Nurturing a Heart for Adoption
About the Guest
Have you ever considered adoption? Michael and Sharon Dennehy didn’t, at least not in the early years of marriage as they dreamed about their ideal family. But God began to change their minds. And then they saw George, a little boy from Romania with no arms, and knew they wanted him to be their son. Michael and Sharon talk about the incredible family God designed for them, which includes 12 children, nine of whom are adopted and many of whom have special needs.
Are you called to adopt?
10 Ideas: Ministering to Orphans
Have you ever considered adoption? Michael and Sharon talk about the incredible family God designed for them, which includes 12 children, nine of whom are adopted and many of whom have special needs.
Nurturing a Heart for Adoption
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, December 17th. Our host is Dennis Rainey; I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll introduce you to Mike and Sharon Dennehy today. They’ve had a lot of people, over the years, who’ve thought they were crazy. You’ll find out why when we talk to them. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. We’re going to visit a subject that is something that we’ve talked about before. This is near to your heart; isn’t it?
Dennis: It is! I want to introduce a very special couple to you, but I want to create just a little suspense here and hold it for just a moment.
Let me turn to the listener and just say: “You know that FamilyLife Today is a non-profit ministry. We’re supported by people who donate. If you donate, we’re here. If you don’t donate, we go away. It’s that simple.
Dennis: “We need you to stand with us. One of the things we stand for is, not only how marriage and family are done according to the Scripture, but we also have had the privilege of giving voice to the orphan.
“We have been a champion for the orphan, now, for all 27 years of our broadcasting.
“When you support FamilyLife Today, you’re helping those who—today, in the foster care system / perhaps, in a far-away land that have no voice in America—you’re giving voice to them. I just want to thank you, in advance, for giving; because I’m convinced many of you, who have adopted or are adopted, will stand with us financially and say, ‘I want you guys to continue to give that voice with tens of thousands of families across the country.’”
Bob, we need to care for the orphan; it’s a biblical issue.
Bob: And you and I have both met young people—and their parents have introduced them, saying, “This son or daughter is in our home because of what we heard on FamilyLife Today.”
Dennis: Yes; a mom who told me: “I sat out in the Walmart® parking lot, listening to your program; because I couldn’t leave. It was so compelling!
“At the end of that time, I went into Walmart, not just on a mission to buy something, but also determined to go home and talk to my husband about adopting a child.”
Bob: Well, today’s program may need a warning label on the front-end, because it can have that kind of effect on listeners. But again, before we introduce our guests today, if you can help with a yearend donation, we hope you’ll do that. We’ve had some friends of the ministry, who’ve come along and offered to match every donation we receive during the month of December. Just recently, that matching-gift fund has been increased, to now a total of $3 million.
Again, we need FamilyLife Today listeners—those of you who appreciate this program/who have benefitted from the ministry of FamilyLife® this year—we need to hear from you. Call us or go online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Right now would be a great time for us to hear from you.
Dennis: And Bob, I’d like to rephrase what you just said.
Dennis: Right now would be an urgent time for you to give.
Dennis: We need you to stand with us, here, at yearend. We’re watching what’s coming in right now, and we’re running behind where we need to be. If you’ve benefitted in your marriage and your family from this broadcast, pick up the phone, right now, or go online and make a generous donation to FamilyLife Today.
Bob: Alright; introduce our guests today.
Dennis: Well, we’re joined by a really special couple: Michael and Sharon Dennehy. They’ve got incredible stories, as you’re about to hear. Sharon/Michael—welcome to the broadcast.
Michael: Thanks; great to be here.
Sharon: Thank you.
Dennis: Michael and Sharon live in Virginia. Michael is in technical software sales—security on the internet, and phones, and computers, and iPad®s, and the like. Does that capture it?
Michael: That’s pretty good; yes.
Bob: It’s close, but let’s be honest—he got near it, but not there; right?
Michael: He grazed against it. [Laughter]
Bob: Yes. [Laughter]
Dennis: Sharon, on the other hand, is a mom—
Sharon: That’s right.
Dennis: —a glorious, glorious mom. [Laughter]
Dennis: And Michael is a glorious dad.
