10 voices giving voice.

I feel so grateful for the opportunity each year to be a part of National Adoption Month…as an adoptee, as a voice in the adoption world, as an advocate for the human heart.

I thoroughly loved sharing the voices of Sarah Carter (waiting mama), Tona Ottinger (adoptive mama) and Brad Nelson (adoption advocate) this month. Their message, their voice may be just a sliver of what’s out there, but I know that their heart and experience covers a vast array of the human race. So, thank you, friends, for offering your voice and heart this month.

This last “adoption” post comes from the heart of the adoptive parent. 10 women so happily and eagerly volunteered to read Before You Were Mine and write a review for me, for you. I was totally wow’d at the response and even more wow’d by their ability to not only read the pages, but allow the message on the pages to soak in, deeply. They “got it” – that the story of their amazing and beautiful and precious baby’s heart…mattered. And, that it mattered before they held him or her in their arms.

So, thank you lovely ladies, stellar mamas, gifted storytellers…for being open to not only sharing your voice, but also giving voice to your children. May you sense God’s favor upon you, upon them, as you begin telling their stories.

And, here they are…

Welcome to…MaryLeigh Brown from Tennessee.

She’s a…children’s ministry director by day, mom of three amazing kiddos (Bates, age 3 from S. Korea and Brodie, age 2 from S. Korea, waiting on our daughter, Nell, age 1 to come home), waiting child advocate, blogger at someshadesofbrown.com.

As an adoptive mother, I feel very strongly it is my job to put together the pieces, record, and treasure my children’s stories. For over two years “do lifebooks” has been on my to do list. I’ve tackled mountains of paperwork, blogs, photo albums, and videos – all the while putting off the overwhelming task of my children’s life books. “Before You Were Mine” is the tool I have been needing. Not only does it stress the importance of creating this life long treasure, it more importantly walks you through the “how.” It is so much more than another adoptive parenting book, it is a workbook and a tool so desperately needed in the adoptive community. Now I feel not only inspired to finally tackle my children’s lifebooks, but also equipped with a tool for those harder, heavier parts. I am honored to be able to put together this message of redemption, hope, and love for my children.

Welcome to…Elizabeth Isaak from Illinois.

My name is Elizabeth Isaak and I am a mother of three. The first two came to our family biologically, and our third was adopted from Ethiopia in 2009. Adoption was always a hope of my husband and I, and we are so blessed to be called to this amazing adventure. With an 8, 6, and 4 year old, we are always busy and sufficiently exhausted by the end of our days, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, we plan on adding more to our brood through adoption, because we feel God has called us to this life. We’ve already broken the “American” standard for a neat and tidy family of four, so we figure, why not keep going? Our life is hectic, there is always a level of chaos in our house, there is always laundry to be folded, and if the house is spic and span, it probably means a social worker is coming over for a home visit. But there is love here, and we have room for more.

Prior to reading, “Before You Were Mine,” I had no idea what a Lifestory was and why it was so important. I am a second-generation adoptive mom, and back in the early 80’s, when my younger brother was adopted from South Korea, there was no education for adoptive families on how to address identity with your child, or the importance of celebrating their heritage. My brother was American, and that was it. We knew a little about his story before he came home to our family, but it was never addressed directly or sensitively. My parents thought that loving him, making him part of our family, and providing for him was all he needed to feel fulfilled. Personally, I don’t have to wonder about my beginnings, or my identity. I am genetically related to my parents, so there is no question where I come from. But my son doesn’t have that privilege. He will wonder about who his biological parents are, what they looked like, what they did, where they lived, what was important to them. Those questions were easily answered for me, but not for him. As his mother, I have the opportunity to help him know as much about his beginnings and his identity as I can. While exploring our child’s life story may become emotional and oftentimes painful, they deserve to know that they HAD a beginning, that they matter, they are loved, and to know their identity. Addressing the beginning of their story is essential for them to embrace who they are and their value. “Before You Were Mine” not only lays out the importance putting together your child’s lifestory, it also provides an easy, step-by-step instruction for how to put it together. For someone like me, who is seriously lacking in the organization and time management department, this book was just what I needed to encourage me to discover my son’s lifestory. The feeling of being overwhelmed has now been replaced by a feeling of confidence. I can’t wait to get started! Thank you Susan and Carissa for this very handy tool!

