Defying the Odds
About the Guest
Romanian-born Jen Bricker found a loving family in the home of Gerald and Sharon Bricker. Though Jen was born with no legs, the Brickers encouraged her to try whatever she wanted to-including gymnastics. Jen and her parents share their story.
Jen BrickerI was born without legs & put up for adoption, You might think I would be destined for a life of hardship. However, the hand of destiny brought me an amazing adoptive family, who gave me one simple rule, “Never say the word, Can’t.” As a child, I was obsessed with gymnastics, and my idol was gold-medalist, Dominique Moceanu. Seemingly against all odds, I went on to compete against able-bodied athletes, and became a State Champion in power tumbling. As part of my fairy-tale story...more
Romanian-born with no legs, Jen Bricker found a loving family in the home of Gerald and Sharon Bricker. The Brickers encouraged her to try whatever she wanted to-including gymnastics. Jen shares her story.
Defying the Odds
Bob: When Jen Bricker’s mom and dad adopted her, they knew their daughter would have special needs; but somehow, the idea that she had special needs never dawned on Jen.
Jen: I’m sure there had to be a time when I was younger that I wondered, “I wonder why I don’t have legs,” but it was that fast because it had been ingrained in me that: “This was meant to be. This was the way I was born for a purpose." When that’s all you know, that’s all you know.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, July 15th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll go to the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit in Nashville, Tennessee, today for a special edition of FamilyLife Today as we hear Jen Bricker’s remarkable story. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I think, because we have a large studio audience joining us here for today’s program, I think we have some folks here who have probably had first-hand experience as adoptive parents. Are you an adoptive parent? Clap your hands if you are. [Applause] I’m guessing that some of you have adopted kids who would qualify as special needs kids. Clap your hands if that’s the case. [Applause]
I almost hesitate to refer to our guest as a young woman who has special needs because, when you meet her, it’s like there aren’t any special needs.
Dennis: I think she has a life that is marked by God, and there are two things I love to be about.
One is telling great stories of adoption and redemption because our God has a heart for adoption and redemption—that’s a good thing. How many of you are redeemed in this room? [Applause]
Bob: Yes. [Applause]
Dennis: Yes. The other thing that I’m excited about—telling a story about—is providence / the providence of God—that our God is the Lord God Almighty. He is not a weak God. He is in control of this universe and what befalls us.
You are about to hear a special story about a woman, who’s a motivational speaker / former gymnast. She lives in LA. I’d like you to join me in welcoming a young lady, who was adopted, whose name is Jen Bricker. Join me and welcome her; would you? [Applause]
Jen: Hi guys. How are you?
Dennis: We are glad you are here.
Jen: I’m glad to be here!
Dennis: I want you to tell us a little bit about your family.
Jen: That’s pretty vague!
Dennis: That is. You have some brothers, and a sister.
Dennis: You’re really here as a result of your mom’s prayers.
Jen: Yes. Well, my mom had already had three boys and really wanted a baby girl. She had a hysterectomy after her last son—so she couldn’t have kids anymore. She just kept praying and praying for ten years for a baby girl.
She finally heard about me one day. Basically, her friend was looking to adopt as well—she wanted a second child. Well, she ran a daycare. She wasn’t really sure what it would be like or if it was possible for her to run a daycare and adopt a child with no legs. She didn’t know if there’d be special requirements or extra doctors’ visits, bills—things like that.
So, my mom heard. I think she just heard, “Baby girl needs a home.” “I want her,”—it just made sense to her. She called a social worker—told her that she wanted to adopt me. They said, “Okay, we’ll talk it over with your husband and your…”—they had my three older brothers that were 10, 12, and 14 years old.
They told me they sat them all down, individually. My oldest brother would be dating in a couple years—so they’re like: “Well, how would you feel if you bring a date home, or a friend home, and you had this sister without legs? What do you think—what if they thought it was weird?”—something like that. They all three, individually, came across and just said, “You know, if they have a problem with her, then I don’t want her in my life anyway.”
