giving face.

triad

I have these moments when I’m completely struck by what’s happening around me and what’s happening within me, simultaneously, and how holy it is.

A few weeks ago, I listened to two stories. Two stories filled with brokenness and beauty.

The first one was about what it was like to live in the shoes of an adoptive mom. She described what it was like to wrestle with herself, with her body, with her dreams, as she walked through her infertility. She shared of her deep longing and ache to love and nurture a child and how God brought about his gift to her…from the womb of another woman. She spoke up and out about what it was like to stand in that hospital room watching a baby enter the world – her baby – and then being passed from the arms of his first mom to hers. She talked about that moment when she and her son’s – their son’s – birthmom hugged goodbye – with compassion, with gratitude, towards one another…each life changed forever.

OH. MY. HEART

The second story was about what it was like to live in the shoes of a birthmom. She described how her physical ability and finances and circumstances were adequate to raise the little girl growing inside of her, yet how her fiancé’s fear and feelings of inadequacy invited him to leave her…alone. She talked about her choices – abortion or single motherhood – and the cultural and religious stigmas that surrounded each of them. And then, how a third choice, a new choice, emerged…creating an adoption plan. And then that choice – the hardest choice of all – to choose to relinquish her daughter, to place her daughter, into someone else’s home, away from her care, but never from her heart. She described the thoughts and questions and fears and hopes – that she, that her daughter, would face someday because of her decision, because of the desire she had for her daughter to experience life more fully, wholly.

OH. MY. HEART.

And then I shared my story – about what it’s been like to live in the shoes of an adopted person. I talked about the missing pieces and people, the missing messages my heart needed. I shared what it’s been like to wonder and wander alone, longing to feel needed and wanted and fought for. I described what it’s like to hear others talk about adoption as only something beautiful when everything within me has felt so broken – the fear, the grief, the shame. I talked about how my unraveling and wrestling and need for others and “leaning into” my story keeps bringing me to a safe place, with Him, allowing me to find more love, more trust, more voice.

OH. MY. HEART.

We had been invited to share our stories – these stories – in front of one another. We were listening…to one another.

Overwhelming. Sacred. Healing.

We were listening to what the other person has lost, what the other person has gained.

We were listening to how the other person’s heart has ached, how it has aspired.

We were listening to one another’s fears and shame and guilt and fragility, to their sorrow.

We were listening to one another’s beliefs and expectations and dreams, and how they got messed with.

We were listening to one another’s longing for hope and healing and redemption – for ourselves, for the people we love.

We were listening to the story of one another’s hearts. And it changed us.

As we listened to each other, we heard ourselves. As we entered into “her” reality, we felt “our” reality. As our eyes looked at “her,” we saw “us.” The “other” person’s heart? It was our heart. Sure, the context and content were vastly unlike, but the feelings…they were so a-like. The feelings each person expressed, with raw emotion, were so close to what swirled around in our own hearts.

Different shoes, different paths, same humanity.

And in those moments, those 3 hours, we felt joined.

Our stories felt known…by one another. Our stories felt needed…by one another.

Our stories connected – birthmom, adoptive mom, adopted person – with one another’s. There wasn’t one story that didn’t include or depend on the other story.

We each came from a very unique and different place, a different journey. Our stories had pain and disappointment and ache – for something we didn’t have, didn’t want. And, our stories contained truth and healing and hope – because we’ve seen a bigger story being put together, because we’re experiencing how each of our stories can be used for good. Yet in some regards, the very thing that connected us all – adoption – has been the very place that has kept us all disconnected and distant.

We want to change that.

Maybe naming the disconnection and distance could open the door for needed relationship, for being known, to more creative love.

Maybe naming these divided and silo-ed relationships could give us a chance to experience more connection, more healing, more wholeness – in the adoption triad, in our families, in the “adoption world.”

Every story of how a child came to the place of needing to be adopted is different. Some of those stories are tragic and traumatic. Many of those stories are unknown. But I know that when I heard this birthmom’s story and how her choice to create an adoption plan was necessary for her, I know without a shadow of a doubt that everything inside of her made that decision out of love, for her child. She wanted her daughter to have two parents, siblings, a cohesive family. Something that at that time, she wasn’t able to offer her. But her ache, for what she couldn’t give – it was so, so intense. I could feel it, deeply…with her. Her tears as she told that part of the story – they rolled down her face. They were unstoppable. They were heavy. They were sad. And in that moment, there was no judgment, just heartache. Not for her, but with her. She made a choice that changed her life and her daughter’s life forever without knowing where the story was going to go. She let go of herself – the belief that she needed to create an environment for her daughter alone. And so she chose to invite others into her story, into her daughter’s story. And in that moment, as I listened, something inside of me shifted from, “But why didn’t you fight for her? Why didn’t you keep her?” to “Her decision to create an adoption plan took mountains of courage to admit that she couldn’t do this alone, that she didn’t “have” to do this alone.” And in that moment, as I listened, my perspective changed a bit more from “I” versus “her,” to “we.”

