Adoption: a great work of love
The birth of Jesus is the ultimate story of love. It’s also the way God shows us the beauty of adoption.
Mary’s pregnancy is unplanned and scandalous according to marriage customs of the day. She’s asked to bear a child who belongs to God.
Instead of disgracing his betrothed, Joseph listens to the angel who visits him in a dream, assumes the role of father, and claims Jesus as his own. He protects Him, mentors Him, and loves Him. By bringing Mary and her child into his home, Joseph teaches us that adoption creates families and honors God. His lineage is an intricate part of fulfilling the prophecy of where the Messiah would be born.
Forced to journey from Nazareth to a city of strangers, Mary and Joseph encountered many closed doors in town before finding shelter in an outlying stable. After He is born, Jesus is placed in a feeding trough for animals.
The Holy Family is raised and formed by a couple in a difficult situation living in the peripheries of society.
That’s not unlike the plight of the 107,000 foster care children in the U.S. eligible for adoption.
“It’s common for children to be placed in a series of foster homes — the average being four to seven,” cited Jennifer Lanter, vice president of communications and education at the Gladney Center for Adoption in Fort Worth. “Each time a child moves, it’s a new trauma for them — a new school, new set of parents, new rules.”
One of the premier agencies for adoption in the country, the Gladney Center has brought children and parents together for 135 years. The center works with 150 families annually through its domestic infant adoption, international adoption, and New Beginnings program that connects parents with youngsters in the foster care system who are immediately available for adoption. Most are over age seven and were removed from the home because of abuse and neglect.
“Adoption can prevent abuse and neglect,” Lanter asserted. “If someone is struggling to [become a] parent and considering adoption, it’s never too late. Adoption is a wonderful way to grow a family.”
There are 140,000 adoptions each year in the United States. Americans adopt more children than all other countries combined. Here are the stories of some North Texas Catholics who opened their homes and hearts to vulnerable children looking for a forever family.
Making a difference
After a childhood troubled by abuse, neglect, and abandonment, Susana Jackson did the impossible. Instead of repeating the cycle of violence and substance abuse experienced in her own family, the one-time foster child made a promise to herself. Jackson vowed to make a difference in the world.
“I was not going to let someone else live the childhood I had,” insisted the finance council member at St. Rita Parish in Ranger. “God placed on my heart, very early in life, that I was meant to adopt a foster child.”
She never wavered from that commitment and ensured her husband, Daniel, agreed with her decision before the couple married. By 2016, the pair were licensed foster parents and a two-year-old boy placed with them captured their hearts.
Born to a drug-addicted mother who had other medical issues, Grayson lived in nine different foster homes, was underdeveloped, and wouldn’t talk when he arrived on the Jacksons’ doorstep.
“His mother beat him every time he cried so at the age of 9 months, he spent three weeks in the hospital because of his injuries,” Jackson said, sharing the details of the boy’s early years. After an older sibling reported the physical abuse, the woman surrendered her rights.
From the safe, comfortable setting of his new home, the toddler flourished, learning letters, numbers, and other preschooler skills. His quick progress stunned caseworkers.
“He was a totally different child and affirmed for us that he was in the right place and was our forever after,” explained the CPA who adopted the youngster with her husband in 2016.
Today Grayson is a happy, healthy eight-year-old living a very different life from the one he had as a baby.
To support and advocate for other at-risk children, the Jackson family hosts the annual Kathleen Jackson Boots and Bags event near Ranger. Named for her husband’s late mother, who helped the couple care for their foster children, the charity raises money for the Children’s Advocacy Center in Eastland County. The nonprofit investigates child abuse cases and offers caring outreach to victims.
Building a life after her own broken childhood was difficult, Jackson admitted. She sought God in a lot of different places before finding the Catholic Church.
“I think my healing really came from the Catholic Church,” explained the convert who was impressed by the prayerful reverence of parishioners at Mass. “I remember saying, ‘God, I’m going to fix me and I’m going to need your help to do that.’ It’s hard to have that strength.”
