The Challenges and Blessings of Adoption
About the Guest
Fostering a child can be challenging and adoption even more so. Pastor Brian Borgman shares how he and his wife came to adopt their son Alex out of the foster care system. While adoption is a blessing to all involved, it also requires perseverance and many sacrifices, as Brian and his family have learned.
Brian BorgmanBrian Borgman is founding pastor of Grace Community Church, Minden, NV (1993-present). He earned a B.A. in Biblical Studies from Biola University (La Mirada, CA), a Master of Divinity from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary (Portland, OR) and a Doctor of Ministry from Westminster Seminary (Escondido, CA). Brian and his wife Ariel have been married since 1987. They have three wonderful children, Ashley, Zach and Alex and a great son-in-law, Seth and a grandson, Calvin Owen.
Pastor Brian Borgman shares how he and his wife came to adopt their son Alex. While adoption is a blessing to all involved, it also requires perseverance and many sacrifices.
The Challenges and Blessings of Adoption
Bob: After years of being foster parents to a little boy named Alex, Brian and Ariel Borgman were still not on the same page about whether to make the decision to adopt. Ariel was all for it / Brian was not so sure.
Brian: So, one day, I talked to my fellow elder, Dave Gamble. Dave’s a district court judge and has done hundreds of adoptions. I said: “Dave, Ariel wants to do this. She’s not listening to any of my reasoned objections. Help me here!” He said, “Brian, maybe you need to make a decision based on what loving your wife like Christ loves the church looks like.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, March 27th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Brian Borgman joins us today to tell us about how their foster son, Alex, became a Borgman. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You have mentioned before, Dennis, that your daughter has been a foster care mom—more than 20 kids.
Dennis: She’s a champion.
Bob: Has she ever thought about or considered adopting one of the 20?
Dennis: Oh yes, many times.
Bob: So what’s kept her from doing that?
Dennis: Well, I think it takes two to tango—
Dennis: —on this deal. So, maybe—
Bob: Both Mom and Dad have got to say, “Yes, this is God’s will for us.” The dialog is continuing.
Dennis: They are continuing. They have a little boy, who just a few months ago, that they finally adopted. Oh yes—so, it’s our 21st grandchild.
This is a little boy who came into their home through the foster care system. They cared for him for over 12 months before all of the legal issues were really taken care of and they could call that little boy—Will—their own.
Bob: Well, it sounds like their scenario is a little bit like what our guest today went through.
Dennis: I think so. Brian Borgman joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Brian—welcome back.
Brian: Thank you.
Dennis: Brian’s a pastor of Grace Community Church in Minden, Nevada. He and his wife Ariel have three children and one grandson. He has written a book called After They are Yours: The Grace and Grit of Adoption. I like that byline!—The Grace and Grit of Adoption.
Our listeners know we’ve talked about adoption a good bit, here on FamilyLife Today. We try to paint it with a lot of reality because it’s not this romantic story that always ends just with everything working out perfectly.
Bob: There’s grit involved.
You and your wife Ariel—you didn’t foster 20 kids, but you did bring a young boy into your home—a 20-month-old child, who had fetal alcohol syndrome. You cared for him for how long before you guys started thinking about or talking about the possibility of adopting him?
Brian: We cared for him for a year-and-a-half. The state worker came in one day and said: “You guys have done such a great job. So, we’re going to move Alex to a lower level foster care home.” At which point, I thought, “What are these people thinking?”
Bob: Oh—they were going to take him out of your home—
Bob: —and put him in a home where he didn’t need as competent a mom and dad, as you guys had been to him?
Brian: That is the case.
Dennis: So you’re kind of—I see you blow up, here, across the table. This is the guy, here, who wasn’t really all that much for it originally. Had you fallen in love with this little guy?
Brian: Oh yes, yes; he grew on us. [Laughter] It seemed absurd to us to say: “Here’s a kid that you’ve just told us has reactive attachment disorder and all these other issues. Now, you say he’s doing so well that you’re going to take him out of the home, where he was still a handful every day?”
Dennis: So much so that you had conversations with Ariel about whether this was right for your family—just foster care, at that point; right?
Brian: Yes, at this point—if we could—maybe move to the time where the state is, now, thinking about terminating parental rights.
