viva la woodchip.

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I did it. I went camping. This INDOOR girl spent four days – FOUR days – in the OUTDOOR world. For the first time. With two children. Without their daddy. And we survived. Amen.

So…a few reflections:

DO camp with another mom who is an expert at camping because she owns basic camping necessities like a grill and a griddle and a real tablecloth with clips that hold it down to the table and special toilet paper and a wine bottle opener and an overall state of calm and confidence.

DO camp with another mom who has children near the same mental and emotional and physical ability that your own children have. Because if you do, you will both be managing similar meltdowns and quarrels and conflicts and whining for that $1 toy gem at the camp store. And, you’ll both observe how good it is, in this culture, to remove your children from rectangles and watch the sun kiss their skin and smile at all the humorous things they do and say. And, most importantly, all of the children will go to bed all at the same time.

DO search until you find a camper that meets your basic physical and mental needs – like a queen size bed and bunk beds and bathroom and kitchen sink and microwave (just to name a few). Your internal well-being relies on this. Trust me. (Yes, someone somewhere makes these types of lovely campers!)

DO ask for a camp site that is next to the playground, across from the bathrooms/showers, a skip and a hop away from the pool, and that has an eye-sight view of the massive trampoline pillow where the children will expend much of their 12+ hour energy. (I’m assuming that ALL campgrounds would have these parent necessities.)

DO choose the PERFECT weather week – like mid 70s/low 80s. Because this could make or break your camping experience.

DO choose the week when most of the bugs and mosquitos that surely swarm around every camp site fly away to visit another campground or your friends’ homes. This, too, could make or break your camping experience.

DO pack tons of liquids and snack foods because you and your children’s bodies will constantly feel the need to ingest more than it normally requires. And, most importantly, bring Coke and M&Ms. And, bring ingredients for summer recipes like fresh BBQ Chicken Salad and Limonada de Coco, because it will help you feel special. It will remind you that you really are on a “vacation.” But, do make these when all the children are running around the campground making new friends and spinning around on the merry-go-round, so that you can eat in peace, so that your taste buds can savor every delicious bite, so that you are able to feel each little lime-y coconut-y slushy piece of ice slide down your throat.

DO bring lots of firewood, because making a fire each night is a MUST in the world of camping (along with s’mores). And then, after the children are nestled in and then out like a light because they’ve jumped and ran and biked and swam hard all day, pull up your new, red Costco camping chair beside your friend’s chair, stare into the fire, and start talking – about things that matter, about things that don’t. Talk and laugh and be silly and serious until midnight. Or 1 o’clock. Or 2 o’clock. Because in those 3-5 hours, you can cover A TON – like friends and family and in-laws and parenting and your story and decorating and finances and how life is so very wonderful and so very hard and how important it is to be gracious truth-tellers and what it’s like to feel like you’re “too much” and bucket lists and what you’re learning and how you’re failing and how you hope your children will grow to be lovers and doers of good and how to offer yourself as a wife whose husband knows she loves him and is grateful for him and how the people camping next to you talk really, really loud. Basically, you can solve most of the world’s problems in those night hours. So…

DO have your first camping experience with a friend who is fun and neat and organized and flexible and experienced and silly and honest and open…to all that life has to offer. And, who will invite you into an experience that will give you perspective of the OUTSIDE world and perspective on all the things you unknowingly take for granted about your INSIDE world. And, who will post funny pictures on Instagram and tag you as you sit 1 foot away from her. And then laugh about it. And, who will partner with you in an experience that reminds you that you’re capable – of doing new things and hard things and unlikely things…for yourself, for your children, WITH your children. And, who will play her radio ALL day on a station that has ALL the songs you know, so that at any moment you can raise your thumb to your mouth and break out singing and dancing and partying, like it’s 1999.

And then, pack up, go home, wash everything really good and know…that at the end of the day, it’s OK to say, you’re a hotel girl. Hands down.




life at six. a letter from her mama.


