#weneedoneanother | nat’l adoption month: adoptive parent story 6

Let me introduce Tara to you as my last guest for the month. She possesses a deep and kind and thoughtful soul. She found me on my blog, then we found one another at the 2013 Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit, and now we’re, together, finding more of our voices and learning how to offer them to the worlds we both live in. She’s not only an adoptive mama, she is adopted. Which means, she has had to wrestle and wade through many layers of grief AND that she has (and is) stepped into much grace and witnessed the sweet gift of healing. She is someone whose quiet strength and authenticity will encourage you to pause and reflect and keep moving…forward.

Lean in and listen to her story…

“Suffering Together” by Tara Bradford

I’ve lived the adoption narrative my whole life starting as an adoptee and then moving into becoming an adoptive parent.

As an adult I began to understand loss in the adoption journey, my loss, their loss.

I began to watch my children’s loss unfold into suffering right in front of me. The understanding that I was gaining quickly turned into intense feelings for what they were going through.

My feelings at first were sadness, but that soon changed with time as their loss became more intense and harder for them to articulate and easier to act on.

Many days I found myself pulled under by the trauma current and simply doing whatever I could to survive and get to the surface so I could breathe.

What I didn’t realize was that over time, I began to avoid going into the water. I would try to stay close to shore where it was safe and no current could sweep me under.

Unfortunately by staying close to shore, I couldn’t be with my child if they were taken under.

I realized my disconnection and avoidance was hurting my child and my relationship with them. It was safer to turn inward – for me.

If I were truly going to be their mother through this adoption journey, I would need to be with them.

As I reached out for help and dug into my soul and why their hurt was so scary to me, I learned a lot about Jesus, pain and myself.

I learned that Jesus suffered more than my children or I combined, or the world for that matter, ever will.

I learned that because of His suffering, he calls me to join in that suffering, like a good soldier would enter the war voluntarily. (2 Tim. 2:3)

I learned that Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Cor. 13:7)

I learned that I’m asked to help carry my child’s burdens because this is how I follow Christ’s teachings. (Galatians 6:2)

I learned what compassion truly means. Not simply feeling sad for my child’s circumstance, but actually suffering with them in their circumstance.

I can’t heal my child’s wound of loss, only Jesus can do that, but I can sit with them and nurse them towards healing.

I can hold them in their pain of the rejection.

I can cry with them in their sadness of missing her smell and embrace as they question why God let this happen.

I can bear with them in their moments of hurt and frustration when they feel they were not good enough to have been with her for a lifetime.

I can struggle with them in wanting answers to the questions and not having any.

I simply learned I can. I get to. This is what I need to do as their mom. 

They didn’t sign up for this story, and maybe I didn’t either. But it’s the story that God has given us and we have a choice.

The story can write us or we can write the story.

Three years into this journey of parenting children who come from loss has not been easy, but nowhere does Jesus promise easy.

My children need their mom and since their first mom is not available to be who she was intended to be, that has been entrusted to me.

I have a choice. To stay on the shore or to get in the water.

I’ve chosen to get into the water. I’ve chosen to enter into their suffering no matter how far it takes me.

Even at this point of the journey I can see there has been change – in me and for my children.

Suffering doesn’t have to be for death. Suffering can be for growth and healing. 

Maybe that’s why God “allowed” this to happen.

I can see that God uses what I love most to mold me into what He loves most.

I can see my rigid lines of control showing soft curves of trust.

I can see my harsh storms of imperfect identity roll into sunsets of beauty.

I can see my broken shells of failure be made into white sands of grace.

I can see my looming fear of inadequacy nailed to a cross of perfection.

This journey is still stretching me. Still takes me inward on my really bad days.

But then God brings a word of encouragement through another mom’s blog, a “me too” from a friend, a verse in my reading, or a random hug and it speaks to my soul and moves me to a better place.

My children are not the only ones who need others – we need others too.

So, day by day, I do my best to see their pain for what it is – suffering – and I choose to join in every circumstance to help carry their burden because to Jesus, every one of us is worth it.

Tara’s narrative as an adopted person, an adoptive parent, and the Director of Encompass (which supports adoptive and foster families) has woven adoption through every part of her life. Tara has spoken at the Refresh Conference, Christian Alliance For Orphans Summit and the Tapestry Adoption and Foster Care Conference. She is grateful for the opportunities to bring grace and education to the adoption discussion and blogs at “Living In The Between”. You can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

Bradford Family Pic



#weneedoneanother | nat’l adoption month: adoptive parent story 5

Welcome to Rachel Garlinghouse. So glad that she submitted a post because in reading her words, I have a good sense that she is awakening to the many layers that are a part of the human heart – for both the adopted person AND the adoptive parent. And that as she allows herself to “be still and listen,” that her heart is dialing into her childrens’ hearts, her own heart, which will be the very moments when vulnerability leads to connection – holding the reality that joy and pain exist together.

Lean in and listen to her story…

“Second Mommy: A Heart Journey” By Rachel Garlinghouse

I was rocking my infant daughter in the soft, quietness of her room. The glow of the nightlight surrounded us as we eased forward and backward. Her eyelids were heavy, dreamy. She was too big to be swaddled anymore, so I had gently draped a handmade pink blanket over her round body. She had pulled the blanket up to her eyes, so only her curly, black afro and her long, curling-upward lashes were visible.

