Mike Berry: All of us have been given the capacity to love somebody else or – or give our heart fully. It really comes down to a choice whether to love or to not love. It’s not a question of capacity.
End of Excerpt:
John Fuller: Well, sharing how God began to really work on his heart to care for needy kids and consider adoption, that’s Mike Berry. And he and his wife, Kristin, are on today’s Focus on the Family with Focus president and author Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, November is National Adoption Month, so that is one reason we’re coming to the microphones to talk about this today, but also just the heart of us as believers and are we willing to take care of the widow and the orphan. I think the Lord over 50 times says to do that. You know, it’s just like us as His children to say, “Lord, when I grow up, what do You want me to do with my life?” “Well, for the 53rd time, take care of the widow and the orphan.” And that’s one of the reasons why we want to cover this topic again today and I hope, no matter where you’re at, maybe you and your spouse are considering adoption. Maybe you’ve never considered it or maybe you’re in the thick of it. I think for any one of those three types of people, you’re gonna enjoy today’s broadcast.
John: Yeah, and you can find out about Wait No More and how you can make a difference in that space of foster care, whether it’s just helping a family adopt or helping a child who needs a temporary home at www.focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call us. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY.
Now I mentioned Mike and Kristin Berry. They live just outside of Indianapolis, Indiana, and they have a popular blog called Confessions of an Adoptive Parent and they get about 20,000 visitors every month to that site.
Jim: Mike and Kristin, welcome to Focus on the Family.
Mike and Kristin Berry: Thank you.
Mike: Good to be here.
Jim: It is, you know, intriguing. What kind of confessions pop up on that blog?
…Yeah, that’s one of those things.
John: Your confessions or somebody else’s?
Jim: Let’s just start right there.
Mike: Well, the – yeah, that’s – I would assume you mean, by our confessions. We’re the writers, primary writers. Yeah, we – our intent is to be very honest and open, because we know that – that being an adoptive and foster parent is very difficult and…
Jim: Well, let’s start…
Mike: …very lonely at times.
Jim: Let’s start with that, I mean, that lonely aspect of it. How many children have you adopted?
Kristin: We’ve adopted eight and we’ve fostered 22.
Jim: Fostered 22? Now I love the beginning of your story. I mean, you’re a young couple. Where did you find the heart? Why did you go in this direction? What motivated you? What did that beginning look like? And you had to be what, like two weeks married? When this…
Mike: Not even married.
Jim: …issue popped up.
Jim: How did that, what did that look like?
Kristin: Well, I think we both have a different perspective on this. For me, this came from a legacy that was handed down to me from my grandparents.
Jim: And what did that look like? What legacy did they hand you?
Kristin: My grandfather grew up in the foster care system and he was never adopted and neither was his brother and that was a pretty dark situation for him.
Jim: Did he talk to you about that?
Kristin: Yes, very minimally when he was alive, but I heard more of the story after he passed away. My grandma knew him from the time he was – she was a kindergartner and she described him as a kind of kid that nobody liked, just a mean, nasty kid. But what she described was a man that was changed and so he passed on that legacy by raising a different generation in his own children and then his children went on, my father raised myself, my brother and my sister and then adopted my youngest brother. And so, that’s generations of change…
Jim: So you saw that modeled…
Kristin: …for me.
Jim: …right there?
Jim: So your heart, did you think that was just normal? You’re gonna get married someday, and then you’re gonna adopt a child or two?
Kristin: Oh, yes, absolutely.
Jim: Yeah, now enter the picture Mike.
Jim: And how did Mike…
Jim: …feel about that?
Kristin: …you know, I – I said that to him. You know, he listened, “So when – when we get married, I’d really like to adopt children.” He could probably take it from there ‘cause…
Mike: And I said, “No. No, no, no, no, no. That’s not how we’re gonna do it.”
Mike: Well because in my family growing up, nobody adopted. Nobody fostered. Everybody was born into the family the old-fashioned way, biologically, and so it wasn’t that I was against adoption, it’s just that I didn’t understand it. And plus, I had an idea of how I wanted my family to look like, you know. And that’s how we – you know, we get out of college, we all have these visions or these ideas, and we realize how small those are compared to the story that God is writing. And that’s what I really didn’t realize. And so, really, the long story short is that God changed my heart.
Jim: How long did that take?