Dear Skyla,

Girrrrl…happy birthday! My heart is smiling as I watch you skip into six with all the passion inside you. This day…you’ve been ready for it forever! It’s amazing how you, my sweet girl, look forward to turning another page, another chapter of your life. You can’t get there fast enough. And me, your mama whose nearing forty, wants to keep the page secure and in place – for you, for me – because right now, the innocence and wonder and softness of this world feels just right for you, so natural.

I wanna stay. You wanna go.

There’s something in you pulling you forwards. There’s so much in me that pulls me backwards.

You and me – we have this little dance we do. The pieces of who you are draws me in, shapes the way I embrace mothering, and keeps taking me to places I’ve never traveled before. Our relationship reminds me that I’m brave in really ordinary ways, just as much as it reminds me of all the ways I can get stuck, all the places that still need healing. And then the parts of me that spill out onto you…they’re shaping you, too. I see it show up in how you talk and how you move, in what you care about and don’t care about, and in your little, big personality.

We dance, we disconnect, we come back together, over and over again.

And about this little, big personality…it intrigues me, it ignites me, it infuses into me. I see you. I notice you. I’m learning what it means to know you – what frightens you, what delights you, what hurts you, what your heart needs to soar, how your body and brain crave to feel protected.

You have this charm that makes those closest to you want to stay right beside you.

You have this intensity that goes into almost everything you do, which keeps your independence and strength fiercely untouchable. (We believe this will become an asset someday.)

You have a curiosity and wonder about the world that makes the simple, everyday things in life new and alive, waiting for you to discover and understand.

You have this certainty – that life and people are for you to embrace, wholeheartedly, with conceit.

You have a desire within you to feel safe – with your surroundings, in relationships. You always have. It shows up in unpredictable and surprising ways, knocking me off of my feet, just as much as I presume it knocks you off yours too.

You have this sincere honesty that never makes us question what you’re thinking or how you’re feeling. It’s up front and forthright, learning to wrap itself with grace and kindness and respect.

And then there’s this vulnerable and tender part of you. Sometimes I forget it’s there, but I see it. Oh, girl! I want you to know how much I see this part too. When it shows up, it melts away all the hard that comes with parenting in a matter of seconds. You let me in to the most true and sweet places of your soul, and it feels so good to be right there, with you. And even if it’s just for a few fleeting minutes, I hope something in you knows that during all the moments that this part of you is tucked away, it’s so worth it to wait for those few moments where it feels like we’re together, when all is right in the world.

And ohhhh, those milestones you reached this past year: switching from four wheels to two, losing your first three teeth, learning how to read, memorizing Christmas program songs, navigating around on the computer and iPad and TV, practicing “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” and “Let’s start over,” and the way you’re just about to finish all-day Kindergarten with flying colors. Each progression is part of growing up and being human, yet each one in it’s own way comes with great bravery and perseverance and a new kind of freedom, both internally and externally. We celebrate these accomplishments and feel gratitude for what has needed to develop and mature in order to execute each experience.

Oh, Honey Bee, there’s so much I want to show and tell you about the world – to protect you, to prepare you, to help you learn what it means to offer your truest, most best self. Yet what I’m learning, what I’m being humbled by, is that you have to experience the shortcuts and mountains, the edges and crevices, the tension and restoration, yourself. I keep being reminded that this parenting journey isn’t about carving out a perfect path for you. I think Jesus had something up his sleeve when he gave me to you and you to me. However his sovereignty impacts us, I know that what we’ve shared in these six years, he’s using to make my heart soften so that I can awaken to my opportunity, not duty, to teach you less about “my” world and more about “his” world, and how he invites you to jump into it with all of who you are. He’s so good like that. And however it happens, as I parent you differently from my own experience, there’s this profound sense that God is mysteriously reparenting me in the fragile places where I need a bit more nurture and grace and love. Wow.

And I love…the way your affinity towards your brother keeps growing, how you make him laugh so hard, how you teach and tell him what to do and what not to do, how you help him and care for him and play with him. I’m grateful for how everything that you are adds to all that he is, and more. And, I love that all of who he is, adds to all of who you are. I love my Korean/Norwegian/Dutch sibs. So much.

