Platinum-selling singer-songwriter Mark Schultz—who was adopted as a child, and recently adopted his first child—joins Dinner Conversations hosts Mark Lowry and Andrew Greer for some mealtime musings in a conversation all about adoption.
TRANSCRIPT FROM THE SHOW
Mark: Our guest today on Dinner Conversations is Mark Schultz. Mark is a contemporary Christian recording artist. He’s sold over 2 million records, and he’s a nice fellow. And he was adopted.
Andrew: That’s right, yeah. And a lot of his songs even, his storytelling way of writing songs, is a lot about his experience as an adopted child, and now he is an adopted parent. They just adopted, he and his wife. They have two biological sons, adopted a daughter, and what we talk about— We get into how adoption is not something that is just for families who are adopting, but it’s—
Mark: It affects everybody.
Andrew: That’s right. It’s a community thing, especially as the church, that children, orphans, and widows—
Mark: And we were adopted in Christ.
Andrew: That’s right. So we all understand that relationship, and then we’re able to extend that relationship to others like Mark.
Mark: It’s good.
Andrew: I think it’s a beautiful conversation.
Mark: We should all have T-shirts that say, “I’m adopted,” and be proud of it. Hey, there’s one seat left at the table, and it’s yours. Let’s join the conversation.
Mark: So you were adopted?
Mark S.: Uh-huh.
Mark: How’d that go for you?
Andrew: So, growing up adopted but with a brother and a sister who are biological to your parents, I’m interested in that. Did that produce any insecurities or tension, or how has that played out?
Mark: Did they like you best?
Mark S.: I didn’t know I was adopted until I was like third grade probably. Kept it a secret. So I didn’t even know to ask. So we’re going through our baby books, and I’m looking through there, and my sister is a year younger than me. She’s in second grade. My brother’s five years older than me. My sister’s looking through her baby book and I’m looking at stuff, and I’m like, Hey, you’ve got that, but I don’t have that in my book. And so I said, “Mom, I’ve got a discrepancy here.” I maybe didn’t use that word, but you know what I mean.
Mark: You were a smart kid. Third grade?
Mark S.: And my mom said, “You don’t have certain things because we don’t have them because you were adopted.” And I was like, “What does that mean?” And they were like, “Well, with your brother and sister, that’s who we got. God gave us them. You, we got to go pick you out special.” I was like, Man, that feels good. And so I got to about the eighth grade and my sister was a seventh grader, and we were arguing over something really important like shoes, and she was just mad because I’d won the argument. She goes, “You’re not even supposed to be in this family because you’re adopted.” I stopped for a second and I looked her, and I started to smile on the inside, and I said, “Yeah, you know what that means? Mom and dad got to pick me out special. They just got stuck with you.” It still feels good to say that, even when I’m older. That was about it.
Mark: That’s all you knew.
Mark S.: That was all I knew. I didn’t think about it that much growing up really because I had a great family.
Andrew: Because it was fulfilling. But the questions about birth parents and stuff, that’s got to be natural to think about at least.
Mark: Have you ever wanted to meet them?
Mark S.: I think it would be neat to meet her to thank her, to say how grateful I am because I could’ve missed out on the whole thing. I played this benefit, and it was in Texas. It was for adoption, and I remember this girl and she was a cheerleader, just a cute thing, and she came to the show with her mom, and I was playing my songs. I had a song about being adopted, and she knew it. She came up to me after the show, and there were probably a thousand people there that knew her and knew her family, and she was trying not to cry and she was just holding it together. Her mom said, “Hey, can we talk to you for a second?” I said, “ Sure.” And she said, “My daughter has just given her baby up for adoption, and nobody in town knew she was pregnant.” I remember she was standing there and she looks at me and she said, “I know you were adopted. I know you have a birth mom. Is my little boy that I gave up for adoption, is he going to hate me one day?” And I remember holding her, and I hugged her just for so long. In that moment, though I’ve never met my birth mom, it was me hugging my birth mom and her hugging her son that she gave up for adoption. It was so beautiful because it was me affirming her. And so, several times when I meet a birth mom and I feel that weight, for me to say, “You’re a hero to me. There’s nothing coming from me except pure love for who you are.” OK, who’s got some jokes?
