressed with how well spoken, confident, and articulate this boy was. As the week went on they spent hours together playing handball, cards, soccer, and taking lots of snaps. Joe came home with a resolve to mentor James as best as we could. At this point, adoption was nowhere on the radar.
July 2019, Joe made his second trip to TRS to see James and to meet his brother, Abraham. Prior to this visit, both boys had been forcibly reunified with their family and they knew it was only a matter of time before they would be back on the streets fighting to survive. The staff at TRS worked hard to get both boys back to the center in record time and Joe was able to see them again. Behind the scenes Joe was trying to create a reading program for the center. He was also trying to coordinate with a local youth soccer club on the ground. He had a lot of invested energy in TRS and the future of all the kids, not just the two he was drawn to. Joe came home different from this second trip. He felt we were being called to do more.
Joe approached me with the idea of adopting the boys and I said he was crazy. Our lives were plenty full and chaotic enough. I would be happy to support them financially in any way we could, but I did not see us adopting any children. It wasn’t our plan, it wasn’t my plan. After a few weeks of back and forth, I agreed to go and meet them for myself. I realized as a wife, if I didn’t make this effort, there would be resentment in our lives together and it would be on me. I planned my trip and truly went so I could have something to say no to.
November 2019, I also landed in the dusk. Monday morning we made our way up to the center and I was a ball of butterflies. No idea what to expect, what was expected of me, or anything in between. I first met Abraham. He came barreling at me, arms wide, eyes bright, and smile exploding. He was smaller than I imagined him to be, but I immediately felt at ease around him. James was at school so I knew I wouldn’t see him until later in the day. We toured the orphanage, met the aunties, and delivered the supplies. While seeing the cooking area and the water pump, I had the feeling of being watched come over me. The hair on my neck stood up and my hands turned clammy. I looked around and my eyes landed on a handful of boys watching us from a balcony outside the center. They looked, I looked, and then James smiled and waved. It was magnetic. It was a shift. And it scared the crap out of me.
The rest of the week I asked questions, I observed the boys, I observed myself. I let the what if come in and linger. When I was leaving to go home I said to one of the adults, ‘If I had to decide right this very minute, I would bring them home with me right now.’ But I didn’t have to, I couldn’t actually. I needed to go home, be home, feel home, and detox emotionally. That trip is emotionally draining on every level, regardless of if you know the children or not. I spent most nights crying myself to sleep just from the exhaustion of feeling all the things. I needed a space so I could see if how I was feeling for James and Abraham was simply the moment or if it was the next step for our family.
For the next few weeks we talked in, around, out, under, and through adopting the boys. We talked together, we talked in twos, in groups. We talked in circles. Our children had big questions we couldn’t really answer. ‘What grade will they be in?’ and, ‘Where will they sleep?’ Deciding to move forward came down to one simple thing. Trust. Our children had to trust that we, their parents, had their best interests at heart. That we would not knowingly jeopardize their future or our family. That we loved them above all else. And we, the parents, had to trust them. Trust our children. We had to trust they would ask their questions, say if they felt left out, and come to us with good and bad. We decided if we could all agree to trust one another we had a chance to do something really cool for these two boys. We also gave James and Abraham the choice. They were old enough to decide for themselves if this was the road they wanted to take. We gave them a couple of days to come up with pros and cons. They were mostly afraid of the airplane ride but definitely wanted to be a part of our family. We officially started the process around Thanksgiving 2019.
The Adoption Process
We were fortunate to be able to send Joe and our two bio-boys back to Sierra Leone in January 2020. It was important to us that they see where their new brothers were coming from and that they met. They spent the week playing soccer and games on phones… teenage boys are the same in all countries. The world then looked a lot different in 2020. We weren’t able to Skype any longer, the orphanage was completely shut down and isolated to safeguard all from the virus. We weren’t able to travel, we weren’t able to process paperwork, we felt stuck. The longer it took the more the boys aged, the more time we were missing. But still, we never lost hope.
In October 2020 we had a Skype meeting with the Sierra Leone Family agency. After a few questions the Consulate approved us as the dependents of James and Abraham. In Sierra Leone we were their parents, the next step was to get the US government to agree to the same.
After many months of denials, appeals, refiles, affidavits, and so many frustrations, we finally received notification we were APPROVED to adopt the boys. This was in September 2021, and ironically Joe had also been approved to travel and visit the boys. The letter showed up in our mailbox at home the same day Joe arrived in Freetown. I shared it with him while James was in the room. The hug and shouts of relief were magic. It was finally time to bring them home. Joe came home for a few weeks while we waited for the Visa paperwork and medical requirements to be completed. He booked a one-way ticket at the end of October and they all three landed on US soil November 5th, 2021. Almost exactly two years to the date I had landed in Sierra Leone for the first time.
Walker Party of 8 was officially all together, all home, a family. We’ve kept track of many of their firsts but really everything has been new to them. Escalators, dry erase boards, blankets, the pantry. It’s all new. They had their first meal at Chick-Fil-A at the airport. Their first time through the car wash was hysterical. First Thanksgiving. First Christmas. First day of American School. First birthday cake.
Birthdays weren’t a big celebration where the boys came from, especially not birthday cakes. When we gathered as a family to sing to Abraham he couldn’t keep control of his emotions. His cake had a track hurdler on it and a toy car, his favorite things. And it had his name. It was a cake just to celebrate him. It was a moment our family will never forget. It took us a minute to realize he wouldn’t know about blowing out the candles and making a wish! Another first!
Our adoption was not a typical one but I’m not sure any of them really are. We met our boys first and then decided to adopt, typically it’s the other way around. We are not adoption experts, only experts in our story and our family. It is hard to feel equipped to bring home two young men that have lived a lifetime of hardship before meeting you. As a mother I can get lost in thinking about all of the things I don’t know about these boys. They didn’t come with a baby book of moments and memories like the ones that are ingrained in my heart from my bio children. Instead I try to focus on what I do know about them, the memories we’re making now together, and the light our story has shown for so many.
We’re still heavy in transitions and learning and growing together. Challenges arise every day but nothing that’s been too difficult that we can’t work through together. As a family. James and Abraham have given us so much perspective on what’s important, what we take for granted, and how important family is. Just recently we had some photos taken on our beach trip. When Abraham saw the new large canvas atop the mantle he said, ‘It’s so cool to have a family.’ It’s that simple. We are a family. A very blessed family.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jamie and Joe Walker of Waxhaw, North Carolina. You can follow their journey on Instagram and their website. Learn more about The Raining Season here. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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