During the Boots and Bags fundraiser, Jackson shares her story of abuse and survival and encourages others to adopt from the foster system.
“If you change one person’s life, you’re impacting generations,” she pointed out. “Even with one child, you’re changing the world.”
Adopted with love
When Lesley Boelter looks at her daughter and son, the adoptee’s thoughts turn to her birth mother. If the high school freshman had terminated her pregnancy in 1975, the director of religious education at St. Rita Parish in Ranger wouldn’t exist, nor would her children or their future offspring.
“If you stop one life, you don’t know how many lives you impact down the line,” she observed. “Seeing my kids, and knowing those lives might not have happened, is heartbreaking.”
But Boelter’s birth mother, who was also adopted, chose life and delivered a baby girl on November 18, 1975. Her adoption from Fort Worth’s Edna Gladney Center when she was a week old helped an infertile couple complete their family. An older brother was adopted in 1969.
“My parents were strong Southern Baptists and rooted in faith. They always told me I was adopted with love,” said the Catholic convert who had the opportunity to meet both of her birth parents as an adult.
Growing up in an attentive, loving home, Boelter played softball, competed in livestock shows, and graduated from Texas Tech University. She had a close relationship with her father who never minded driving the 4H Club member to stock shows in San Antonio and Houston.
“The life I’ve had was different from a lot of kids. I grew up with cattle, horses, and parents who would drop anything for us,” said Boelter, who lives on a ranch with her husband, Allen. “I’ve had a really good life. I’m beyond blessed.”
The catechist uses her adoption as a teaching tool. Every decision made in life has a ripple effect.
“I always tell my kids there are things you can never undo. Don’t make split-second decisions,” Boelter cautioned. “Think of the impact it will make on the rest of your life.”
God chose us
At the age of 53, Veronica Garcia is relishing motherhood. The experience is one she never expected.
“It’s the best feeling,” enthused the new mom. “It’s so rewarding to love a child who needs loving.”
The St. Peter the Apostle parishioner and her husband, Jose, have permanent custody of her four-year-old nephew, Marcus. Born to a drug-addicted mother, the baby lived a few months with his maternal grandfather before being placed with a foster family. That’s when Garcia was asked to care for the baby by Marcus’ mother, her half-sister.
“He’s my nephew so I wanted to give him a good chance at life. My husband, who has older children, was willing to start parenting all over again,” Garcia said. “He knew Marcus needed our help.”
What followed was a year of background checks and home visits by Child Protective Services as well as foster care meetings.
“It was a lot of work but when that little boy looks at you with love in his eyes and he knows he’s safe, that’s a blessing,” she continued. “Our goal is to adopt him, and I want to do it soon, but it’s expensive.”
Garcia believes more foster parents should consider adoption. Relocating a child to different foster situations is disruptive and damaging, in her opinion.
“With a young baby it may not matter but when a child is three or four and forced to move to different homes, it will have ill effects,” she said.
The aunt turned “mama” wants Marcus to be happy and grow up in a stable environment. The preschooler at St. Peter Catholic School loves the Texas Rangers and sings “God Bless America” at every opportunity. It’s something he learned at the baseball games.
“We tell him God chose us to be his parents,” Garcia said. “He knows he’s loved.”
A new experience
Michael and Julia Zepeda, both family practice physicians, always knew they would adopt at some point. “We have friends who were adopted and realized what a life-changing event that can be,” explained Dr. Michael Zepeda. “We prayed about it.”
Already the parents of two biological children, Sebastian and Athan, both students at All Saints Catholic School, the couple began the application process when their younger son was two. They contacted a Christian pro-life agency and started filling out questionnaires about the type of child they wanted but quickly decided “to leave a lot of that up to God.”
Hoping to welcome an orphan that didn’t have other family members, the Zepedas turned to international adoption and were eventually paired with a baby girl in Hungary. Abandoned at birth, two-year-old Emily lived in an orphanage where she was cared for by nurses and attendants in a group setting. To complete the adoption, the Zepedas lived in Hungary for the summer with the little girl.