Mike: Oh, it took, see, the – the first conversation when she said, “We’re gonna adopt,” and I said, “No, no, no, no. Let me tell you how we’re gonna – it’s gonna go.” That was in November 1998 and our first daughter, Jayla was born April 2002. Now what happened in the – in the course of that time is that Kristin, we had arguments about this, but Kristin received some valuable advice and the advice was, “You need to stop fighting him on this and just start praying for him, praying for his heart.” And again, it wasn’t hard-hearted, it was just kinda – it was just being a guy, let me put it that way. And you know, it – God changed my heart. There were people that came into my life at different times who were adoptive fathers or foster parents and they spoke truth. And I didn’t even realize they were speaking truth to me. It was just, they were sharing their story and it made me realize, “Wow, this is really cool.” This is something that – that you know, it just – my heart was changing, you know?
Jim: Well let me talk to you, Kristin, about that feeling. I mean, you had these deep desires. Some people, some wives at that point might get frustrated and actually apply more pressure to their husbands, which probably won’t get the outcome that they’re looking for. How did you discern what to do and to, like in some ways, back off and begin to pray? That takes a lot of maturity.
Kristin: I think that that is directly the Holy Spirit. I’m a fighter, so that’s me. I win everything, so – and it was my mom that said, “This is not one you want to win that way.” So it was her advice to back off…
Jim: Was it hard?
Kristin: …and to pray. You know what? It was hard at first, but I realized that she was absolutely right. If we brought a child into our home, I wanted it to be our child together, not just another battle that I won. And so, it was easier as time went on, because when he talks about his heart changing, he didn’t realize his heart was changing, but I did. I could see. Um, CCM Magazine, Steven Curtis Chapman did an article about adopting his first child and I could see him reading it and I thought, “Oh, I’m so excited,” but I didn’t say anything. And so…
Jim: Oh, that’s great restraint.
Kristin: …it was – but to see the Lord moving in him was better than to see myself winning. So, yes it was difficult, but at the same time, it wasn’t, because backing off allowed me to see God creating our family in a way that, you know, in the end really, I didn’t think we would have eight children, so God did more in our family than what I would’ve expected.
Mike: You know, the – one of the things that I wrestled with in that time that a lot of men will wrestle with, ‘cause I’ve spoken to – I’ve been at conferences and had men ask this question. It’s that, “Well could I love a child who biologically was not mine?” And I responded by saying, “You can. You have to choose to do so. You have to choose to open your heart,” and that’s with anybody, not just…
Jim: Well, and I…
Mike: …with raising children.
Jim: Absolutely, and I love that statement and I’m not sure where I heard it, but an adoptive parent who had biological children, as well, but when that child that was adopted was old enough to kind of figure out what was happening and begin to talk to their adoptive mom and dad, they handled it so brilliantly saying, “Listen, we couldn’t choose our kids. We chose you.”
Mike: Yeah, absolutely.
Jim: “And that makes you special.”
Jim: That’s an interesting way to do that, because it does build up the – I think the confidence of that child ‘cause it’s in their little heart somewhere. “Am I really part of the family?”
Kristin: Well, I think, too, one of the things we said to our children is that, you know, “Daddy and I love each other and we’re not biologically related either.”
Jim: That’s good.
Kristin: …there is not a person in our home that’s biologically…
Jim: I like that, yeah.
Kristin: …related, so we all choose commitment to one another.
Jim: That’s fantastic. Let me ask you this. With the counseling that you’ve done and you’ve heard that typical question, what’s another question or another barrier? In your case, I think it’s important to let people know if you’re okay with that, that it wasn’t that you couldn’t have biological children.
Jim: You were choosing to adopt and that’s important. Talk about that decision making, ‘cause that’s powerful.
Mike: Well, I guess that would be, we decided together, but you want to take that one?
Kristin: Yeah, I would say…
Jim: I would hope so.
Kristin: …we did make that decision together.
Mike: We did, yes.
Kristin: I would say that we have now faced both. We did decide to adopt our first child. I really think that’s the Lord moving also. I think that Jayla was meant to be our daughter, because we just came to the conclusion at the same time. We went to the agency. We filled out the paperwork. They told us to hurry because they had a mom waiting for us and she was born two months later. So, I think that the Lord put us in that place at exactly the right time, because that is our daughter.
However, as time went on, you know, we did continue to talk about it, but once you open your home, children just kind of start tumbling through the door and so, we had many, many, many more before we discussed the possibility of having a biological child again. We did lose our um – we had a miscarriage a couple years ago and that was pretty devastating. That was something that we sort of – we never thought about having a biological child and then we did think about it and then it happened and then it didn’t happen. You know…
Jim: Oh, that must have been difficult.
