year 10.

May 15, 2013

Dear Mom,

I miss you.

I can’t believe it’s been 10 years this week since you passed away, since we said goodbye to you, since you got to hug Jesus. Each year the calendar turns to May, my thoughts return to you, especially those last weeks with you…watching your body fade, missing your facial expressions, listening to you breathe, watching the lake water out the living room windows, curious about what you were thinking and feeling, observing dad offer every ounce of himself so you would feel comfortable, wondering what you were thinking of and wishing for and remembering…about life, about me. Your skin was soft, your hands were weak, your spirit was weary. I can still close my eyes and be transported right back into your living room as if it were yesterday.

That year, it was Mother’s Day that Sunday, your 60th birthday that Thursday, and then Jesus took you home that Saturday. I was young. I was quietly in shock, absorbing what life was giving me.

Each year, each May, I find myself reflecting on and remembering and honoring you.

This year, this May, I find myself wondering…what would you think of me today, 10 years later? I could easily get lost in my mind thinking about this, but today, this day, your birth-day, I wanted to share with you a few ways that I’m finding you in me – ways that have surprised and humbled me, ways that are bringing out the best in me, ways that have helped me see more of you, more of Jesus.

So, a little birthday letter to you…

I started a tradition with Skyla and Zane of writing them a letter each year for their birthday. It’s a way that I can sum up how I’ve experienced them throughout the year and what has made my heart leap because they’re in my life – the hard stuff, the silly stuff, the surprising stuff, the divine stuff. Obviously, it’s more for me at this age, but I hope that someday they will read them and know my heart for them as I watched them grow and learn and become. It’s a way to help me stay grounded and grateful because as you well know, parenthood can be utterly crazy and hard and wondrous and life giving all in the same day, sometimes even in the same breath.

Skyla’s birthday was last week. Every year I’m so grateful for the gift that God gave to me by bringing her life into our life in the very month that had felt so heavy and sad and hard. He’s sweet like that. It reminds me of how both death and life can exist together. It reminds me of how sitting in that reality, in that tension, gives me the opportunity to experience more of him.

I so wish you could experience our kids. I so wish I could experience you experiencing our kids. They’re full of life and passion and energy – both of them. People have opinions about who each one takes after, but I think they’re a great blend of us both.

Let me tell you a bit about Skyla because she has been the one that has initiated my reflections on you the most. She just turned five and the way she steps into life is determined and cautious and innocent and sweet and expectant. She radiates the feminine soul with her love for beauty – in her shoes and clothes and hair and glasses – fake glasses – and lip gloss and princess attire. She’s a playful realist.

Her strength, her fear, her resilience – they show up in unique ways that I know you also experienced as you parented. I wish I knew then how weary you felt, how lonely it must have been, perhaps maybe even how you doubted yourself and your parenting ability, how keeping life simple was necessary and good, how easily it was to isolate yourself because all your energy went into protecting your children and home, how much courage it took to say “no” to the things that may have brought you life because you had to bring forth life in our home, but…how losing yourself led to finding yourself through the desperation of falling into the arms of Jesus, because there were most likely days you had nothing left but what he could offer. And then, you kept going. Whatever you found in his arms, it sustained you – hour by hour, year by year. Not only do I have a clearer and subjective understanding of that now, but a deep respect for what you went through, how it drained you, how you allowed it to bring out the good in you, and for what you sacrificed and offered on behalf of our family. Thank you…from the bottom of my heart.

I know you would love being with Skyla. I think you would understand one another. I can’t adequately describe her, because I think you just have to absorb her to know her. I’m certain that you would be teaching her how to cook and how to throw an amazing dinner together so that people could gather around a table and share a meal with one another – and have a name card by each plate. You would show her the difference between “top cleaning” and “deep cleaning” and when each was needed. You would take her shopping and find the best deals. You would treat her to a special lunch, maybe even one with tea cups. You would instill in her the importance of chores and hygiene and self-care. You would remind her how important it is to have good manners and send “thank you” notes and cards in the mail. You would model dignity and grace and the importance of wearing the “right” colors and that it’s not polite to chew gum in social settings or church. And, for sure you would show her how to walk and sit with good posture! Oh, mom…you would have so much to offer my little girl! You would teach her what it means to be a lady, a woman. And, my prayer is that, as your gifts and strengths poured out into me, that I am offering her some of those very things…in intentional ways, gracious ways, kind ways.

I wish I had you here. Some days the wish is for practical reasons – to call with a recipe question, or ask you to help watch the kids while I step out into the world, or hear your perspective on things I need to make decisions on, or how to get chocolate out of clothes. And then some days, my wish is for the more unseen things like listening to me vent about what’s wrong with the world, or how to best meet my kids’ emotional needs, or how to respond to a marital disagreement, or reminding me of how capable and strong I am. Your voice would be one of belief in what I have to offer the world – the encouragement and support that only a mother can give. In your absence, I’m so, so grateful that God has given me some amazingly beautiful and strong women who are living life “ahead” of me, who encourage me, believe in me, teach me, mentor me…who cheer me on. They offer a maternal voice just when I need it most. I’ve come to believe that God shares mothers with those who don’t have one.

