Today is Rebekah’s 13th birthday. At long last, the final Stark baby becomes a teenager! And today, as on every other July 15th, you will find our family having dinner at Olive Garden. Here’s the reason why:

On September 3, 2009, we readopted Dennis and Rebekah in the State of Illinois. When they came home from Guatemala, they were already officially ours and also US citizens. We didn’t have to readopt, but it was a recommended formality for a few different legal reasons. When this special event occurred, Rebekah was only 2 years old and had been home from Guatemala for a little less than a year; Dennis was almost 3 years old and had been home almost 2 years.

This was a huge day for our family as it finally marked the end of our 23-year infertility journey. Through a simple ceremony, we all raised our hands together and swore to be a family for each other. Thereafter, the judge issued the order and made the final decree of adoption. While it’s just a formality, it is nonetheless an incredibly powerful experience. Officially and forever, family.

After we left the courthouse, we decided to eat lunch at Olive Garden because it was a place all the kids liked and felt comfortable. When we arrived and the staff learned about the nature of our special occasion, they sat us in the middle of the restaurant and showered us with so much love, attention, and honor. It was so overwhelming and beautiful that I could barely eat. Surprisingly, even my introverted children soaked up the experience. Everyone on the staff stopped to congratulate our family, to take pictures, and make all of our children feel special. They sang to us and brought out two celebration cakes, one for each baby. Then the manager whispered to Tim and me that the meal was on the house. When we – amid flowing tears asked why – he said, “because when you are here, you are family.”

Ever since that once-in-a-lifetime day, Rebekah picks Olive Garden for her birthday. If you would ask her why Rebekah would simply tell you it’s because Olive Garden is her favorite restaurant. But it’s much deeper than that of course. It’s because Olive Garden is the place where we finally and completely became a forever family.