I have a question for both of you. Here is my leading question—we haven’t established how many children you have: “When you guys were dating”—be truthful—“did you like kids? Did you think about having a family full of kids?—Michael?”
Michael: I would say that, when you’re dating, kids are sort of an annoyance, to be honest. [Laughter] Right? You’re trying to gaze into your date’s eyes and make googly eyes; and the kids are next to you, at a table, making noises. They always seemed, to me, like the ones that make noises and mess up the key moments in life.
Dennis: So did you like them?—did you like kids?
Michael: I had a little, tiny sister that was sort of a miracle baby—that wasn’t supposed to be alive—and my mom had a lot of problems. So, when I was able to have my little baby sister, I sort of changed my view about kids before I met lovely Sharon. I’d say, “Yes; I did like them, but I didn’t like them when I was on dates.”
Bob: But as you started to think toward the future—and think maybe Sharon was the one you would marry and maybe you guys would settle down—did you have an ideal family size in mind?
Michael: Two point five. [Laughter]
Bob: You were going for the national average; right? Actually, that’s a little higher than the national average, at this point.
Sharon: That’s right; that’s right.
Bob: Sharon, what about you?
Sharon: I actually didn’t want children, at first. I wanted a career. God changed my heart in a big way. I think you’d agree when you know how many we have. I think it was something that grew on us. Actually, it’s funny; because when we first got married, we said: “Let’s have our children while we’re young. Then, we’ll have so much freedom. We’ll still be young when they’re all out of the house.” We kind of ruined that plan. [Laughter]
Bob: Yes; you did ruin that plan.
Dennis: You did. Well, I want to have you introduce your children.
Instead of having you do it, here, on FamilyLife Today, both Bob and I watched a video that had pictures that accompanied, really, you introducing all of your children.
Bob: We have a link, by the way, to the video at FamilyLifeToday.com. If you want to watch and see the pictures, you can go there and click on the link; but you ought to stay here because, even without the pictures, it’s some great stories.
Dennis: There are some great stories, but this was one of the longest introductions I’ve ever heard to anything. [Laughter]
Michael: I’m Irish; I can’t help it. [Laughter]
Dennis: But you have to get there, you know—you have to introduce all of them. We’re just going to cut to the chase here and go to the Rock Church in Richmond, Virginia, and listen as you introduce your family.
Michael: I just want to tell you briefly about each of the kids. These are the bio-kids. We call them our “homemade cookies.” [Laughter] We have store-bought cookies and homemade cookies. These are our three homemade cookies! Just a quick word on that.
I’m not going to preach to you; but when we started doing adoption, everyone said to us—and they meant well—but they said: “Don’t adopt, because your kids won’t get enough of your love and attention,” or “They won’t have enough of your time.”
Well, I tell you—it got in their DNA. I’m telling you—if you’re here tonight, and you happen to be a parent—if you live out the gospel in whatever way you choose to live it out—it doesn’t need to be adoption—if your children see you living out the gospel, it gets in their blood. [Audience applause] Marissa, who is up there, she just got back from China—she spent a year. My son, Ryan, who is up there, was really involved with InterVarsity at JMU. Erin is now bugging her husband to do foster care, and he is barely able to resist.
I just want you to know—some of you, probably, are sitting out there, going: “It’s crazy. How do you even have that many kids?” Well, I think heaven’s going to be pretty crowded. If adoption is a model of the gospel, I think we ought to, at least, try to mimic it a little bit.
I’m the brakes and Sharon is the gas pedal in this relationship. Somehow, it works out. When we had three children, I tried to tell her: “Three is good,”—right?—“This is a trinity!—
—“God’s number: the trinity.” Well, a bunch of things happened; we got to seven. I’m like: “Seven’s good. It’s the number of creation!” Now, we’re at twelve. I’m still trying to put the brakes on a little bit—so I said, “Even Jesus stopped at twelve. [Audience laughter] Please, Honey.” I don’t know where this train is actually going to stop at the end, but it should be interesting to see.
