Believe in Your Kids
Mike Berry, author of "Confessions of an Adoptive Parent," gives an honest look at the challenging side of adoption. A father of eight adopted children, including four with fetal alcohol syndrome, Berry talks about the loss his kids have experienced and the overwhelming needs they face physically, emotionally, and mentally. Berry tells parents considering adoption that their number one need is for education and community, and promises there will be hardship alongside the joy. Berry shares what has kept him and his wife, Kristin, from giving up, and how Jesus has come alongside them.
About the Guest
Mike Berry gives an honest look at the challenging side of adoption. Berry tells parents considering adoption that their number one need is for education and community, and promises there will be hardship alongside the joy.
Believe in Your Kids
Bob: As an adoptive parent, Mike Berry is on a mission.
Mike: I want people to know that there will be hardships. That doesn’t mean if you feel called you shouldn’t do it, but you need to go in with eyes wide open with this.
You need community; you need education—you cannot have one without the other. If you’re fully educated but you have no support, you’re going to struggle, more than you would if—if not. If you have all support and no education, then you’re kind of walking blindly. You need both of those things.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 14. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson, and I'm Bob Lepine.
We’ll talk today about things every prospective adoptive parent ought to know before you adopt so you’re going in “eyes wide open.” We think adoption is a good thing. We’ll just talk about how to be ready for it today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You have to have noticed this. I’ve been staring at the pretty impressive “tat” that our guest has got. Have you noticed the tattoo there?
Dave: No, I want to talk about it—there it is!
Ann: I noticed it. I noticed your wristband.
Bob: Mike Berry joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Mike, welcome.
Mike: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Bob: That’s quite a tattoo. How long have you had that tattoo?
Mike: I’ve had this since July of this past year. It’s actually unfinished. There’s still more to do.
Ann: It’s fresh!
Bob: It’s a new tattoo.
Mike: It’s a new tattoo. My wife—she rolls her eyes every time I say this—but I’m like, this was excruciating. All I’m thinking, when he started to do this—this is going to have little leaves on it that have the initials of all my kids—
Bob: So, it’s a tree.
Mike: It’s a tree of life; yes.
Bob: It’s on your forearm.
Mike: Yes. I’m telling you, at one point, I felt like he was cutting into my arm, like cutting into flesh the whole time. I kept looking over at it. It was the most uncool tattoo experience. My wife said, “You can’t tell people that.” She has a couple of tattoos, too. She said, “You can’t tell people that.” I’m like, “I don’t care. It hurt.” [Laughter] I don’t care if you’re not supposed to say that.
Ann: That tattoo is a little bit like raising children. It’s beautiful, and it’s going to have this great outcome, but it can be so painful in the process.
Bob: The bracelet? Is there a connection to the wristband? Excuse me, I shouldn’t call it a bracelet.
Mike: The bracelet is—I went with my daughter’s choir to Tlaxcala, Mexico, this past—the day after Thanksgiving. I bought this on the streets of Tlaxcala. It’s handmade; it’s lizard skin. I watched the guy handmake it.
Bob: That’s pretty cool.
Ann: That is cool!
Dave: So you’re going to give it to me as a gift?
Mike: I will let you touch the leather skin. [Laughter]
Dave: When are you getting the tattoo finished?
Mike: I think maybe this summer. Here’s the thing you have to know about me—I have to work up to things that involve needles.
Dave: No way!
Mike: Not kidding. I have to be in the most peaceful, Zen state of my life to have blood drawn. [Laughter] It’s pathetic, I know.
Dave: And yet you’re the adoptive parent of eight kids.
Mike: I know. Yes.
Bob: Eight kids with trauma in their background.
Mike: And I’m such a wimp, on so many levels. Yes. Physically—physically speaking.
Bob: Mike has written a book called Confessions of an Adoptive Parent: Hope and Help from the Trenches of Foster Care and Adoption.
Eight kids—all of them with trauma in their background?
Mike: We have four children who have been diagnosed with alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, which is under the umbrella of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Mike: That’s really the pinnacle of special needs. Everybody—all of our children deal with loss in some way, shape, or form, but those four have the major needs.
Ann: Was that purposeful? Did you know they had that, coming in?
Mike: We were foster to adopt, and we did know some of the background. Realistically—and this is something that we’ve learned through research that now we train families on—the reality with adoption foster care, especially when you’re fostering to adopt, alcohol is a very inexpensive item to purchase. You can almost assume that if there were other things going on—not always—but if there were other uses, that alcohol was probably a factor as well because it’s so easily accessible.
We did know with some of our kids that there was a potential for drug and alcohol exposure in utero. We received official diagnosis from—there’s clinics all around the nation that will give official diagnosis for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder because it is a recognized disorder.