Welcome to…Ellen Ragsdale from Kentucky.

I have been married for 13 years to my husband, Nathan. We have 3 children two biological sons, Ethan 12 and Isaiah 6; our daughter Annalee is 3 and was adopted from South Korea. Ethan and I traveled to Korea and brought her home when she was 11 months old. I work in military healthcare and my husband is the primary homeschool teacher to our kids in our second year of homeschooling. I am the editor of the monthly newsletter for our area homeschool group and a guest contributor to our ladies newsletter in our church. As a former journalism major in college I have a love for the written word!Just two weeks ago our family moved into a new home to become neighborhood ambassadors in an at risk neighborhood in our town. We will be building relationships with our neighbors and hosting programs such as Jobs for Life, tutoring, and Bible Clubs in our home. We are so blessed to be serving with our children and are in awe of how God is working in our lives!

When given the opportunity to read the book, Before You Were Mine, there were two words that came to mind – curiosity and excellence. As an adoptive parent I had heard the term “Lifebook” many times, but had never given it a thought beyond a scrapbook of my daughter’s adoption, so I was curious as to what exactly this book would share. I expected nothing less than excellence in this piece of writing, as I had been afforded the opportunity to attend a conference in which author Carissa Woodwyk was a keynote speaker. As an adoptee her words were like gold to adoptive moms just hoping and praying they were doing the best for their precious adopted children. Her words were raw, honest, and enlightening…she spoke with passion and excellence.

I picked up the book and read slowly through the first chapter. It seemed hard for me to process the concept of a lifebook outside of the preconceived notion of a scrapbook, but in chapter two I was drawn into this treasure of knowledge and could not seem to stop reading the words that were inspiring me to see my child’s story and that of her birthparents in a new light…

From page 27, “We now become treasure hunters looking for gold – but not just the gold found in the facts and data in our child’s documents, as important as that is, but also the gold found in Scripture that we can intimately tie to our child’s unique adoption experience.”

Page after page I was prodded to make notes of wisdom written by a mom that has been in my shoes, a mom to three young kids, knowing someday questions will surface and still thankful that there is still time to prepare. The overwhelming task of being a story teller and guarding our children’s hearts and self-worth is simplified in such a way that it does not take away from the sacredness of the mission, but makes it manageable for a parent to undertake, whether they consider themselves creative or not.

I am thankful for Before You Were Mine, because now I am prepared to write my daughter’s story, not just from the day she joined our family, but from the day she was born. This book is a treasure…both excellently written and sure to fulfill the curiosity of an adoptive parent that is seeking the inspiration to create a loving keepsake that will provide guidance and assurance for their child.

Welcome to…Julie VanderMeulen from Michigan.

She is…a stay-at-home adoptive mother of two children born in Guatemala.

Before You Were Mine is a treasure for adoptive families. It weaves the practical steps of creating a Lifebook with invaluable reminders of how God’s hand is at work in every moment of our children’s lives, including the ones they lived before we were united as a family. It shows how to tell our children’s sacred stories, no matter how painful they may be, so that our children come to understand how God has always been their loving Father, even through relinquishment, encouraging healing throughout their lives. Before You Were Mine reiterated to me how necessary Lifebooks are, and it made a huge project do-able. I’m so grateful!

Welcome to…Karen King from North Carolina.

I am Karen King, 43 years old, wife, mother and special education teacher. I have two wonderful children. Declan, 8, is my biological son. He is red headed, bright, loves learning about all things science, building with Lego and thinks his sister is way cooler than she thinks he is. Terefech, 7, is our daughter from Ethiopia. She is curly headed, athletic, girly, loves school and loves her brother some of the time. We were brought to adoption for a variety of reasons. I had always said I was going to adopt for as long as I can remember. Around Declan turning 2, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis which led us to the path of adoption at that point. My husband has his undergraduate degree in international affairs/African studies which drew us to Ethiopia as a place to adopt from.

