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.



healing…a two-way street.


“Nothing that’s hard or “bad” for adoptees takes away from what’s beautiful or “good” in a parent’s choice to adopt. Nothing.”


Oh, my heart!

I’ve just returned from a weekend spent with 450 beautiful mamas at the Created for Care retreat. Some had adopted, some were waiting to adopt, some came just to support their friends. Lovely, inspiring, challenging, raw, surprising, healing, holy.

Profoundly holy.

I entered into that space a bit weary and looking forward to restoring the parts of me that have become so drained and rugged and discontent, all the parts where love has felt so absent, so depleted.

For those of us who were planning and speaking and leading breakout sessions, we had been praying for all the hearts that were going to enter the gorgeous Legacy Lodge. We asked God to speak to us about what he wanted to share with each woman, knowing that he knew exactly what each person needed. We asked God to breathe new life into each soul, refreshing the places that felt lonely, fearful, inadequate, angry, shameful, worn. We asked God to send his Spirit into each corner and crevice that may be hiding from him, numbed out to him, felt forgotten by him. And he did.

He loved BIG.

I got to see and experience God cover that room…with his love, with his grace, with his mercy, with his forgiveness, with his peace, with his truth, with his shalom. With himself.

Oh, my heart!

I stepped into that space having been invited to represent the heart, the voice, the story, of the little ones not in that room, but yet who were so present in that room. Over 1,000 little souls who were home or on their way home. Over 1,000 little souls who bring so much beauty, so much brokenness, into the lives of each family they are welcomed by.

I was up for the invitation, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure if all those mamas would be up for what God had called me to share. That’s a scary feeling, especially when you know that all those mamas were coming to feel encouraged and equipped and empowered, not jolted or disoriented or challenged. That’s a risky feeling when as an adoptee you desperately want to feel accepted and approved of and liked. That’s a vulnerable position to be in when you know that all those mamas were coming to find assurance and affirmation – that what their Creator had called them to do was right…for them, for their children, for their families, for him.

So, I had to trust…that what God called me to share, my voice, was exactly what I was supposed to offer. And so I did. Unnerving, unsettling, unbelievably frightening!

I don’t know exactly how God will use my voice, my message, my heart, (trying to let that go), but I do know how God is already using the weekend, the conversations, the lyrics, the voices, the love in those mamas…for me.

I never expected that part of my healing could come from the adoption world itself.

I never expected to feel affirmed and embraced and loved through other adoptive mamas.

I never expected the longing and desire and love that adoptive mamas radiate for their babies to connect with my own longings to feel wanted and needed and loved.

I never expected that this one adoptee’s voice would be invited out in such unique ways, and then in return find healing because of what God is doing in other family’s lives, through their stories.

I never expected that having people truly “listen” and respond to the impact of relinquishment and abandonment on an adopted person’s mind and heart would bring a more solid, stronger, securer sense of self.

I never expected that God would turn my words into your words for your children into his heart about how he sees me. (You may have to read this one again!)

But he did…and I’m in awe.

I feel tender, open, moved. I feel ready…for more of him, more of his BIG love, more of his deep healing. And I know it will come because I’m giving myself a little more permission to let go…of her, of him, of what happened. As my hands slowly let go, I feel them opening, little by little, receiving more love, deeper connection, with those who are ready to love and connect with me, especially my husband and my babies.

Oh, my heart!

It’s still raw and bleeding and being gutted out, yet at the same time, it feels more free, more brave, a little more gutsy, ready…to trust. Again. Differently. Wholeheartedly.

Oh, mamas…the ways in which you offered yourselves last weekend, your presence, your posture, it was deeply moving and incredibly healing for this one in a million adoptee. I write with tears and say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you….for listening.” I feel humbled and blown away that God would take my words, my voice, my ache, my fear, my story, and use it to be helpful, even if it was just a little bit, in your journey, your child’s journey. And, please, please know that your words, your voice, your ache, your fear, your stories…they brought SO much to me too. It feels like a two-way street, like this natural and fluid giving and receiving. It feels full circle. It feels like we’re in this together. It feels hopeful.

And, it for sure feels WAY different from last year’s C4C retreat when I snatched a piece of decadent cheesecake and snuck back to my room to hide! I’ve come a long ways, mamas! Get ready, March 2013 women! Can’t wait to meet/re-meet you!

So, to ALL of us, may we remember and “listen” to God’s voice, “Where have you come from? Where are you going? I see you.” We have to name what we’re running from and leaving and fleeing in order to know where we’re going, running to. Because where we’ve been, where we’re going…it matters. It’s seen.

Big Korean adoptee Michigan hugs and love to ya’ll!

PS – Would love to hear about your C4C experience too. Feel free to post your blog posts in the comments or on my Facebook page!

PSS – If you have some great pictures to replace these IG ones, email them to me!


“Healing is in Your Hands” (Amazing worship by Candi Shelton)


“Adoption from Both Sides” (a conversation between an adoptive mom and an adoptee)


Ummm…I may have stopped chatting and started preaching. Oops!


