Tony and Lesley Biller discuss their unique family and the path the Lord has been leading them on to bring them to this place in their lives.
INTRODUCTION: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. We have a couple of very special guests with us in the studio today to talk about their unique family, and the path the Lord has been leading them on to bring them to this place in their lives. Tony and Lesley Biller live in Raleigh, North Carolina with their 10 children. Tony is an attorney practicing intellectual property litigation, and he also serves as the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Answers in Genesis ministry. Lesley is a chemical engineer, who homeschools 9 of their 10 children. They attend Colonial Baptist Church in Cary and in their spare time, Tony and Lesley can typically be found shuttling, coaching and chasing their children on soccer fields all across North Carolina. Tony and Lesley, it’s a great pleasure to have you in the studio today, welcome to Family Policy Matters!
TONY & LESLEY BILLER: Thanks John! Thanks for having us.
JOHN RUSTIN: It’s our pleasure. Tony and Lesley, you are a true inspiration, and I am so excited to give our listeners a chance to get to know you and to hear about your journey of faith and family. Today, you have a beautiful family consisting of yourselves and 10 children. Right off the bat, I’m going to set aside the “Cheaper by the Dozen” references and quips, but I do want to give you an opportunity to give us a snapshot of the path that brought you where you are today.
LESLEY BILLER: I grew up the youngest of three kids, grew up in New Jersey. My parents were both from England. We moved around a lot, never stayed in the same house for more than about three years. When I was 12 years old, I got the opportunity to move to England, where I stayed until I was 16. During that time is the first time that I heard the gospel, and I say now that at that point I received the head knowledge of the answers. It wasn’t until much later, after we were married, that I received saving faith and that was through listening to Billy Graham. Growing up, the focus for me was on career and on going into the field that would be the most lucrative. Becoming a housewife was never on my agenda. I ended up going to Rutgers University for chemical engineering. My mom died the first year that I was there and shortly thereafter my dad moved to North Carolina. I followed him to North Carolina and worked for the Division of Air Quality and we got married. Once we started trying to have children, I had two miscarriages. And the second miscarriage was a very traumatic event in my life. I was a Christian at that point but it really deepened my faith and I vowed at that point that I would, if I ever was blessed with children, that I would become the best mom that I could. I feel like at that point, I really changed my focus from following my career to following the Lord.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thanks for sharing that. Tony, what about you?
TONY BILLER: I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I didn’t grow up in a religious family. We were occasionally Catholic. I left for college at Perdue. The Army paid my way through college and I ended up in North Carolina down at Fort Bragg serving in the 82nd Airborne Division. Eventually, I caught Lesley, convinced her to marry me, fell in love and left the army and ended up in law school. I didn’t really take Christianity too terribly seriously, God really worked in my life throughout the military, and I had the fortune of serving as an Airborne Ranger. And when you’re really in extreme conditions, it sobers yourself up about who you really are as a person, and who God is and how you’re not in control. I started to grapple with those issues, courtesy of the U.S. Infantry. And then kind of a turning point was when I was sitting in a parking lot with Lesley. She talked about her mother dying, and being the typical sensitive, at the time 220-pound Airborne Ranger, Lesley said, “What do you think about death?” I said, “I think you die and that’s it, and you rot and go away.” And she started to cry. And I thought, “Oh gosh! Nice! We were just talking about her mother. That was really sensitive.” Then I apologized and said, “That was really insensitive of me and I’m sorry.” She said, “What are you talking about?” I said, “Obviously I insulted your mother and your memories of your mother.” She said, “I’m not crying for my mother, I’m crying for you,” (that I didn’t believe in God.) And I found that very sobering because I’d already realized that Lesley was several IQ points higher than me, very accomplished in everything she set her mind to, and it really sobered me to take these things more seriously. And like her, I ended up in a place where I was intellectually a Christian and it wasn’t until years later that I think Christ really opened my eyes and saved me, really from myself, and that was the last semester, the last month of law school, in April of 1997.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thank you for sharing that. Let’s talk about your family a little bit. You have four biological children. Talk about them a little bit, what their ages are and then we certainly want to talk about the six adopted children that you have as well.
TONY BILLER: We have four biological children. They are now ages, 16, 15, 12 and 10. The adopted kids are ages, 15, 12, 11, 9, 8 and 7. Hopefully, those all add up to ten. So we have a full house. There’s seven boys, three girls. At the time this all started happening our oldest child, biological child, was 13 and the youngest was 8.
JOHN RUSTIN: I’d love to hear the story about how you got to know these children initially, the children that you adopted, and what that relationship was like initially and how it progressed.
TONY BILLER: It started late Fall of 2013. Our oldest daughter, Renee, was then 13, approached us and said, “Dad, there are families in our church that host children for Christmas.” And I kind of looked at her and tried to process what she was saying, and said “Oh, that’s really interesting. I have no idea what hosting is, what are you talking about?” She explained there are ministries that bring orphans in from overseas. I kind of thought where she might be going with this and I said, “That’s really great, I’m really glad that they do that.” She said, “You and mom have talked about maybe some day adopting,” and we had, “wouldn’t it be cool to host?” And I said, “Well, that’s a really interesting idea. Let me think about it.” Which in my dad’s mind was let me shelf that over there, hopefully they’ll forget about it. And so she came back— she’s a very persistent young lady—she came back three days later and she had her three siblings in tow, and she said, “Dad, I’ve talked to the other kids and we’ve decided all we want for Christmas is to host some orphans.” I think the first thought in my mind, I wish I could say they were, “Praise God,” but they were, “Check and mate.”