[Mark Schultz singing “Everything to Me”]
I must have felt your tears
When they took me from your arms
I’m sure I must have heard you say goodbye
Young and so afraid had you made a big mistake
Could an ocean even hold the tears you cried
You had dreams for me
You wanted the best for me
And you made the only choice you could that night
You gave life to me
A brand new world to see
Like playing baseball in the yard with dad at night
Mom reading Goodnight Moon
And praying in my room
So if you worry if your choice was right
When you gave me up
You gave everything to me
And if I saw you on the street
Would you know that it was me
And would your eyes be blue or green like mine
Would we share a warm embrace
Would you know me in your heart
Or would you smile and let me walk on by
Knowing you had dreams for me
You wanted the best for me
Oh, I hope that you’d be proud of who I am
You gave life to me
A chance to find my dreams
And the chance to fall in love
You should have seen her shining face
On our wedding day
Oh, is this the dream you had in mind
When you gave me up
You gave everything to me
And when I see you there
Watching from Heaven’s gates
Into your arms I’m gonna run
And when you look in my eyes
You can see my whole life
See who I was and who I’ve become
Because you gave life to me
A brand new world to see
Like playing baseball with my sons late at night
And reading Goodnight Moon
And praying in their room
I’m so grateful that I’ve had this life
When you gave me up
You gave everything
When you gave me up
You gave everything
When you gave me up
You gave everything to me
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Mark: They told us the other day about those five girls over in Nepal, was it?
Andrew: Yeah, yeah, in Nepal.
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Mark: That’s why I love this organization. They intercept them before.
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Mark: And if we don’t help, who will? Project Beautiful, because every life is beautiful and worth fighting for.
Mark: So do you want — you still didn’t answer my question. Would you like to meet her?
Mark S.: At some point in time, I would, but, you know, my mom and my dad are my mom and my dad. And I think it would be hard for them; I think it would be hard for me to say, “Hey, I’m bringing somebody home for Christmas this year.”
Andrew: I want to go back to this. I’ve heard you call your birth mother a hero. I think if I was adopted and was in a real, whole family, I would go, you mean you’re calling your birth mother a hero? I would call my adopted parents a hero. I’m interested in where that terminology comes from or where that perspective changed for you or came from?
Mark S.: I remember I was getting ready to do a concert one night, and I remember this lady said, “Would you ever want to meet your birth mom some day?” I was like, I think it’d be kind of weird now if I just showed up at her door and was like, “Hey, remember me?”
Mark: I was balled then, too.
Mark S.: Still here. Put me in a onesie and I’m still there. I said, “No, I’ve never met her,” and I said, “ I think it would be kind of weird.” She said, “Would you ever want to?” which is the question you all asked me, and I said, “You know what? Man, I don’t think so because she was probably young and it was just one of those things, and she was insecure. Maybe she just felt like it was the best thing to do, kind of like a selfish thing for her maybe, but she just said, ‘Hey, I can’t raise a baby.’” This lady could’ve come across the table. She was a sweet old lady, but she would’ve grabbed me around the thing. I could see her lip quivering, and she was getting tears in her eyes. Honestly, she looked at me and said, “Did you say selfish?” I said, “Yeah, but I’m just saying when you’re young and you give somebody up for adoption.” She goes, “Let me ask you something. Have you ever been pregnant?” That’s what she said, and I was honest and I said, “No.” Just right off the bat. I said, “I have not.” And she said, “You know, for a birth mom who’s young to go through life pregnant and everybody knows she’s not married and they know her story, for her to actually take the time to walk through those nine months and carry you instead of having an alternative option, that’s not out of selfishness that you were born.” And then she said, “To give birth and go through the pain of that process, it wasn’t out of selfishness that you were born.” And then she said, “Hardest of all, for her to be in the hospital room and say, ‘You’re my little baby and I want to give you the best life possible, but I know that I can’t right now, but I know that there’s a family out there that can and will and wants to,’ and then she kissed you on the head” — here’s your Barbara Walters moment — “she kissed you on the head and she gave you to a nurse, who then gave you to another family.” She said, “That was the hardest thing she would’ve ever done in her life.” And she said, “I guarantee it wasn’t out of selfishness that you were born. It was out of love that you were born and given up for adoption.” And my jaw hit the floor, and then all of a sudden, I thought, Oh my gosh, I’ve never thought through that whole thing. But the process of what she would’ve had to have gone through, especially back in the day, that’s where she became a hero to me.