I had waited fourteen months for this precious bundle of joy. And now, I had the honor of rocking her to sleep.

It hit me, as her breathing became steady indicating that she was drifting off, that she was ten months old today. The old ladies at the grocery store were right. Time does fly. I smiled to myself in the dark, adjusting my daughter’s blanket.

And in a heartbeat, my peaceful spirit gave way to a flood of sadness.

Ten months.

The amount of time my daughter was with her first mother.

Forty weeks is a long time for a child and mother to be together. And not just together, but one. Breathing the same air, digesting the same food, hearing the same voices, feeling the same steps.

And once my daughter was born, the oneness broke into two. And then I entered the picture, number three. Second mommy. And then first mom was gone, and it was just me and the baby…forever.

My baby.

Her baby.

Our baby.

Adopting can best be described as bittersweet, complicated, and intricate. There is so much joy intertwined with deep pain. The emotions surrounding adoption collide, especially on days when I realize the significance of the moment.

Ten months.

Tears quietly trailed down my cheeks as I watched my little girl sleep. My heart ached for her first mother, for the future pain my daughter would face, for past and present loss, for confusion, for uncertainty.

And fear crept in. How would I be able to answer my daughter’s questions? How can I take her pain away? How can I assure her, and she believe me, that she is loved so deeply by two mothers? That she was wanted and cherished? That she is worthy of great things?

This moment with my daughter was five years ago. And since then, we have adopted two more children. And we’ve had many, many more moments where the complex nature of adoption has weighed heavily on our hearts and minds.

First Christmases and birthdays.

First steps.

First days of school.

First words.

Firsts experienced by us, the seconds.

I realize that my initial fears and questions, particularly, how can I take my children’s pain away, needs to evolve. Instead, how can I help my child navigate through normal emotions that stem from adoption?

Over the past five years, I have learned and grown.

To practice empathy.

To listen more and talk less.

To encourage open conversations.

To speak encouragement and love into my children’s hearts.

To be ever-mindful of my need for Christ and His guidance.

To meet my children where they are.

To be strong and confident, while also being humble and vulnerable.

To embrace nature and nurture.

Harder questions are coming. Tougher moments will arrive. Heartbreaking conversations are simmering. My three babies are growing up and coming to new conclusions about how life works.

And this second mommy is going to try her best to answer, love, listen, embrace, and empathize. And this second mommy vows to never let my heart become hardened or my mind to become exhausted of the bittersweet, complicated, intricate nature of adoption.

Rachel Garlinghouse is the author of Come Rain or Come Shine: A White Parent’s Guide to Adopting and Parenting Black Children and Black Girls Can: An Empowering Story of Yesterdays and Todays. Her work has been featured on The Huffington Post Live, MSNBC, abcnews.com, Scary Mommy, Essence magazine, and NPR. She writes about adoption, attachment parenting, and race at her blog and over at adoption.net.  She lives in St. Louis with her husband and three children. Connect with Rachel on Facebook and Twitter


#weneedoneanother | nat’l adoption month: adoptive parent story 4

Excited to introduce you to Stephanie. I met her this past year at the Created for Care retreat when she told me I was a theologian after one of my sessions. And even though I consistently deny that title, she consistently encourages me to embrace it. And then we laugh. Stephanie is not only a woman with a deep heart for her family, but also for Jesus – leaning into him as she listens to his voice of grace and love. I appreciate the mile marker she’s at in her (and her daughter’s) story, and how it stands “incomplete” and with tension, because that is where so many of us live – without resolve, without the neatly tied bow. But…the story isn’t over yet.

SIDE NOTE: Stephanie was our Disney Vacation Planner extraordinaire last week! I am SO grateful for all of her guiding and prodding and encouraging and planning and checking in and strategizing with the man of the house. She was FOR us – in ways that brought not only joy to our family, but joy and redemption to her story.

Lean in and listen to her story…

“The Lonely” by Stephanie Miller

Our daughter, 3 ½ years old, adopted at 11 months from Taiwan, has a powerhouse memory.  Seriously. She can remember things that happened months ago, what she was wearing, who was there, and what she had to eat. As first time parents, we have wondered if this was “normal,” but have since chalked it up to our child being a genius {of course}. Sometimes, we go for weeks without talking about something and then, out of the blue, she brings it up again. Her little mind is always hard at work. So, on the day her gymnastics instructor told me that at prayer time before class, our daughter asked to pray for her brother to come to her house, I was floored.

Like many adoptive parents these days, we read books, attended conferences, and have tried to stay well-educated on attachment, the importance of our child’s story before they joined our family, and awareness of the issues that may come into play as she grows up. But as a mom, I’ve found myself ill prepared for the loneliness that our daughter is facing. She is our only child, and we have not felt the need to adopt again. We have not ruled it out, but she is to the age that I see her wonder at her friends who have siblings and mothers of her friends having babies.

The complication is that really, she’s NOT an only child. She has a half brother back in Taiwan. We have a picture of him that hangs in the playroom, right next to the picture of our daughter being held by her birth mother. He was not adoptable, but we decided early on that we wanted her to always know that he exists. We talk about adoption, we explain it as best we can for her 3 ½ year old brain, and we talk lovingly about her birth mother and her brother. We pray for them as a family. And when we do, I can’t help but see the sadness behind her eyes. So when she asked the gymnastics instructor to pray for him to come to our house, my heart broke.

