Adoption: The Gift That Keeps on Giving
About the Guest
When you're a successful collegiate football coach for a top program, life is already plenty complicated. So why would God call you into something so challenging as adoption? For Georgia Bulldog coach Mark Richt and his wife Katharyn, the answer was found in the face of their adopted daughter. Join us for a compelling story of sacrificial and surprising love.
Mark and Katharyn RichtMark and Katharyn Richt live in Athens, Georgia where Mark is the head football coach of the University of Georgia Bulldogs. Their world was rocked in 2006 when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. “Katharyn handled her cancer as faithfully as anyone could,” says her friend Vanessa Miller.
So why would God call you into something so challenging as adoption?
Adoption: The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Mark: We were going to have love-hug therapy for a year. That was our goal. We were going to hug them for a year and just love them.
Katharyn: Our hearts were one of, at the beginning, to just like grasp her up, and shield her, and protect her, and take care of her.
Mark: But let me tell you something. No one needs to feel sorry for Anya. She’s a very, very normal kid in every way—other than that face of hers—which I think is beautiful.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I am Bob Lepine. We are going to hear today from Coach Mark Richt and his wife Katharyn about their decision to bring their little daughter Anya home. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’ve already talked this week about the fact that you like interviewing coaches, but I’m not so sure. You may like interviewing adoptive parents even more than you like interviewing coaches.
Dennis: They are a kindred spirit. They’re just kindred spirit. There is something about choosing a child and grafting them into your family, where they are no different. They are yours. They have the same piece of your heart that the other children have, and they get it all. In some mystical way, I think there is a set-apart nature of a child who is adopted because you chose them. That’s a little different than your biological children, who you didn’t necessarily choose as such, but you received.
Both come from the hands of God—both your biological children and your adopted children. Coach Mark Richt and his wife Katharyn join us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.
Katharyn: Thank you.
Mark: Good to be here.
Dennis: They have two adopted children from the Ukraine. Earlier, we heard Katharyn—from you—how, as you received your son in the orphanage, he immediately began acting out all kinds of things—hitting things, turning vases upside down, throwing blocks—and your daughter started crying. At that point, I wanted to step in and go, “Isn’t it interesting—some of the things you learn as an adoptive parent?” I thought, “You know what I want to do? I want to do a broadcast with you two just on lessons learned as adoptive parents,” because there are a lot of them.
Dennis: Barbara and I have an adopted child. I would have to say, at the outset, no single decision we have ever made in our lives, outside of becoming followers of Christ, has made our understanding of what it means to be a child of God and adopted by God, spiritually, as much as adopting our daughter, Deborah.
Bob: Let me ask you guys, both—your sons, John and David, biological children—how old were they when you started thinking about adopting?
Katharyn: The whole process happened in basically seven months. David had just turned four and John was nine.
Bob: Were they able to enter into this with you? Were you having family councils and saying, “Do you guys think we should do this?”
Mark: Yes. They were excited.
Katharyn: Yes. We hung the little picture up on the refrigerator and prayed for them—
Mark: Every night before we went to bed.
Katharyn: We talked about them.
Dennis: So, they were in on it.
Katharyn: Yes, very much.
Mark: Oh, yes. They were excited about it.
Katharyn: As a matter of fact, from the onset, I don’t know that Mark was fully onboard—but I wanted to take John and David with me when I went to get Zach and Anya.
Mark: I was like, “No way.”
Katharyn: Yes, he was like, “No way.”
Dennis: Now, why?
Mark: Well, there was a country that we’ve never been to; and we don’t know who is there. We really don’t know the people. We had some peace in that there was some safety there but I was, “What the heck? We don’t know what’s out there.”
Dennis: We’re talking the Ukraine—
Bob: —and you weren’t going to be able to go. You were sending your wife.
Mark: Right; exactly. I’ll tell you—even that trip to the airport—that’s when I had my first doubt. “What am I doing, sending my wife to some country I’ve never been before, by herself? I won’t get to talk to her for about 28 hours before we can have contact.” I really wasn’t too excited about her leaving at that time, but the peace came in that we really and truly believed it was a God-thing—so we had that faith to let her go, but it was not easy.
Dennis: It began as a faith journey, adopting both of those children. As we mentioned earlier, Anya has a disfiguration, as you adopted her, on the left side of her face. Is that correct?
Dennis: And is it a disease or is it genetic disorder? How would you describe it?
