1/3 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.
Have you ever considered adoption?
1/3 Nurturing a Heart for Adoption
Bob: Mike and Sharon Dennehy had already felt God was calling them to adopt; but Sharon says she found herself surprised by another prompting of the Spirit, in the middle of the process.
Sharon: 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 loving home.” I saw that and I said, “I really feel that God wants me to be his mom.” It was something just unexpected because I was afraid. I had no experience with that; and I was afraid to even mention it to Mike because I thought, “He’ll think I’m crazy!”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, March 11th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll introduce you to Mike and Sharon Dennehy on today’s program. They’ve had a lot of people who thought they were crazy over the years, and you’ll find out why today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’ve had people, over the years, who have said, “Have you guys ever interviewed those people from Arkansas with all those kids—you know, the Duggars? We have not had the Duggars on. We have not crossed paths with them.
Dennis: We haven’t. We don’t have a table, here in the studio, big enough.
Bob: I don’t think we have one in the ministry big enough, anywhere. There may not be one in the state, other than in their dining room, big enough to handle that.
Dennis: But you don’t have to have all the kids to do the interview. The couple we’re going to have share their story today, with our listeners—well, you’re going to get it after just a few moments. I’m going to keep a little suspense here as I introduce Michael and Sharon Dennehy to our listeners. Sharon, Michael, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
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: Grazed against it. [Laughter]
Dennis: Sharon, on the other hand, is a mom.
Sharon: That’s right.
Dennis: A glorious, glorious mom; and Michael is a glorious dad. I had 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; 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, at 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.
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.
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. So, 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—some great stories.
Dennis: There are some great stories, but this was one of the longest introductions I’ve ever heard to anything.
Michael: I’m Irish. I can’t help it.
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—but 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 in InterVarsity at JMU. Erin is now bugging her husband to do foster care, and he is barely able to resist. So, 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. So, 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—this is a trinity—God’s number—the trinity.” Well, a bunch of things happened, and we got to seven. I’m like: “Seven’s good. It’s the number of creation.” Now, we’re at 12. I’m still trying to put the brakes on a little bit. So, I said, “Even Jesus stopped at 12.” [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’m going 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. So, 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. So, we just said, “Lord, You’re in control.”
The phone rings one day. It’s the state, saying, “Can you adopt him?” We said: “I can. 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 amazing. 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? Everyone in the room here—you have a before and after picture—before Jesus and after. Her sister—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.” 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. 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. So, 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; huh?” 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, 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.”
Bob: 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!”
Dennis: This little boy weighed nine pounds, at a year-and-a-half, from Romania.
Dennis: He is a talented, talented man now.
Bob: Tell everybody what he does today.
Sharon: He plays musical instruments with his feet and sings. He was a throwaway child. In Romania, they are superstitious about handicaps. They believe that it’s a curse from God. So, when he was in the orphanage, they barely touched him and they barely fed him. He was a failure-to-thrive baby. He would have died, probably, if we hadn’t come gotten him when he was a year old.
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 left it out where I got my coffee. So, I did flip out a little bit. I have to admit.
Bob: So you walked down, and it’s right there on the kitchen table?
Michael: George’s picture, yes.
Bob: And you look at it. There’s a circle around it, and you think—
Michael: Yes, 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.
Dennis: The Bible makes it real clear—and many times, we quote this verse when someone goes through a difficult time—that, “All things work together for good to those who love God, and to those who are called according to His purposes.” We don’t apply that verse, I don’t think, to children who are born with handicaps. I think there is something within us that resists fleeing to that verse and going, “You have something good, here, God; really?” And yet, George continues to prove that statement is powerful—that God blessed this young man with these talents.
Michael: The beauty of what you said about the verse, the Scripture verse, is that George is now telling thousands and millions of people that same thing: “I was not a mistake. I know that God had plans for me.” George even wears a shirt that says “Intelligently Designed” when he performs in public.
Bob: Wow! 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.
Dennis: Well, he described you as an accelerator and he’s the brakes.
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, what their faces looked like—and now, after they’ve grown up in a family, and had a forever-family that they’re identified with.
Your family is composed of 12 children—a lot of special needs and a lot of very hard moments. What are some of the most difficult moments in having to take care of nine 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: —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. 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 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.”
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—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—and I think you probably feel the same way about your dozen—that three biological, nine adopted—they’ve all been grafted in and they’re all yours—they’re all in the family.
Bob: You’ve shared and Barbara has shared, as well, that there are challenges that come with the decision to adopt. We have to not get seduced by this romantic notion that it’s going to be a perfect bonding situation, but you have to be aware of what some of those realities are going to be. In fact, the Hope for Orphans® team, that we have here at FamilyLife, worked really hard to put together a DVD workshop for families considering adoption—that forces you to look at all of the issues so that you go in with your eyes wide-open because, as you said, not every family is called to adopt—but for those who are—they just need to be wise about that decision and then move out, take a courageous step, and do what God has laid on their heart.
If you go to FamilyLifeToday.com, you can find out about the If You Were Mine® DVD workshop. This is something you could host in your church, or you could get it and watch it with a few other couples you know about, who have been thinking about adoption. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Look for the If You Were Mine DVD workshop; and there are links to other resources we have available to help with adoption and orphan care, as well. The website again: FamilyLifeToday.com; or call if you need more information: 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
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By the way, we are hoping, this month, to hear from many of you who can share with us how God has used FamilyLife Today or the ministry of FamilyLife in your marriage and in your family. Here’s what we’d ask you to do: Take a minute, jot down a few thoughts—so, you can be brief—and then call 1-800-FL-TODAY. When we answer, press the number “8”; and you can leave your story with us. We may share some of those with listeners, at a later date. So, we’d love to have you get in touch with us. Again, call 1-800-FL-TODAY, and press the number “8” when we answer, and share your story with us.
Now, we hope you can be back with us again tomorrow. We’re going to find out more about the dozen kids who live at the Dennehy house, and about some of the challenges that come along with, not just adopting kids, but adopting special-needs kids. Hope you can be back with us for that tomorrow.
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 next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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