JOHN RUSTIN: So what was the hosting experience? Obviously you agreed to their proposal.
TONY BILLER: We would probably tend toward the type “A” control side, so we set these rules. We’re not going to break birth order, meaning we’re not going to get kids that make it so the oldest is not the oldest, and the youngest is not the youngest. You know, preferably it’d be a bookend, younger bookend, not younger than our youngest child. It’d be a safe child: we’re not going to get any older boys, ’cause you know what type of boys come out of institutions, and orphans in particular the older boys, so we’ll get like a young safe girl. And so we did, we found a girl, actually two girls that fit the description and were safe. And we were talking to our ministry coordinator, you know this person looks really safe. She’s like a six-year-old girl. We led a real active lifestyle. We were involved in a lot of sports and outdoor activities and said you know this child’s going to come over, they’re going to be exposed to our family that might be new to them, they’re going to be exposed to new country, new language, new time, new food, it’s going to be hard, I can image it’s going to be that much more difficult if they’ve got a weak constitution. We’re always on the go. We like to do physical, robust things, and the woman, Michelle Z. said, without missing a beat, “I have just the family for you.” We were on the telephone, she gave us the number and we typed it in. It was five boys, five older boys, and a little baby girl. Broke every single rule that we set up. I think God really started working in our hearts. Listen, these kids know they’re never going to be adopted, no one expects you to adopt, in fact we’ve got a donor that would pay half the expense associated with getting them over here, just for hosting. And it just sounded so hopeless for them, only because they were a big family unit. And as we looked at them, she was right. I mean they were very involved with sports, looked like very active kids, and God just really, and the funny thing is Renee had been sending some links to kids over the past few weeks and she had repeatedly sent us links to these particular kids, and there’s hundreds of kids on these pages, but when Lesley and I would look at it, it didn’t even warrant a response. She emailed this to us and we’d just “delete,” six kids, no way. But then we started thinking, well maybe there’s something here.
JOHN RUSTIN: What was that experience like, when you did host these children?
LESLEY BILLER: People say when you become a parent you get to view life through your children. But viewing life through an orphan’s, a child that has never felt a family’s love, brings it to a whole new experience. Seeing them experiencing things for the first time, like the bathtub. There was one time we thought it would be really fun to make a bubble bath. We had a big whirlpool tub so we filled it up and they just stared at it like we were crazy. They had no idea what it was. We put some toys in it, some old duckies or whatever. They thought that was great fun, to stand on the side and play with the duckies in the water, but they still didn’t understand that they could get in the water. So then we brought a laptop over and Googled, “Children in the bathtub.”
TONY BILLER: There was a big language barrier, we couldn’t tell them.
LESLEY BILLER: So we showed them this picture and the light bulb went on and they ran and got their bathing suits on, all three of the little ones, and jumped in, and it was great fun after that. They wanted to keep getting in the bathtub. One thing in particular that really struck us as how they had never experienced a family’s love, was tucking them into bed at night, something we always did for biological children. So the first night we went around to kiss everybody goodnight and a couple of the new boys, the big boys looked at us like we were kind of nuts. By the end, we found out afterwards, that one of their fondest memories was being tucked in at night. We found out later that sometimes in the orphanage they would be spanked for getting out of bed, so I think finally feeling loved and secure and safe, instead of afraid at night.
TONY BILLER: You know these kids, they’re not like little snowflakes, broken a little, you know come across as broken little people, they grew up in an orphanage. They also didn’t come across like street-toughs, but you know they were resilient kids and I remember, I would have completely forgotten, the first night I tucked in the oldest boy, the oldest boy is you know, a stout young man, even then he was pretty strong, very athletic boy, and as he said, I tucked him in and he was kind of befuddled what was happening and just gave me the strangest look. I gave him a kiss on his head and told him goodnight. And then I realized as the hosting went on, he was the first kid in bed every night. And I really didn’t think much of it, he always had a big old grin on his face after that, I didn’t think much of it. In fact I probably would have forgotten about it until, as Lesley said, we found out later when we went to Latvia, we had to go through some court hearings and the judge there shared with us that this oldest boy had no interest in being adopted, and his opinion changed that first night when I tucked him in. See, he’d never been tucked in before, and he decided, “I think I could like that.” It was one of those things as a parent you just don’t even think about, you know you just take for granted. Of course I’m going to tuck my in and send them off to bed with a nice word. And for him that was something brand new, a paradigm shift. There are so many special things that would otherwise seem ordinary and mundane, you realize it’s really not.
JOHN RUSTIN: And with that, we’re just about out of time for this week, but please be sure to join us next week as we continue our conversation with Tony and Lesley Biller and hear the remainder of their amazing adoption story.
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