Mark: Al, you talk a lot about story, and why is it important that we share our story?
Al: I think it’s important because I only see things through my set of eyes, and so the story that I’ve lived is through my perspective. But when you share your story, often there’ll be someone that comes in from the outside and says, “Did you ever notice this?” The perspective of another person adds color to your story often, whether they’re a professional or whether they’re a friend, and sometimes that perspective will really heal you or be a part of your healing. So yeah, sharing it just means that there are other eyes because, again, I just see out of my eyes, but you can see me and I can’t see me.
Mark: And don’t you think also when you open up and tell your story that people who’ve had a similar story instantly relate to it?
Mark: And then they open up about theirs when they might’ve been embarrassed to.
Al: Absolutely. I think that’s the power of story. Most people really want to share their story. They really want to, but they don’t know they have permission or they weren’t taught that it’s OK. Another set of eyes just changes things.
Sandy: Yeah, and I think the convenient thing at the moment is to have an abortion because a pregnant, scared birth mom just wants it to go away. Stick your head in the sand, it never happened. So to carry a baby to term and then follow through with an adoption plan is like the ultimate gift. It is likened to our Heavenly Father and Him giving His son to us.
Andrew: Well, and you know because you have a biological child as well, so as a mother, which I, of course, have not had this experience, but having carried a child, the intimacy of that type of experience with a child, that where we’re talking about this is truly a sacrifice of love because there has to be immense connection immediately from the time that child is birthed to still be able to say, “I know the best thing for this child at this moment in time.”
Sandy: When I did pregnancy counseling with girls who were pregnant, we would do a hospital plan: I’m going to see my baby, I’m going to hold my baby as soon as it’s born, or I’m not going to see the baby, hold the baby. We’d write out the whole hospital plan, and we’d make sure that the social worker at the hospital had a copy of that plan because things can get a little chaotic and a little muddy.
Andrew: And emotional, I’m sure.
Sandy: And very emotional, and lots of opinions can get involved in that situation. But, I always prepared the birth mom: “What we have on this piece of paper may or may not be what you want to happen at the time that you actually deliver, and you are the mother and you have every right to change… This is not a contract. We’re just writing it down to alert the social worker or the adoptive family.” But oftentimes, a birth mom would decide not to hold that baby because they were so afraid they would change their mind if they held that baby and had that connection. And now I will cry. So going from that mom perspective, you think, Could I do it? I would like to think I was strong enough to do it for the love of my child, but selfishly, I don’t know if I could.
Andrew: It’s courage that I don’t think crosses our minds.
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Mark: And Project Beautiful has saved over 12,000 lives from sex trafficking around the world, and what I love about Project Beautiful is that they intercept them before they get into it, and you’ve got to go to their website and see how it’s done.
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Mark: If we don’t help, who will? Project Beautiful, because every life is beautiful and worth fighting for.
Mark S.: I didn’t find out until after our first son was born, and I tell the story that I was putting him to bed and I was looking at him one night, and he finally smiled, he started laughing, and I looked at him. I’m like, Those are my eyes, and that’s my smile, and that’s my face. And it was like 3 in the morning because that’s when he liked to eat milk, and my wife walks in and she’s like, “Hey, why is he laughing and why are you crying?” I was like, “I’ve always wanted to meet a blood relative. I finally found one. He’s right here.”
Mark: Now you’ve just recently adopted a little girl.
Mark S.: Funny you should ask about that because I happen to have a picture on my Instagram. This is her in China the day she became an American citizen. Isn’t she the cutest thing ever?
Mark: So let me ask you this: Do you like her better than your natural children?
Andrew: Natural — I like that too.
Mark S.: Funny you should ask that because the natural ones are 5 and 3. They’re boys, and so they’re like energizer bunnies. You don’t even plug them into the wall; they just go all the time. And her, she’s just docile. She’s like a kitten.
Mark: Is she?
Mark S.: Yeah. So my wife, as soon as she met her, she was just like, You’re my baby, and she came; and to me, it was like, Hey, you’re a Chinese baby, and I don’t know that you’re mine yet.