Jen: Right? Isn’t that cool? [Applause] So, she and my dad agreed to it / my brothers agreed to it—and they got me in record time. My parents had never fostered / never adopted—knew nothing about disability. My mom was 40—so they were pretty much the least likely candidates ever—and it was just a testament to God’s plan.
Dennis: From the beginning, you were doing athletic things. I saw a video of you and your dad—
Dennis: —on a trampoline.
Dennis: Tell us about those early memories of starting to get on a tramp and do gymnastic moves.
Jen: Yes. Someone forgot to tell me that I didn’t have legs and “You’re not supposed to be doing all these things.” I was always a little monkey—I was actually the climber out of all of us—go figure. I would climb the apple tree in the back and the stairs. I came out an athlete. I loved sports. I loved gymnastics in particular—but I also competed in power tumbling, softball, in volleyball—all with able-bodied athletes / just with everybody else. No, I didn’t use my wheelchair—it’d be kind of impossible to use it for all of those sports, especially gymnastics.
Gymnastics is what I was drawn to the most. I said, “I want to be a gymnast,”—like I said—didn’t realize that it was a big deal—not having legs. My parents, just in true fashion, didn’t discourage it—didn’t tell me all the reasons why I couldn’t. They were like: “Alright, cool. We’ll just kind of figure out how to make it work for you.” They took me to the local power tumbling gym. I grew up in the middle of nowhere—we didn’t have a full-blown gymnastics gym—and the coaches were amazing.
They just took it in stride. They, of course, never had taught somebody without legs how to tumble. I just had this fierce determination and, I think, a lot of DNA in me for gymnastics—and it just worked. They didn’t treat me any differently.
Bob: See, this is why I have a hard time thinking of you as a special needs adoption because you treat not having legs almost like being left-handed.
Jen: Well yes, it is. [Laughter]
Bob: I mean, to you, it’s almost like, “Oh, okay, so I don’t have legs—now what?”
Jen: Well that’s exactly how it is because that’s how I was raised. I mean, it was never—no one made an issue of it at all—at home, or at school, or my friends, or anything. When there’s no limit put on your dreaming—or when there’s no one telling you that you’re certain things since you were a kid—or there is someone telling you that: “You’re an amazing gift. You’re a blessing. You’re powerful / you were made to be this way,”—that is powerful—and that’s what my parents told me all along. [Applause]
Bob: Didn’t you ever have those moments when you were like: “Why didn’t I get legs? Why didn’t God give me legs?”—a sadness about not being like everybody else?
Jen: I don’t remember a specific time or period of time because I think—because Mom and Dad always told me, from the beginning—they were very open and honest. They’re like: “Yes. Probably the reason why you were put up for adoption is because you didn’t have legs; but you have to understand they had a different mindset—they are from a different country—all of these things happen for a reason.”
It was never some big pink elephant in the room for me to one day have a catastrophe about, when I was an adult, because I was just exposed to when I was a kid. I think that barrier was broken so early that it just wasn’t an issue. They pounded it into me that it was for a reason. They weren’t just being overly optimistic—trying to be cute, saying “Oh, you were born without legs. This was meant to be.” They supported what they said by their actions—by letting me do whatever I wanted to do—by not holding me back.
You know what I mean? So, I think those are all the reasons why I just didn’t think it was a big deal.
Dennis: When you were about to turn 16, you had a very important conversation with your mom.
Jen: Yes. Up until that point, I had never really been concerned about who my biological family was or really ever concerned about meeting them; but God put this in my brain one day. My best friend was adopted. She had found what her biological last name was. I just thought, “Huh.” I don’t know why, literally—God just put it in my brain to ask, “I wonder if there’s anything that Mom and Dad know about my biological family that I don’t know about.”