Over the next few days, Jesus began to whisper to me. I kept hearing, “I gave you each other.”  You see, I lost my only sibling in 1999 to cancer. And loneliness – deep longing loneliness – is something I live with every day. Much time has passed since we lost my sister, and I have found happiness in my life. But the reality of having a sibling and not being able to be with them is something my daughter and I have in common. It is a different kind of loss. She has never met her brother, and in the future, that might become a possibility. But because we’ve chosen to be honest with her and she knows he exists, she will probably always wonder about him and miss his presence in her life. There really is no “how to” book for parenting. We make decisions, hopefully through prayer and seeking wisdom, and then we watch how those decisions play out. I’ve wondered if we’ve been too honest too soon.

Sometimes, I look at her playing alone or reading a book, and it’s very difficult for me to allow her to continue to be alone. My husband, in his wisdom, said, “Let her learn to play on her own for a while. She’ll be ok.” And she will be. I will be, too. We are together as a family and it’s good. God gave us each other to help us heal. We need each other, not to always “fix” the problems, but to walk together toward the One who can restore us, in spite of our brokenness and our lonely hearts. And because I have experienced the pain of being separated from a sibling and wondering what life would be like if she had been here with me and longing for her, I am better equipped to sit with my daughter in those moments that are surely coming for her. God is so wise.

My daughter, Amber Joy, is named for my sister, Amber. She has put that together in her head and when we talk about Amber living in Heaven with Jesus, she always adds, “and my brother lives in Taiwan.”

We’re not sure where this journey will lead or if we always get it right in our explanations to our {very curious and verbal} three-year-old, but we’re doing our best and we’re trusting that the God who sets the lonely in families is working all things together for our good.

Psalm 68:6a “God sets the lonely in families…”

Stephanie Miller and her husband, Justin, live with their daughter Amber Joy in Murfreesboro, TN. Stephanie is a stay-at-home mom and works as a hospital chaplain part-time. She is currently seeking ordination in the Church of the Nazarene. Stephanie is learning about contentment in the every day and what it means to hunger and thirst for God. Some common themes for Stephanie include security vs. adventure, self-confidence vs. being puffed up, and the unconditional grace of God vs. striving for holiness. In the rare occurrence of free time, she enjoys blogging, movies, hiking, and getaways to the mountains. You can follow her on her blog and Instagram at “millerplusone.”


#weneedoneanother | nat’l adoption month: adoptive parent story 3

Let me introduce to you Kim. I’ve met her, but I don’t know her. But, I think I’m pretty safe to say that she has been learning that the adoption process is a two-way street, that the deep and scary and hard places that she is traveling are helping her guide and navigate and enter into the deep and scary and hard places her children have traveled. And are traveling. And will travel. She is naming what can be really hard for all of us to name – that we All struggle with fear and disconnection and protective layers and vulnerability. But then…what happens when love is offered, when love is received.

Lean in and listen to her story…

“On adoption, vulnerability, and how our children lead us home” by Kim Van Brunt

Meeting my son was nothing like I thought it would be.

When my husband and I first arrived in Uganda on a hot, humid night in February, I felt like I was playing out the scenes from a movie. It looked every bit like I imagined during the family day videos. We stood in a too-long line to get our visitor visas while I restrained myself from yelling to everyone ahead of us that our son was on the other side of those doors over there and could we please just go first.

We practically ran to baggage claim where our suitcases were waiting (all of them! In Africa! After 20 hours of travel! I should have taken that as my miracle right there). Then, we started the short, shaky 50-foot walk to the doors where we saw the crowd of people waiting for arrivals. We knew our son was in that crowd, with his foster parents, waiting for us.

In walking that 50-foot distance, what I felt like were the last steps in the marathon, we stopped no less than four times, hands shaking, knees buckling, laughing nervously as we rearranged the luggage so we could both pull our bags, my husband could hold his phone up to take a video, and we could both have an arm free to hold our son for the first time. Finally ready (were we?), we walked breathlessly though the sliding doors, as my husband started to say, his voice choked with emotion, “I see him…. I see him!”

Are you starting to tear up?

Because I wasn’t.

My main emotion? Fear. Heart pounding through my shirt, breath shallow, sweating, crazy fear.

Then my fears multiplied when I finally held our son for the first time and felt… nothing.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I felt disoriented. I felt odd, like I wasn’t in the right place. I felt too close to the moment, because it couldn’t be happening to me.

Standing in the suffocating Ugandan humidity, I looked in his face, a moment I’d imagined so many times, and searched my heart in vain for the feeling I was sure would come: Where was the love-at-first-sight?

The heavens didn’t open. I didn’t feel a warmth or a light and I didn’t hear a small voice inside saying, “yes, this is my son.” It wasn’t magical. I couldn’t hear the soundtrack.

I was looking into the face of a child I didn’t know, and he was looking at me like the stranger I was to him. I remember a desperate feeling, trying to conjure tears, emotion, relief, anything, trying to feel what I was supposed to be feeling, according to all the videos. Instead, I felt blank and empty, and in that void of emotion, fear rushed in like a tsunami. I was drowning.

This was the moment I was waiting for?