Bob: Mike, if you were sitting down today with a couple who are on the front end of this, and you said you were foster to adopt, that’s how you handled all eight of your adoptions? You fostered them first?
Mike: Six out of the eight. Our first adoption was a private adoption, and our last adoption was a private adoption. They were the bookends, so the middle six.
Bob: You fostered kids that you did not adopt, I presume so.
Mike: Yes. Correct.
Bob: If you’re sitting down with somebody, and they’re saying, “We’ve been thinking about it, maybe the Lord’s leading us to this—adoption. We wonder if that’s it. Give us your pep talk—or your discouragement talk—or whatever kind of talk it is. What do we need to know? What are the questions we should be asking to know whether we can endure what you’ve gone through?”
Mike: Yes. It goes back to that list you read earlier. I would say to them that they need education and they need community. The reason I put that list in the book is because I want people to know that there will be hardships. That doesn’t mean that if you feel called you shouldn’t do it, but you need to go in with eyes wide open with this.
You need community; you need education. Those two hold hands together. You cannot have one without the other. If you’re fully educated but you have no support, you’re going to struggle, more than you would if not. If you have all support and no education, then you’re walking blindly. You need both of those things.
That’s what I would say to them.
Bob: Which is harder to get? Education, or community?
Mike: It used to be education, but that’s changing. Organizations like my company, which is Confessions of an Adoptive Parent, we specialize in providing virtual support for foster adoptive parents, through resources, through training, through parent-to-parent support. It’s changing.
You have organizations like ours, like Christian Alliance for Orphans, all of these different organizations that are now rising up and saying, “You know what? For so long, there has been a lack of education.” They are coming alongside families, and saying, “Not only are we going to help you learn about trauma and how trauma changes the brain, but we’re also going to walk with you and support you.” It’s changing.
Ann: How do people find those organizations? Do they google “help for fostering,” or “community”?
Mike: Yes. You can do that. State by state, there are resources. We always tell people immediately that they could do a google search and find lots and lots of results. They’ll have to weed through that and know what they’re looking for. We have certain partnerships—organizations that we state openly, we stand by these organizations—and these are great places to work with.
One of the first places to start is just by looking at your local foster care agency. Most places, not all, but most places are going to do a decent job with saying, “Hey, we have a support group. We have training sessions that meeting monthly.” A lot of places are doing that now.
Dave: You talk about education and community; I wonder about perseverance. I wonder how many times you’ve wanted to quit or felt like you couldn’t—I’m sure community helped there. I’m thinking of the sleepless nights, police visits, daughters getting pregnant—all these things you’ve walked through—how did you not quit?
Mike: I think Jesus becomes real—realer than He is, than I believe He is already—when flesh and blood human beings step into the mess with us, and wrap their arms around us. I think that’s Jesus in flesh here on Earth. I think that, by all means, I’m a person of faith, and I believe that Jesus is real, and He’s held onto us through the darkest storms.
But, even this morning, before I came over here, I got a text from my best friend. This is a member of my tribe; this is the person I lean on. He was checking on me because this last week, we had a rough week, a very dark week. He has repeatedly sent me texts, and saying, “Hey, how are you doing?”
That’s when Jesus takes on flesh, as far as I’m concerned. That’s when He becomes more real. That’s when, in Psalm 34—I think it’s 34:18—where it says that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted. That’s when the Lord becomes real. That verse takes on flesh and blood because somebody on the other side of a phone sends a text and says, “I’ve got you. I’m holding you up.”
Kristin, I wish you were here to tell this story where she talks about Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’ arms. If you guys could see this video of her teaching this lesson—there’s a room of about 1500 adoptive parents who are holding each other’s arms up as she prays this prayer.
She tells the story of the battle, and—again, I’m terrible with this—I’m trying to remember all the references. It’s where the Israelites are locked in a vicious battle, and Moses is growing tired, and his arms start to fall, and the Israelites start to lose. Aaron and Hur recognize that, and they go over and they put their arm—they hold his arms up, and the Israelites move on to victory.
She tells that story because Kristin and I have people in our corner that hold us up. The reason she told that story is she has these two close friends; they’re two couples that we know who live all over the U.S., like 2200 miles away from us. When we were going through something—the police situation, dealing with the law—it’s interesting because when your hometown police officers call you by name, it’s clear they’ve been to your house a couple of times; right? [Laughter]
We’re dealing with all that; my son’s going back to residential treatment, and Kristin sends out this desperate text to Andrea and Krista, who live on the West Coast, saying, “Listen, we don’t know how we are going to get through this. Just pray for us.”
Krista texts back, “We will be your Aaron and Hur.” This is going to get me emotional. That’s what they were; they held us—they held up our arms, and that’s what we need.
It is not all pretty and glamorous. We say, “Hey, I’ll pray for you,” but if you’re going to enter into that battle, stand there while the battle’s raging, and hold someone’s arms up, that’s what gets us through. That’s when God becomes the realest of the real of the real to us.