Katharyn: They would call it juvenile fibromytosis—is what I think it has been diagnosed as—where tumors will grow. They have never really seen it happen in the face, but it’s happened in other extremities at random times and at random rates. She had a tumor in there. That caused her face, her jaw, and everything to stop growing on that side of her face. Then, the other side of her face is taking over that side because this side is not growing because of the tumor.
Mark: There isn’t a lot of blood flow on that side of her face so the bones are not growing, as Katharyn said. The other side is really growing pretty normally but is now becoming longer and bigger on one side than the other. One day, when her face is full-grown, and her skull, and everything is full-grown—we’ll have the doctors go in there and try to make it much more symmetrical. The skin doesn’t like to cooperate sometimes.
Dennis: Let’s talk about that for just a moment. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about loving a little girl who is starting out life with a physical limitation?
Katharyn: Well, our hearts were one of—at the beginning, to just like grasp her up, and shield her, protect her, and take care of her; but then, you realize how awesome God is because He has given Anya a confidence that is truly remarkable.
Mark: Exactly. There is no doubt about that. What I would say is—in a very short amount of time—we realized that she is just like every other kid who needs discipline. [Laughter] Okay? We were going to have love-hug therapy for a year. That was our goal. We were going to hug them for a year and just love them. Then, within a couple of days, it was like, “No, they need discipline.”
Katharyn: The first day. [Laughter]
Bob: “We’re going to love them with a swatter.” [Laughter]
Mark: That’s right. That’s right.
Bob: Whom the Lord loves, He chastens.
Mark: Everybody wants to feel sorry for Anya and all that; but let me tell you something. No one needs to feel sorry for Anya. She is a very, very normal kid in every way—other than that face of hers—which I think is beautiful. She is just a normal kid. It’s like any kid. If you give them too much attention—if the world revolves around the kid—then, you have a spoiled brat.
Dennis: There you go.
Mark: We have to guard from that all the time because everybody wants to empathize with how she looks.
Katharyn: And she takes full advantage of it.
Dennis: Does she? [Laughter]
Katharyn: Oh yes, she does.
Mark: Oh yes. There is no doubt.
Dennis: So she’s using it to wrap other people. Let’s talk about your son, then, Zach. What’s been the number one lesson you’ve learned? Earlier, we heard that the way Zach started out was breaking things, throwing things, knocking things over.
Katharyn: Oh yes. He was just a little terror on wheels, actually. About 11days, after getting into America, he broke his femur. He was in a body cast. We would wheel him around in a little wagon, with a little chair in it.
Dennis: Three-and-a-half years old.
Katharyn: Yes, three-and-a-half years old. He couldn’t really communicate. Other than the pain that he had to endure, I was a little bit thankful.
Mark: It slowed him down.
Katharyn: Because it slowed him down. I’m sorry. I have to be honest. [Laughter]
Mark: She had to chase him.
Dennis: The wagon was not motorized?
Katharyn: Exactly. He could not go anywhere.
Mark: He was at the mercy of everybody. It probably was really good for Zach. I don’t know. I think the biggest lesson with Zach, for me, was that every child is different. Anya and Zach are so different that it’s unbelievable. They do have a little special bond, I think, still. They know they came from the same place.
David was very close to their age. David had to live with them, so to speak, in the bunker—where John was four or five years ahead of everybody. They looked up to John, but John didn’t have to live in their world. David did. David’s life is the life that got disrupted the most.
There was a competitive deal with Anya and David. There was definitely some rivalry and maybe even some resentment at times; but now, that David has grown into this man, he’s—
Bob: Did he feel pushed aside a little bit; do you think?
Mark: Possibly. Even in that interview we talked about the other day with ESPN, I said, “If you are going to do a special on our family, please include John and David,” because that is kind of what happens. People hone in on the adopted children. Then, they will hone in on Anya because of her face. Then, everybody else doesn’t exist sometimes. I’m always real conscious of wanting everybody to understand, “Hey, we are all one big family, and we love them all the same.”
Dennis: To that point, Barbara and I talked often. Bob, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it, here on the broadcast with our listeners; but we mentioned often that we wished we had adopted another one because I think adopted children do bond with other adopted children. They identify with some of the feelings of not being an insider at points and not having the same hair color, or characteristics, or habits—
Mark: Baby pictures.
Dennis: —that genetically get passed on. I’m really glad you pointed that out. Let me take you to another slant of the lessons you’ve learned. What was the most challenging moment in adopting these children from the Ukraine? I’d like you both to answer this. When has your faith most been tested?
