I will never forget the pitter-patter of the tiny feet on the cold, tile floor, tottering to my wife and me from around the corner, as we eagerly awaited meeting our three-year-old son for the very first time.
Our emotions surged: excitement, nervousness, gratitude, disbelief, joy.
I also felt a tinge of sadness – and even guilt – knowing that we could have easily missed out on this most precious moment if it weren’t for the resolve of my incredible wife, Sarah, and the words a priest had shared at a retreat two years prior: “What is going to be the thing in your life that defines you, your ‘yes?’”
For years, Sarah had expressed to me a special, persistent longing of her heart to adopt one of the thousands of children overseas who were orphaned simply because they had an extra chromosome in their DNA.
Unfortunately, at first, I resisted this beautiful idea.
We already had five incredible children, whom we loved with all our hearts. And growing up in the 80s and 90s — where the culture emphasized having “healthy” children and a “perfect” family — I felt unprepared to embrace the responsibilities of adoption, much less the adoption of a child with a so-called ‘disability.’
Today, I know my mindset at the time was deeply flawed. The truth is that I was letting my fear overcome me.
Sarah’s bravery helped me to find my own. Shortly after having our fifth child, she asked me to intentionally pray and reflect upon her unceasing desire to embrace a child in need.
While I was away at a men’s prayer retreat, the question inviting me to choose my “yes” resonated over and over, filling me with the certainty that I had previously lacked.
Learning that I was all-in, Sarah resigned from her job, and we prepared for the adoption process – a long, tedious, and expensive endeavor that required immense planning and flexibility. Soon after, the pandemic struck, and we worked hard to maintain the funds needed for eligibility and next steps.
However, we quickly discovered we were not alone. The community flocked to us with support, encouragement, and assistance. Our confidence was reinforced as hurdle after hurdle dissolved in front of our eyes.
Grants and gifts came flooding in, as well as handfuls of stimulus checks that friends and family did not want or need. To top it off, we also received an email from Bree’s Gift, a beautiful adoption foundation named in memory of Bree Johnley, which pledged to cover the rest of our dues.
Fueling us – and our community – was the picture of a sweet baby boy in Serbia with the most innocent, glossy brown eyes, and the biggest, happiest smile. We knew upon the first glance that he was our son.
The wait was long and grueling; but finally, after over a year, we were granted permission to come to Serbia and bring our son home.
We met our son, Rex Stefan, on Valentine’s Day. To say he stole our hearts would be a vast understatement. In fact, he mended them in ways we didn’t know possible.
This was the very child that God had set aside for us to mend a broken bond, the child who we would spend the rest of our lives loving and caring for.
How beautiful it was to be with him as he, wide-eyed, experienced many of his “firsts:” riding in a car, going for a walk down busy city streets, trying new foods, and meeting his siblings, who surprised him in the airport upon arriving back at home.
Rex completes our family. It feels as if he has always been there, just another one of our incredible children who adds such light to our home. He has made our ‘perfect’ family more perfect than we could ever have imagined.
This November adoption month, we feel compelled to share how our family needs Rex – our five biological children, my wife, and especially me. Our community needs him, too – like our church members, who love him dearly; and our community schools, where hundreds of students know him by name and cheer him on.
It is devastating to think that here in America, and especially in places like Eastern Europe, children are tragically aborted every day because of a potential Down Syndrome diagnosis. Parents are led to believe that “hard” equates to “bad,” and these lies prevent beautiful daughters, sons, siblings, and friends from entering the world.
Children like Rex are so much more than the very small part of them that is considered a ‘disability.’ Their joy, humor, lovingness, energetic spirit, and dignity as human beings are what define them, not a label. They, like every other child, deserve boundless love.
Today, Rex is a thriving five-year-old. Yet, less than two years in with our son, we can confidently say that the beauty of adoption will be our best ‘yes’ of all time.