The new “Charlie’s Angels” (with Amy Monroe & Andrea Young)


a speaker’s heart…on adoption

I love capturing life’s moments with words…the mundane and the spectacular. I want to remember them in my mind, in my heart. Writing about what’s happened helps me articulate and find what’s inside of me. And, often, what I find, is more of myself.

So, about some recent moments, a recent weekend, with 450 adoptive moms at Legacy Lodge at Lake Lanier Island Resorts just north of Atlanta..beautiful and stunning, surprising and thought-provoking, heart-wrenching (and warming), and oh, so fun! It was just what my spirit was lacking.

I had been invited (basically by strangers who hardly knew me), to come speak at a weekend retreat for adoptive moms (Created for Care). I was asked to share my story…my relinquishment story, not my adoption story. Honored, humbled, thrilled, expectant, fearful…that my story would be “too much.” Too much for these beautiful (and weary) moms who were spilling with stories of how their adopted children changed their lives, whose hearts were bursting at the seams with endless love, who believed that God had provided them someone to recycle the hard heart places, and who were eager-to-learn-how-to-do-everything-right as they parented their children’s tender and fragile and longing hearts. They had traveled from near and far seeking encouragement, inspiration, connection with other moms – a weekend that would birth new life within.

That’s a heavy role to step into. Very heavy.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be asked to “speak.” There’s this initial, “No way! I get to go there and use my voice and share a message that I believe in so much and could talk about every day? Me? Really? Awesome!” You feel pursued and wanted and believed in.

And then come the hours and days when you dive into the “topic” and pull all your material together and create what you hope will be helpful and enlightening and strengthening and inspiring. You labor over building a presentation that will (hopefully) deeply resonate with the minds and hearts of your audience…all in one hour. You strive to appear informed, humorous, captivating, confident, whole.

Then, finally the day arrives and you fly to your destination, all cool-like with your carry on and iPad and sporty clothes. Smiling people meet you in the airport and you’re driven to the place…the place that you’ve been getting ready to offer yourself to for months. You find yourself in a private room with your own mini coffee pot, the most comfortable bed ever, and even a private veranda that overlooks gorgeous trees and a tranquil lake. You soak it all in…the quietness, the stillness, the emptiness. It’s all yours.

The next morning, the nerves kick in…fourth gear. You ask yourself, “Am I ready? Will I remember everything I want to say? Should say? Could say? What will I look like five feet above everyone’s heads? Will the PowerPoint work? Will I stick to my outline or get lost telling stories? Are they going to like it? Will they hear what I hope they hear? Will they “hear” the subtleties between the words?” So many thoughts and nervous excitement fill your body. All that you’ve prepared is about to be heard and digested and evaluated.

The morning session begins. You hear your introduction, you take a deep breath, you step up onto that platform, you smile, you look out, scan the room and see faces…450 beautiful faces…with over 1,000 relinquished and adopted precious babes represented in those faces. They’re looking at you…waiting for you…to say something profound that meets them right where they’re at…

…and in the first half hour (if that), you cry.

(Actually) My first time on the platform that weekend was as an adoptee (not a speaker), joining two other adoptees for an “adoptee panel” facilitated by an adoptive mom, Amy Monroe, who sits on the leadership team for Tapestry Adoption and Foster Care Ministry. Let’s just say this is one of the most vulnerable and exposing and soul-searching experiences to be a part of…to be asked questions that take you back to one of the hardest places in your story, to share memories of the ways you felt like your adoptive parents did things well and not so well, and then to offer ideas of what you wished they would have done relating to your relinquishment and adoption journey. More questions are asked about adoption and parenting, the fractured and broken and healed places of your heart, what you think about words like “rescue” and “orphan,” and how you talk to an adopted child about the hard places they may have come from. You know, all those everyday questions you spend energy and time feeling and thinking about…NOT! Purely unpredictable. Totally raw. Utterly nerve-wrecking. So, yeah…the first night, a tad exhausted and emotional, and a bit weepy I was.

Back to the main session…I’m often asked to speak to the “challenging” parts of adoption (i.e. the impact of relinquishment on the human heart and mind). I’m not sure how I got there, but I’m here. I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m an adoptee or counselor or pastor’s kid or mother or wife (all these roles invite you into hard conversations, right?), but I do know that along the way, I’ve somehow intentionally chosen to step into that role. Life can be really hard and awkward, even a bit breath-taking and unknown, and we need people to help us navigate through those parts; someone willing to talk about the hard stuff without sinking. For the record, I’m not the expert, but I’ve wanted to make myself available to those who are ready and willing to talk about the hard places that come with being human…because I’ve been there too.