And that daddy of yours…you draw him in. He’s so proud that you’re his daughter. He tells me late at night when you’re all tucked in and sleeping. I love hearing him talk about you and what enters his life because of your life – the challenging and confusing and hilarious and entertaining and special things. I’m so glad he talks to me about all of these things, because that’s what makes me know he sees all of you. The eyes of his heart are wide open, and I watch him offer something I wish I could do more of…so much grace, so much acceptance, so much presence. Girl, you’ve got your daddy’s heart.

So, year five leaves you stepping a little more away from our influence and protection. We’ve watched how the “outside” world grabs at you in subtly powerful ways as more experiences have found their way into “your” world, defining what’s cool and what’s not, new words and “bad” words and hurtful words, clothing style and lifestyles, peer pressure and paradigms. They just come in, unannounced and uninvited – through technology and public places and people. We pray for God’s divine discernment in how to respond rather than resist. We pray that your heart will be open to all the good that we have to offer, alongside of all the good the world has to offer. May you know, deep in your soul, what you have to offer – in friendships, in our family, in our community, for the kingdom. And, as the world flies by you or sticks to you or confuses you or pleases you, may you lay your head down on your pillow each night knowing how good your heart is, how loved it is – by him, through us.

So, together we skip right into six, with you. Taking all that has been with us, and allowing it to to complement and be used for all that is needed for this year, a new year. There are parts of me that wish we could stay right here, in this season, but onward we go. And maybe on the way, we’ll get a glimpse of Elsa’s Ice Palace, or maybe first grade, or maybe new friends, or maybe even more love.

So, let’s go, girl!

Love you…so, so much.

Love, Your Mama

***My song, this year, for you: Never Grow Up (Taylor Swift)


from one mom to another.

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To: That mom who was in front of us in the checkout line

I feel badly that my little girl accidentally bumped into your grocery cart while scooching around to grab that neon glow ball. I’m sure her innocent body didn’t mean to bother you. I’m certain it was the object in her view that made the world around her, including your cart, disappear for a moment. I’m sure you were irritated. In fact I saw it in your eyes when you looked so harshly at her. In fact this mom feels irritated, too, when she doesn’t watch what she’s doing or where she’s going. Often. But then, as I continued to put my groceries on the belt, I overheard you talking to the cashier in that serious and demonstrative voice telling her, “When my daughter was little and she acted up in the store, I took her outside and gave her a spanking and she never did it again.” That’s when I wanted to glare right back at you and give you a look like you gave my daughter. Were you trying to subtly send me a message? Because if you were, I wish you would’ve just said it to my face, because I would’ve had a reply. I would’ve met you in a way that I believe moms in grocery stores should meet one other…with compassion and understanding and grace, with an “I’m so sorry she bumped into your cart.” Because we ALL have had moments when our children have bothered adults in a store, when we’ve felt embarrassed and humiliated (maybe even shameful) by their behavior, when we’ve wished with everything inside of us that we were shopping alone, with adult manners, with the ability to keep focused on remembering what we need to buy. But, as moms, we don’t always have the opportunity or luxury or time or spouse to do that. And by the end of our shopping trip, we’re just really, really glad to have made it through the crazy-making experience and finally be done, in line checking out, because we’ve just spent so many minutes of our day managing children through a place that’s really boring and unimportant and over-stimulating to them. And the one-cent horse ride by the exit door is in view and we’re doing all we can to reach the finish line – for them, for us, for the frozen food! So then, to be met in a long and tedious line with your unkind face, glaring at my daughter, it feels unhelpful, unfruitful…not only for me and for her, but for you too. I’m sad for whatever lies inside of you that something so minute, so little in this world, got to you so severely and caused you to act so rudely, and had the ability to hide your love and gentleness that I just know lies beneath that furrowed brow. But that’s about you and whatever has gone on or is going on in your story. I have grace to offer for that. Not in spite of that, but because of that.

