a few little words.

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I love opportunities to write for good causes and places and spaces, and I was so grateful when Jedd Medefind (President, Christian Alliance for Orphans) asked me to write a short piece for Becoming Home (Barna Group – FRAMES Series). I very much appreciated that he was willing to include an adopted person’s voice and perspective in this book. That speaks volumes!

I was asked to capture my “Listen” speech from Summit 9 in a few paragraphs. Well, you know me, I’m a woman of many words and that felt impossible! But, you don’t really tell someone that. Right? But, you can and do nicely ask for more than 150 words. Right?

Well, I asked, I submitted, the editors took off and did their hard work, and the book was published.

And, as any writer would, when the complimentary book arrived at my home, I was elated…to see my name, on that book. And then I opened it. And then I read it (my piece first, of course). And it was different. And, as any writer would, I checked my original submission to compare what was sent to what was printed. Yes, indeed, it was different. Minutely different, but different nonetheless. And, as any writer would, I felt mis-represented. I didn’t like the differences. It didn’t feel “right.”

And what didn’t feel “right” wasn’t that the words and phrases were changed and rearranged, (I understand there’s an editing process and I really do believe that people will “get” the message), but the WAY in which my words and phrases were changed and rearranged…THAT’S what didn’t feel right. Because to me, it’s been very, very important in how I use my voice, in how I use my words, in the adoption and foster care world. And, as any writer would, I care very deeply about each and every word. Because what words you say and how you say them can change a tone, a meaning, a nuance, a message. Right? And in writing, that matters. Well, at least to the author!

NOTE 1: It’s OK if right now you’re thinking, “Carissa – get over yourself and your words” because I often say the same thing to myself. HA!

NOTE 2: There’s no blame on anyone for the changes. It’s just what happens in the editing process. And, the changes don’t take away from the message that the adopted person’s voice, his/her story, is one to be listened to and responded to.

So, those changes? Seriously. No big deal. But, here are my words, my original words. We’re working on changing them for the second print, but for now, you get to have them. Because I want you to have them. From me.

I encourage you to read Becoming Home. I so enjoyed knowing more of Jedd Medefind’s story and heart and insight as he uses his position and platform and passion to invite the “church” to become conduits of safety and love and healing and hope. And, because it’s important to keep the conversation going about what it means “to care for, to preserve, to keep, to take care of…one another.”

May we continue, to listen, to one another.


Listening…it takes practice.

What does it mean to listen to the heart of an adoptee? How do you hear what’s really being said behind the voice, the eyes, the behavior? How do you begin hearing those who hold a wound from before they can remember – a wound that birthed a deep longing to feel significant, wanted, loved?

Us adoptees, we’re like you…worthy, loveable, capable. Many times, though, we’re defined as voiceless, helpless, forgotten. But, we’re not. We are people who have a story to tell, a voice to offer. We’re learning to trust, and are being healed. We have hope. We don’t need you to rescue us, we need you to see us…the beautiful parts and the broken parts. We need you to remind us of who we are, who we were created to be.

We need you to listen to our hearts…our loss, our heartache, our journey, our restoration.

And then respond.

No, you don’t have to. You get to.

You get to model vulnerability, cultivate courage, build trust, offer grace. You get to show a real-life, real-time picture of Jesus, of his heart…for the orphan, for the world. And then, as that relationship becomes a two-way street, something sacred and beautiful and healing can happen. A space is created where transformation can take place…for all.

You, me, us, them…we get to be in this together. This is the call to the church: to love and be loved; to step into what God is already doing among us, through us. We, the church, get to offer healing and truth and hope – to one another – with a posture of humility and openness and presence as we share our stories, our hearts.

But first, we need you to lean in, be still, be present, and listen. It’s then when something miraculous and mysterious will happen. It’s then when we will begin to embody what it means to connect and trust and feel safe…with one another, with God.

May we all become good listeners…to all of the story.

Because if we do, it just might change…all of us.

**Original submission for Becoming Home: Adoption, Foster Care & Mentoring – Living Out God’s Heart for Orphans (Barna Group – FRAMES, 2013). Written by Jedd Medefind & David Kinnaman; RE/FRAMES by Francis Chan, Jim Daly, Ruslan Maliuta, David Platt & Carissa Woodwyk.

