3/3 Lessons We’ve Learned as Parents
About the Guest
Some of the greatest lessons of life come through parenting. Michael and Sharon Dennehey, the parents of 12 children, nine of whom are adopted, have spent much time in life’s classroom and reflect on what adoption has taught them. The Denneheys remind listeners that as believers, we’ve all been adopted by God, and that expanding their family through adoption hasn’t depleted the love they have to give, but has enlarged it.
Michael and Sharon DennehyMike and Sharon Dennehy were living the American dream. They were in love, had three children and a steady income. All it took was one black-and-white photo to change their lives. The caption read, “Boy with no arms in Romania desperately needs a loving home.” Mike and Sharon glanced at each other and they made arrangements to travel to Eastern Europe to the home of their soon-to-be adopted son, George. Adoption wasn’t always the plan for the Dennehy family. Back in college, Sharon was...more
Some of the greatest lessons of life come through parenting.
3/3 Lessons We’ve Learned as Parents
Bob: If you’re thinking about adopting a child from another country, and you share your thoughts with family and friends, Mike Dennehy says, “Be ready for some opposition.”
Michael: The natural reaction, especially in the US, is—if a child is say two years old, somewhere in a country—poor, starving—your relatives will surround you, well-intentioned, and your friends. They’ll say, “Well, what are you going to do about college?” They’ll start throwing out problems for you that are years away and not necessary. The child is—somewhere, malnourished, dying, with no family—and they want you to sweat whether they are going to go to Harvard or not. So, when those kinds of things creep in, Sharon will just go: “Well, what if it were you? Would you want to come to America and be a part of a family or would you want to stay over in a gutter because someone decided they couldn’t put in bunk beds?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, March 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. How do you make the decision, as a family, whether adoption is right for you? That’s one of the questions we’ll talk about today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Would you say that, as an adoptive mom and dad, you learn some things that you would not have learned if you had not been adoptive parents?
Dennis: Oh, absolutely. Some of the greatest lessons we’ve learned, as parents—and truthfully, as those who are adopted by our Heavenly Father—have come through adopting our daughter, Deborah—so, great privilege and tremendous lessons.
Bob: So, give us an example of a lesson you think you might have learned, as adoptive parents, that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise.
Dennis: Well, you know, I think most people tend to evaluate adoption—they go: “How could you ever love somebody else’s child as your own? I could never do that!” You know what? It’s instant. It doesn’t matter if they come biologically or through adoption—when they are yours, and you know God selected them for you, they’re yours. You pursue them. You’re on a mission to love them and care for them. It reflects the Father’s—our Heavenly Father’s love for us. He adopted us. We’re in His family. We got grafted in, and He’s constantly pursuing us.
Bob: You remember Steven and Mary Beth Chapman being here and talking about their experience of walking into an orphanage, in China, to receive their baby for the first time.
Bob: Mary Beth having those same questions. She described it in that same kind of instant moment that you talked about.
Dennis: Those doubts go away. They vanish, instantly. And we have a couple who have experienced the vanishing doubts nine times. [Laughter] They have three biological children—
Bob: The instant love—the, “Just add water...”—instant-love kind of thing.
Dennis: Instant family, too. Michael and Sharon Dennehy join us again on FamilyLife Today. Sharon, Michael, welcome back.
Michael: Thanks for having us.
Dennis: They do have nine adopted children, ages seven to eighteen. Did you have those doubts, especially as you moved to adopt your first adopted child at 18 months? His name was George.
Sharon: Right. I don’t think I did have that experience. I know that’s a common one, but I just felt so drawn to him and wanted—
Dennis: It was already there.
Sharon: It was there. Yes.
Bob: And there for you, Mike?
Michael: No. Honestly, I think men—pictures don’t do it. Texts don’t do it. You have to, actually, physically be in the room with them—make eye contact, pick them up for the first time. Then, you’re there. I think we’re constructed a little bit differently, on our side of the fence.
Dennis: Bob was asking me some of the lessons we had learned, in terms of adopting a little girl, a number of years ago. What about you guys? Have you learned some lessons from adoption? I mean, undoubtedly, you have.
Sharon: Oh, yes.
Michael: Yes, we were asked to sort of frame it a little bit. We put together ten of them for Bethany Christian Services® fundraisers that we’ve done. One of the ones—of the ten that I—really impacts me—is from my wife. She ends all of our conversations about, “Should we?”/”Shouldn’t we?” with, “What if it were you?”—and you know?
Bob: That’s just not fair! Sharon—that is a dirty trick that you play. [Laughter] I mean, seriously, we’re laughing about that; but honestly, if you ask that question about every kid in the world, you’d adopt 50, 100—500.