As for me, it reminded me of how us moms, whether new or seasoned, can offer a face of kindness and empathy when we see other moms struggling and managing and soothing and corralling, or even just wandering, in stores. Because we’ve been there. Maybe years ago, maybe hours ago. And we remember what shopping with kids was like: hard, chaotic, unnerving, definitely not any of the top 10 ways we would love to spend our day.

So again, I’m sorry that my little girl bumped into your cart. I’ll keep reminding her to try to notice what’s going on around her. That’s a really good and helpful quality to grow into.

And from me, to you – from one mama’s heart to another – may you see and feel, not only what’s happening around and to you, but what’s happening in and through your little girl, your children. So that when you’re in line at the grocery store again and some little girl bumps into your cart, you’ll notice her, and help her, and maybe even smile at her. And then, at her mom. Because you know. Because you’ve been there. And in that smile, that mom will know that you’re “with” her. That you “get” her. That you’re cheering her on.

I’ve only been on this parenting ride for about five years, but I’m pretty certain that most days, most moms, in most cities, need all the cheerleaders they can get.

From: That mom who was behind you in the checkout line


life at three. a letter from his mama.

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September 25, 2013

Dear Zane,

Happiness and love to our boy – our tough and tender three-year-old! It’s a day to celebrate, a day to remember fondly upon, a day filled with wild life and excessive joy as you literally jump out of two and march triumphantly into three. Oh, how you’ve made our hearts enlarge and soften as we’ve watched you grab onto everything around you with peaceful intent and calm curiosity. We’ve loved watching you play and laugh, process and figure out, soak in and execute. With each new experience your world bursts with possibility and excitement.

Since you follow the first born, your eyes and ears and body were plunged into a routine that’s been mostly patterned for her. Yet, as we’ve navigated her path, we’ve also attempted to help you create your own path, your own rhythm, inviting out your personality and style and passions. We’ve wanted you to be uniquely you, and the things that set you apart from her shine. She’s introduced you to a pink and purple princess world, along with her colored-haired ponies and mermaid tails. You’ve introduced her to a world of objects and wheels that move fast and furious, on the ground and in the clouds. You watch her. You imitate her. You giggle with her. You compete against her. She antagonizes you, and in the same breath, applauds you. There’s something that fascinates her, us, about you. Maybe it’s the way you move about with ease and comfort, maybe it’s your growing independent spirit, maybe it’s the strength of your masculine soul. Whatever it is, we’re intrigued by both your differences and similarities. We watch, we participate, we manage, we rally. Mostly, though, we delight in how you complement one another and enjoy one another and need one another. Pals, provokers, teammates.

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You’ve got this way of grabbing our hearts (and ears) the moment your mouth opens with that high-pitched, soft, sweet (until you get mad) voice. Your wavy brown hair, your deep, brown eyes that smile, your love for blankie and puppy and “baby,” your tender heart and courageous leaps, your giggle and scream and soft, little hands – they naturally draw us in with ease. Oh, how we marvel at the precise and spectacular ways God made you and how he is maturing the little spirit inside of you. We stand in awe that he chose to give you to us, and at the same time, acknowledge that he made you for him. We can’t wait to see how you will continue to express his very nature as you keep moving and defining and expressing who he’s created you to be.

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You’ve transitioned from diapers…to more diapers. The potty chair is entertainment and exercise and duty. Your crib is still your bed, which most nights, we’re grateful for the ways those wooden bars keep you confined . You’ve gained opinions about clothes and shoes, and what tastes good, and what shows are worthy of your eyes and time. The Maxwell sugar gene assuredly has been passed on to your DNA, which means candy and chocolate and cake and ice cream are not options, but rather necessities. Your preferences are clearly stated and loudly retorted when denied. Let’s just say, for as easy-going as you are, you know how to use your voice.

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Our trips and excursions this past year brought wonder and thrill as you journeyed your way into water parks and splash pads and beaches and parades and restaurants and play lands and barnyards and museums and parks and carnivals and boats and swimming pools and hotels and cottage trips and fairs and train rides. There’s no question that you were made for fun and adventure. There’s no question about what excites you and fires you up and invites out your brave spirit.