I was excited to read “Before You Were Mine” because I saw Carissa speak at an adoptive mom’s retreat. I identified with her ways of thinking about talking with your children about adoption, race and how to talk to your children about their life and challenges. I just felt there was so much I could learn from her as an adoptive parent.

As I started reading “Before You Were Mine,” I felt I had addressed many of the issues it would be talking about. I was lucky that my adoption agency provided us with a pre-made lifebook while we were in Ethiopia. It documented Terefech’s life in Ethiopia once she came into care. Our agency also had provided us with information about her birthplace and her birth family. Terefech has these books in her possession and looks at them occasionally. have also made books of our trip to Ethiopia and pictures of her friends from the orphanage and care center I basically felt like I was done. I still wanted to get all of our paperwork organized for her to look through at some point but I felt pretty accomplished.

“Before You Were Mine” has made me realize I am not done. I need to keep going I have so much more of Terefech’s story to tell. And I saw her in the personal stories that the authors shared. I saw that she needs to hear all I can tell her about her life before me, what I know of what happened and why, and see the faces of the people who continue to love her from another country. It will help her in ways that I can’t even define at this point in her life. I am so glad that I got to read this book and have it help me be a better mom!

I liked this book for so many reasons. I really enjoyed the personal stories that were told, how the life book can work in your life and your child’s life, the different ways scripture was shown to incorporate into the life book. I am a Christian and a very liberal Christian at that. Often my views of Christianity and Christianity as it pertains to adoption, don’t agree with the way others views it. I felt as though I had a place in this book. That it gave me a place to incorporate my beliefs of God and how his love is involved in our story. The quotes and quotes of scripture give me the ability to share with my daughter the love I know God had for her from the very beginning and that hasn’t changed because of who she lives with. “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Jesus Christ had.” Romans 15:5. I was especially drawn to the lines in the book, “We believe our children are with us today because God responded to their need and our desire to parent them.” As well, “He is the defender of the fatherless, not the cause.” To be honest, those words helped me define how I believed it all worked or why it worked or why I hope it is working.

Welcome to…Natalie Henderson from Kentucky.

I am a mother of two sons, adopted from Ethiopia, one of whom is HIV+. I am also a pediatrician, training to be pediatric intensive care doctor and live in Louisville, Kentucky with my boys. I spend my time free from work with my boys and advocating for HIV+ children. I hope in the next three years to be running an adoption clinic in Louisville.

When I adopted our first son, I was guilty of saving every momento, picture, and piece of paper throughout the process for his “lifebook.” It was not until he was home for over a year, in the middle of our second adoption, that I realized this was more than a scrapbook of our adoption. We were going to meet his birth mom and I wanted to tell the real story for him. I did my best but still felt something was missing.

I just finished “Before You Were Mine” and now feel equipped to do justice to both of my sons’ stories, both the one overflowing with information and the one scarce and full of pain. Having heard Carissa Woodwyk speak previously, I instantly valued her opinion, but having that combined with Susan’s personal experience as an adoptive mom gave a palpable and real look at the impact of lifebooks in both the adoptee and the adoptive parent’s life. Moreover, they integrate the necessity of faith and Christ’s words into the life book in a way that both teaches and gives deeper meaning to the child’s journey. A must read for all adoptive parents.

Welcome to…Janet Disotell from Arizona.

I’m a stay at home mom of two children – school aged son and preK daughter. Both of my children were adopted internationally, and I’m always in search of resources to help me be the best mom I can be to them.

I’ve been an AP (adoptive parent) for 6+ years now, and I “thought” I knew what life books were all about. When I first opened “Before You Were Mine,” I expected another viewpoint on adoption and life books. Let me say that the “Overview” in itself inspired me to do a better job at creating my children’s life books. Finding scripture verses to add to the pages of their story, I’d never considered that before. Reading about that was such an “aha” moment for me. I now see that my children’s stories before coming home need to be written out so that they can put the pieces together when they want. I’m responsible for sharing everything I know in an honest yet delicate manner to help my children. “Before You Were Mine” is filled with checklists, thought provoking questions, numerous ideas and suggestions to help AP’s tell their children’s stories. Any AP who is looking for help or where to begin with their child’s life book needs THIS book. I also think that those who “think” they know what lifebooks are should get a copy as well. Thank you, Carissa Woodwyk and Susan Tebos for your knowledge and for sharing your hearts.