Emily has some developmental delays, but her new parents expect the toddler to thrive with parental love and the resources available in this country.
“Our boys prayed with us about the adoption for a long time and were finally happy to meet their sister,” Dr. Zepeda said, noting the arrival of the COVID pandemic slowed down the process. “They help take care of her and she interacts with them.”
Having a daughter is a new experience for the seasoned dad.
“When God opens a door and you walk through it, there are blessings on the other side you don’t necessarily know about.”
God has a plan
Working in a Mesa, Arizona, school for children with emotional disabilities, Catherine Neis saw exactly how adoption can change a life. So when the educator and her husband, Noah, had difficulty starting a family, they decided to open their hearts to a foster child with the intention of giving him a forever home.
“It was a God thing. He was meant for us,” said Neis, remembering how two-year-old Daniel came into their life in 2010. “So many things had to fall into line because the [Salt River Pima] tribe was not allowing adoptions at that time.”
The baby boy, surrendered by his Native American mother at birth, lived in two different foster homes before joining the Neises.
“The foster parents before us wanted him out,” said the administrative assistant at Nolan Catholic High School where Daniel is a sophomore. “There were eight other kids in their house. He was sensitive to what was going on around him and reacted with tantrums.”
Neis and her husband provided Daniel with the nurturing, peaceful environment he needed.
“When he came to us the simple change of not being with so many children made a difference,” she recalled. “To see where Daniel is at this point in his life is amazing. Every day I’m blessed because he is a good student, smart, and kind to others.”
Before his adoption was finalized in 2010, Neis gave birth to a daughter, Penelope, now a seventh grader at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Grapevine. When questions understandably arise about Daniel’s birth mother, his parents respond by telling their son, “She couldn’t take care of you and we’re just so thankful she had you.”
The Neises’ adoption journey proves sometimes God has a plan for your life you can’t imagine.
“Daniel is ours. Being adopted is something we don’t even think about,” his mom gushed. “We just got him a little different way.”
Not everyone has the moxie to welcome a sibling group from the foster system into their home. But a confident Augustina Madu-Odidika had the role model of an unselfish caregiver to follow.
“My inspiration is always my mother,” said the St. Bartholomew parishioner who watched the matriarch cook and care for village women and everyone else in Biafra, Africa. “She did so much with so little. I have much more living in the U.S., so I thought, ‘Why can’t I raise more children?’”
Madu-Odidika and her husband, Paschal, already had two biological offspring when they decided to expand their family and contacted Catholic Charities in Dallas to begin the adoption process. A series of interviews, classes, and home visits followed.
“They started showing us children available for adoption in their system and it opened my eyes to the fact that so many have serious problems that need to be handled in a family situation and not by transferring them from one place to another,” she pointed out.
Interested at first in a single child, the former teacher and school administrator began reviewing the profiles of sibling groups Catholic Charities did not want to separate. A trio of two boys and a girl — ages 6, 5, and 4 — caught her attention.
“They were surrendered to CPS because of abuse and neglect,” said Madu-Odidika, who was overjoyed when the final adoption papers were signed in 2012. “I knew it would be a lot of work because of the psychological issues children come with.”
To say life got busy is an understatement. In addition to an increase in household expenses and a larger grocery bill, the children’s soccer and school schedules kept the mom of five on her feet from morning until night. She also spent considerable time teaching the new family members personal hygiene habits, table manners, and prayers. Now teenagers, both boys are altar servers and her daughter sings in the church choir.
No child is perfect and there were challenges over the years, but Madu-Odidika is confident lives were changed.
“They would not have the goals they have now if they were left in the [foster] environment,” she said.
Raised with love and encouragement, her children have a positive outlook and know there are things they can achieve in life.
“The biggest thing I have given them is hope,” Madu-Odidika said. “With prayer, hard work, and a little psychology, anyone can help a child.”