Ann: As you talk about that, I’m thinking about that, I’m thinking, “Faith, that is huge.”
Mike: Yes, oh yes.
Ann: As you’re walking into this, and people are considering, “Hm. Should I do this? Should I foster? Should I adopt?” You’ve already named a few things. Go on with that list. What are the things you think, “This is what you need as you walk into this journey?”
Mike: Yes. I’ve already spoken about the two. Support is huge. I will be honest here and say this—when you’re talking about support—especially if you’re connected to a church community—you’re going to having a lot of people who are high fiving you. They’re the high five crowd who are like, “We’re your cheerleaders! We’ve got you!”
I always tell people, “Be cautious of the people who think you’re a hero for doing this.” It’s almost like they’re divided from you by a glass wall. It’s almost like you’re looking through this glass wall, and then when everything falls apart, and you’re parenting a kiddo from a really hard place, those people tend to be the first to turn tail.
You want the people who are not impressed by what you’re doing, who don’t think that you’re a super hero, but understand why you’re doing it. You want people who won’t judge you, who will be your Aaron and Hur, who will hold you up. Our best friends, John and Nicole, Ryan and Megan—two couples who—I shy away from this term, but—we “do life” together.
Ann: How did you find them?
Mike: When I moved to Indiana, I became a youth pastor, and they were youth leaders. What’s interesting is that one of the first things I did as a youth pastor of that church is I changed all the programming. It made a lot of people mad, but John and Nicole stuck through that with me. They became close friends to us, and they have been through the fire with us.
Nicole was actually at our house one time when one of my children completely flipped out, melted down, and picked up one of those big patio pavers that’s about this big, 2x2. I don’t know how he did it. I can’t even lift those things up. He picked it up to throw it at my wife. She’s five foot three, 120 pounds—she’s petite—she’s small. He goes to chuck this at my wife, and Nicole steps in the way. The brick hits her in the knee, and she ends up in the ER.
She still loved us, and she still loves my kid. Those are the people you want in your corner. I don’t want to freak anybody out by these stories, but I will be honest. We’re talking about kiddos from tough places.
Bob: I talked to a friend who faced a situation with an adopted child where they looked and said, “We’re going to have to put this child out of our family, out of our home, for the safety of our kids and other kids in the neighborhood.” This is one of the hardest choices they’ve ever had to make because they loved the child and because they had assumed responsibility.
Now, a couple years in, they’re going, “We don’t know how to handle this and how to control this.” Have you ever had situations with kids where you thought, “We can’t continue to be their parents?”
Mike: I don’t think we’ve ever been to the point where we thought we cannot do this. We have been to the point where we know we cannot keep this child safe. That’s when residential treatment came into the picture. We’ve known people who have had to relinquish.
We have some good friends who specialize in helping parents who have had to relinquish. That’s their ministry. That’s their outreach. But we’ve never quite been to that place—that point. We’ve had some really dark moments. That list that you mentioned earlier from the book, Dave, is real. And that’s a small slice of it.
That’s a reality for several people. That’s hard because you feel like a failure, and you beat yourself up. You feel like, “What did I do wrong?” There are plenty of stories out there that are not good stories where people entered into the foster care adoption journey maybe for selfish reasons. That’s a whole other topic.
We’re talking about kids who have gone through chronic trauma to the point that it has left them with an inability to function at times. Sometimes parents are up against a wall, and they have to protect other kids. Their backs are against the wall.
Bob: I’ve sat with parents and said, “Do you recognize, do you know that where your kids are today as a result of what you’ve done as an adoptive parent is so much better than where they’d be if you’d not stepped into their lives.”
You may look at it and go, “These kids are still way messed up. But the fact that they’re still alive is probably because of you. The fact that they’re not in juvey is probably because of you. Or maybe they’ve been to juvey, but the fact that they’re not up on a felony….”
Mike: Yes. Yes.
Bob: You do have to sit down and go, “We’ve made deposits here that have improved the lives of these kids,” even though we look and go, “This is not what we dreamed of for these kids.” But by God’s grace, they’re in a better place than they would be if you hadn’t gotten involved.
Ann: Mike, what are your hopes?
Mike: They’re much the same as a biological parent would have. Kristin would say it like this—“We’re not raising children; we’re raising adults.” We—for us—our structure that’s in our home, and our boundaries, and the consequences that we have when boundaries are crossed—they’re all pointing toward this end goal of “I want to raise children who respect themselves, respect others, and have character and integrity.” That’s—for us—what it’s all about.
Our kiddos have come from places that have caused behaviors to happen. We call them “trauma-induced behaviors” because it’s a result of trauma. Some of the situations we’ve dealt with have not been their fault. We look at our kids and say, “I still believe in you. I still believe you have hope and a future.”