Sharon: Right. That’s true, but I think I only ask that question when I feel God’s really pinpointing a child—I kind of get that feeling He’s calling us to a particular child. I have to get Mike on board.
Michael: Yes. Well, let me give you some backdrop; right?
The natural reaction, especially in the US, is—if a child is say two years old, somewhere in a country—poor, starving—your relatives will surround you, well-intentioned, and your friends. They’ll say: “Well, what are you going to do about college? What are you going to do about...” They’ll start throwing out problems for you that are years away and not necessary. The child is—somewhere, malnourished, dying, with no family—and they want you to sweat whether they are going to go to Harvard or not. So, when those kinds of things creep in, Sharon will just go: “Well, what if it were you? Would you want to come to America and be a part of a family or would you want to stay over in a gutter because someone decided they couldn’t put in bunk beds?”
Bob: Tell me how the conversation went with—Sharon, with your mom and dad—when you called and said, “Let me tell you what Mike and I are thinking about doing,”—back with George, back when he was a baby—
Bob: —“We’re thinking about adopting a little boy from Romania who has no arms.” What did your mom and dad say to you?
Sharon: Well, you know, they were very proud of me because I was a good student and I had a journalism degree. I think they thought that I was wasting my life by being a mom to special-needs kids. And I had this—God was telling me that if I just submitted to this thing He had for me that He was going to use it in a bigger way than anything I could do by writing about—
Bob: With your journalism degree?
Sharon: —with my journalism degree.
Michael: And this may come as a shock, but a lot of the discouragement an adoptive family will get, early on, is going to be from people in the Church; right?—all around you. People in the church will tell you not to.
Dennis: You know, it’s interesting you should say that because, until a few years ago, I didn’t think the Church did have a healthy view of the orphan or of adoption. I think that’s begun to change, though.
Michael: I agree. I think the key thing that’s begun to change is people are suddenly seeing themselves as adopted, if you’re a Christian. If you read your Bible closely, you come away realizing: “I was the orphan. God found me. He sought me. He did all the paperwork. He cleaned me up. And now, He says, ‘Come sit at My table and dine with Me forever.’” That’s Heaven; right?
Michael: So, joining an adoptive family, here on earth, is a little model of the Gospel.
Dennis: Yes, Jesus said—I think it was over in John 14—“I’m not going to leave you as orphans.” He’s coming after us.
Michael: Yes. Sharon and I were looking at our Scriptures this morning, and there’s constant reference to the fatherless. Well, who fills that void? It’s our great Father—Abba Father—Abba “Daddy” Father.
Bob: So, one of the lessons you learned is this lesson that you don’t have to have all of the details of life figured when you bring a baby home. You don’t have to have a college trust fund set aside. God’s going to provide for you, along the way.
Michael: In ways that you will never ever imagine.
Bob: Give me an example of a way that you’ve seen God provide.
Michael: This is amazing! We took Hope on blind faith. Hope is our little daughter. She was born with no arms and no legs, from Thailand. She just came here this year. We said, “Yes,” to her before we knew this; but while we were in Thailand, we were called aside by the Minister of Finance. He said: “Now, that she’s your daughter. I want you to know the Princess of Thailand set up a fund for her so that, when she’s 18, she’ll be taken care of for her future. We’re going to monitor this fund, and we’ll make it available to her when she’s ready.”
But I’m thinking—I, literally, looked up to Heaven and just—because when we were in America, everyone was saying: “She’s going to be so expensive! You’ll have a burden your whole life. It’s going to be so hard for you. You are getting too old,”—and on, and on, and on. Then, bang! God says: “I’ve got an answer. You can’t mess with Me.”
Dennis: It’s not often I’m speechless. That gets me right there. God had gone ahead of you.
Michael: Yes, way ahead! He thinks of ideas to fix problems that you couldn’t come up with if you tried.
Dennis: And while we’re on the topic of God, what have you learned about Him? Any of those lessons have to do with who He is?
Michael: Yes. Yes. This saying: “Love is not a pie;” right? By giving love to a child, you’re not depriving your other children—you’re not depriving your friends and family of love. The word, agape—right—resurfaces all through the Bible. It’s sort of this out- pouring of love that never stops—it’s just, “Love,” and, “love,” —and you can’t run out. So, never not adopt because you think your other children are going to “suffer lack of love from you”—
Michael: —that’s on you.
