An Advent Adoption Story

JoAnna Wahlund  Maksim


In his December 1 Angelus message, Pope Francis called the season of Advent \”a journey towards the horizon of hope.\” I want to tell you a story about one of the most amazing women I know, and the Advent journey of international adoption that she embarked upon this year.

A Heart for Adoption

This woman grew up with a heart for orphans, and yearned to adopt a child one day. Her conversion to Catholicism was partly inspired by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s work with the poor and destitute. She had four girls of her own, but never stopped thinking about the countless children around the world without a mom or dad, the little ones trapped in adult mental institutions with no one to love and care for them.

She found Reece’s Rainbow several years ago, and discovered an outlet for her passionate love of orphans. She became a prayer warrior and tireless advocate for the many children listed on the site who are in need of a home and family.

One little red-headed Russian boy with Down syndrome captured her heart. She advocated for him constantly, trying to find a family who could save him from life in an institution. All the while she was searching, she heard a persistent whisper from her heart: “What about you? You could be his family.”

She ignored that voice, at first. She had four girls already and her husband wasn\’t even Catholic yet, much less open to adoption. It simply wasn\’t possible for her family to adopt; they were already struggling financially, and international adoptions cost thousands and thousands of dollars. Then there was all the paperwork and home studies, and the logistics of traveling to Russia – it wouldn\’t work.

But as she pleaded for others to bring him home, that voice persisted. “What about you?” it insisted. “You could be his family.”

Gradually she began listening to that voice. “Why not me?” she thought. “Why not us?” She prayed to God, asking Him to show her how such an immense undertaking might become possible.

Slowly, miracles began to happen. Her husband brought home information about his employer’s adoption assistance program, and made the decision to begin RCIA and get baptized – without any promptings from her. Their financial situation began to stabilize. She found an adoption agency willing to help them with the necessary paperwork and home inspections.

One day she took a leap of faith and announced to the world her family\’s intention to adopt the little redheaded boy who had captured her heart from six thousand miles away. She began fundraising to earn the money to bring their boy home. She ran giveaways, auctions, applied for grants and awards. She sold personal possessions. Money began to accumulate and was used for the agency and government fees.

Obstacles and Challenges

Her journey was not without its challenges. Friends and family alike questioned her decision in public and in private. Non-Catholic family members were stunned that she was going to add yet another child to her family while spending a large sum of money to do so. Internet trolls notorious for targeting adoptive families slandered her. Even close Catholic friends were skeptical of her motivations and her decisions. But through all the negativity, she prayed, hoped, and persevered.

As each obstacle was surmounted, as each deadline was met and each milestone for approval achieved, she began to truly believe it was God\’s will that the little boy she loved, sight unseen, would become theirs.

But the most shattering obstacle was yet to come. The little boy became an unwitting pawn in a cruel game of political backstabbing and retaliation. His country banned all adoptions from the United States.

For a little while, it seemed there might still be hope that the ban would be reconsidered or overturned, that political leaders might put the needs of innocent children above their own selfish motivations. She waited for resolution, and continually prayed that there was still a way to bring her boy home.

But it was not to be, and this realization was a crushing blow to her hopes and dreams. In the months of limbo that followed, she prayed more, agonized more, tried her best to discern God\’s will. She had thought that His will was to bring her redheaded boy home, but now that door had been firmly shut. She continued to pray that God would take care of him, and committed to bringing him home someday if the door was opened to her.  But for now she knew she had to move on. She grieved.

A New Beginning

The new year began with a shock – they would indeed be adding to their family, but with another biological child. She was pregnant, and, while joyfully accepting the new soul God had sent to them, she still sought to discern His will regarding the orphans so dear to her heart. After all, she had started this journey with the goal of saving as many children as possible, and while her dear little redheaded Russian boy was, for now, out of her reach, there were other orphans out there who desperately needed a home and a family; many, many more. They had already put so much time and money and effort into their adoption journey. Maybe there was another child they could save.

She went back to Reece\’s Rainbow and read about all the little boys and girls seeking a forever family,. While doing so, another little boy captured her attention. He, too, had Down Syndrome. His chubby cheeks, pleading eyes, and angelic smile struck a chord in her spirit. He was in an eastern European country that was open to adoptions from the United States. He would be transferred to an adult mental institution in just a few short years unless he could find a new family.

After more prayer and discernment, they made the decision to commit to bringing home the dark-haired cherub. She and her husband started the process over, and once again it was fraught with obstacles. More paperwork, another home study, more fundraisers and auctions – this time battling the symptoms and trials of pregnancy along the way. A complication with their housing led to a midsummer move to a new residence. They sold their minivan and purchased a larger vehicle to accommodate their growing family.

The months crawled past and the waiting was endless, but the journey was nearly at an end. She welcomed her first son in mid-September, and in November was traveling across the ocean – newborn in tow – to welcome her second son. Just four short days ago, they arrived home – completing a journey not only of several thousand miles, but of several years of hopes and dreams as well. The little boy who is now her son had no idea that his Advent this year would reflect Pope Francis\’ message of a journey toward the horizon of hope for a better future and a loving family. His new mother and father, through their courage and perseverance, made it possible.

This woman is not me, but I am blessed to call her my friend and the godmother of my new son. I\’ve watched and listened and prayed alongside her during the long and difficult road she has traveled, and her strength and dedication throughout has been, and continues to be, an inspiration to me. I am so overjoyed that her son has finally come home. Welcome home, Kara, and welcome home, Maksim Benedict!

© 2013. JoAnna Walund.  All rights reserved.

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5 thoughts on “An Advent Adoption Story”

  1. Joanna, please tell your friend that I am so pleased that she listened to that still small voice that encouraged her….so that you could share her story with us. Very powerful message about faith, trust and unconditional love. Thank you.

  2. Pingback: Pope Sends Sign Language Message to Bishops -

  3. beautiful story, I have been connected to Reece’s Rainbow for quite sometime and my heart breaks for these children. God bless all who reach out to those children in need.

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