Kristin: …so we’ve kind of faced both now, but we sort of did it backwards from other people. And so, for us, it didn’t make it any less devastating. We felt very, very sad, but at the same time, we grieved that alongside of eight children who loved us very much.
Jim: And those eight kids were already in the home?
Kristin: And so, as we grieved over that together as a family, it opened up a lot of that discussion about how much we love them and how unique they are and how they were created by God to be exactly the person that they are.
John: Well, you’re listening to the story of some hearts that had to kind of come together and the change that occurred in Mike Berry’s heart, and I appreciate the story that Mike and Kristin are sharing on today’s Focus on the Family. And it may be that God is using this discussion, this conversation to move your heart along. And by the way, shout out to Steven Curtis Chapman. He’s been used by God in so many people’s lives, including mine. And we’re gonna invite you to stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast to find out more. We have resources, information there, and we’ll connect you with the various websites as well. That’s at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: One of the things that springs into my mind and of course, we’re doing foster respite, Jean and I and we’ve had foster children in our home, as well, we have such a – a passion in this culture for comfort and safety. And oftentimes, I don’t want to paint a pristine picture of foster situations – either foster adopt or just fostering or respite, like we do. There can be some very wounded children coming into your home in that environment. Talk about that distinction between our hearts looking for comfort and safety, protecting our biological kids, versus having a heart, what I think is the heart of God to reach out to kids in all of that mess and to bring them into an environment where they can, you know, they’re gonna act out. They’re going to test to see if you really care about them by doing things that push you. Talk about that tension.
Mike: Well, you know, we for us, all of our children are adopted, but we have, you know, one of the things that we experienced along that nine-year journey of foster parenting was that we realized that our children who were permanently a part of our family, you know, really faced, could face that same – those same struggles that a biological child, who was standing there watching their parents go through this. We – we kinda ran head into that, I think it was right around 2008 when we were dealing with a situation with a – a – we had two children in our care who were “failure to thrive,” high medical needs. It – they required a therapeutic home, which we were not.
And I think one of the things that we really – we were very intentional about, was to make sure that we – I mean, this sounds simple, but it’s profound when you really think about it, was to be intentional about paying attention to the children who were permanently a part of our family and making sure that we were – we set aside time. We guarded time, because to not do that, you can – your children can go through trauma, which ours did, to watch what we went through as parents.
And so, that was kinda that “aha” moment, to steal a line that’s been used a lot, you know, that “aha” moment for us that, man, we need to be really intentional, because these children over here are forever a part of the Berry family, you know. So – so it’s about being very intentional, guarding that time and we’re a very open family, so I mean, gosh, we could go on for hours about some of the stories that we’ve dealt with or situations we’ve dealt with, you know, with children in our care through foster care, who pushed us to the limit.
Jim: Let me ask you though: so you’ve adopted eight children. People listening go, “Wow, that’s overwhelming.” I mean, I – you know, if we could adopt one child or foster one child, that would be something that we could do. Talk about the difference with some of the people that you counsel. I mean, that is pretty amazing. You have a heart for this, a calling perhaps…
Jim: …versus someone who wants to do the right thing as a believer, a follower of Christ, who feels compelled rightfully so, because it’s right there in Scripture. What would you say to them about the amplification of it?
Jim: Should they adopt one or should they adopt eight or ten?
Kristin: I would say whatever you do makes a difference. So, when I go back to the story of my grandpa, my grandma was also adopted, what you do makes – there’s a ripple to that, there is change that happens then that you won’t even see. My grandfather passed away when I was 16-years-old. He had absolutely no idea – or maybe he does now – that the stories that he told me when I – he was still alive, affected not only me, not only my father, my father’s son, who’s also adopted, but now all of my children are adopted. My sister’s children are all adopted, so that has caused a ripple of change. It’s caused an effect over generations now. So whatever you do, if you have the capacity to open your home for respite to provide something for another family, you are providing a change. You’re making a change in the future, so…
Jim: Well, and there’s something everybody can do. Even if you don’t feel called to do this, you can come alongside another family. I think research has shown that an adoptive family needs about five other families to be that support base…
Jim: …around them.
Kristin: That’s right.
Jim: You know, that means weekend breaks; maybe bring in meals sometimes or doin’ laundry for ‘em.
Jim: Those things really do make a difference and it’s a beautiful way for you to help a family that is called to this.
