By KATIE EUBANKS
Adopting a new perspective:
The Harmons and their boys
The boys are wearing matching outfits: Red short-sleeved hoodies with shorts. Five-year-old “J”* loves cowboy boots, and points to mine and says, “Bood!” Both he and three-year-old “R”* have speech delays, so they go to speech therapy.
R has thick legs, and feet so wide his parents have to buy two sizes up. He pulls some WWE moves on older brother J, who is less of a hoss but no less rambunctious. The boys have an indoor trampoline — complete with a slide leading into a ball pit — and a backyard playhouse.
Together with dogs Michelin Man, Royce and Knox, J and R make the Harmon household in Jackson blissfully chaotic. Their soon-to-beofficial new parents, Justin and Sarah Dale Harmon, love it.
“We joke with our friends, ‘Yeah, just come over anytime you need to get away from it all,’” Sarah Dale says, laughing.
*Boys’ names withheld for privacy until adoption is finalized.
From first date to fostering
She’s from Gulfport; he’s from Corinth — opposite ends of the state. She went to Mississippi State; he went to Ole Miss.
But “when we met, it was game over for me,” Justin says.
When they went on their first date, Justin was living in Nashville and Sarah Dale was living in Starkville. “We had mutual friends, and I had had a crush on Justin for a while,” Sarah Dale says. “It was Black Friday. He went shopping with his mom and then drove down (to pick me up).”
After getting married, they knew they’d like to foster, though they wanted to have biological kids first. “My mom, her mother died when she was really young, and she went through foster care,” Sarah Dale says.
In November 2013, the Harmons started trying to have kids. “(We said) ‘Now is the time,’” Justin recalls.
“And then it didn’t happen. And then it didn’t happen. And then it didn’t happen,” Sarah Dale says.
They saw three different doctors and tried 12 intrauterine inseminations, or IUIs, in which sperm is placed in the uterus in order to increase the number of sperm that reach the fallopian tubes.
Sarah Dale got pregnant once, but miscarried in November 2015.
Meanwhile, they had attended a training hosted by 200 Million Flowers, a nonprofit that trained Christian parents to adopt or foster. Foster parents and a therapist discussed “the good, the bad and the ugly of foster care,” Justin says.
“When you invite trauma into your home, if you have any unresolved issues … go ahead and (deal with them) because (fostering) will dredge that up and then you’ll be triggered too,” Sarah Dale says.
So she and Justin started going to therapy — together and separately — at Watershed Counseling Associates in Jackson. They worked on communication and their marriage, along with their own individual issues.
“What I like about Watershed is that they have a Christian perspective, but also a psychological perspective. A lot of times you’ll go to counseling and either they’ll say, ‘Give it to God’ (and won’t mention anything that’s not inherently spiritual), or they’ll just have a very worldly perspective,” Sarah Dale says.
Around that same time, Justin went to an informal meeting with a Methodist Children’s Homes of Mississippi (MCH) foster parent.
“It’s not that I was opposed to foster care, but I was focused on (having biological kids),” Justin says. He assumed that would happen first.
“(The meeting) was great because there were only two people there, so we could ask a lot of questions. That’s how the connection with Methodist started. I said, ‘Call me when you start your next (foster) training.’”
Soon after that, Sarah Dale found out that yet another procedure would not help her get pregnant. She sat on the stairs and cried. Justin joined her.
Then, “while we were sitting on the stairs crying, we got a call about (MCH’s) next training,” she says.
The Harmons got licensed as therapeutic foster parents.
“(Then) you fill out a sheet saying how many kids your household can take on, what age range, and what kinds of disabilities,” Sarah Dale says. “That’s a hard sheet to fill out, especially as a Christian … But our therapist said, ‘If you take on more than you can handle, you’re not helping anybody.’”
They sold their house in Madison County and made an offer on one in Jackson — with five bedrooms. The seller accepted their offer, which was less than the asking price.
“(It) felt like a promise from God, that He was going to fill these rooms,” Sarah Dale says.
From fostering to adoption
The Harmons’ first foster kids were a brother and sister.
“It was a learning experience for us — dealing with the biological parents, because the goal is reunification, which I support. Whatever the plan is, you’ve got to support that,” Justin says.
“God taught me to love not just the kids, but the parents,” Sarah Dale says, noting that parents often pass down trauma because they experienced it themselves. “That mom — who knows what she went through (as a child).”
Ultimately, the kids returned to their biological parents.
“We took six months before fostering again. I really had to pray for my heart through all that. My heart was more about what I thought should happen than what was honoring to God,” Sarah Dale says.
“And what’s honoring to God,” she says slowly, “might not mean no trauma.”
When MCH called the Harmons about J and R, Sarah Dale wanted to meet their social worker.
“She was very protective of the boys,” Sarah Dale says. “She didn’t want to place them just anywhere. She said, ‘We need a family that’s open to adoption (even though) we’re still pursuing reunification.’”
The Harmons found out that J, the older brother, was three and a half years old, nonverbal and having tantrums.
But after meeting the boys, “I just knew everything was going to be OK,” Sarah Dale recalls.
About a month later, on May 25, 2018, J and R came to live with the Harmons.
The biological parents “were very nice,” Sarah Dale says. “They shook our hands and said thank you.” The judge wound up stopping parental visits, but the Harmons kept in touch with them, and also took J and R to visit their biological grandmother and cousins.
In July 2018, the plan for the Harmons and the boys was formally changed to adoption.
“Termination of parental rights is a really hard process on everyone. Even the judge gets emotional. It can take years,” Sarah Dale says.
But the boys’ biological parents signed over their rights voluntarily. “They sent us a message saying, ‘We can’t take care of them, but we do love them. And we’d still like pictures,’” Sarah Dale recalls.
“I just thought that was such a selfless thing for them to do.”
Snuggles and God-winks
R turned 3 years old at the end of October.
“(The boys are) going to want to know who they laugh like, who they stand like,” she says.
Sarah Dale knows God’s original plan was not for foster care or adoption to be needed.
“It’s not like I think God intentionally gave us infertility, and intentionally gave (the boys)parents that couldn’t care for them. (But) there’s so much symbolism in adoption, I think, of the gospel.”
Just as our heavenly Father adopts us as His children through Jesus Christ — no ifs, ands or buts — the Harmons already consider J and R to be their boys.
“I forget they’re not mine (biologically),” Justin says.
“(J) is left-handed like Justin,” Sarah Dale says. “And he picks at his nails when he’s nervous like I do — little God-winks.”