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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.

stepping into the world of adoption.

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Sometimes I wonder how I got here – a place where I’m being asked to speak in classrooms and churches and retreats and events, having my voice invited to share a message of brokenness, longing, awakening and redemption. It’s not what I imagined at 38. (Geesh! 38 sounded so old 10 years ago!) I’m blown away each time an email or phone call enters my day asking me to come share my story with parents, learners, on-lookers, skeptics, the curious, those in process, and sometimes, those who are really ready to listen. I’m deeply humbled and grateful, and also (just ask my husband), so incredibly thrilled! Me? Wow.

I’m so new to this huge world of adoption. I’ve only been in it for about a year, and it’s blowing my hair back! It’s filled with parents and families and advocates who are for the well-being of orphans – those whose stories have unfolded in ways that have left them without one or both of their birth parents, those whose stories have experienced relational loss so early in life, those whose stories have set them up to easily believe they don’t matter. There are hundreds of organizations and ministries who are working diligently to bring homes and families and love and hope to vulnerable lives, weakened hearts, questioning minds. They are seeking the GOOD in humanity. They are offering Jesus to the world. I celebrate that. I affirm that.

So, what is it that I’m asked to bring to this world of adoption that’s different, that adds to, what already is being done? Because there’s a lot of good that’s being done.

For me, as I cautiously and delicately step into this world as an adopted person, I have this deep sense, this calling, to share “the other part of the story.” The part of the story that also needs voice, but the part of the story that’s not so easy to talk about or look at or feel or listen to. It’s the “broken” part of the story – where the loss and trauma and fracturing and shame began. This is part of the story too. We have to know where these sweet children have come from in order to understand where they need to go – what needs to be healed and restored, where life needs to be breathed into again. What I’m finding is that this part of the story isn’t always recognized, honored or given light. But, we have to know this part of the story too. Because if we don’t, we’ll miss the chance for experiencing redemption. We’ll miss how the work of the cross can enter in and make new, heal, restore, rescue. And if we miss that, we’ll find ourselves relying on our own human strength to help these children who have come from hard places and we’ll miss the larger story of how Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted by using the brokenhearted. We may even miss seeing Jesus in this whole orphan movement.

“When you stand and share your story in an empowering way, your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else.” Iyanla Vanzant

So, here I am – one small voice in the sea of voices resounding in our ears. My prayer is that as my voice and my message are invited into these beautiful spaces, that I will use it well – not from an angry or resentful or “you should” place, but from a place of humility, from a place of personal experience, from a place of encouragement…cheering this movement on, yet also reminding us all that we must listen to “the rest of the story” as we proclaim the Gospel – the good news – to the world.

I’m so, so grateful to be invited to speak at Summit 9 – the annual Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit in Nashville, TN. I’ll be speaking in a breakout session called, “Finding Me,” where I will share my own story and the impact that relinquishment has had in my life and how God is healing the deepest places within me. And then I was invited to be a part of an outstanding group of 9 others for the “oneBIGidea” presentations. But, here’s the kicker…my 8-minute “TED talk”-style presentation will actually be in front of the large audience on Thursday evening rather than with the others. Oh my, oh my, oh my! We’ve titled it, “LISTEN: Why we must listen to the beauty and the brokenness in every adoptee’s story, and how doing so might just change all of us.” I’ve got 8 minutes to share a message – my one big idea – that I believe every orphan advocate should ponder. Talk about insane pressure, crazy courage, and pure vulnerability! Ahhhhh! (I’m gonna need a pep talk!)

I hope you consider attending this year’s Summit. As always, it will be filled with amazing speakers and educators and artists and musicians. It’s a time where thousands will gather under one roof dreaming of ways that we can better step into the lives of children who are loveable, capable, needed, wanted…who were meant to be on this earth from the beginning of time. Everyone is invited, not just those who have adopted or who plan to adopt. This is for anyone who is up for fighting for what’s good and true.

Hope to see you there!

If you’re interested, you can follow what’s happening on the Summit BLOG.