Bob: But time is a pie. I mean, let’s just be honest. Love may not be a pie—[Laughter]—but time, there’s a finite amount of time; right? So, you’ve got 12 kids. I’m just adding up—an hour, one-on-one with each child, in a week. That’s a half-a-day for you guys. How have you—how do you divide the time pie, Mike?
Michael: We—because of Sharon’s guidance, we made a purposeful effort to not sign them up for all the traditional things; right? So, they don’t all have to be taking a music lesson at a different place and being on a travel sports team and all the things that have suddenly become vogue and popular. So, we have story time. We have group meals. We have the pool. We have—our church has an Upward Soccer program, where it’s all in one place, no travel. All the games are on a Saturday morning. We take them—all who want to play. Things like that have just shown up; and we said, “That’s perfect for us!” —as is, a gift from God—called Sam’s Club® and Costco®. [Laughter]
Michael: You know, you wondered about the people—“Who’s that person buying those 50 rolls of toilet paper? Maybe, I should pray for them?” Well, that’s us!
Dennis: Here’s the thing. When you’re on a mission—where God has told you to go on a mission—and you’re doing it in obedience to Him—
Dennis: —it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. In fact, you’ve actually said this. You’ve said that adoption can be addictive.
Michael: Yes, it can.
Dennis: Isn’t that kind of tied to, “God’s got you on a mission,”? And it’s like, “Whoa!”
Dennis: It just kind of keeps—having more and more—
Michael: He teaches you things that you half-believed but never lived out—this notion, “There’s always room for one more potato in your pot.” Well, you can think that. You can know that—but until you see that in action and you see that by adding one—you know, everything doesn’t cease. You don’t run out of food. We have too much food here. Look at all of us, running around America; right?—doing McDonald’s® and Burger King®. We’ve got too much. So, it’s no big deal—five pounds of potatoes or four-and-a-half.
Bob: So, when you’re talking about potatoes in the pot, you’re talking about actual—
Michael: —potatoes in the pot! [Laughter]
Bob: Sharon, what kind of vehicle do you drive—a church bus?
Sharon: We actually—this is a funny one. We had a 15-passenger van, when our family was half the size; and we thought we were done adopting. So, we sold it to our church—then, took on a bunch more kids. Now, we drive two vehicles everywhere.
Bob: You can’t—not everybody can go in one vehicle—
Sharon: No, no.
Bob: —the way you got it lined up?
Sharon: But then we get—when you get teenagers, you get the problem of them needing their own cars. So, that’s sort of the way we do it now.
Bob: And the dining room table is—
Sharon: —custom-made, big table.
Michael: When I gave him the dimensions, he said: “You know, this is going to be pretty long. You sure you need 18 feet? Have you measured?” I said, “Yes, that’s what I need you to make.”
Bob: What room do you put an 18-foot table in?
Dennis: No. It’s, “What rooms?” [Laughter]
Sharon: Well, I need to tell you—speaking of God providing—we were outgrowing our fairly large house. God just gave us this huge foreclosure for about half of what it was worth. So, that’s another example of—He just—He takes care of His orphans.
Bob: And how many bedrooms in the huge foreclosure?
Sharon: We, actually, only have five bedrooms. It wasn’t really made for a family with lots of kids, but they’re all big bedrooms. The kids share rooms, and they—
Bob: I guess they do. You’ve got five bedrooms. You’ve got one of them; right? [Laughter]
Sharon: Right; right.
Bob: It’s just for the two of you. Nobody’s sharing that. [Laughter]
Sharon: That’s right.
Bob: And you still have nine at home? So, in the other four bedrooms—I’m just doing the math here—two, four, six. There’s at least two and three in one; right?
Sharon: That’s right. And they love it, too. When some go to sleepovers, they get very upset. They don’t want to be alone in a room. So, they enjoy having each other.
Michael: Beats the heck out of any orphanage or gutter I’ve ever seen, in Third World countries.
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Bob: Bunk beds everywhere?
Sharon: In the kids’ rooms, not in our room. [Laughter]
Dennis: It was interesting—we had four bedrooms and six kids. We had two kids per bedroom. They didn’t end up sleeping on the bed, anyway. A lot of times, they’d sleep on the floor, in a sleeping bag.
Sharon: That’s such a First World problem to worry about—what kind of bed you have. When you have kids—who were living in the street—I mean—
Dennis: Okay, look over your list. I want both of you to pick one of your favorites from the list because you’ve got a list of ten things that you’ve learned from adopting kids.
Bob: Ten lessons learned from adopting kids—give us one.