Vulnerability, tested

It wasn’t because my son wasn’t all I thought he would be. He was cuter than the pictures, he was sweet and soft and innocent and bewildered. He was everything.

It was me. It was my heart and its hardness that surprised me. I was closed off somehow, unable to open my heart up and love the way I wanted to.

But here’s the truth that I learned over the next year: As their parents, we show our children the way to vulnerability. When their hearts are wounded deep from broken connections to birth parents, birth culture, orphanage nannies or foster parents, they’re caught deep in their own fortresses, built up so quickly in their short lives to guard against another heart-deep wound. And as their adoptive parents, we don’t come storming in to destroy those protections. We open our hearts and bleed for them.

We explore our own woundedness so we understand a small taste of theirs. We painfully unlearn the blueprints we’ve imprinted from our own broken childhoods. We look into the face of Jesus, the one who shows us unconditional love as we struggle and fail and fall down over and over.

And then we show our children that they can’t do anything to lose our love. They fire attacks as if at an enemy, trying every weapon in their arsenal to make us retreat like every other caregiver they’ve loved has retreated.

Some days you feel like retreating into your own bunker, of building up your invulnerability again, putting up your walls. Other days you’d like the surface satisfaction of firing back, trying to take their stronghold by force. But is that what Jesus would do? Is that what he did to win you over?

No; Jesus calls us to follow his lead, to walk his path. This means that in every relationship, we lay down our lives for those we’re called to love. When the attacks come fast and furious from our little fortress-child, we open our arms and absorb the blows. When they rail against us, testing a belief learned deep in their bones, sometimes beyond memory, that no love lasts forever, we open our hearts again and again and again, learning our wounds, asking for healing, asking for strength to show our children a better way.

And though it may take months or years, and though our child may live forever with some of the scars from his early years, sometimes picking up his defenses again like an old habit, one day, eventually, we’ll see: All that time, you weren’t working to tear down their defenses. You were toiling and working and sacrificing in the belief that one day, they would peek out the windows. One day, they would open their fortress gate and receive a little more of the love you’re sending their way (and this is when you turn up the love to 11). And the prayer is that after a long, protracted battle, them attacking, you receiving and bleeding and sacrificing for them (and guarding against the bitterness that would have you build your own defenses), one day they would call off the attack, drop their weapons and walk out their fortress door. The prayer is that they would finally leave their protection behind, that they would run into your arms at last.

Over time I’ve learned that my own struggles with vulnerability, with the ability to attach, has to do with my own upbringing, the attachment styles of my parents, and the world-shattering experience of losing my dad when I was just 21, to name a few.

When I entered into the world of adoption and thought myself the rescuer, I know God looked at me with such love and compassion, knowing what was ahead. I had so, so much to learn. I’m not sure if I could have been on my own heart-healing journey in quite the same way without my two little Ugandan loves to guide me.

And then I can guide them. And then they can show me the way. We take turns leading each other to the foot of the throne of Jesus, the ultimate example of unconditional, complete, open love, love, love.

Remember, just like your own journey to Jesus, your child’s path will rarely go from point A to B to C. She will test the waters, then retreat and fire away again. She’ll peek out from her defenses and then, just when you feel like you’re turning a corner, she’ll launch a bigger attack than you’ve seen before. But taking the long view, you’ll see progress, with God’s help.

When we feel like building a wall, Jesus calls us to love with an open heart. When we feel like closing off or fighting back, Jesus calls us to open our arms to accept what comes. When we’re so tired, Jesus tells us to look to our right and find him holding our hand, taking the blows alongside us, and we can draw strength from him. When we feel like it will never end or we’re not sure we can last much longer, Jesus shows us the way to vulnerability and softening our hearts, so we can show our child the same path. Eventually, our child will find his way into our arms, and then we’ll be able to show him how we found our way into Jesus’ arms.

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

Isaiah 41:13

Kim Van Brunt is an adoptive mama and writer, holding up her broken pieces to the Light where everything can be made beautiful. She has four littles at home, including two born in Uganda, and is working on a book or two. This post includes excerpts from her upcoming book for adoptive parents, titled “Wounded Healer.” For more, follow her blog on Facebook, and on Twitter @kimvanbrunt.


#weneedoneanother | nat’l adoption month: adoptive parent story 2

So glad I get to introduce you to this parent – an adopted person, an adoptive parent, a male! We often hear from the adoptive mom, yet it’s just as important to hear from adoptive dads. They have so much to offer us, too. This story will give you more insight into not only the (adult) adopted person story, but also what he carries inside (similar to what so many non-adoptive parents carry) AND offers his children who have come from a “hard place,” because he deeply knows what it means to react and respond and nurture those deep, hard places. 

Lean in and listen to his story…

“It Permeates Everything” by Heath Pressley

My wife, Jennifer and I love being a part of an adoption group in our church. For me, being an adoptee and for Jen and I being adoptive parents, it is great being with other couples who have walked the road we are walking. During one of our group times we watched a video featuring a speaker who was addressing the hurt and brokenness caused by the rejection wound that adoptees have.

That particular speaker gave voice to the wound of rejection that every adoptee feels. The group knows that I was adopted, and at the conclusion of the video the group leader asked me if that rejection wound was evident in my life.

My response – it permeates everything.

While I may not be able to adequately describe the rejection wound, like the speaker on the video, I certainly can speak to its reality in my life.