Welcome to…Kamarah Sietsema from Michigan.

I’m a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of two biological children who are 8 and 10. I’ve been married to Ryan for 14 years and God has recently called us to expand our family through adoption. We are currently waiting for one or two children to join our family from Ethiopia. We are excited and blessed to be on this journey and can’t wait to see how the Lord continues to guide us. In my free time, I love photography, reading, hanging out with friends, walking, cooking, and eating tasty food.

Many of us have grown up not giving a second thought to where we came from or parts of our history…the details of our past have been woven into our lives as a natural, effortless component of our story. But for adopted children, this is not always the case. Their past is fragmented and torn; parts of their story are often left untold.

“Before You Were Mine” is an amazing resource aimed to equip parents in capturing their child’s story. The book details how to write a ‘Lifebook,’ which is “a story book that acknowledges, celebrates, explains, and honors the life of an adoptee prior to adoption.” It also gives insightful information on when to discuss sensitive aspects of the child’s history, as well as which details to share, depending on his/her age.

The writing guide this book provides is well laid out and organized; I don’t need to brainstorm a list of what to write about. Well thought-out questions are divided into sections and parents are guided step-by-step through the writing process. Example Lifebook pages are provided with tips on how and what facts to include.

What I appreciated most about the authors’ perspective on writing a Lifebook was their God-honoring focus. Prayers are sprinkled throughout chapters, encouraging parents to pray through the writing process and for their children. Scripture verses are included as empowering guides for parents as they prepare to engage in adoption conversations with their kids. This book embraces God’s Word as Truth and fully acknowledges our trust and reliance on Him as we guide and raise our children.

I believe that this book could be a valuable resource for parents to help their adopted children embrace and understand their past and the unique plan God has for each of their lives.

Welcome to…Jennifer Vines from Alabama.

I’m a 40 year old wife and homeschooling mom of four. Our oldest was adopted domestically through the foster care system in Alabama. Parenting my children, especially my now 13 year old adoptee, has stretched my faith and caused me to lean more heavily than ever on my Father. I’m so grateful for the encouragement of Before You Were Mine and in the new year will be leading a group through this book as we compile our children’s life stories. I can’t wait to see how we gain a better understanding of our children’s losses, our own grief and reckon that impact into our parenting.

I heard Carissa at an adoption conference last year and was moved by her honest story and wisdom as a transracial adoptee, a family counselor and a mom. It’s a privilege to be able to review her book and share what an encouragement it has been. I believe Before You Were Mine can benefit every adoptive family. I am recommending it frequently to my many friends who have adopted or are in process. I only wish I had read such a great perspective when my adopted son was younger, but am now eagerly anticipating completing his life book.

So much of TeBos and Woodwyk’s book is practical, real encouragement to parents wishing to explain the story of their adopted children’s lives before their adoption. I loved the beach ball analogy, though it was also a difficult visual to face personally. The authors remind us that as we push down feelings of loss or grief, or at the least, do not encourage release of them, it is like pushing a beach ball under the water; the harder we push down, the greater force with which it will erupt later. The loss of an adoptee is of great impact in his/her life, and must be dealt with – by both adoptive parent and the child who has suffered the relinquishment or abandonment. I greatly appreciated the tips on journaling our children’s stories – keeping entries into the lifebook simple for younger kids and adding information verbally as they age and we share time together, reviewing their books. There was great encouragement to use teachable moments to validate feelings and encourage openness throughout the book, as well as examples of entries, how to handle difficult information, and Scripture to incorporate faith and the truth of God’s Word as it applies to our children’s lives. This book would also be wonderfully used as a group study for adoptive families, and has simple homework/questions for pondering at the end of chapters.