This is George. He’s going to get up here and play some music for you. All I want to say about it is: When we met George—he was our first adoption—he weighed nine pounds. He was about a year-and-a-half old. I don’t want to embarrass him, but he was kind of a hurting little soul. The last line of his medical report says, “This boy will soon die.” And there were three dots after the word, “die,” that the Romanian doctor had put there.
Next in our family was James. James was just a National Geographic for kids.
James has an amazing sense of humor. He was born in Bangalore, India, with no arms. We were down at the Outer Banks a couple years ago, and I came walking out of the ocean with James—he just had his swim trunks on. This little girl was walking up the beach with her daddy, and she just stops. Little kids don’t have a filter; right? She says to James, “Where’s your arms?” James looks down and says, “When I was your age, I didn’t eat my vegetables.” [Audience laughter]
After James came along Tommy. Tommy came to us when he was four days old, right out of the hospital. We were able to go to the hospital and actually bring him to our home and raise him up from that very first moment. He’s a precious little bundle. The state of Connecticut told us—we were up there then—they told us we couldn’t have him, because he was in foster care with us. We just said, “Lord, You’re in control.” The phone rings one day—it’s the state, saying, “Can you adopt him?” We said: “Heck, yeah! Sure, bring it on.”
Well, we get a phone call one day—be careful what you pray for, you know, because sometimes you get it!
I’m outside, right after we got Tommy, about a year after. I’m raking the leaves. It’s a sunny day; and I’m saying: “Lord, You’re amazing! You made all things. Look at the sun; look at the clouds—You did it all. I’m just a speck. I mean nothing.” The front door comes open. My wife comes out with a cordless phone pressed against her neck: “Tommy has a sister! They want us to take her.” That was the fastest adoption decision ever! I think it was ten seconds of pondering, “Yes, Lord!” So this is Siobhan. Siobhan is Tommy’s biological sister. She joined us right after Tommy joined us, and she’s also a precious bundle of love.
Caris came to us from China. We got to go to China for two weeks and be with her. She was on the older side when she joined our family.
Don’t be afraid—if you’re looking at orphan care, foster care, helping out, adoption—any of that—don’t be afraid of eight-, nine-, ten-, or seven-year-olds. They’re just beautiful kids, all of them, that just need some guidance. Caris joined us kind of on the later side, when she was ten. She’s fit into the family amazingly. She’s an amazing kid, and she’s part of the team.
Friends of ours had just gotten back from Ethiopia—they said: “Ethiopia—the kids over there just need a home. They just need somewhere to go. There’s a lot of infant mortality, and malnutrition, and starvation. Just give them a chance.” They inspired us—they had come back with two beautiful girls. So we got Kalkidan, who is here tonight. That’s Kali’s before and after picture, by the way. That’s probably a little bit how our souls look to God before we come to Him; right? We’ve got a before—everyone in the room here, you have a before and after picture—before Jesus and after.
Her sister is Andinet. So Andinet and Kalkidan get over here from Ethiopia; they start learning English, very slowly. All of a sudden, one day, they say, “We have a sister.” We’re like, “You have a sister?!” My first thought was, “God, You could have saved us about 10,000 miles and let us grab her on the first trip.” [Laughter] But Sharon had gone to Africa all by herself to pick up Andinet and Kalkidan, because I had started a new job. She went solo and brought them back.
I was thinking, “Lord, what do You want us to do?” Well, bang!—He says: “Go get this girl. Bring her, and reunite her with her sisters.” So Tamer is here tonight. This is their sister, Tamer, before and after. We had a very weepy, beautiful reunion at Dulles Airport when the two sisters and Tamer got to see each other, after two years apart. It was really emotional, so that was a joy.
This is Hope. Hope was born with no arms and no legs. She has a little foot that is attached to her hip. She is here tonight. We were able to go to Bangkok, Thailand, and bring her back this year. She’s number 12. I think Hope is a great name, because she gives all of us hope. She uses her little foot for amazing things. She’s mousing on the computer, doing the joy stick on her wheelchair, zooming around, bringing light into everybody’s life. She came from a Buddhist country, and now she’s telling everybody how much she loves Jesus. [Audience applause]
Bob: I wish listeners could see the pictures. Actually, they can—they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and see the pictures of each of these kids, as they were being introduced. What a great family!