My son who has spent more time in an institution than in my house because he could not make choices that were safe for him or anybody else—I still look at him and I say, “I believe in you. You have hope, and you have a future.” That’s in spite of some really, really dark stuff.
I will tell parents this: “You’ve got to believe in your kids, even through the hard stuff.” You cannot think that anybody’s a hopeless cause, even through some big, big failures. Everybody has hope, no matter what mistakes they make, no matter what sin has happened. There’s hope for everybody, and that’s because grace changes everything.
Dave: It’s in some ways a confirmation. I’m still stuck on Psalm 34:18 that you mentioned earlier. God saying, “I’m near the broken-hearted. I save those who are crushed in spirit.” That’s definitely for an adoptive parent, but that’s every parent.
Dave: That’s every person who needs to be reminded He’s here.
Ann: It’s really no different with biological kids, or adopted, or foster care children. We’re looking at them the way God looks at them and seeing the things that God put in them. He always sees hope; He always sees redemption. That’s what we’re trying to pull out of our kids. That’s what you’re saying. “I still believe in you. I see you.”
Ann: It’s so important.
Bob: You may have started this whole journey with aspirations of being a superhero. [Laughter] You and your wife are heroes.
Mike: I appreciate that. Thank you.
Bob: You and your wife have intervened directly in the lives of eight human beings whose lives are immeasurably better because of the sacrifices you’ve made and the pain you’ve endured, and what you have borne for them. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lays down his life for his friends.” You’ve laid down your lives for your kids and demonstrated amazing love to them.
We appreciate you coming and offering insight and counsel, and helping us understand that, yes, there’s a glory in adoption, but it’s a rugged glory. It’s a hard path.
I hope listeners who are thinking about adoption, or listeners who are in it, in foster care, in adoption, and you’ve hit the wall—get a copy of Mike’s book and find out more about his ministry. Go online to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. We’ve got links there. You can order the book, Confessions of an Adoptive Parent: Hope and Help from the Trenches of Foster Care and Adoption.
Again, order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or if it’s easier, call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order the book, 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
I keep reflecting on the idea that it takes a community—it takes a village—to raise children. For adoptive parents—to try to do that on your own without a support structure, without a community around you—that’s a recipe for failure, for disaster. David Robbins, President of FamilyLife® is here with us. We can’t do this journey on our own, can we?
David: We’re not intended to. That’s certainly not the way God designed it. One thing Mike said today just echoes in my mind, and I’m really pondering on is, he said, “Be cautious of the people who think you’re a hero,” when we’re going through something hard or taking on something God’s inviting us into. “When things get hard, those people tend to be the first to leave.”
Really what God’s doing in my heart right now is putting up a mirror for me to reflect and go, “What are the ways I’m actually avoiding some people in my life and backing away slowly of some people who are in pain—that God actually wants me to journey in deeper with them—whether that’s busyness or convenience that’s keeping me away from it?”
I’m a little convicted today and perhaps you are, too of, “Who around me needs me to be an Aaron and a Hur in this season? Who is someone who is experiencing suffering, or a trial in this season? How can I serve them? What do I need to do to just go be present with them amongst the pain? Who is God inviting me to point to Him through Christ and by the Holy Spirit?” He is the ultimate Aaron and Hur. How can I help point people to Him amongst their pain?
I want to be a person who bears each other’s burdens. I think in parts of my life, I have been. I have been a real friend who bears burdens well. I think today I’m pretty convicted and some people are coming up in my life that I think I need to go be with them. I need to carry burdens with them.
Bob: I’m thinking of something Paul Tripp said years ago. He said God made us to live upward and outward, and too often we spend our lives looking inward. It’s a good reminder. We need to be looking out and saying, “Lord, who do You want me to interact with today?”
David: Yes. On the other side, if you’re someone who’s going, “But I’m the one hurting—I’m the one drowning and suffocating,” I think it’s healthy for us to declare needs. Sometimes we get isolated, and we need to ask for help. It’s okay to ask for help.
Bob: Yes, that’s good. Thank you, David.
Just before we wrap up today, we are so grateful for the listeners we have already heard from during the month of May. We’re about halfway through the month. Many of you have already heard about the matching gift opportunity that was made available to us this month—an opportunity to match every donation we receive up to a total of $550,000. Many of you have responded. We’ve got some new Legacy Partners who have joined us. Thank you for becoming monthly supporters of FamilyLife Today.
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We hope you can join us tomorrow. We’re going to talk about what’s become an epidemic in our culture—it’s the whole issue of sexual sin, sexual brokenness: pornography and other forms of sexual sin. Jay Streamer is going to join us to talk about some landmark research that’s been done to help us get to the root of all this. We’ll talk with him tomorrow. Hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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