Michael: I’ll go first—
Michael: —if that’s okay? I’ve done adoption seminars and talked to men quite a bit. I realized that men have a whole different worldview of adoption. So, you need to change the language. One of the reasons—it used to really bug me—is during home studies and things—Sharon would always tell me: “Well, they’re going to come look at our house. They’re going to—we need to write a check to So-and-so so they can look at our—test our water.” It used to drive me nuts.
So, I’d tell all the ladies in the audience, “Talk to your men in terms of adventure;”right? This isn’t a fee for the airplane. This is an adventure fee. This is not a payment for the orphanage. It’s a ransom; right? You start talking war-language, and adventure-language, and going, and bringing—
Dennis: There you go. There you go.
Michael: —and leaving our comfort zone, and going out, and—it’s Special Forces stuff. Then, men start to get like: “Yes! It’s been awhile since I’ve had a good adventure. You mean, we’re going to Sumbawa—over to Africa? We’re going to have to like go to this shelter and hang out, and we’re going to rescue a kid and bring him back? That’s cool!” Then, the men start to get engaged, mentally. A lot of ladies have come up to me and said, “Thanks for that one tip because it changed our dialogue when we talked about it.”
Bob: You know who said the same thing is Rick Warren, the pastor out at Saddleback Church, when Dennis, and Rick Warren, and Russell Moore, and Jed Medefind—from the Orphans Summit—when they were together, out at Saddleback, in the spring of 2012. The subject was, “How do you get guys?” because, typically, mom’s heart goes there first before dad’s heart goes there; right? Rick said the same thing. Russell Moore agreed. You’ve got to help men see—the provider/protector side of manhood—you just scratch a little of that, and guys will go, “Yes!”—
Michael: —“I’m in.”
Sharon: Yes, right.
Dennis: And to that point, describe that orphanage in that country where you just said you went to. Did you go to that orphanage?
Michael: Well, I mean, I’ll give you an example. George’s orphanage was our first adoption. We went there. There were two or three babies per crib—and rusty cribs that smelled terrible. There was death in the air. There was one nurse, taking care of 150 babies. When I saw that with my own eyes—how bad things could get for these kids, I went from: “Why are we doing this?” to, “Alright! All kids—get your stuff. We’re leaving. You’re following me. I’m leading the charge out of here.” It changed—as a guy—my whole view of what adoption was and sort of the mission that’s associated with it—especially, when you’re getting a kid that’s very much at risk of even death.
Dennis: You mentioned earlier that, “Here’s George, with no arms.” He weighed nine pounds at a year-and-a-half.
Michael: They skipped him because they had to sit and hold the bottle for him.
Michael: The others—they’d just hand the bottle and walk away.
Dennis: Yes, in some of these cultures, kids, with handicaps, are viewed as—
Dennis: Yes; trash.
Dennis: Human trash, literally.
Sharon: Or a curse, actually, in Romania. They were almost afraid to be near him.
Michael: They didn’t want to touch him or look at him.
Dennis: Okay, Sharon, what’s your lesson?
Sharon: Well, you know, moms will say to me—our kids are fairly cooperative and fairly selfless, as far as kids go—I mean, you can’t say any kid is completely selfless; but, “How do you do that?” I think I, actually, have an easier time of it because my kids share resources. They look out for each other. They understand that mercy has been given to them. They fill the gaps and help each other. I think, sometimes, that’s harder with a family with two children—that can indulge them. So, I think that that’s one of the benefits of—
Bob: And a lesson that you’ve learned—in terms of, not just seeing how kids react—but it’s interesting because I just heard you talk about First World problems. We talk about, at our house, First World problems. You’ve learned that our understanding of life and how life is supposed to be is a little skewed; haven’t you?
Bob: Yes. Yes.
Dennis: Okay, Bob doesn’t like this question—
Bob: Here we go.
Dennis: —because it causes him to have to review every moment, or every list, or—
Bob: You’re not going to like the question either. Just trust me; okay?
Dennis: You may not like it, but I got the feeling there are a lot of listeners who would like to know: “Could you just each capture a favorite moment on this journey of adoption, and of rescuing orphans, and giving them a family?
Bob: Now, I’m okay with that question. [Laughter] The one he normally asks is the question, “If you could save only one memory—only one thought...” [Ahh!]—and I go, “Forget...”—you see why I hate that question; right?
Michael: I thought you were going to put us in a rowboat with the Boy Scout and a mom—
Bob: Yes, and which one—[Laughter] No, I think that’s a great question. If you had to just give us a picture—
Michael: Literally, a moment?
Bob: A moment—
Dennis: Each of you.
Bob: —from your journey.