Mark: Every day. [Laughter]
Katharyn: Yes, it is stretched every day. All children are manipulative. We all are. All people are trying to get your way. You’re going to try to go into a situation and do it; but Anya and Zach—because they had to do that for survival techniques—are masters. It is exhausting to constantly put the boundaries that they need in place for them. You’re always finding you need new boundaries for them. Their security, from Mark and I, comes from those boundaries. You can tell, when they’re not in place, they act out on it.
It’s just exhausting to me. That’s where I just have to constantly say, “Lord, they are Yours. They’re Yours. You are going to cover all the mistakes that I am making with them. You’ve got it covered,” —and just relying and trusting constantly for the wisdom to know how to handle it because they are different than John and David.
Dennis: They are coming out of a different context.
Katharyn: Very different. Even now, today, ten years later, it is different—handling the situations with them. It’s not the same. So, you are constantly asking the Lord for wisdom: “What do You want me to do? How do I do—? How do I get to their heart? How is God going to use us to help them grasp how much He loves them and get a hold of them?”
Dennis: Yes; Coach?
Mark: Katharyn mentioned getting their heart. I think the children bonded very quickly to Katharyn. Katharyn became the caregiver that they were so used to. As I said, when we adopted them, it was the week prior to the season beginning. With my schedule, I’m gone a lot. I see them. Katharyn would bring them over. We would have lunch once in a while, dinner once in a while. I’d see them in the morning. I’d see them here and there; but I really wasn’t a factor in their lives on a daily basis, especially in care-giving. Then, when the season ended and I became more of a visible person—and actually part of daily life for them—I know, for a fact, that Anya really, really resented me being around. She really loved—
Bob: “Who is this guy and why is he messing in our world?”
Dennis: “He’s bringing some pain to my life.” [Laughter]
Mark: That’s right. I was taking the attention of Momma, who was her caregiver and her security. I think she was very jealous of me in my relationship to Katharyn. She, quite frankly, would get to the point where she would be very disrespectful to me. In the beginning, as I was trying to sort out how to handle it, we tried to reason with a child who wasn’t ready to be reasoned with. Then, finally, I had to discipline her for being disrespectful to me, “You will not be disrespectful to me.”
Once she understood that, then it took about another five or six years before I think we truly began to bond as a father and daughter. Matter of fact, there was a wedding—was it Bobby’s wedding? How long ago was that, Honey?
Katharyn: Two, three years ago.
Mark: Two or three years ago. At that wedding, for some reason, when all the dancing broke out, Anya and I danced together; and she loved it. She just wanted to dance. We danced the whole reception. Then, for weeks on after that, she was like, “Dad, can we” —we had a little routine we made up, where I’d slide her between my legs, and twirl her around, and all that. She just loved it.
From that point forward, it became more of what you might have hoped it would be within the first couple of months. I’ve had to be very, very patient in that way. Then, Zach—Zach is very, very quiet. He can be off on his own and be very, very happy to look at bugs, and snakes, or play with his little toys. You don’t have to bother with Zach. Zach doesn’t demand attention like Anya does or like some other children do. So, you have to be very intentional to spend time with Zach, and get into his world, and try to bond with him, too.
Katharyn is talking about capturing their hearts. We need to capture the hearts of our children or we don’t have a chance. Like Katharyn said, above them bonding with us, we want them to bond with Jesus Christ. That is the “A” number one for them and for John and David, too.
Bob: Katharyn, I’ve heard Dennis say many times that parents often have a fairy-tale picture of what adoption is going to be like: “We’re going to bring these kids home. They’re going to recognize that we have made sacrifices to bring them into our family. They’re going to be so grateful to us, throughout their life.”
Bob: Did you have any of that when you adopted?
Katharyn: I know that I went over there, believing in my heart, that God had sent us over there to rescue them—to bring them to a family—to where they would come to know Him. What I didn’t realize was what He was going to work on—me. My dependency on Him grew as we brought those children home and tried to raise them up in the admonition of the Lord.
Dennis: We talked about the cost and the challenges, which is good. I don’t think we talk enough about what you really learn as you adopt and the commitment that it takes. I want to move to the tender side. For each of you, what is your favorite memory of a tender moment when it’s the big-time payoff? It’s God giving you an, “Atta Boy!” It just touches your heart and goes all the way to the toes of your feet.