Brian: Ariel was totally excited: “I think that we should adopt him if we get the chance.”
Dennis: What you’re talking about is—what the state does—is they find the birth father/the birth mother, and they find out: “What are their desires? What do they want out of this?” A lot of times, they’re in prison. A lot of times, they’re gone / you can’t even find them.
So, over a period of time, that child then becomes available to be adopted by another family if those parents have either terminated their rights or have forfeited them; right?
Brian: Yes. The state of Nevada has a basic commitment to try to keep kids from being lifetime foster care kids—they do move to try to get the kids adopted. When we started to realize that this was going to be a possibility, frankly, I was opposed. Again, Ariel was absolutely convinced we would not have him in foster care if it weren’t for God’s sovereignty. If we have him in foster care, God’s opening the door for us—for him to be a part of our family.
Bob: This time, the marital conflict, around this decision, was more significant than it had been when you were talking about foster care; right?
Brian: Yes, absolutely. In fact, I kept thinking the things like this: “What’s going to be the impact on my biological children?”
Brian: “What’s going to be the impact on my marriage? What’s going to be the impact on my domestic peace and tranquility?” I was selfishly opposed. We argued—we cried—we debated.
One day, I talked to my fellow elder, Dave Gamble, who’s a trusted friend. Dave’s a district court judge who’d done hundreds of adoptions. I sat down with Dave; and I said: “Dave, Ariel wants to do this. She’s not listening to any of my reasoned objections. Help me here!”
Dennis: You’re being logical/—
Dennis: —you’re being reasonable, and she is being a mom—
Dennis: —let’s face it!
Brian: Yes. I would’ve said “irrational and emotional!” [Laughter]
Anyway, Dave looked at me; and he said, “Brian, maybe you need to make a decision based on what loving your wife like Christ loves the church looks like.” I looked at him—I said: “You’re not a very good friend. You’re supposed to be supporting me.” He said, “You need to think about what a decision, based on sacrificial love for your wife, looks like right now.”
A few days later, I go to a conference, over in the bay area. I’m staying with a good pastor friend of mine. I’m telling him all my woes and why I don’t want to do this. He looks at me and he says, “What would it look like if you loved Ariel like Christ loved the church?” I said, “This is a conspiracy!—it’s a conspiracy.”
At that point—I went home after that conference, and I told Ariel—I said: “I’m not convinced that this is the best thing for my family, but I am convinced that this would be the greatest demonstration of me loving you like Christ loved the church. Let’s move forward.”
Dennis: Wow! This is not a romantic notion here.
Brian: I didn’t feel very romantic! [Laughter]
Bob: This is not Valentine’s Day, and flowers, and candy. This is—you talk about the grit of adoption.
Dennis: That’s what I was going to—the subtitle of the book.
Bob: This is the grit of love to say: “Alright. This is going to cost me to make this call, and I will bear the cost because I love you.
Brian: Yes. Let me say that that was not my first impulse, and all glory to God for it, because it really was a work of grace. I knew that the second time I heard the same thing from two guys, 300 miles removed, that God was certainly getting my attention and showing me what He wanted from me.
Bob: Here’s what I would think—if you have a foster son, who’s been in the home with you for 18 months, now eligible for adoption, you’re going to go ahead and go through with the adoption. He’s going to move from being your foster son to being your adopted son. I would think that transition would be seamless—there would be no change because he’s only four or five years old, at this point; right?
Brian: Well, at this point, he’s about three/three-and-a-half—something like that.
Bob: So, he’s not old enough to know that there’s a big difference between being a foster kid and being and adopted kid. I’m thinking, logically: “This is going to be—‘We’re going to come home one day; and it’s changed from foster to adoption, and life goes on.’” Is that how it happens?
Brian: Not exactly. [Laughter] There was a journey in the adoption process itself that completely caught us off guard. Once we had made the decision to go ahead and adopt, we wanted an open adoption.
Dennis: Explain what that is.
Brian: An open adoption is an adoption in which the birth parents—or maybe birth mother, in this case—has a relationship where she stays in contact with the adoptive family and stays—some level of contact—with her birth child.
Bob: That’s what you hoped for here.