Sharon: I can think of when I was in Romania with George, meeting his biological family. They, through a translator, were apologizing and feeling guilty for giving him up. George said to them, “Mom and Dad, you saved my life by letting me be adopted.” I just thought—it all came together for me—and I just said, “He gets it!” And he’s telling them this now. That’s amazing.
Dennis: Adoption is life-giving.
Michael: My summary moment was probably this past August. George, our son, had been invited by a major, well-known band, with 14 Grammy’s, to come out and play with them, on stage. And there were 6- or 7,000 people in the audience—
Bob: Wait, you’re not going to tell us who the band was?!
Michael: It’s the Goo Goo Dolls.
Bob: Okay; alright. Yes.
Michael: They are amazing people, by the way.
Dennis: Now, you haven’t established, for our listeners today, what George does with his feet.
Michael: George plays cello, guitar, a little piano, and sings. He covered a Goo Goo Doll’s song called Iris.
Bob: I’ve seen the video on YouTube®.
Michael: Yes. One of the lines in there is: “I don’t want the world to see me because I don’t think that they’d understand. When everything seems to be broken, I want you to know who I am.” So, it’s perfect. The lyrics, for him, represented his life to him. He did a cover of it that went viral. The Goo Goo Dolls saw the cover on YouTube and invited him to play with them. They brought him, out on stage, in front of 6,000 people. Everyone rushed to the front, broke through the barriers, took out their cell phones—all you could see was camera phones, flashes, people saying, “This is amazing!” He’s playing guitar with his feet, in this huge venue; and everyone is cheering.
It flashed me back to the orphanage I told you about—when he was in a crib with two other babies. The bars were rusty. No one was paying attention to him. He was viewed as total trash. He went from that to that. I thought, “That’s the journey. That’s what God does to our souls. That’s what adoption is.”
Dennis: Well, I want to thank you both for your obedient faith. I almost called it courageous faith, but I—you probably would not call it courageous because you both are just doing your duty. But that, in essence, is what courage is all about. But I want to thank you for your obedience. I’m wondering, Bob, before the broadcast is over, if we could just play maybe a little of that song, with George singing.
Bob: I think the Goo Goo Dolls would be fine with that. So, before we’re done here today, we’ll let you hear a little bit of that cover of George, singing the song, Iris.
But before we do that, let me point you to our website—FamilyLifeToday.com—where you can find more information about how you can be a part of what God is doing to care for the needs of orphans, all around the world—whether that’s through adoption, whether it’s through other forms of orphan care, foster care. At FamilyLifeToday.com, our Hope for Orphans® team has put together some wonderful resources to help guide you in thinking about the part you can play—the part your church can play—in caring for the needs of orphans. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the link you find there for our Hope for Orphans resources. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY for more information about the resources we have available, dealing with orphan care and adoption.
Now, before we wrap things up, I have two requests for you, especially if you’re a long- time listener to FamilyLife Today. If God has used this radio program or our ministry in your life and in your marriage, we’d love to hear your story. We’re inviting folks, this month, to call 1-800-FL-TODAY. When we answer the phone, push “8”. That will take you to a voice mailbox where you can leave us your story. I think you have two minutes available to share. So, you might want to jot down some notes before you call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We’re looking to hear from listeners and, maybe, to share some of those stories with other listeners, or share it, online, in the days or months to come. So, would you consider calling and just letting us know how God has used this ministry in your life? We’d love to hear your story. 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number. Press “8” for the voice mailbox, and leave us your name, and your story. Again, we may use that on FamilyLife Today, in the weeks to come.
My second request is that you would consider becoming a Legacy Partner. If you’re a regular listener—if God has used this ministry in your life, in your marriage—would you consider being a part of the team that makes this program possible through regular, monthly contributions to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today to cover the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program? Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “I CARE”. There, you can make either a single, online, donation; or you can sign up to become a Legacy Partner. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “I CARE”; or call if you’d like to become a Legacy Partner. 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number. We just appreciate the fact that you listen, and we do hope to hear from you.
And we hope you can join us back tomorrow when we’re going to talk to a couple of moms who have something in common with the Dennehys. These are moms who have special-needs kids. In this case, the moms we’ll be talking to have biological children who have some special needs. Jennifer Shaw and Amy Julia Becker will join us tomorrow. Hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
And here, to close things out, is George Dennehy, along with the Goo Goo Dolls, and the song, Iris.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
Artist: George Dennehy
Songwriter/Composer: John T. Rzesnik (ASCAP)
Publishers: EMI Virgin Songs, Inc. (BMI)
Scrap Metal Music (BMI) 1998
BMI Work# 433905
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