Mark: For me, it goes back to that day Anya and I were dancing. I felt, for the first time, she wanted to spend time with Daddy. That seemed to turn things in a really good direction. With Zach, we were actually doing our Passport to Purity®. We were at this gentleman’s cabin, out by a stream that had rainbow trout. Zach and I were going through the Passport to Purity program and having a good time with that.
One of our activities was fishing, of course. We had a ball, fishing; but Zach would throw that line in maybe 20 feet at the max. As soon as it hit the water, there was a big giant trout on it. Zach really didn’t have the hand strength to reel it in so he just started running away from the water as fast as he could and just would drag the trout on the shore.
Then, of course, I got that sucker off and threw it back in there. Then, we’d bait up his hook. He’d throw it out there again, and hit it again, and he’d start running again. That was a great moment that we shared together because a lot of times—we call it Men’s Town in our family—when just the boys go somewhere, it’s Men’s Town. It’s usually me, John, David, and Zach. We’re always together. The Women’s Town is Anya, one-on-one with Momma. So, I don’t get as much one-on-one with the boys. That was a time where I had more one-on-one with Zach than I’d ever had since we’ve been together. It was a real blessing.
Dennis: That’s cool.
Katharyn: For me, I think it came along in a conversation. They love to watch their videos from when we first got them. We actually watched—I don’t know if it was John or David’s birth. That caused Anya to start questioning, “Do you know what mine was like or my mom?” Zach was sitting there. I was able to tell them both that God knit them in their mother’s womb, but He knew that Mark and I were going to be their parents. He chose them for our family.
I think them listening to that—and then, maybe a few days later—each one, at different times, just coming up and hugging and saying, “I’m glad God chose this family and you guys as our parents.” At different times—just giving us a hug brings tears to your eyes. That is a special moment.
Dennis: I think the reason those moments are so profound is because it is a piece of God’s heart. It says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this—to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
I don’t understand it, but adoption has done a lot for me—to redeem me from myself and to teach me that there is a heavenly Father who pursued me and grafted me into His family when I didn’t care about being in His family. He chased me down. The Hound of Heaven chased me down—more than likely—a bulldog. [Laughter]
Mark: Could have been.
Dennis: More than likely—a bulldog. Thank you for sharing your story, Mark and Katharyn, about your care for the orphans. I hope our listeners will gain from this in their own lives and will also listen to the Lord.
What is your assignment in this—to pray for the orphans? To maybe give, as we talked about earlier, so somebody else can go adopt? Perhaps, be a foster care parent, or an adoptive parent yourself, or start an orphan care ministry in your local church. Join the movement. There is a movement of people.
Bob: We have a great way for folks to get engaged—coming up here, in a few weeks. Orphan Sunday—Sunday, November 4th—that weekend, our team is mobilizing folks, all around the country, to host a workshop in your community or in your local church. It’s called If You Were Mine®. It answers the questions people have about adoption.
Here’s the thing—lots of people have thought about adoption—but very few people take the next step because people have questions, and they don’t know where to get answers. The If You Were Mine video workshop gives the answers. It lays out what the adoption process looks like, helps people understand how you pray through, how you weigh the decision of whether to adopt.
On Orphan Sunday weekend, November 3rd and 4th, we’re hoping to host hundreds of these If You Were Mine video workshops in communities, all across the country. If you will get in touch with us and let us know that you’re interested in hosting and facilitating one of these workshops—for the first 500 people we hear from—the video seminar is free. We’ll send you the video resource so that you can host one of these events in your local church.
Details are online at FamilyLifeToday.com if you’d like more information. Again, FamilyLifeToday.com is our website. There is also a link there for the Together for Adoption pastor’s workshop, taking place next weekend in Louisville, Kentucky, at Southern Seminary. The Hope for Orphans®team is helping out with that. And mark your calendar now for May 2nd and 3rd in 2013. The ninth annual Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit will take place in Nashville, Tennessee, on May 2nd and 3rd, 2013. We’d love to see you there.
Again, there’s a lot going on. You can get information about all of it when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com; or call us, toll-free, at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”. Someone on our team can get back in touch with you and answer any questions you might have about all of this that’s coming up.
And with that, we have to wrap things up for today. Thanks for being with us. Hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. And I hope you can join us on Monday when Jenny Allen is going to be here to talk about the scariest prayer she ever prayed and how God answered her prayer. Want to know what the prayer was? Well, tune in Monday and Jenny will tell you.
I want to thank our engineer today—his name is Keith Lynch—and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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