Overall, I found Before You Were Mine to be very helpful for the parent on the road to adoption or those post adoption to give their children voice when dealing with their past losses and to give them security in their places in their adoptive family. This is a story written with great heart, and practical wisdom that I will refer to again and again.

Welcome to…Christi Hughes from Kentucky.

I am a blessed momma, a loved wife and an adopted CHILD OF GOD. I live in Kentucky with my husband and our little Korean cutie, a super dog and a crazy cat. We are in the process of bringing home a sibling from South Korea and have been truly blessed by the miracle of adoption.

Absolutely wonderful..and this doesn’t even touch the fact that this book takes a very scary, daunting task and puts it into manageable goals. It is so wonderfully written with personal experiences and references to God’s unfailing love for our children. There are examples of conversations, which most of us have either had with our children or are dreading about having with our children. It is a road map to create a reminder, a keepsake, about our children’s lives before they came to us. This is sometimes hard to think about because of the circumstances, but our children deserve to know the truth and they must know that God had a plan for them from the very beginning. I will be starting my son’s lifebook now, not with apprehension and confusion, but with a wonderful book that has shown me where to start and how to gather the important information.

Again, thank you mamas for reading the book, writing a review, and for the ways you love your children.

This song was used at the Tapestry Conference special presentation, “Listen to Our Hearts” – a night of adoptee voices. I love the words and I hope you feel inspired as you remind your children of who they are, how God sees them.

Remind Me Who I Am – Jason Gray

Oh, and if you have read Before You Were Mine and would like to share your feedback, feel free to contact me. I would love to hear how your storytelling is going!


a voice, a story, a life.

I love that I get to share Brad Nelson’s voice again. I introduced Brad this past February when he shared a gutsy post about how embracing our fear can lead us to freedom. Brad is not an adoptive parent, nor an adoptee, but…he’s been a friend whose heard the heart of those who have been relinquished, and has listened. Truly listened. He’s someone who has allowed himself and his story to be joined with the heart and story of those around him. His understanding and insight and perspective on adoption is encouraging and affirming and hopeful to me, and I trust that you’ll feel the same way.


The word “adopt” comes from the Latin adoptare—“ad,” meaning “to,” and “optare,” meaning “choosing, wishing, and desiring.” In other words, to be adopted is to have been chosen, to have been wished for, to have been desired.

I cannot begin to imagine the complexity that an adopted child must face. Humans are so deeply formed by the faces of their parents in the earliest days of life. So much of who I am today is shaped by the fact that as a child when I opened my eyes to see as far as they could see there was a face looking back. Imagine for a moment the silence of a child looking into the abyss of absence. I suppose the silence and the absence of that moment lingers in a life.

Unfortunately, the word adoption gets thrown around this time of year in ways that rob it of its depth. Well meaning people speak of adopting a family for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but adoption is about so much more than helping someone or even coming to their rescue.

Others have spoken of adoption in terms of being a “voice for the voiceless,” which is understandable. The Bible has a long tradition of identifying widows and orphans as some of the most vulnerable people in the community. Their vulnerability came from the fact that there was no one in a position of power or means to care for them. And yet, I am regularly blown away by a child’s capacity to heal, and as I hear these stories of healing, I’m overwhelmed with the sense that here is a person who does have a voice. Sure, as vulnerable children they may have lacked the “power” to change their situation, but they certainly aren’t voiceless. They have a story to tell, and maybe instead of thinking of adoption as being a voice for their voicelessness it would be more fitting to think of it as the sacred process of seeing in a child what is already there. A voice. A story waiting to be told. A life that is worth being chosen.

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…” (Ephesians 1v4-5)

This passage from the New Testament is more than a cute coincidence. In the 1st Century, outside of Rome, Ephesus was one of the wealthiest cities on earth. Its wealth came, in large part, from its thriving slave trade. Ephesus was also the hometown of a well known doctor named Soranus. He went on to practice medicine in Rome, but one of his surviving writings deals with “how to recognize the child worth rearing.” Any deformity or abnormality might lead to the child being rejected and subjected to the Roman practice of infant exposure, literally being abandoned and exposed to the elements. Some children were picked up by families and used as slaves.