And now, as my heart and mind continue to make sense of this experience, within the context of my own story, I feel her heart. I see her face. Her face – birthmom’s face – it’s been hiding. Maybe I’ve kept it hidden. Because you know what? It’s a hard face to picture, to see, to confront. It’s a lot easier and feels a lot better to keep it tucked away, back in Korea, back into the unconscious parts of my brain. But you know what? I need that face. I need that face because it’s part of my face, it’s part of my heart, it’s part of who I am. It’s not honoring to her to crop her out of the “picture.”

And so, my prayer is that God will gently and compassionately show me what I need to know and understand and see in her face – that he will reveal to me the pieces of her that bring more fullness to my story, more healing to my heart. Because in my experience, the profound and holy moments of truth-telling, of love, of healing – with Jesus – is when I’ve been face to face with him, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

So, my friends…are we up for inviting ALL of the stories, ALL of the people, to the table? Are we up for giving one another voice? Ahhh! But before we can give someone voice, we need to give them face. Maybe by giving birthmom a face, you will be able to help your child – her child – give her a face, too.

Let’s invite birthmom’s face (and voice) to the adoption world, to our world. We need her. We need her voice. Not out of pity, but out of love. Because we value her. Because in doing so, we honor her – her heart, her story, her dignity. She completes the “picture.”

NOTE: Clearly, the birthfather’s face and voice need a place to be seen and heard too.

Perhaps for us in the adoption triad, we need the birthparents story in order to bring a fuller picture of the bigger picture of what God is able to reveal of himself, his love, through the process of adoption.

That could be overwhelming.

That could be sacred.

That could be healing.

Because as you’ve heard me say before:

You (we) have this profound opportunity, this profound calling, this profound invitation to provide a place, a space – for healing, for hope, for rebuilding, for renewing, for restoring, for redeeming us (her)…you.

No, you certainly don’t have to, but you get to…you get to offer a sacred, stunning, glorious, beautiful picture…of Jesus, of shalom.

But first, we (she) need(s) you to listen.

Please, please take the time to lean in, be still, be present, and listen to our (her) heart(s).

Because it just might change…all of us.

NOTE: Picture above represents the adoption “triad” – Adoptive Mom (Kim Scholten), Adoptee (Me) & Birthmom (Lindsay Walters). So, so grateful to be able to share an afternoon of storytelling with them. I respect their courage, their faith, their love for their children. Thank you Kim and Lindsay, for being a part of this post, for being an influential part of my story, for offering both your face and voice to the world. Both are SO needed!

 

 

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two years + five retreats.

“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, and penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”(Maya Angelou)

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I love when people show up, especially women. I have a bent towards the feminine soul – how it uniquely bears the image of God. Oh, don’t get me wrong! I love the masculine soul, too. I guess you could say that I lean both ways. But, well…you get what I mean, right? (I’m laughing right now.) The thing is, as a woman, I most understand and resonate with a woman’s heart. And I love it. I affirm it. I admire how it longs and loves and leans towards “bringing forth life.” In others.

This past weekend (and in February), I got to be in the presence and aroma of 450 moms at the Created for Care retreat in Atlanta. And now, this week, I need a nap. I need to rest my heart for a while. I’m sure they do too. Because talking and listening and giving and receiving and crying and connecting can TOTALLY wear a woman out. In really, really good ways.

These moms – they stayed up way too late one day last August to register for what has become known as “the retreat you just HAVE to go to because you’ll feel like you just BELONG with all these other moms.” These women have met and connected all over the Facebook and blog worlds for months and years, and for many of them, meet at this retreat for the first time. And they immediately fall in love – with the feminine soul, with the unique hearts of other adoptive moms, with the stories of one another’s children.

They just “get” one another.

And I’ve learned to appreciate it…them…this love.

Because two years ago, I didn’t. I ran off to my room with cheesecake. And hid. And thought they were crazy.

But each retreat, each year, I’ve stayed a little longer. With them. Because we need one another. We need one another’s stories and mistakes and perspectives and truth-telling and strength and vulnerability and humor. We miss out on something huge when we try to do life alone. We actually may miss out on “bringing forth life.”

The adoptive parent needs the adopted person’s voice. The adopted person needs the adoptive parent’s voice. Because together, we can be known, we can love.

“…it is only when we are known that we are positioned to become conduits of love.” (Curt Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul)

NOTE: The “adoption world” also needs the birthparent’s voice…because there are many people in the adoption “triad.” This post, coming soon.