Dennis: And I wish they could see the faces of their mom and dad, as they kind of relive it. What I want to know is, “How in the world can you get all the way through all of those without crying?” [Emotion in voice] I mean, I was weeping by the time I watched this.
Michael: Yes; I don’t know. It’s a privilege and honor to even talk about it. I almost feel like I’ve been photo-shopped into my own life by God. And sometimes, with a chance to speak to others, my prayer beforehand, in something like that, is just that somebody—maybe one, maybe five, maybe ten—are out there, right on the bubble: “I’m thinking about doing foster care,” “We just talked about adoption,” “Maybe that’s the little nudge we need tonight,”—you know?
Bob: Yes; a dozen kids—three homemade; nine store-bought. That’s how you started sharing about this. Sharon, you didn’t think you wanted any, to begin with.
Sharon: That’s right. Well, God did such a work in my heart to change me. When we finally started feeling a heart for orphans, we went and did a home study with Bethany Christian Services®. We said to them, “No special-needs children, because we have three children; and that’s a big family.” Mike and I each had a sister, so three seemed like a big family to us.
Bob: So, you put the stipulation, “No special needs.”
Sharon: No special needs.
Bob: But your first adoption was George.
Bob: Tell everybody about George.
Sharon: George was born with no arms. While we were doing the home study, we saw a little blurb about him in a newsletter—it said, “Little boy, born with no arms, desperately needs a loving home.” I saw that and I said, “I really feel like God wants me to be his mom.” It was something just unexpected, because I was afraid. I had no experience with that. I was afraid to even mention it to Mike; because I thought, “He’ll think I’m crazy!”
Bob: Mike, do you remember when Sharon came to you and mustered up the courage to say, “I think God wants us to adopt George”?
Michael: Yes; one hundred percent—I remember the day; I remember the morning. She had kind of put a circle around his picture. And you have to picture the picture; you know what I’m saying? It was a little black-and-white picture, maybe an inch by an inch. It was smudgy. In the picture, he looks like he’s in agony—it’s not a glamour picture. He’s wrapped in some bandages or something. It just looked like he was almost dead in the photo. The thought that we would somehow get him—originally, it just blew my mind; I have to admit.
Then, during the day, I think I was driving around, thinking about it. I called Sharon and said: “I think you’re right. Something’s telling me that this is the right thing to do.” But I was more afraid than Sharon, definitely.
Bob: Sharon, I just have to ask about the transformation in your own heart from, “I don’t think I want kids,” to “Let’s adopt a special-needs boy.”
First of all, to “Let’s adopt.” When did the seeds for that begin to blossom in your heart?
Sharon: I think once our biological kids were school-age, I started feeling like I wanted to do more to serve God. That seemed to match up with my gifts. I really just—He made me to be a rescuer and a nurturer. I guess I didn’t realize that until the Holy Spirit showed me that.
Bob: So that starts to blossom. You start talking to Mike, and was he right in-sync with you?
Sharon: He was to an extent, I think. I think he was in-sync to adopt one. [Laughter]
Bob: Well, that’s what you were thinking at the beginning; right?
Sharon: Well, that’s what I was thinking at the beginning too.
Bob: You think, “Well, we’ll adopt one.”
Michael: Baby steps.
Sharon: Right; well, he’s the provider and the protector, as the man is in the family. It’s natural for him to want to protect and be careful about those things. I’m the nurturer; so I’m thinking, “We need to love these babies!” I think we both have that—those roles were important for both of us.
Dennis: I want to go to a place here that you usually wouldn’t go because, I think, when you introduce a family like this—and you see the pictures, and you see the children, and they’re growing up, and they’re becoming young men and young ladies, and there is a before and after: before they were adopted, and what their faces looked like; and now, after they’ve grown up in a family.
Your family is composed of 12 children—a lot of special needs. What are some of the most difficult moments in having to take care of 9 children, many with special needs?
Sharon: I think we expected it to be much harder than it actually is. I was expecting doctors’ visits and therapists for our two sons with no arms. It turns out that they just are so independent.