Brian: Yes. I have to say that the reason we hoped for that was because there is an undeniable reality and that is: “Somebody else carried Alex in her womb for nine months—that’s his birth mother and that never changes.”
There’s something that I think that we should honor about that / there’s something that is unchanging about that. So, we wanted to do our best—in fact, if we could’ve helped with reunification, we could have because of our fundamental commitment to our belief about the family. She didn’t quite understand open adoption that way—she thought it was more like joint custody.
Bob: You’re saying the birth mother thought that.
Brian: Correct. She thought we’d be switching holidays and she’d have him every other weekend. Of course, that’s not open adoption. We got things worked out—started to move ahead—and we had a court date. We drove out to Yerington, Nevada, which is a little town that looks like it stopped about 1950—grand old courthouse / Ten Commandments on the front lawn—sort of a Mayberry-type setting.
We get there. We’re under the impression that, if she voluntarily relinquishes her parental rights, then everything’s going to be moving along swimmingly, at that point. Come to find out—she hears the word, “irrevocable,” and reacts violently.
Dennis: Wow—as in what way?
Brian: Well, she was signing the papers—the social worker, who’s standing behind her, explaining each of the lines on the termination agreement. She gets to the statement that the terms are irrevocable. She says, “Do you understand what that means?” When she explained they can’t be changed, she took the pen, stabbed the paper repeatedly, and then violently ripped the paper to shreds with the pen—
—got up, stormed out, and had a few choice words for me on the way out. That kind of started a bad day.
Dennis: Wow. So, how much time passed before you were finally able to reason with her, where she finally did sign the papers?
Brian: She didn’t—she didn’t. At that point, we withdrew the open adoption offer. I really did believe that there was a sense in which I needed to protect Alex and my family from a person that would demonstrate erratic and violent behavior.
The state was in full agreement with us withdrawing open adoption.
We thought we’d go into court and they’d sign the papers. What ended up happening was—they gave her three more months, then three more months, then three more months. Every time we’d go to court, we thought that that would be the day in which the rights would be terminated and we could start the adoption process. It never worked out that way.
Bob: All this time Alex is living with you?
Bob: And she’s just showing up, every three months, and saying, “I’m not ready to relinquish rights.”
Brian: Right. So the judge would tell her: “You have to have sobriety. You have to have so many AA meetings or NA meetings…”— so many hoops to jump through. She might jump through one out of six—it was enough to say: “Okay. We’ll push it back another three months,” or “… another six months.” This went on for almost two years.
Dennis: So, was Alex being visited by her—her getting her parental rights to him, as a young—young boy, at that point?
Brian: The best my memory serves me—she had two visits with him. One was actually an overnight, early on, in the foster care process. Once this happened, the state was not overly anxious to arrange visits. I don’t believe there were any after this point.
Bob: Was Alex aware that anything like this was even going on? Again, he’s three/four/five years old. He may know you’re going to court and hoping to come home with some happy news—but he’s kind of left out of the whole scenario; right?
Brian: Oh, yes. He is not there—he, obviously, doesn’t go to court with us—
Brian: —didn’t really know what was going on.
Bob: What finally cleared the hurdle for you so the judge said, “He’s yours”?
Brian: Well, after her not showing up a number of times and not accomplishing any of the goals—and so the termination finally happened—but, then, the adoption still needed to happen. Once the termination happened, then the adoption process was relatively quick.
Dennis: On November 7, 2000—
Dennis: —Alex became yours.
Dennis: You’re filling out the paperwork. On the paperwork, it says: “What’s his middle name?” You asked Alex what he wanted his middle name to be.
Brian: Yes. By this time, Alex is five—he’s in kindergarten. My dad’s name is Steven, my middle name is Steven, and Zachary’s middle name is Steven. I asked Alex / I said, “Alex, you get to pick your own middle name.” I said, “You can either keep the middle name you have, or have your last name be your middle name, or you can have the name that Daddy and Zach have.” He said, “I want to be called Alexander Steven Borgman.”
Dennis: Anyone who’s adopted has learned a facet of God’s character that—I’m not saying is only reserved for those who adopt children—but certainly, those who do, learn a bunch about it. What did you learn about it?