OK, back to the main session…the lights were bright, the women’s eyes felt inches away from mine. There was a wave of peace and calm and so I began. I began to share my story. The story where the first paragraph starts with, “There was a woman in Korea, my birthmom, who carried me for nine months…” It was the story that I had only began recognizing and talking about around 10 years ago. Like many adoptees from the 1970s, I learned to begin my story with, “I was adopted from Korea at the age of five months…” Most of my life, I had passed over those nine months in utero, nurtured by a woman who spent her days and nights contemplating whether or not she could/would/should keep me, and those five months when I was “given away”…to an orphanage and then to a foster home and then to a white, pastor’s family in Michigan. As I shared my story that morning, my heart couldn’t help but show up. Yup, in front of all those women, my tears leaked out. Not because I was remembering that time, but because something inside of me always gets stirred – the longings deep inside that baby that I still swim in today. And then, as I felt the weight of over 1,000 relinquished babies represented in those chairs, their little hearts lept out to me knowing that they, too, (will) experience the same ache in their story. Sometimes I wonder if each time I tell my story out loud and chose to “name” what happened and the impact it had on that little baby’s heart – my heart – if it actually releases a bit more…something still tucked away, hidden, forgotten, dismissed. It’s freeing to share our stories. There’s something healing in revisiting and naming “what was” and be able to find words and phrases to help you understand “what is” – what and who you’ve become and perhaps how you’ve come undone – and then discover the missing truth that exists in your story – reclaiming what you lost or what you gave away or what was taken from you or what was never invited to the table – so your eyes can see…more of you, more of God. I want to remember well – where I’ve come from – so I can show up. Now. In this life. Fully present, joyful, grateful, free…allowing God to make beautiful things…out of me, for him.

OK, back to the main session…and so I shared…for that one hour – what I lost, what I never knew, what lies I believed about myself and people and God, how my heart protected itself, what I did with my pain, and then how God came chasing after me because he loved me that much. My pain, my suffering, my grieving, my healing…my brokenness and my beauty. I shared it all with these amazing moms who would go home and hug and kiss their babes with stories like mine.

Heavy. Very heavy.

The breakout session I spoke in later that day was about adding the complexity of what it meant to grow up looking “different” than the average American in addition to the layer of being relinquished and the questions of identity and belonging, the search for significance and acceptance and love underneath my Korean exterior. It’s interesting and mind-blowing and disheartening to understand how America defines (and teaches) “beautiful”…and then to not look like that in any way. My days of blue mascara and eyeshadow, permed hair with poofy bangs…yeah, not cool. My round face, black hair, short body and flat derriere all summed up for America to send me the message that I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t beautiful. A moment of reflection of words and phrases that described different ethnic groups written by the women in the breakout session, gave us a moment of pause…and maybe new eyes to see how the world can potentially see their transracial/international, adopted, beautiful child. We didn’t learn stereotypes from someone sitting us down and teaching us what Hispanic/Latino or Black/African or Asian people are like. We learned by the power of repetition…over hundreds of years. So, as parents of children, we have a responsibility – an opportunity – to shape the eyes and ears and minds and hearts of our children in a way that views people who look “different” as God views them. And then, be prepared to instill a sense of identity and significance in our own children when they look different from those around them, even if that’s within our own families. So, my hope is that these moms left with enlightened eyes to see their children…really see their children, not only in the reality of their lifestory, but also in the reality of America’s story.

After two-and-a-half days, I was a bit weary. OK, exhausted. The many new faces, the deep conversations, the lack of sleep, the listening to other speakers and processing lots of new information, the sacred worship times, the over abundance of food and snacks…it wore me out. In a good way. I loved all the moms that waited for me, stalked me, hugged me, laughed with me, cried with me, shared their stories of heartache and celebration with me, took pictures with me, asked me powerful questions that made me step back and ponder even more how courageous and tender and quiet and loud the hearts of children are. The intensity of those days affected me…affected my spirit. I gave. I received. I poured out. I was poured into.

I flew away from that place different. Changed. Full. I watched how God met these women in their fears, in their questions, in their doubts, in their deep, deep love for their children…his children. Whether they had biological children, adopted children, awaiting children, I had a sense that they were going to travel back to their families and offer their best selves. Not because of what I shared or what the other speakers shared, but because God’s spirit was moving…in powerful, profound and beautiful ways. That weekend, that space…it was sacred.

So, as a speaker, humanly you wonder what kind of impact your presence and words and heart had on your audience. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that. Yet, I’m choosing to trust that whatever each mom needed that weekend, that God will reveal it to her in the most gracious and sweet way, in his timing.

So, C4C mamas…I’m crazy grateful that I was able to meet you all. Your stories, your hearts, your love for your children…they blew me away! My prayer for you all that weekend was that you would experience deep community with one another and a deep communion with God. Your decision to adopt is a gift. May you remember that you have access to the Creator of the Universe as you parent and mentor your children’s bodies, minds and spirits. May words of truth be written on their hearts…by you, by God. Deeply grateful, profoundly humbled, to have shared that weekend with you.

And for those of you who have chosen to adopt or are choosing to adopt…may you have the courage to know all of your child’s story – the pieces before they are carried into your home – because you have this amazing opportunity to be a part of their healing and redemption in a way that bears witness to how good God is.

The story of the heart…it matters.

Here’s a peek at some of the 450 adoptive moms/children/families represented at this year’s Created for Care Retreat…

Created for Care March 2012 Video

(note background music in video…”Beautiful Things” by Gungor – one of my favorite songs right now!)