Mike: One of the things that, believe it or not, there’s actually been a lot of scenarios where people have wanted. They either have adopted multiple children or they – they look at their home and they think, “I’ve got all this space. I’ve got all these resources. I want to adopt more.” In fact, last – this past winter, we were at Refresh conference out in Redman, Washington, which is a fantastic conference for adoptive and foster parents. And we actually – I was on a dad panel where I answered questions from fathers in the audience, who were just sayin’, you know, what about this, what about that, you know. And one – a couple of the questions had to do with, you know, “Well, tell me, should we be adopting more?” And my response is, “Yes, do it.”
It sounds reckless, but it’s like, that’s kind of the invitation that God has on all of our lives. You know, like – I mean, God never like walks you along and says, “This is exactly how your life’s gonna go.”
Mike: He says, “I want you to trust Me and follow Me.” When Jesus called His disciples, He didn’t tell ‘em, “Hey, by the way, here’s where we’re goin’. Here’s the home we’re gonna live in.” He didn’t say any of that. He said, “Come, follow Me.”
Jim: Well, and that’s that safety and comfort factor.
Mike: Exactly, yeah, yeah, which you had asked before and we, for us personally and this would be almost a whole ‘nother broadcast, we made the – the choice to live small, to live extremely below our means, sell our big comfortable home, live in a home that was crazy too small and there’s a reason behind that, that we – our hearts were moved about a year and a half ago to do that, but we tend to be, you will find us telling people, “Jump. Do it.” Which I know, some listeners are out there thinking, ah, there’s no way. But listen, I believe the Holy Spirit empowers us in ways that we can’t even begin to imagine, that God is at work in the background of our lives in ways we can’t even believe or even understand with our finite minds. Yes, if you feel you should be doing this, do it. If you look at your home and think, “I could take eight children, 10 children…”
Mike: “…15 children.” That might be getting crazy, but…
Jim: This is spoken by the guy who, when first married said, “There’s no way we’re gonna adopt.”
Mike: Yes, yeah.
Jim: So, God has obviously changed…
Jim: …your heart.
Mike: And when I looked at that little girl, you know, Jayla in the eyes and she first called me “Daddy” in the fall of 2002, there was never a question in my mind again, could I love a child that wasn’t biologically mine.
Jim: Oh, that’s beautiful.
Mike: So, yeah, it’s – I – you’re gonna find me saying, almost recklessly, do it.
Mike: Go for it.
Kristin: Well, and so we just did. We were leaving a conference and we were there to encourage foster parents here in Colorado actually and we go on the plane and I said, “I just am feeling like we’re supposed to be doing something else.” He said, “No, we’re not.”
I said, “No, I really feel like we’re supposed to be doing something else.” But our house is too small under Indiana laws; we have too many children under the age of 12, so we can’t be foster parents. We really don’t – I don’t know how we’d pass a home study. We’ve got kids jammed in every corner. So, what would that look like? What is it we’re supposed to be doing? And we talked about it a little more, but our daughter’s biological sister lives with their birth mother and she visits all the time on weekends and stays for a week, stays for a month in the summer. And just after having that conversation, we – my daughter and I both on the same night, woke up and said, “I’m thinkin’ about Dazia.” And so, we stopped and we prayed for her and the next day, the biological mom called and said, “Could you keep Dazia for the weekend?” So we said, “Yes, of course we can.” So we went to get her, thinkin’ we’re havin’ a sleepover and it turned out that the next day, biological mom had a stroke and had a car accident while she’s driving. Dazia would’ve been in that car. So really and because she’s had a stroke now, she’s really working on her recovery, but we have guardianship now of, we call her our niece, but she is the biological sister to two of our children. So I think that when God is really tugging at your heart, when you’re having that thought of, “I think I might be supposed to, maybe I’m supposed to do something,” you probably are. So…
Mike: That’s the way the Holy Spirit works.
Jim: Ah, it’s so true. You know, someone said to me, if we were to – if you think about the 100,000 children in the U.S. that are in foster and have no parents, think of the Christian community, the ripple effect that you talked about, the statement that it makes for pro-life.
Kristin: Oh, yes.
Jim: I mean, just that and then actually, changing the heart, the direction, the – the pattern of 100,000 children.
Jim: That’s powerful.
Kristin: That’s right.
Jim: That would be a powerful movement and that’s what I love. That’s typically how the Lord works. As we wrap up, can I ask you if I’m listening to this saying, “Okay, how do I start to know if God is tapping my heart?” What does a call of God in this area sound like? What would you say to a couple who now are sitting over dinner tonight saying, “Did you hear that Focus program? What do you think we should do? Should we do anything?” What does…
Jim: …a call of God in the adoption space sound like?