It permeates everything. 

This wound has affected every area of my life. It has had an impact on every relationship I have ever had, and most likely ever will have. It’s worked this way for me. First, it has driven me to be an overachiever. It was driven me to attempt to be perfect. Because if I achieve, if I am perfect, then I will not be rejected.

I had a friend through high school and college who once said about me, “everyone loves you.” There was a reason for that. My rejection wound drove me to be loved and accepted by everyone, so as a defense mechanism I learned how to be fun, witty and charming. I developed confidence in my social skills and as a result, everyone loved me.

The only problem with this strategy is that no one is perfect. Neither was I, but I couldn’t let anyone know it. So I was really good at giving the appearance of being everybody’s all American. Living that kind of lifestyle is exceedingly difficult and tiresome. Not to mention manipulative.

The next way the rejection wound has affected me is in how I keep everyone at an emotional arms length. The rejection wound builds tall thick walls around the heart. If you are at arms length that means that you are not close enough to cause me pain. Unfortunately that also means that you are never close enough to offer comfort and acceptance. To this day I have lots of friends, but I’ve only let a very few into my heart. And honestly, I’ve been far to guarded with them.

Isn’t that an interesting dilemma? The rejection wound drives you to be loved and accepted by everyone, but when they do love and accept you – your response is to deflect and temper their love and acceptance. That’s not a very fun way to live.

Over the last several years God has been leading me on a journey of self discovery. My rejection wound has been exposed to the light of Jesus. Painfully so – I might add. But now that it is in the light, it is something that I can deal with, and Jesus can heal it. This has been and continues to be a difficult road to follow. It’s painful. It requires that you trade in an old identity for a new one. It brings radical life upheaval and change. But with each step it also brings freedom.

With freedom comes the opportunity to truly connect. Connection is what I truly need and it is what I truly need to give. Only connection with God can heal the rejection wound, make you whole and give you peace.

I know that at some point in my journey with God the rejection wound will no longer permeate everything. He will. It might happen on this side of eternity. It probably will happen on the other side, but regardless…

I can’t wait for that day!

P.S. – The speaker on the video was Carissa. I am so thankful for her voice. We truly do need each other.

For more than two and a half decades Heath Pressley was a church planting pastor, leading communicator, and ministry consultant. Through humor and powerful story telling that pointed people to Jesus, Heath helped thousands of people experience life transformation. His expertise has helped numerous organizations develop missional strategy and experience dramatic growth. In 2013 God moved Heath out of pastoral ministry and into orphan advocacy. Later that year, Heath became the President of Pathways For Little Feet, a Christ-centered organization that is working towards a world where every child is a permanent member of a loving family. Pathways for Little Feet encourages adoption through education, advocacy and financial assistance. Heath lives in Katy, TX with his beautiful wife, Jennifer, their five children, Josh, Mariah, Gracie, Javonte, Jack and his Mom, Donna. You can find him here on his blog.


#weneedoneanother | nat’l adoption month: adoptive parent story 1

Welcome to my first adoptive mama – Valerie Garrett. She lives in the mitten state near me and I met her at the first Michigan Mini Created for Care Retreat this past January. I know she has a courageous heart for justice and is a mighty mama full of truth, fighting for what is good and beautiful in this world. 

Lean in, and listen to her story…

“A Tender Heart for a Healing Soul” by Valerie Garrett

My 8-year-old son is delightful. He wakes up singing. He loves to laugh. He is tender toward others. He lives with exuberance. Today, you might not imagine the challenges he has overcome.

He was adopted at 2 years old from Haiti. His transition, of course, was not without heartache and deep loss. We walked with him through deep grief and fear.  He has healed from food insecurity. He now sleeps through the night. What once could only be described as violent sleeping (which he slept through, but we could not) is now, increasingly often, peaceful sleep all night long.

Ah, but this…this is a story of learning what it means to be loved by God; this is a story of the night when Grandpa stepped into his world…a world he could not see, but moved to be a part of nonetheless.

Recently, my son got to spend the weekend with my parents while my husband and I attended a conference. My mom awoke one day in the wee hours of the morning to find that my dad wasn’t in the bed; she could hear him in the bathroom…but he didn’t return…and didn’t return…and didn’t return. Finally, she got up to check to be sure he was okay.

She found him in the hallway, outside the room where my son was sleeping. He was weeping.

Because of recent health problems my dad has had, she was deeply concerned. Had he coughed blood? Had he nearly fainted?

“Honey, what’s wrong?” she asked, urgently.

He looked in at his grandson, and back at her. Through his tears, he said, “I heard him banging his head, so I went in and rubbed his back and he stopped…,” and he continued as his voice broke, “but I just wish I could take away whatever it is that torments him when he sleeps.

You see, sometimes even now, my son bangs his head on the mattress at night. It’s loud. It’s disconcerting. It breaks our hearts. That night, Grandpa’s hand on his back, rubbing and soothing and speaking softly…that was the hand and voice of Jesus. Because Jesus has already taken all of that pain onto Himself at the cross. He knows about it. He loves us through it. He rejoices in our healing.