Again, up until this point—almost 16 years—I had never had any curiosity / any care to know. Like I said, we were open and honest about everything. So, why would they know something about my biological family? That in itself is just mind-blowing to me.
So I went home; and I asked my mom if there was anything she knew, really just kind of as a rhetorical question. Then she’s like: “Yes. There actually is something I know about your biological family.” I’m like: “What could you possibly know? What do you mean?!” She was just like, “You’re never going to believe this, but your biological last name is Moceanu.”
Bob: Now, we need to stop you there because, a few years before this, you had been watching the Atlanta Olympics.
Jen: Well, my whole life—since I was six years old—I was fixated on gymnastics and, in particular, Dominique Moceanu. She was my one and only idol—if you will, to ever say that I had one, would have been her—I idolized her / I watched her. I said: “Oh my gosh! Don’t we look alike? She’s Romanian / I’m Romanian! She’s tiny / I’m tiny! She’s feisty / I’m feisty! What if we were related? We look so much alike,”—just being a kid, you know, not actually thinking that it’s going to happen one day. So that, when she tells me, “You’re biological last name is Moceanu,” immediately, I knew what it meant—
—that my idol, my entire life, was my biological sister. [Audience surprised]
Dennis: And she won the gold medal in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Jen: Yes. That was one of the most legendary / most memorable moments of US Women’s Gymnastics. That’s why they’re called the “Magnificent Seven”—you know, is they were—it was just epic—it was on home turf—it was amazing. I was right there, watching them, just completely infatuated, especially with her. There was this bond that connected us our entire lives, before we even knew we were sisters.
Bob: When you got that information about your biological family, you started to put two and two together. You started to understand some of the specifics why your biological parents had put you up for adoption. Tell us a little bit about what you uncovered with that.
Jen: Well, I knew—I mean, we knew / they knew that she was my sister and I was always watching her. So, when I first found out, obviously, I wanted to contact her.
I found out that I had another younger sister, who looked identical to me. When I first saw her on the computer screen, I said, “Oh, so that’s what I would look like with legs!” [Laughter] It was my face on a different body! It was crazy!
That just motivated me to spend this four-year journey to find them—to let them know that they had another sister—which I was 99.9 percent sure they did not know. I was 99.9 percent sure my biological parents were probably still going to want to keep it a secret, and so it was a series of failed attempts. My third and final attempt was successful. I contacted Dominique through a series of events and was successful at the end of 2007. We all three met for the very first time—me, Dominique, and Christina—in Ohio in May of 2008.
Dennis: What was that like? I mean, take us to that moment. What would it be to meet your own flesh and blood that you were related to that really affirmed your DNA and your athletic ability?
Jen: I land in the Cleveland airport, and it was the longest airport of my life—I’m getting off the airplane and I’m like, “When am I going to reach the other side?” I finally reach the other side. The elevator doors open, and I see Dominique with my niece, newly born on Christmas. She’s pushing her in the stroller, holding a long-stem rose, and holding a video camera. I’m like: “Well, so do I wave? Do I say, ‘Hi’? Do I hug you? Do I take the flower? I don’t really know what’s going on here.” [Laughter]
So, I think I did all of it—I don’t know which order—but it all happened. Then we were waiting on my younger sister Christina to fly in. We were sitting in a restaurant. It was just kind of surreal and crazy but also natural because we’re essentially strangers meeting but our DNA just bonds—I mean, we look alike, we sound alike, we like the same foods. My younger sister’s now husband / then boyfriend looks exactly like my ex-boyfriend. [Laughter]
It was like twins re-united type situation—it was crazy but amazing.
Bob: When you started to piece together, as an adolescent, that your biological mom and dad had looked and said, “We don’t think we can raise a daughter without legs,” and they put you up for adoption, did you feel a wounding from that at all?