Kristin: I think that’s exactly what it sounds like. If you walk away from this program and you’ve sat down with your spouse and you say, “Did you hear that? What do you think?” I think that’s probably your answer. You’re thinking about it. God’s speaking to your heart and like you said, come alongside of an adoptive family. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you adopt 8 or 10 or 12 or 15 children or even one. But we are all called to be a part of this change. So if you’re listening to this and God’s tugging at your heart in any way, if you have any question about that, come alongside of another adoptive family.
Mike: Yeah, I typically – the way that I – if I’ve looked over the course of my life, the moments where God has called me to do something, to join a cause or to go to a different place to serve in ministry, it’s always those moments that keep coming back. You know, it’s not just a fleeting thought. It’s not just a, you know, “Oh, wouldn’t that be cool?” It just keeps coming back. That’s how it’s worked for us.
We actually have some really good friends who live out in the Pacific Northwest. Their names are Peter and Christa. And we just interviewed them a couple – a week ago for our new podcast. And that was their story. They felt called. They – there was this idea to adopt internationally and I think the story goes that Christa had the thought. She brought it to Peter and Peter was like, “That’s so weird. I’ve been thinkin’ the same thing.” Then they kept coming back to it and you know, it’s – we see this throughout Scripture, too, that God leaves people restless, you know. He’s not gonna leave you. It’s not like God taps on your heart and says, “Hey, do this” and then He’s like, “And good luck with that,” you know.
Mike: God will continue to – to wake you up and continue to leave you in a restless place, almost where you can’t live with yourself if you don’t do this. Now that – that’s not always the case, but for us, you know, I think Kristin, I agree with Kristin. If you’re sitting over dinner tonight and this is all of a sudden, you can’t get this broadcast out of your mind or the idea that there are 100,000 children in the United States and the Christian community could wipe that out if we all bonded together and – and took action, then you are supposed to step off.
Mike: That you trust your heavenly Father and He will never, ever leave your side. Now there are gonna be moments where you feel lonely and like, “Oh, my gosh, did I do the right thing?” But if you are holding on to your heavenly Father, He promises to never let go. So step off.
Jim: Step off, that’s a good word.
Jim: Mike and Kristin Berry, adoptive parents of eight, fostering 22, it’s great to have you with us.
Kristin: Thank you.
Mike: Great to be here.
John: What a super conversation on Focus on the Family today. And I hope you’ve been inspired to get involved in orphan care. There are a range of ways you can do that. We have a list of 22 ways from little baby steps to big steps, and you’ll find that list and other resources related to what we do here at Focus on the Family to help foster children at our website: focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: When the Berry family started their journey, they had no idea they’d end up adopting eight children, John. I mean, it may sound mind-boggling, but it’s doable. They simply said, “God what do you want us to do?” Then they took that first step in finding out more information. Focus is here to help you with that first step, whatever that looks like for you. Take a look at the list John referred to – those 22 points – to get started. And see what the Lord says to your heart. Through our Wait No More program, you’ll grasp God’s desire for you to care for one of those 100,000 children in foster care who are waiting for that “forever family” as we like to call it.
John: And Wait No More helps Christian families better understand the need for adoption from foster care and the process that families need to follow to get there. And once you initiate that process, we connect you to the adoption agencies and community assistance needed to continue the journey. And then after finalization, we’re there to help provide resources and counseling on an ongoing basis.
Jim: And it’s not just about kids who need forever homes, as important as that is, it’s about each of us doing something like the Scripture says, “For orphans in their distress.” Ask God’s direction and follow His leading to be a voice for the voiceless, whether that means adoption, helping support adoptive families, or some other opportunity in this area. Frankly, we need your help through prayer and financial support to equip these families. $50 is all it takes to help another family do this job. And I believe in what we’re doing to help these children. And I invite you to join us in providing forever homes for them. And beyond that, if you can make a monthly commitment to Focus on the Family, perhaps four, fifty dollars, you’ll further our reach and enable us to help even more children find homes. When you make a monthly pledge of any amount today, we’ll send you a copy of Mike Berry’s book, Confessions of an Adoptive Parent, as our way of saying thank you for getting involved. And if you can’t afford that commitment, we’ll send you that book for a one-time gift of any amount.
John: And make that contribution right now to support Wait No More, preparing families to adopt children from foster care. You can donate online at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or call 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
I hope you’ll join us again next time as we hear from Mac Owen and his wife, Mary, as they talk about the heartbreak of drug abuse.
Mac Owen: You know, we hear people, especially in Colorado now, say that marijuana is not a gateway drug. And that’s fine if people want to believe that, but for me it was. And everybody that I ever knew that was on meth started with marijuana.
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