Mark: Yeah, I was wondering about that. How long did it take you to connect?
Mark S.: For her, it was just right away, you know. And for me, to be honest, it took a while because I was just like, You don’t look like me or smell like me or have any of the same— You’ve got more hair than I do. The whole thing was different. And then, when we got her home, it got to the place where my wife was like, “I just can’t get her down.” She’s the sweetest girl ever, but at bedtime, she’ll cry and do that whole thing. And I remember the first time I went in and I’m holding her — oh gosh, here we go again — and I’m holding her and I’m looking at her and I’m getting her milk, and then she looks at me and smiles really big and she puts her head right there and she holds on and she’s out. And so every night, I put her to bed, so I’m just telling you there is nothing better in the whole world.
Andrew: That kind of inspires a thought in that in my family, there’s a lot of family, cousins, brothers, etc., who have adopted. I’ve always wanted to adopt. My oldest brother has three girls, my nieces, and one time, he was just really eager to have a boy. Out of all of us, he’s the most man’s man and hands-on and stuff, and he has these three girls, which we think is hilarious.
Mark S.: Which happens all the time.
Andrew: And they even tried by the Chinese calendar or something like that to change the gender of the child.
Mark S.: Get the candles out.
Andrew: Yeah, it didn’t happen.
Mark: Stand on her head.
Andrew: You know, I said, “Well, you could always— I don’t think this is strange. If you want a boy, why don’t you adopt a boy. You’ve got three girls that you love.” And he said, “My wife and I have talked about that” — my sister-in-law — and he just said, “We feel literally zero calling to adopt.” I believe adoption is a spiritual thing. What would you to say to someone in that role, not feeling called to adopt themselves?
Mark: Don’t do it.
Andrew: But how do they support the community of adoption?
Mark: If you don’t feel like you should do it, you shouldn’t.
Mark S.: Yeah. If you’re not being called to it, I think you probably shouldn’t do it. I’m going to talk both sides of the coin because I think that’s right. When my wife wanted to adopt and she was doing all the paperwork, I wasn’t doing any of the paperwork and I was kind of dragging my feet like, It’s kind of a good idea, but I’m also scared out of my mind what that’s going to be. But my wife always makes the right decisions, so I knew she’s going to make the right decision again and we’re going to have a great kid. And so, she was more leading the train than I was at that point in time, but then you hold her and then you’re just like, Man, this is the way it was supposed to be. Never close the door and to keep listening, but if there’s some interest in there, maybe there’s a spark of something that’s in there, that might be a little tug.
Andrew: What is all of our roles? Me as a single person who is very much interested in adoption and believe in that as far as there are children who need homes, we can provide those homes.
Sandy: I serve on the board of Tennessee Alliance for Kids. Our current governor, he wanted to make a difference in the foster care system. He actually made the statement from the stage that the state had not done a great job with managing all the children that had been removed from homes and that he thought the one missing link might be the faith-based community.
Sandy: And he wanted to give us all a pat on the back, a tap on the head — permission — to try to merge the faith-based community with the foster care system and see if we could propel it to a different level.
Sandy: There’s a gentleman in Texas who has a very small little congregation, and he and his wife took in some foster children and then more people in the church took in foster children and, in his county, I mean revolutionized the foster care system. I’m not saying that you need to become a foster father either.
Andrew: No, but maybe.
Sandy: One thing that we say about foster care, or adoption in general, it doesn’t mean that you’re parenting the child, but you can go to Target and buy some diapers to give to a foster family or you can cook a meal for your next door neighbor who’s foster parents or who’s coming home with a child from Uganda. Because they’re hibernating at home, they don’t have time to go to the grocery store and cook, and you can offer that for them.
Andrew: All the way from childhood to today, how’s that impacting your spiritual perspectives, your ideas about God, how you relate to God, how you feel God relates to you?