So today, I honor your life in the midst of missing your life here on earth. Thank you for choosing me – not just the little Korean baby you saw in my first picture, but for choosing to love me in the way you best knew how to love a daughter. I’m learning to love and accept and forgive and trust and lean…on God. I fail and I flop, but I’m finding God’s grace in those moments and he always brings me back to life.

Happy 70th birthday, mom!

Love, Carissa

Celebrating our little girl…her life, and all the life I find in her.

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Skyla Rae – month one

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Skyla Rae – year one

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Skyla Rae – year one 1/2

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Skyla Rae – year two 1/2

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Skyla Rae – year three 1/2

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Skyla Rae – year 4

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Skyla Rae – year 5

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Skyla & Zane – year 5

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Skyla & Zane – year 5

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Skyla & Zane – year 5

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Skyla Rae – year 5

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Skyla Rae & Daddy – year 5

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Skyla Rae & Mommy – year 5

one voice giving voice. #summit9

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I did something that I’ve never done before last week. I stepped onto a stage in front of 2,500+ people…people who have a heart for those who have been hurt and rejected and wounded so early in life, people who have a deep conviction to create spaces where healing and love and hope can be birthed, people who believe that God is asking them to respond to the plea of the orphan.

And there I was – the “orphan” – standing right in front of them, ready to invite this orphan and foster care movement to “listen.”

NOTE: It’s important to be careful how we use the word, “orphan,” but that’s another post for another day.

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Christian Alliance for Orphans – Summit 9

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Let me back up…I keep learning about this big adoption world – this mass of people who have chosen to grow and change their family through adoption. But, for me, I never wanted to be in this world. Adoption has often felt like a distant “event” that includes loss and grief and silence, dismissal and denial. It’s been a world where (seemingly) lots of people focus on rescuing the needy and forgotten and hopeless. It’s been a world (seemingly) where the gospel has been twisted and mis-used to help make people feel good about doing good.

But the gospel, the good news, is that Jesus came to initiate new life, hope, restoration, freedom…for ALL of us.

That means we get to be a part of one another’s healing, not just the “orphan’s” healing. That means we need the “orphan” just as much as the “orphan” may need us.

This was my message. This was my one BIG idea.

We need one another.

So, I walked onto that stage feeling the weight of all those little babies represented in that really, really big church. Hoping, praying, pleading that the Holy Spirit would awaken and refresh and reframe the hearts and minds of those really, really good people.

I was nervous. I was calm. I was in total awe.

It felt risky. It felt dangerous.

But…

I had this sense, that that platform, in that moment, was holy ground…for me, for my voice, for the adopted person’s heart.

And it was.

I’m not implying that I know how thousands of people felt that night, but there was something profound and beautiful happening in those 8 minutes – I mean 13 minutes (ha!). Maybe, in that moment, people were beginning to lean in, be still, be present, and listen…to the adopted person’s heart, maybe even to their own hearts.

Perhaps they listened.

I’m quite certain that I (we) was receiving as much as I was giving. I’m quite certain that when all those hands stretched forwards and upwards, God’s Spirit was moving.

My prayer is that all those really, really good people would walk away knowing that the more they are able to connect with the heart of Jesus, the more they will be able to connect with the heart of the vulnerable – those who have been given the title, “orphan” – and in return, together, experience more of heaven on earth.

I offered my voice on behalf of those the world has defined as “voiceless”…and on behalf of the 13-year-old girl who was watching me from the “green room” who turned to her mom and said, “She gets me.”

This is the heart I was echoing. This is the story that needs to be listened to.

I’m so, so deeply grateful and humbled to have been invited to speak…up, on behalf of adoptees, representing their our hearts. Perhaps this is why tears rolled down my cheeks. I just happened to be the live human standing there, speaking, asking…but I tell you, it felt as if the adopted voices around the world joined one another in that moment, rallying together – unified, courageous, hopeful, strong – saying,

“Listen. Please listen. We need you to listen to our hearts.”

And that is why I agreed to do this – this crazy, risky, daring thing.

She…that 13-year-old girl…she is why I use my voice.

Me…that little girl inside of me…she is why I use my voice.

My voice…it’s one voice, giving voice.

Some of my favorite Summit pictures:

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Me, Tara Bradford, Melanie Chung Sherman

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Melanie Chung Sherman (Tapestry), Me, Amy Curtis (Tapestry)

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Breakout Session: Finding Me (haha!)

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Bill Blacquiere, President, Bethany Christian Services and Hudsonville, MI buddy

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Finding my roots in the airport.