Now imagine Ephesus. A bustling metropolis. A thriving slave trade. And a community of people called Christians who had received an open letter from a man named Paul. That letter would have been read aloud, probably in someone’s home where Christians and their households had gathered. It’s quite possible that some of those hearing Paul’s words were the very same children who had been abandoned or exposed and had become slaves. Can you imagine what it must have been like for them to hear those words?

He chose you before the creation of the world.

You were predestined to be adopted as sons and daughters.

In accordance with his pleasure.

Eugene Peterson writes, “It wasn’t a last-minute thing because he felt sorry for us and no one else would have us, like a stray mutt at the dog pound, or an orphan whom nobody adopted. He chose us ‘before the foundation of the world.’ We are in on the action, long before we have any idea that we are in on the action. We are cosmic.”

If you are reminded of anything during National Adoption Month, be reminded of this: Those who have been adopted have been chosen, wished for, and desired. They are the beloved. They are a story that has been being written from the moment the world was a spark in the eye of the Creator.

I, for one, cannot wait to hear their voices finish telling the stories that began so long ago.

brad picture Brad is the pastor of formation at Church of Hope, Florida. A speaker, writer, and student at Western Theological Seminary (MDiv), he and his wife Trisha are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters, Braylen and Clara. You can hear more of Brad’s voice at http://www.bleedingoutloud.com

entering in.

So happy to introduce to you Tona Ottinger, an adoptive mama, an adoption advocate, a woman who seeks the beauty and hope in the world around her. I met her in my ever growing circle of adoption and have grown to love her heart for Jesus and her heart for what it means to parent the heart of her children. I’m confident you will be encouraged and inspired by what she has to share about “entering in” to the brokenness and beauty of story.

I like happy endings and packages wrapped in pretty bows. I like predictability and I grapple for control. I avoid pain whenever possible, trying instead to look on the bright side and think the best of everyone and all situations.

But that is not life. That is not relationships and it is certainly not reality. It is not living in the moment. When I choose to live in the moment, my heart is pushed to be honest. I am faced with a fallen and broken world, with shattered hopes and hurting people. I am forced to see the fractured pieces of lives affected by sin, evil, and suffering, including my own. The present is where my feelings are and where I should live. It is also where I hear the voice of the Lord and experience His presence and His peace that truly does surpass all understanding. He speaks, reveals, heals, and redeems in the present moment.

When we live in the moment, we are open and vulnerable to both pain and healing, to both fear and peace, to both sadness and joy, and to both loss and hope. When I focus too much on the past I get stuck. When I long too much for the future I am either paralyzed with fear of the unknown or lost in fairytale day dreaming about all the possible “what ifs.” But, I am not living with the joy and freedom of being present.

As a mom of four precious children through the gift of adoption, I have come to see that my children live in the present. Yes, they are affected greatly by the reality of their past and the loss, pain, and fear that weaves its hand through their stories. They are often very fearful of the future, but the healing they so desperately need happens moment by moment as we walk throughout our days. They are living and healing inthe moment.

They are longing for someone to cling to. Someone to trust. Someone to put their hope in and someone who will love them unconditionally, ultimately as Christ loves us. This is a tall order for a weak and fallen human to fulfill. I fail often. I make mistakes, and I am far from perfect. So I cling to His lavish grace. I need the same things they need from Him. So we are on a journey together. But that journey is lived taking one step as a time in the present moment. Where we all need grace, healing, trust, and compassion from our heavenly Father.

As their mom, I must be willing to enter into their pain and watch God heal and work. As much as I want to control, protect and rescue them, that is not what God has called me to do. That is His job. Please do not misunderstand me; I take very seriously the role that God has ordained for me and my husband within our children’s stories. We have the divine privilege of walking with them on their healing journey. God created the human heart and mind to operate inrelationship. That is where healing and hope reside. But, I cannot force this process and I must cling to Him as I wait.

Henry Nouwen says this about compassion:

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”

We are all broken and in that brokenness is the place where God’s redemptive hand creates great beauty. There can only be healing where there was pain. Peace can rush into the place that fear once took residence.