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So as you jet into this next year, eyes wide open, we pray God’s protection and love and grace and truth over you. We continue to ask for discernment for what it means to nurture your sweet soul, and what it looks like to invite your voice and heart and mind to the table, in our family, in this world. We, without hesitation, believe in you – your strength, your tenderness, your goodness – but even more, how when God looks upon you, his eyes smile too.

With much love and adoration,

Your Mama

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day one.


She did it. She stepped into the world of academia. With flying colors. Four days down. Nine months to go.

We’ve been praying and preparing for this day…school shopping and conversations about friendship, what it would be like in the classroom, in the lunch room, at recess, on the bus. The focus has been on treating others with love and respect, especially the ones who look like they’re hurting or shy or being picked on, instead of focusing on all the potentially hard and scary stuff (at least for now). We’ve reminded her of how special she is, and then how special EVERYONE is, and that it’s her job, her opportunity, to treat them like Jesus would treat them. And, of course, we reviewed what to do if and when the butterflies should appear in her tummy (thank you, The Whole-Brain Child).

The night before, one more pep talk, then we tucked her and her stuffed bunny and blankie into bed. And one last word from her to me, “Mom – if I sleep in, it’s OK if you get me up so I don’t miss the bus.” We knew she was ready ’cause this girl NEVER sleeps in!

The sun rose, she arose. GAME ON. Clothes, teeth, hair, sparkly lotion, tiara, breakfast. The house was calm, yet laced with anticipation and excitement and adrenalin, for all.

Pictures galore. Princess back pack. Packed lunch. Ready.

To the corner of Hope Street we went…skipping, running, smiling. Her eyes on the 5th grade neighbor boy. His eyes on the big yellow school bus.

Without hesitation, her little feet strided right up to the bus, turning around for one last picture. A smile, a wave, an eager walk to the back of the bus. And then, the bus took off…with our little girl – our innocent, naive, sweet, sassy, independent, feisty, hilarious, realistic, energized, loveable, capable little girl – who in that moment had just become a school-ager.

And the heaviness in my chest came. I felt it. I noticed it.

Perhaps it was the feeling of relief that she actually made it through the morning without any kind of push back or fear or attitude. Perhaps it was that I knew she had just stepped into the real world, the dangerous world, the exciting world. Perhaps it was a healthy fear of what could happen to her, who could hurt her. Perhaps it was the realization that our world with her as we’ve known it was done, completed, history…and we now step into a different kind of world – harder in some ways, better in other ways – and totally foreign. Perhaps it was the Holy Spirit resting upon me because there was this sense of gratitude and satisfaction in knowing that these past five years, although done, have been good (so, so good) in the midst of how hard (so, so hard) it’s been, and that I made it – I made it, to school, with her. All the make-my-hair-gray and body-fall-apart years – the past five years – are done. We close the door on them, we say goodbye. And if God works this way, I feel as if when my eyes followed that bus forward, he was standing right there, right beside me, whispering, “She did it. You did it. We did it. Together. I gave to you, you gave to her, and she takes ALL of that with her. She’s gonna soar.”

We returned to the house, my husband left for work, my son played with his race cars, and I went and sat on our deck, with my coffee, alone.

And I just breathed. No meaningful or profound thoughts. I just breathed. And it was good. So, so good.

And then he and I played and went to the park and looked and listened for bears on a nature hike. I didn’t really do much that day. Perhaps my mind and body and spirit just needed to rest…and perhaps numb out. And so it did.

The bus returned. She wore a smile. I knew it had been a good day. She ran to me, we hugged. I said “Hi girl!” and she showed me a piece of gum some kid on the bus gave her, and then ran down the sidewalk, to the house, and got her bike. The “show” began for the neighbor boys and within minutes – BOOM! She fell. Sure enough, the sidewalk won. Her face lost. Intense crying began, neuropathways started to disrupt and re-route. All that good? Well, it fell apart.