These past two years, I’ve been surprisingly invited to share my voice and step into the world of adoption. Still honored. Still blown away. And in each space, parents quickly begin sharing stories with me – stories of their adoption journey, stories of their child’s journey. I haven’t always known what to “think” or “do” with all of the details they share. Sometimes I feel like they want something from me that I can’t give them. Sometimes it feels like they’re searching for affirmation or encouragement or the “right” answer in order to prevent disappointment and heartache – for them, for their children. I’ve had to process these moments each time because usually, in my experience outside of the adoption world, people don’t begin conversations with me by sharing so much information about themselves and their children, within minutes of meeting me. So, it’s felt a little weird and awkward at times. I’m sure my little Asian eyes have widened as the stories have been told – eeek!

But here’s where I’m at today…

I sense that these adoptive parents are wanting someone to just “listen” to their story, to the miraculous ways they believe that God brought this sweet, sweet baby into their lives. I sense that they want to know how to love their children well, how not to “mess them up.” They want to heal their babies. They don’t want their babies to feel pain. They want their babies to know they are loved. They want to be “good” moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas. They want to know that their choice to adopt matters, that love will change their child’s story. They want ALL of this, for their child, with EVERY. OUNCE. OF. THEIR. BEING.

I’ve learned to honor that. I’ve come to respect that. I’m learning to listen – to their stories, to their longings, to their fears, to their miracles. Because you know what? I long for the very same things for my children. I think most parents do.

And so I’m learning that I don’t have to “think” or “do” anything. Or, teach or tell. All I can offer is me and my listening heart. And join them. And then maybe, offer a response – a blend of honesty and grace, a glimpse of an adopted person’s heart, a belief that the feminine soul was crafted in ways that can bring forth life in others, and specifically in their children.

But, my voice is only one voice. There are many voices and many experiences that can be invited into the conversation. I hope we’re listening to those voices too.

So after reflecting on these past five retreats with all of these tender and tenacious and beautiful mamas who hold some of the fiercest love for their babies that I’ve known, I have a few responses (below). Maybe they will be helpful. Maybe not. Either way, I feel deeply honored to have shared space with you these past two years, having my voice invited to speak into your stories, while at the same time allowing your voices to speak into my story. The Created for Care space has felt so safe…to be heard and understood, to feel loved and affirmed, to be known. THAT, crazy mamas, is a gift I hold onto tightly. Forever.

So, my message remains the same as it first spilled out during my first March 2012 retreat:

Please listen to the story and voice and heart of the adopted person. Because it matters. Deeply.

The adopted person’s voice…let’s keep finding it and listening to it and leaning into it.

The adoptive parent’s voice…let’s keep equipping it and supporting it and encouraging it.

The advocate’s voice…let’s keep using it to fight for what’s good and true.

Let’s keep sharing with one another – not just the easy and fun and good stuff, but also the hard and hurting and hidden stuff, because then we will know the places where life needs to be breathed in…gently, compassionately, graciously.

Let’s keep writing this story together – not just the adoption part of the story, but the whole story – the one that begins with loss and ends with redemption.

You, I, we…get to be a part of that story!

So, so grateful to have you journeying with me as I continue to learn how to articulate what’s inside of me, as I continue to experience more of God’s love and grace and healing.

Thank you, from the Korean adoptee, the marriage and family therapist (don’t forget those holidays and birthdays), the glow in the dark fox, and the mama who is cheering all of us on as we, together, create sanctuaries and cultivate shalom all over the world, in our homes.

With deep gratitude and respect, Carissa

So…a few responses to what I hear from the deep hearts of adoptive parents. I’m always allowing ideas and information (and theology) to work themselves out within me, with God, so my disclaimer is that I don’t have anything “figured out.” I’m in process, with you. I just might have the crazy notion to actually write and say some of these things out loud! Ahhh!

Let’s keep the conversation going. Let’s keep moving, forwards, together.

  • There’s nothing that’s hard or bad about your child’s story of loss that takes away from all the good and joy in your decision to adopt. Nothing.
  • Adoption includes both beauty and brokenness, gain and loss, suffering and redemption.

“My story bears too much heartache to be ignored and too much beauty to be hidden.” (Dan Allender)

  • Parenting is not the process of figuring out how to do things “right” so we won’t mess her/him up. It’s about entering in – into their pain, into the brokenness, into their GLAD, MAD, SAD, SCARED. It’s about going to the hard (and good) places, with them. I think we’ll be blown away at what happens in our own life and story when we do that, and how it will change our capacity to love. When our hearts enter into another person’s story, it will just know how to “be.” It won’t be focused on what to do or say. The control will be gone, but the healing will be initiated.

“To console does not mean to take away the pain but rather to be there and say, ‘You are not alone, I am with you.'” (Henri Nouwen)

  • Jesus – He does the healing. All we have to do (get to do) is create the kind of space for healing to happen.
  • You don’t have to, but you get to…you get to offer a sacred, stunning, glorious, beautiful picture…of Jesus, of shalom.