Brian: Well, obviously, one of the things that stands out is—our Heavenly Father, when He brings us into His family, starts out, as the Judge, and makes it legal and binding. In that sense, adoption is our Heavenly Father adopting us—is a legal act. We become heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—but, then, He steps out from behind that bench, as it were, and the Judge is now our Father and embraces us.
The thing about God’s adoption of us—that has continually comforted me and goaded me—is that God never has given up on me, as an adopted son. No matter how many times I’ve failed, no matter how many times I have not walked in the way that I’m supposed to walk—my failures against God outnumber Alex’s failures. I mean, there’s not even any comparison! To know of God’s faithful love to me, every single day, and never a time when He said, “I’m going to send you to military school if you don’t shape up,”—
Brian: —that encourages me and convicts me.
Dennis: Brian, earlier, you said you were opposed to even having Alex in your family in the foster care relationship. Ariel was calling you out to adopt him, and you resisted because of what it was going to cost you. I want you to answer two questions: “What did it cost you?” and “What did it bring you?”
Brian: “What did it cost me?”—surgery, by the Holy Spirit, over, and over, and over again—exposure of idols in my own heart and the crucifixion of my pride over, and over, and over again. “What did it cost me?” It cost me giving up idols that I’ve realized weren’t worth holding onto anyway.
“What did it bring me?” It brought me a son whom I love. It brought me—Alex’s identity not only got changed, the Borgman family’s identity got changed. The Borgman family would not be the Borgman family without Alex. He is as vital a part of our family as anybody else. In a sense, what he brought us was the completion of our family, as God intended it.
Bob: You never stop and think: “Let’s go on a family vacation, but we don’t take Alex,” or “Let’s have everybody over for Christmas, but Alex doesn’t come.” That would be ridiculous to even imagine such a thing; wouldn’t it?
Brian: That is correct. Although, I do need to say that, at 22 months old, we decided to go on a cross-country vacation—
Brian: —with Alex, right after we got him. Driving through Minnesota, Zach did ask if we could stop and sell Alex at a garage sale. [Laughter]
Bob: Well, we understand how those early days can be—[Laughter]
Brian: But yes, it’s absolutely true that he’s just an integral part of the Borgman family.
Bob: I love your answer there. I remember Dr. Russell Moore, who’s an adoptive father, who wrote a book called Adopted for Life. I remember him saying there were some friends who had said to him about his children—who are from, I think, Eastern Europe—they said, “Are you going to raise your kids with an awareness of their cultural heritage and identity?” He said, “I’m going to take them to southern Mississippi, and I’m going to teach them to eat some gumbo.” He said, “Their identity—they’re Moores. From the foundation of the world, God designed that they would be a part of the Moore family.” In a very real sense, it was destined that Alex would be a Borgman; right?
Brian: That is correct.
Bob: Just a different path to get there than the other two kids.
Dennis: Alright, I’m going to ask you to do something in just a moment; but I want to read something from your book. At the end of your book, you’ve got something that Alex said to you the other day. He’s now 19 years old—works in a tire shop / faithful employee. He said to you, “Dad, I’m glad you adopted me; otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have become a redneck, and I would probably be in jail.” [Laughter]
Bob: I have to tell you—I hope our listeners get a copy of your book, Brian, and read because there’s real heart in what you’ve written. In fact, this is a great book for those who are in the middle of it and finding it hard to hope—and could use a story about adoption that is real, and raw, and redemptive, and edifying.
Let me, just before Dennis gives you the assignment that he’s got for you—let me encourage listeners to go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” You can order Brian’s book, After They are Yours from our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; back to the assignment, here—
Dennis: Brian, I want to give you an opportunity here to tell Alex why you’re glad you adopted him.
Well Alex, I hope that you’ll be able to hear these broadcasts. I want you to know how much your mom and I absolutely love you. We have not always communicated that to you as effectively as we should have. We have failed, as parents, a lot; and you know that. But you also know that you have a mom and a dad who would do absolutely anything for you.
We are so glad that you’re a part of our family. We do believe, from the bottom of our hearts, that it is God Himself who has put you in this family. It is God’s sovereign appointment that you are the third of the Borgeman children. We are so grateful that we have a son named Alex. We love you so much!
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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