Jen: Well, like I said, Mom and Dad from—young—like five-/six-years-old young—told me that probably a good reason they gave me up for adoption was because I didn’t have legs. They were from a different country, they had a different mindset / a different way of thinking. They probably weren’t sure whether or not they would have been able to raise me. They said, “They did us such a favor / such a blessing because they probably couldn’t have given you the life that we could give you. We wanted you, and so that was the beauty in the whole situation.”
So they spun it, and they made sure I never held any grudges towards them—that was huge. They didn’t make me hold anything negative against them.
In fact, they told me not to. I think that mindset was great. When someone tells you that, you’re not going to think negatively of it, you’re going to think positively of it because it was told to me from such a young age.
I’m sure there had to be a time, when I was younger, that I wondered, “I wonder why I don’t have legs,” but it was that fast because it had been ingrained in me that: “This was meant to be. This was the way I was born for a purpose.” When that’s all you know, that’s all you know.
Bob: Part of that understanding of this being for a purpose—you grew up in a home where Mom and Dad were talking about Jesus. They were talking about God having a purpose in life. You would have never known that had you grown up in your bio family.
Jen: Right. That was such a difference—I mean, that’s the difference right there, obviously.
That’s the “God can turn anything ugly into something beautiful,” and “There’s a reason and a purpose for everything and everyone.” That was definitely the turning point in that—in knowing that there was a purpose and knowing that your belief in God—you know that He doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t just have an off day or an off moment, and He didn’t have one with me either. They clearly saw it when I was born. I see it even more clearly as I get older, through the performing, and speaking, and events exactly like this.
Dennis: Would you like to adopt some day?
Jen: Yes! I would love to adopt one day. I would love to have, naturally, one or two and adopt one or two as I get older. I think it would be unbelievably amazing and full circle moment to be able to adopt from Romania—I think that would just be absolutely amazing.
I actually have the privilege, this year, of working with Livada Organization that specifically works with Romanian orphans.
I am beyond excited and thrilled to actually go over to Romania and meet the kids in the orphanages and just start performing, speaking, meeting them—doing whatever I can to be a part of that—because one day I would like to adopt from there.
Dennis: You came about to join the Bricker family because of your mom’s prayers. I would encourage our listening audience, here at the orphan summit, to pray for Jen that that might be a reality some day and our listening audience as well. We have a few million people that are going to be praying for you.
Jen: Well hey, that’s good to have on your side! [Laughter]
Dennis: You need to get a husband though, first; don’t we.
Jen: Have to get a husband first! Got to get priorities first—have to start in the beginning—so yes! [Laughter]
Dennis: You know, I want to ask you to do something. Your mom and dad are down on the front row. I’m going to ask them to come up here—Gerald and Sharon Bricker to come up here. I want to seat them where Bob and I are right now, and I would like you to give them a tribute—
—a verbal tribute to express your heart / your appreciation for the sacrifices they made to bring you into the Bricker family, and to give you a name, and a faith, and a purpose.
Dennis: Can you do that?
Bob: Let’s bring the Brickers up onto the stage. [Applause]
Jen: They just love being on stage!—they’re my groupies. [Laughter]
Well, you guys changed the whole course of the rest of my life, just by being you. That’s what makes you so awesome—is they don’t even realize how awesome they are because they’re just like: “Wow! She just turned out amazing! I don’t know how we did it!” But it’s because it was meant to be, and you guys totally followed your heart and your prayers. So thank you very much. You guys are awesome—love you. [Applause]
Bob: So, take us back to that scene. This was a friend of yours, who was in a daycare, who got the call about a baby who was available for adoption. Tell us that story.
Sharon: Yes. That’s right.
I was at a friend’s house one day—and this is ten years of praying—so I went in her house, and we were visiting. The phone rang. They had adopted a child / a boy the same age as our youngest one, and they were waiting for a girl. The call came in that they had a little girl that was born without legs and she was going to be put up for adoption.