By the grace of God it’s not just my son who heals. It is us. As we stand in the gap for my son, watching God heal him, we learn God’s love so deeply. It wasn’t until this that I truly understood what it means to be loved by an almighty God. If I will weep when my children weep, and rejoice when my children rejoice, how much more my God in heaven when He sees the same?! And we soothe one another, by reminding one another that Christ has already taken on all that pain…that He took care of it at the cross because He loves us…and no, that doesn’t mean we don’t feel it, but it does mean that we can lift our eyes and be made whole.

As we seek to be a safe space for our children, to speak life and truth and worth and value over them, we learn that God is doing the same.

That night, Grandpa stepped into the hurt places. The ones we can’t see but can only wonder about. The ones that linger even long after so many of the others have healed. Always having a patient tender heart with little ones, He did it because in that moment, moved with compassion, the hurt places hurt him, too. And I choose to believe that when a patriarch looks in on the third generation and weeps for its pain, Christ stands next to him and weeps with him. Christ puts His hand out and rubs that little back as well, and utters those soothing words. And encountering those sacred moments when we can be a safe space – a conduit of God’s love – we all learn a little more about what it means to look like and act like Christ, who shows us how to love by loving us first, and so perfectly well. Then, we too, are made whole.

Valerie Garrett is an experienced design consultant, adoptive parent, and a passionate yet balanced advocate for adoption. A proponent of preserving the unique story of each adopted child, she is co-owner of Life in Color, Inc., whose current primary offering is a fill-in adoption life book. She blogs from Holland, MI where she lives with her husband and son. She is available for speaking and writing engagements. You can find her at her blog, on Twitter, Facebook, or via email at valeriegarrett@celebratelifeincolor.com.


children of light.

Thrilled to introduce you to Jen Wise, a woman who’s voice invites me to lean into more of our Creator through story and food and reflection and beauty. I have the privilege of being a part of an amazing team of writers for Restoration Living, of which she is the wise and inspiring gatekeeper that pulls us together, keeps us in line, rallies our voices (aka Managing Editor). So, after a year-and-a-half of writing for her, I thought it was time to ask her to write for me – so I could share her voice with my little world, and her passion for people and wholeness and truth and living life to the full. So, what better topic than parenting as we approach summer and the shift that happens when the kids come home…to us, to our care. I know you’ll be moved and challenged and empowered to offer your best self, your whole self…to your children.


“Sir, are you really calling the police because there is a squirrel with a long tooth in your yard?” – Police Department to my husband.

In his defense, he had to call. It was Saturday morning and we were wrapping up a leisurely waffle breakfast when I noticed a new squirrel in our backyard. This little guy stood out because he was eating his waffle (don’t judge – it’s their weekend too, you know!) on the right side of his mouth. Sticking out of the left side was a gigantic tooth that looped up and around, rubbing the fur off his face. A quick Google search told me that this squirrel was not going to survive unless someone caught it, sedated it, and trimmed that crazy tooth. I knew we needed to get help – call animal control – this is an emergency!

My husband didn’t share my concern.

That’s when the tears started. First me. Then the kids. Then he caved.

As it turns out, the Police had absorbed Animal Control due to budget cuts. To say they weren’t concerned would be an understatement. We were to “let the squirrel take its natural course”.

This, obviously, led to more tears.

I know what you’re thinking: It’s a squirrel, toughen up, this is life. And you’re right – this is life. And that’s why I cried. Hard.


There is something heart wrenching about watching your children stumble upon the realities of our world. Sometimes bad things will happen. Sometimes there’s nothing we can do. Sometimes (many times) other people aren’t going to care about what you care about.

So yes, I cried about a squirrel… but really it’s so much more than the squirrel. It’s grieving what’s broken in the world. It’s grieving that this world is broken at all. It’s grieving that my young idealistic children are slowly making this realization.

And don’t most of us go through this ourselves? As our lives sprout we believe that if we’re good, the world around us will cooperate. We believe that if we’re kind, others will respond likewise. We believe that if we do the right thing we will be safe and successful and life will play out the way we believe it should.

By the time we have roots and branches we’ve seen and felt enough to know better.


An introduction to brokenness comes as a tidal wave for some: sexual abuse, chronic sickness, natural disasters, or the death of a parent. I cannot even pretend to understand the profound impact these events have on a young heart. For most of us though, our realization is more of a trickle. Throughout our days we encounter moments that highlight the truths we’d rather have kept in the dark.

Our family has walked through many of these ‘enlightening’ moments over the last few years, necessitating some difficult and sometimes painful conversations. Some of these include being hurt by friends, the disparity of wealth in our community, and the death of a family member. Beyond that, the extinction of dinosaurs, where meat comes from (and what makes it more or less ethical to purchase), the marketing and selling of things that are bad for us, and the sickening reality that some people just want to hurt kids.

The thing is, no matter how much I want to tell my boys that the world is whole – no matter how much I want to shield them from knowing that it’s not – I can’t. And I shouldn’t.

We keep media to a pretty innocent level in our home – there are certain topics we generally steer away from – and we don’t alert them to every tragedy that crosses our headlines. Still, we don’t lie to them. We do let them know, on their level, what disappointments and dangers loom. We are open about the brokenness that they are sure to bump up against.


Rather than a reactive stance of explaining-away or putting a rosy spin on everything, we take a proactive stance of preparing our children for what they will inevitably discover. We take opportunities now, while they’re young and under our care, to get their toes wet. We let them experience a bit of unfairness. We encourage them to take risks with new opportunities and face fears out of their comfort zone. We resist the (very strong) urge to protect them from every feeling of discomfort or pain.

