Everyone has their own challenges in life. The trick to overcoming those challenges is teamwork — and persistence.
That’s what Mike and McKenzi Terry believe.
The Terrys have had their share of struggles. In 2013, McKenzi’s sister passed away at the age of 35. She and McKenzi were very close. She and Mike also had what he called “a unique relationship.”
“I knew I would do anything for her, no matter what,” Mike said. “And she knew that I would.”
McKenzi’s sister left behind two daughters, ages 10 and four. When she died, there was no question where the two girls would go. Mike and McKenzi adopted them.
At the time, the couple lived in Saratoga Springs. Mike was in the middle of applying to the Utah Highway Patrol.
“I had just finished the medical portion of it (the application) and we were starting to head to the U of U,” he said. “My grandpa was going to die and we were going to tell him goodbye. We got the call on our way to the hospital that Kenzi’s sister had died.”
They immediately changed course, driving to Tooele to be with McKenzi’s family. In the days and months that followed, the Terrys experienced some major life changes.
First, they brought McKenzi’s four-year-old niece Ren to live with them and began caring for her full time. About the same time, Mike was hired by UHP. Finally, in the spring of 2014, they sold their house in Saratoga Springs and moved to McKenzi’s parents’ basement in Tooele.
“We had two (children),” McKenzi said. “Emma was only about two and a half or three and Warner was only 8 months old. … We had already been helping with Ren and taking care of her. … We were already pretty close; they lived with my parents (in Tooele). We kind of took Ren right away and Rilan stayed there (with my parents). Then we moved in there and were able to keep the two girls together.”
Mike added, “We didn’t want to yank them out of the house they had grown up in. We moved into the basement of Kenzi’s parents to make a smoother transition.”
In 2016, after about two years living in the basement, Mike’s parents — who also live in Tooele — decided to move in with his grandmother to help her. Mike and McKenzi had the opportunity to rent their house while they were gone.
“We decided it was time to move; get the girls out of that house and move on with our goals in life,” Mike said.
The Terrys had just welcomed another baby girl and Mike’s parents’ home felt a bit cramped for a family of seven. However, McKenzi looked back on the experience with gratitude.
“I think living in that three-bedroom home really brought us together as a family,” she said, joking that the small space was a big factor. “We kind of had to come together. We had no choice.”
She added, “I think it was really good for us … especially the kids. We all bonded, which we needed. … I say the bonding was needed because when we left my parents, it was the first time we were on our own as a family of seven. We had the chance to figure out this new life together and big change for us all.”
A few months later in December, Rilan’s and Ren’s adoption became official. The Terrys were also sealed as a family in the Salt Lake Temple. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the term sealing refers to a religious ceremony that joins families together for eternity.
The Terry family lived in Mike’s parents’ house for two more years. In January 2018, they moved to a new home that Mike and McKenzi built in Tooele.
The road hasn’t been easy. In the early days after McKenzi’s sister’s death, Mike couldn’t help but think of himself as an outsider.
“A lot of people ask, ‘Were you afraid to take in two kids that weren’t yours and adopt them?’” Mike said. “And you know, at first it was (scary) — it definitely has its challenges and struggles. For my wife, it may be different because she’s their actual aunt; they’re her blood. For me, … I’m kind of the outsider bringing in two kids that are my sister-in-law’s.”
Mike took comfort in remembering the special bond he had with McKenzi’s sister and all the things he had already done for her daughters.
“I was able to bless Ren (in the church) when she was born and I baptized both girls when their mom was still around,” he said. “I’ve done all the fatherly things for them since they were little girls.”
He added, “I don’t treat them any differently than I do my own kids. I hold them to the same expectations. They’ve gone through some hard things, but … they know that’s not something they can use as an excuse in our house. We all have our own challenges and struggles and we just have to work together.”
The Terrys are constantly busy. In addition to Mike’s job as a highway patrol trooper, McKenzi runs a LuLaRoe clothing boutique out of her home and teaches gymnastics. The Terry kids are involved in everything from cheerleading and softball to drama and gymnastics.
Mike and McKenzi try to attend every possible game and performance as a family. They also enjoy watching movies together.
“We spend a lot of time with each other. We have a special bond,” Mike said.
McKenzi added, “Mike did sports growing up and I did sports and also dance and cheer. … Our kids are involved in pretty much all those aspects. It’s fun to be able to coach them.”
It’s also been fun to raise their family in their own hometown.
“It’s kind of fun to be in the (same) community you grew up in and watch your kids do some of the same sports you did when you were growing up,” Mike said.
He and McKenzi take their responsibility as parents very seriously.
“Last night I was just kind of lying in bed and I had my little girl who had fallen asleep next to me,” Mike said. “I was lying there thinking back to when I was in high school, going to bed. I would always think about what life was going to be like when I had kids. I remember specifically sitting in my room wondering, ‘Who am I going to marry one day? What’s life going to be like when I’m in my thirties?’ And I just kind of looked over and thought, ‘well, here it is.’”
He added, “It’s a different feeling when you have that kind of responsibility. You’ve got mouths to feed and … you have to make sure you’re doing what you need to be doing to set the example because one day they’re going to have to follow in someone’s footsteps.”
Mike and McKenzi have learned a lot over the past six years — especially as their family grew from two kids to five in a few short years.
“People always say, ‘You’re so great, I don’t know how you do it; it seems like you’re doing a great job,’” McKenzi said. “That’s not always true. It’ll be six years next month since my sister passed away and we definitely have had struggles. We’ve fought really hard to be where we are. It wasn’t easy at the beginning; it was hard for everybody … in different ways.”
McKenzi said one of the key things she and Mike have learned is to invest time in their marriage.
“Working on our marriage is really important,” she said. “If we’re not stable and happy together, our family isn’t going to be stable and happy.”
McKenzi is also grateful for the strong support system her family has in Tooele.
“We wouldn’t be able to do it without our family and friends,” she said. “We’re grateful for all their support.”
McKenzi and Mike have enjoyed watching their children grow closer together over the years — all five of them.
“We’re open with them about the adoption,” McKenzi said. “It’s just a neat thing (how) they’ve all grown so much as kids. It’s just been really fun to see how much they’re grown up and relied on each other and become such close siblings. It’s definitely taken a while, but we feel like things are really good now.”