Well, my friend, having the daycare and everything, wasn’t sure she could handle one. She didn’t know if there was other problems or anything, and if she could have her daycare and that. So, it wasn’t possible for her. But on the way home, I kept thinking: “Okay, God. There’s a little girl that needs a family. I want a little girl. Is this the one?” I went home and told Gerald about it. He said, “Well if I thought you could handle it,” and that was all I needed. I jumped up and ran to the phone. He thought I had flipped out. [Laughter]
Dennis: Hold on—we have to get Gerald’s—
Bob: Yes, Gerald, take the microphone here. [Laughter]
Dennis: Give us the commentary on what you were thinking when she came home and said that to you.
Gerald: Well, I don’t know. She told me the story about her, and we hadn’t even talked about adoption or anything. I—[Laughter]—I don’t know—for some reason or another, I just thought, “Well, let’s go for her.” I just wanted to do it. [Laughter] [Applause]
Dennis: So Sharon, you were talking to God; but you weren’t talking to your husband. [Laughter]
Sharon: No. God was the One that I was relying on to get me the girl! [Laughter] [Applause]
Bob: So tell us—and Gerald, I saw and Dennis saw it as well—you and Jen out on the trampoline when she’s doing flips—
—looks like she was like four or five years old—you’re right there bouncing with her.
Gerald: I was a lot younger then. [Laughter]
Bob: Yes. I get that—but when I saw her try to flip and land on her head and her neck, I thought, “Some kids would do that and they’d be done with trampolining forever.”
Gerald: That girl didn’t give up on anything. She made her mind up to do it—she was going to keep doing it.
Bob: And you—I mean, you didn’t back off? You weren’t afraid? You said, “Let her go.”
Gerald: You’d have had to have been around her all the time to watch her. [Laughter]
Dennis: Sharon, you mentioned that you definitely taught her—you instructed her and taught her—to have a faith in Christ and to believe that God had a purpose for her; but you also made an off-handed comment—we talked earlier—that she was spoiled—that her brothers and you all, as a family, just spoiled her to death.
Sharon: Oh yes. Yes.
She believed she was a princess. [Laughter] We didn’t bow down to her; but we definitely didn’t tell her “No,” a lot. [Laughter] [Applause]
Bob: Thank you very much.
Gerald: Thank you.
Bob: Well, we’ve had the opportunity today to listen back to an interview we did earlier this year with Jen Bricker at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit held just north of Nashville, Tennessee. I just want to say—if you have a heart or a special burden for the plight of orphans in our world, you ought to plan to attend the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit. It’s held every spring. If you keep checking back, here at FamilyLifeToday.com, we’ll have information available pretty soon about the 2016 summit—both the dates and the location.
In the meantime, if you have ever considered adoption, and wondered about whether that’s something God might be calling you to, we have a number of resources, here at FamilyLife, to help you think about that process and to help you make a clear and thoughtful decision about what you ought to do. Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” You’ll see the Homebuilders Study Guide called Considering Adoption, along with other resources we have available.
Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” You can order resources that we have or look for articles or other information we have available. Or call if you’d like to order resources. Our toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, what we heard from Jen today is just a powerful reminder of how important / how significant a family is in all of our lives, for good or for ill. Family is a part of how God shapes us—it’s a part of who we become, as human beings. At FamilyLife, our commitment is to effectively develop godly families. We’d love to see every home become a godly home. That’s our mission, here at FamilyLife; and we appreciate those of you who lock arms with us in this mission—those of you who support the ministry of FamilyLife Today either as regular Legacy Partners, giving each month, or those of you who will, from time to time, get in touch with us and say: “This ministry really does make a difference. We believe in what you’re doing, and we want to support the work of FamilyLife Today.”
You can do that, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I CARE,” to make an online donation. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation over the phone.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about why intimacy is so important in a marriage relationship. We’re going to hear from Ron Deal tomorrow, and I hope you can tune in as we hear from Ron.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with 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.
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