Mark S.: So, what I would say is, from my experience of being adopted, it’s not a big jump for me to say, “Oh, God loves me unconditionally.” I rode my bike across the country a few summers ago. Greg Lucid, my manager, I called him and said, “I’ve got this idea. Instead of taking a bus across the country, why don’t I just ride my bicycle from California to Maine and do concerts along the way, and we’ll raise money for orphans.” One of the neatest things was a minister at the end of a concert said, “Hey, we’re going to raise some money for Mark, and it’s all going to orphans.” And he said, “Let me ask you a question here. How many people are adopted in this room?” A couple thousand people in Missouri, and there were like 10 hands that went up out of the 2,000 people. He said, “OK, put your hands down.” He said, “Let me ask you another question. How many in this room would consider yourself a child of God?” And like all the hands in the room went up, and he said, “Alright, put them down.” He goes, “Let me ask you again. How many people in this room are adopted?” Everybody’s putting their hand up, and he said, “It touches everybody.” He said, “If it’s God’s blueprint and He did it for us, this is a blueprint for us down here.” So, to use that terminology, it’s not a big jump for me to say God loves us unconditionally, and I know that because my parents did such a great job of loving me unconditionally. And I thought I had it figured out until I adopted Maia Mae. She can do wrong right now in my eyes, and I know she just turned 1 on Monday.
Mark: Did you not see that with your boys? Did you not feel that unconditional love? Did you not get it then?
Mark S.: Yeah, I did, and that’s because it comes from they’re a part of me. But to go clear outside of, you know what I mean. I had no connection to this. I could’ve walked by her on a street and never known who she was, and then all of a sudden, I’m like, Oh gosh. And so for me spiritually, when people say, “What’s the jump off point for you?” That’s it for me. That’s everything.
Mark: And I think that people who have children should get that better than those of us who don’t, right, because you got it once you saw your reflection looking back at you in your little boy. I hate to say it, but I think there’s a greater judgment for you guys because you should get this. We get a pass. We get a pass, but you’re in trouble. Seriously though, what I think is for you to now ever think that God doesn’t love you, that would be saying that my love for my child is greater than God’s.
Mark S.: That’s right.
Andrew: Yeah, and I would say it just seems like you would, even as a parent to both your boys, so your biological children, and your adopted child, I think you have every leg up to be a better parent than any parent, just because you have so much understanding and perspective.
Mark S.: The other thing, and I tell people all the time, and I think people are anyway. People wait longer and longer to have kids. And I always tell my wife, I’m like, I’m a much better parent now than I would’ve been at 20. I’m about three-quarters of a tank less energy than I would’ve had when I was 20, so I have to time my caffeine intakes, but I enjoy being a dad. I do. It’s one of the coolest things I get to be a part of.
Mark: Is she talking yet?
Mark S.: You just really tapped into something cool. So, kids start to talk when they’re like 13 or 14 months, unless you’ve got a—
Mark S.: Yes, I got one. He’s named Ryan. He’s 5, and when he was one-and-a-half, he would walk into the house — this is a true story — and he would go, “Look, daddy. I’ve got a plethora of leaves.” I was like, “Well, you might be grounded for the rest of your life. Let me check the internet and see what that means.” So that’s where we come from in my family.
Mark S.: Plethora. He just dropped that at 2. I haven’t used that in my— So anyway, Maia Mae comes and she just turned a year on Monday, so if she could speak, she would speak Chinese because that’s what she’s been soaking up for a year. Wouldn’t that be great? I’m like, “Time for a bath,” and she’s like… Everybody’s like, What just happened there? But I will say this.
Mark: So she is speaking a little Chinese?
Mark S.: No, that’s just my version of what I think she would do, you know what I mean. That was my Chinese version of what she would do. And Chinese people across the world are offended.
Mark: I felt like Barbara Walters here for a minute. You’re the first person we’ve had cry.
Mark S.: That’s right. It’s the sauce on the salad.
Mark S.: I’ll never forget. I did a show. It was for MOPS, Mothers of Preschoolers. Wooo, they need more than a weekend.
Mark: What happened?
Mark S.: They need a whole week to just get their stuff out, just kind of get right.
Mark: This is our last show. We’re kind of losing it.
Andrew: Yeah, this is our last show this season.
Mark S.: Oh yeah, don’t even care anymore.
Andrew: Actually, someone cancelled, and so. But, um.
Mark: Man, this is brutal, isn’t it? Aren’t you glad you came?
Mark S.: Let’s call him. He’s a punching bag.
Andrew: We like you.
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