Help them face fears and hold up against disillusionment now while they have the luxury of your support. They’ll be better equipped to remain grounded in the years to come.

And this goes for us as well. Step into that new social scene – take on that project that’s a little intimidating – volunteer in a place you’d rather pretend doesn’t exist. It’s good for us, it’s also good for our kids to observe us stepping forward, taking risks, opening our eyes, facing fears and coming out the other side.


Ultimately, the key to coming out the other side well, as children and as adults, is a deep understanding of identity and purpose. When we know who we are and the value we hold – when we know why we’re here and the role we play in all of this – we’re less likely to be thrown for a loop when the landscape shifts.

There are so many opportunities to help your children understand their identity, for us these moments are some of the strongest. Upon every hard realization, every burden, every tear, we have a chance to invite our children to walk with us – a chance to remind them that this is why we’re here, this is what this is all about. We’re binding wounds, working for wholeness, bearing light, and loving this world.

This points them forward, upward. It helps them, and us, have a grounding that is not dependent on a pain-free sheltered life. It turns those moments from despair and disillusionment to moments that propel us forward, stepping more fully into who we are, stepping more confidently into our role as healers.

Our family has an identity, we know who we are, we know our role in the world – the darkness does not change that. The bad things that we see from our path, that cross our path, and that sometimes will explode on our path do not change who we are, what we are called to, and what we are working towards.

When this is rooted in our souls – we aren’t easily shaken.

May we embrace who we are and our role in this world. May we walk confidently forward with eyes wide open to see the brokenness around us and where we can extend healing. And may we, with grace and strength, invite our children into the process of restoring their world as well.

BIOPICFINAL_WEB Jen is a compassionate theologian, obsessive foodie, constant hostess and voracious reader. She attended Cornerstone University and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary earning a MA in Theology. Jen is the managing editor of Restoration Living. She lives with her husband and their two sons in Philadelphia. Catch up with her on twitter @jenlwise.

a grandma…in waiting.

Let me introduce you to Linda Lyzenga. She’s a friend, a mentor, a kindred spirit. I love the courage she possesses…to find more of herself, more of others, more of God. This is such a sweet post. I love that she is allowing the process of becoming a grandma to call out her deep heart, the best parts of who she is. Grateful for how she is choosing to step into her role, now AND when the baby comes, with grace and understanding and intention and acceptance. What a gift she will be to this baby. I’m confident that she will be a grandma who delights in her, nurtures her, reminds her of how good she is…even if it is from afar.


Congratulations are in order! I’m going to be a grandma. Every where I go these days I see young moms with babies and I want to peek at each little one and then share the good news – I’m going to be a grandma. I am the expectant one. Anticipation is high. They’re going to have a baby girl in April. I can hardly wait; other grandmas that I know say there’s nothing like it. Oh, just wait, they say. Lucky you! First one? You’re going to love it!! *Sigh* Did I say that I’m going to be a grandma? Congratulate me!

Now tell me how to navigate being a long distance grandma. I don’t want to be a long distance grandma. I don’t want to be thought of as the grandma who lives far away. I want to be a grandma that’s available at the drop of a hat. I want to take care of baby girl when her mommy has to go back to work. I want to be there for all those monumental firsts. I want to experience… I want… I want… Oh, I sound like a two-year-old. There are moments some day’s of an almost desperate sense of separation – of longing, loss and loneliness.

Most days I’m fine. It’s not like they moved away yesterday. It’s over ten years ago that younger daughter left home for her great adventure. Off she went – leaving all that was familiar here in Western Michigan to go to a university in Southern California. I thought she’d be back. But then, she got the job; and then, she met the guy. They’ve been married over five years now.

When her sister flew the coup to make a fresh start in Northern Florida, I was left decidedly as an empty nester. I couldn’t be more proud of both my girls. I’m truly happy for the life that is theirs. My girls are not coming home. They both live far, far away. People often say, “That must be hard.” Some days I must admit – it IS hard. Most days, though, there is a special grace that soothes my heart. On any given day when I miss them, I think of how we’ve been able to keep in touch. In fact, is it possible that we’re closer now than we ever were? When the geographical distance seems too great, I imagine how it was when children from past generations left home – never to be seen again after having moved to places far and away. Long distance telephone calls were reserved for strict emergencies. Other communication was relegated to snail mail – a delivery of old news. Today there’s ease in communication with free minutes and cell phones. Email. Facebook. Skype. Packages sent UPS. Special little notes sent in the mail. We’ve had a really good track record of cross country trips and have found a good rhythm of making it work. For this I’m beyond grateful!

But now that I’m going to be a grandma something has shifted in my perspective. Self compassion and self awareness invite me to process why I’m feeling deprived and despairing when this grandchild hasn’t even arrived on the scene yet.

What’s going on?

It’s the anticipated face to face moments that I’ll miss out on. The hoped for shared experiences that simply will not be. Precious memories with that teeny tiny new born seem to be waiting in some kind of vacuum.

More than that, I realize that it’s the fear of not being known – of being missed.

With this realization distilled and clarified, I realize that I have a choice. I can choose to view this new relationship from a vacant place of distance and scarcity of intimate face to face time. Or, I can choose to step into my new role from a place of abundance and gratitude.