As God knits our families together through adoption, we are given a divine invitation to enter into our children’s lives with compassion and hope.

The human heart is sacred ground. There is power in sharing our stories and lives with one another. God created us as beings that are to live in community, with one another. We are, after all, made in Hisimage; the image of a triune God – One God in three persons. Relationship, community, family, life on life; this is how God created us to function. Together.

As an adoptive family we stand amazed that God in his infinite sovereignty searched the globe over and chose the 6 of us to live life together. None of us are related by birth or blood. None of us share an ounce of DNA, but we are a family.

We are a picture of his creative hand.

We are living life together.

We are loving deeply.

We are hoping in Him.

A song that speaks to Tona’s heart: Beautiful Things by Gungor

mo-tona1 ottingerkids

Tona Ottinger has been married to Mark for 15 years and they live in Tennessee, where Mark serves as the Pastor to Families at Fellowship Memphis. They have four blessings through adoption. Camden(12yrs) – came home from South Korea at 10 months old. Mia (11yrs) – was adopted domestically at birth. Mallie (9yrs) – was adopted from Hong Kong at the age of 3yrs. Dax (8yrs) – was adopted domestically at 4 months old. They are passionate about special needs adoptions as well as compassionately walking with their children through their stories. Together they head up a city-wide ministry that resources and supports adoptive and foster families, as well as several projects that support the local foster care system. The Ottingers are parent trainers for Empowered to Connect. Tona is passionate about living a hope-filled life of abiding in Christ and being fully known and loved by Him. You can follow Tona on her blog.


On waiting…


I love that I get to introduce to you, Sarah Carter. I don’t really “know,” her, but yet I feel like I “know” her because she shares her heart so vividly and beautifully and honestly. I started following her on Facebook (like you do), and stumbled upon her writing and art. I love how she sees and gives voice to the human heart and the life she captures in her art and in her son. From afar, I’ve sensed that she has a warm and peaceful and graceful presence. I love the ways that she is fighting for what’s good and true in the world around her, and the way she advocates for making our world a better place to live. As National Adoption Month continues, I wanted her to share her story, her journey, as she waits and anticipates and longs for and dreams for her sweet Ghana baby. I know that so many of you will be able to connect with her heart. Grateful for her lovely and courageous voice.

Here’s her story:…

When adopting, we generally think we know what we’re getting into. You weigh the nature of the ways life as you know it will change. You take classes and file paperwork. And file more paperwork. You scour your home from top to bottom with bleach and meet with your social worker and divulge all your family history and try your best to ensure that you are still capable of being a competent and loving parent. You daydream. You research and reach out to other adoptive parents. You become fluent in blog speak. And all the while you wait.

Waiting. Now there is a word I am more than a little familiar with. Over three years ago my husband and I began our journey into adoption. Little did we know that it would take us to the emotional, spiritual, and developmental places it has. When we made the heart decision to adopt from Ghana we knew it was a riskier country choice, being that it was newly open to international adoption and is not yet Hauge accredited. You’d have to really trust your agency and the people handling the ground details of your case. Nonetheless, we felt drawn to the tiny country situated on the western coast of Africa and knew our little one was waiting for us there.

We have spent the last few Christmases explaining to extended family the complications of international adoption and trying to supply reasons for why our child isn’t yet with us, another holiday incomplete. When you are adopting you get really good at fielding the well-meaning but poorly-worded questions that tend to come with the territory. All the while, silently screaming deep under the glowing candles and roasted turkey and twinkle lights and clanking silver is your inner self, wondering the very same things. Another Christmas without a name or connection? Why is it taking so long? What can I do to make this happen?

That’s the thing about international adoption. You can’t really do anything to make it happen. When you chose to adopt, you chose to enter into a broken system, often in more ways than one. In a perfect world, back in the garden, adoption as a concept didn’t exist. There was no need for it. If all was as God originally intended, there would be no brokenness, no pain, no death, no abuse, no separation at all.

Of course that is not the world we live in today, although adoption has now become one of many ways redemption of that original vision can come to earth. In a twist of pure love and genius God has found a way to trump separation in an eternal way by giving us the ability to adopt. It is redemptive, powerful, and defiant against the status quo.

