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!

ZondervanCover2011

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2 thoughts on “10 voices giving voice.

  1. I put your book on my amazon Wishlist, but after reading all these reviews I may not be able to wait for someone to buy it for me.

    I have appreciated hearing all the voices you have shared this month, but I like hearing your voice, too. 🙂

    • hopefully i’ll be in dallas in january and i’ll even personally sign one for you – ha! grateful for your heart and the energy you give towards empowering families.

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