With generosity and creativity I can be known as a loving grandma – fully present; engaging – even from a distance – with intention and creativity.

Celebrate with me – I’m going to be a grandma!

Linda is passionate about wholeness and healing and finds her sweet spot in the role of Spiritual Director. Married with two adult daughters, who have flown the coup – far from Western Michigan where they grew up, she’s home alone with her husband of 39 years. Though a life long learner, Linda never had opportunity to go to college until recently and is now working on getting her Associate Degree with hopes to finish it before her husband retires next year and they take off – visiting their kids and exploring the country in their RV. Meanwhile, she enjoys yoga, baking, reading, writing, and hiking. You can know more about Linda through her blog.

entering advent.

advent candles

The season of Advent has arrived. I’ve listened to and read some really profound words and perspective and I wanted to share them with you and invite you into this season in a fresh and life-giving way. I love sharing my favorite voices – the voices who speak into my soul and I’m grateful that I have such good ones surrounding me, near and far.

So, have a seat in your comfy chair, kick off your shoes, and just soak in these beautiful and powerful and soul-feeding words.

“An Advent Prayer” by Brad Nelson

“Come Lord, Jesus” by Troy Hatfield “in the hopes of recapturing the everyday connection of the season”.

“A Simple Advent Book” by Jen Wise at Restoration Living

May you come to hear and see and taste and know more of Jesus as you bear witness to him this season.

a voice, a story, a life.

I love that I get to share Brad Nelson’s voice again. I introduced Brad this past February when he shared a gutsy post about how embracing our fear can lead us to freedom. Brad is not an adoptive parent, nor an adoptee, but…he’s been a friend whose heard the heart of those who have been relinquished, and has listened. Truly listened. He’s someone who has allowed himself and his story to be joined with the heart and story of those around him. His understanding and insight and perspective on adoption is encouraging and affirming and hopeful to me, and I trust that you’ll feel the same way.


The word “adopt” comes from the Latin adoptare—“ad,” meaning “to,” and “optare,” meaning “choosing, wishing, and desiring.” In other words, to be adopted is to have been chosen, to have been wished for, to have been desired.

I cannot begin to imagine the complexity that an adopted child must face. Humans are so deeply formed by the faces of their parents in the earliest days of life. So much of who I am today is shaped by the fact that as a child when I opened my eyes to see as far as they could see there was a face looking back. Imagine for a moment the silence of a child looking into the abyss of absence. I suppose the silence and the absence of that moment lingers in a life.

Unfortunately, the word adoption gets thrown around this time of year in ways that rob it of its depth. Well meaning people speak of adopting a family for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but adoption is about so much more than helping someone or even coming to their rescue.

Others have spoken of adoption in terms of being a “voice for the voiceless,” which is understandable. The Bible has a long tradition of identifying widows and orphans as some of the most vulnerable people in the community. Their vulnerability came from the fact that there was no one in a position of power or means to care for them. And yet, I am regularly blown away by a child’s capacity to heal, and as I hear these stories of healing, I’m overwhelmed with the sense that here is a person who does have a voice. Sure, as vulnerable children they may have lacked the “power” to change their situation, but they certainly aren’t voiceless. They have a story to tell, and maybe instead of thinking of adoption as being a voice for their voicelessness it would be more fitting to think of it as the sacred process of seeing in a child what is already there. A voice. A story waiting to be told. A life that is worth being chosen.

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…” (Ephesians 1v4-5)

This passage from the New Testament is more than a cute coincidence. In the 1st Century, outside of Rome, Ephesus was one of the wealthiest cities on earth. Its wealth came, in large part, from its thriving slave trade. Ephesus was also the hometown of a well known doctor named Soranus. He went on to practice medicine in Rome, but one of his surviving writings deals with “how to recognize the child worth rearing.” Any deformity or abnormality might lead to the child being rejected and subjected to the Roman practice of infant exposure, literally being abandoned and exposed to the elements. Some children were picked up by families and used as slaves.

Now imagine Ephesus. A bustling metropolis. A thriving slave trade. And a community of people called Christians who had received an open letter from a man named Paul. That letter would have been read aloud, probably in someone’s home where Christians and their households had gathered. It’s quite possible that some of those hearing Paul’s words were the very same children who had been abandoned or exposed and had become slaves. Can you imagine what it must have been like for them to hear those words?

He chose you before the creation of the world.

You were predestined to be adopted as sons and daughters.

In accordance with his pleasure.

Eugene Peterson writes, “It wasn’t a last-minute thing because he felt sorry for us and no one else would have us, like a stray mutt at the dog pound, or an orphan whom nobody adopted. He chose us ‘before the foundation of the world.’ We are in on the action, long before we have any idea that we are in on the action. We are cosmic.”

If you are reminded of anything during National Adoption Month, be reminded of this: Those who have been adopted have been chosen, wished for, and desired. They are the beloved. They are a story that has been being written from the moment the world was a spark in the eye of the Creator.

I, for one, cannot wait to hear their voices finish telling the stories that began so long ago.

brad picture Brad is the pastor of formation at Church of Hope, Florida. A speaker, writer, and student at Western Theological Seminary (MDiv), he and his wife Trisha are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters, Braylen and Clara. You can hear more of Brad’s voice at http://www.bleedingoutloud.com