It is also a battleground. When we chose to adopt we were drawing a line in the sand, we were taking up our swords and stepping into the arena. Claiming the power of love to heal, over time, the wounds caused by abandonment and fear is just about the most beautiful thing I can imagine being a part of.

What I have found, after all this time as we still sit on a waiting list for our referral, is that the time spent waiting is actually a huge part of what it’s all about. In the waiting we get restless and we cry out to God, we extend hands to community when otherwise we wouldn’t need to. We are softer, a little bruised around the edges and therefore more open to accepting help. We learn to care for the needs of those right in front of us in a different way. Our hearts for the orphan and the widow are expanded in ways we could never have imagined.

Over the past three years we have made friends around the world. There are people in Ghana right now that I love and pray for every day. Three years ago I couldn’t have said that. There is a Safe House for former child slaves that provides shelter, food, and care to countless children that would otherwise be slaves in their own country. They know freedom and love and community and I had a part to play in building that house. Three years ago I didn’t even know those children and their tragic stories existed. We sponsor two children in Ghana, Rhwanie and Caleb, who now can go to school and have a brighter future. All of this, because we have had three years to get to know and invest in our future child’s home country. These things would have been skipped had our adoption flown by in mere months.

Waiting is hard. Most days I can’t even really connect in a deep way with how hard this season has been. But, within the waiting there has been growth, and healing, and preparation. Nothing is ever wasted. When you are waiting you are still actively participating in your child’s adoption. My prayer for you, fellow adoptive parent, is this: Lean into it and trust that the story you said yes to is going to be wild and uncertain and winding and much more vast than you could have ever imagined. And thank God for that.


After spending four years in the warm California sun – (where Sarah taught creativity workshops and exhibited her artwork in galleries, Steve served as Campus Pastor for RockHarbor Church, and their four-year-old son, Emerson, was secretly a super hero who works tirelessly to keep the city safe) – the Carter family has recently relocated to the considerably colder midwest.

Here Sarah continues to create and write in her studio and Steve works as Director of Evangelism at Willow Creek Community Church. Emerson still works to use his superhero powers for the common good and they eagerly await the arrival of baby Carter, due May 29, 2013. They also just as eagerly await their little family member whom they’re adopting internationally from Ghana, West Africa.

Learn more about Sarah’s art at www.sarahcarterstudio.com and follow their adoption story at www.cartersgroundswell.com.

NOTE: All photos courtesy of Whitney Darling Photography.


on adoption…

Adoption November…national adoption month.

November…a month that recognizes and honors ALL the stories, ALL the people, connected to adoption.

I’m excited to have two guest bloggers this month share their journey in the adoption process, how this process has and is transforming who they are, and one friend who will give some really helpful and profound insight into understanding God’s voice and intention to what it means to “care for the orphan.”

Also, during the month of October, I had some beautiful adoptive moms read, Before You Were Mine – a book that my coauthor and I wrote a few years back. They have all written reviews of the book that I look forward to sharing with you in an attempt to help other parents capture their children’s birth stories in a Lifebook in honest and creative and intentional ways. I’m grateful for how these women were open to understanding the gift a Lifebook can be for their children in remembering where they’ve come from, the road they’ve traveled to get to their home, their “forever” family. I’m humbled by the way God allowed the message of the book to really soak in.

So, however you are connected to adoption, may you continue to step towards those lives in affirming ways, reminding adoptees of who they are…wanted, needed, loved, worth fighting for.

Adoptees…may you be reminded of how deep and wide the love of God pierces to your innermost soul. May you know how much you matter and the amazing gift you are to those around you, to this world.

Adoptive parents…may you be reminded of how capable you are to nurture and nourish the hearts and minds and bodies of the children you have invited into your home. May God continue to equip and empower you as you lean on him and as you allow the process of adoption to heal the deep parts of you, the deep hearts of your children.

Our stories – the beauty and the brokenness…they are meant to be shared and honored and redeemed, bearing witness to how good God is.

“Remind Me Who I Am” by Jason Gray