Bob: I just want to know how long from the time you brought home—and I presume it was nine-pound George that you brought home—
Bob: —at a year-and-a-half old, he’s nine pounds.
How long from that time until you said, “Maybe there’s another one of these in our future”?—was it months?—was it years?—what was it?
Sharon: It was probably less than a year. I think I had caught the bug. [Laugher] It was such a rewarding experience; it was such a blessing. There was a website out at the time, called Precious in His Sight, that was all special-needs children that needed homes. I got to looking at that one day. God was really in that, too; because I had never thought about the country of India—had never desired a child from India. I was just messing around on that website, and James’ little face popped up. I read the description, and he was the exact same condition as George. I said: “Wow! I think these two need to be brothers.”
Bob: Did you even know she was messing around on the web like this?
Michael: She called me over and said, “Look at this,” because George and James’ actual condition is fairly rare. They literally have nothing on the arms. It’s some outrageously rare thing. She said: “Look! I found a boy exactly like George in India.”
She was showing me his picture, and it was kind of interesting.
Then, afterwards, I thought—you know how Christian families have these web filters to keep out the bad stuff?—“I’m going to have to get an adoption-site web filter.” [Laughter]
Dennis: You know, I was thinking about that as Bob asked that question—she’s surfing the web.
Bob: Going to limit her time on the internet.
Michael: Yes; “I’m taking away your credit card and all your adoption stuff.” [Laughter]
Sharon: And as you can tell, his filter didn’t work! [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, I think the message to our listeners is clear. It’s not that adoption is for everyone or that foster care is for everyone; but I do think going near the orphan, somehow, someway—through prayer, through giving, through going—I think, when you go near the orphan, you go near the heart of God.
One of our six is adopted. We’ve shared many times, here, on FamilyLife Today—we don’t remember which one of the six.
I think you probably feel the same way about your dozen—
Dennis: —that three biological; nine adopted—they’ve all been grafted in, and they’re all yours—they’re all in the family.
Bob: And you have shared many times that there have been challenges associated with adoption. I think families, who have enlarged their family, would say: “Yes; there are challenges that come with adopting.” There are challenges that come with having biological kids. That’s just the reality of parenting, but there are some special—often unique—challenges that come for adoptive parents.
This is something that you need to make sure God is calling you to; but as I’ve heard you say many times, Dennis, most people never even ask the question: “Is this something God is calling us to?” To ask the question is the first courageous step that a couple can take.
I want to recommend a resource. It’s one that we’ve shared with listeners for years—a book by our friend, Russell Moore, called Adopted for Life—
—which gets in, not so much to the practical issues you’ll face in adoption, but more to the theological and the philosophical issues—the whole understanding of adoption in the plan of God. It’s a book that we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy.
And we’ve got links to resources on our website to help you think through the adoption question and whether this is something God is calling you to; or if not, how you can be involved in helping with the needs of orphans in your community and in our world. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about Dr. Moore’s book or about the other resources we have available.
Now, I mentioned, earlier, the exciting news we’ve received, here, at FamilyLife about the increase in our matching-gift fund here at the end of the year.
We’ve had some friends of the ministry, who have offered to match every donation we receive during the month of December. Originally, the total of the matching gift was going to be $2.5 million. That amount has been increased, now, to a total of $3 million. We still have a ways to go to reach that goal. We’re asking FamilyLife Today listeners to make a generous donation, here at yearend, to help continue the work of FamilyLife Today in the new year.
If you’re able to help with a donation today, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a copy of the movie that FamilyLife produced earlier this year called Like Arrows. It’s going to be coming out on DVD on February 5th, but we have a limited supply that are now available that we can give to those of you who can help make a yearend donation. Again, this is the theatrical movie—the one that was in theaters back a few months ago.
You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. When you do, your donation will be doubled; and you can request the Like Arrows DVD.
Again, thanks for your support, here, at the end of 2018. We appreciate your prayers for this ministry and your financial support.
And we hope you can join us back tomorrow. Mike and Sharon Dennehy will be here; and we’re going to talk about the times when their kids have, maybe, wished they’d never been adopted. We’ll hear about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with 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.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry.
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