Comfort, nurture, empathy. The crying stopped. We washed and treated and bandaged the wound. And then those words came out of her mouth, “Mom – I can’t go to school looking like this!” Oh, my heart! When did self-esteem and self-image show up at my house? A five year old just told me that she was concerned about what other people thought about her looks. My heart sank a bit, but we quickly came up with some responses she could say to people who might ask. She was a bit satisfied, but still concerned. I added that boys might think it’s cool because sometimes they look at scars and scrapes as having been brave. Hmmm…not sure if that was helpful, but that’s what came out.

She recovered. We recovered. We rested on the couch. All my questions about her day went on pause. The routine evening activities unfolded. The puffiness diminished. The first layer of scab began to emerge. Clothes laid out, back pack ready. Stories and kisses and hugs like we do, and then she slipped off, deep into her dream world.

And it was good.

And that was the day in the life of my Kindergartener.

**Our Smilebox video here.

one month. labor free.

It’s been one month of no work. I’ve absolutely loved it! Taking off the counselor hat has felt refreshing in glorious ways. But, I’ve also missed it. I’ve missed entering into life with my clients and speaking truth into their souls. And, I’ve wondered, how they’re doing, how their hearts are hurting and healing, and how God is moving in their lives. And then I found this…these sweet, blow-my-hair back “reviews” from some of my clients, sharing what that space has meant to and done for them. And I smile…SO big. Not because of what I have done or said, but because of what God has initiated and taught and revealed and whispered to them. I just got to be a part of it! Oh, my heart. What a gift to be a part of this…movement and healing and restoration, the mystery of how God works.

Read here. (Brings me to tears.)

So, what have I been doing?

I’ve been playing…with her. She’s loved it. I’ve loved it. We’ve gallivanted around our little town and the cities close by – laughing, exploring, enjoying, talking, watching, eating, learning, shopping, swimming, creating, holding hands. LOTS of hand holding. That’s been my favorite part. Why? Because for me, it makes all that we’ve experienced together not just about “doing,” but about “being”…together.

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We’ve shared a total of eight days all to ourselves. Lovely, isn’t it? It’s been almost three years since it’s been just the two of us. I’ve missed that and I know she has too. The places and moments and feelings – they’re seared into my memory, tucked away in a special and sacred place. And I hold them tightly, close to me. They’re a gift.

And tomorrow, she’ll step onto that bus, walk into school, right into the world. I’ll choose to let her go. I’ll choose to release her into a new space that will be a part of teaching her, shaping her, creating her. And that will be hard. So, so hard. I’ll choose to trust – a bus driver, a teacher, a system, a curriculum, and 20-some other 5-year-olds – to be her guides. Her world will expand. She’ll be exposed. Her eyes and ears and mind will be enlightened. She’ll practice using what’s inside her. She’ll find more of who she is. She’ll begin soaking in so much of what she needs to navigate through this world.

Without me.

And then I’ll choose to trust the One above who gave me these first 5+ years to be her first model and mentor and protector and advocate and safe place to push on and crumble with, that he is WITH her and that he SEES her and that he is ROOTING for her, and has been, and will be.

And then I’ll (try to) believe that the work he has done here in our home, between us, will be carried forward with her and through her, working itself out as it comes and is needed, maturing and strengthening in just the right doses and in just the right time.

My lands! I have A LOT of trusting to do!

But then, I might turn a little music on, a bit louder than usual, shake out some dance moves, because my days are going to be HUGELY different and quieter and a bit easier and there will be more time to work on the things that I’ve needed to set aside for five years. Oh! I cannot wait. Can I get a hallelujah!!!!

Oh, but there’s a little man who is about to turn three that’s still in my care. He’ll still be hanging out with me most of the week. I’ll play race cars with him until I have a low turbo murmur coming out of my ears, and experience a new kind of joy as I uncover more of his sweetness and energy and personality and masculine soul.

But, I’ll still be dancing. Maybe with him, maybe in my head.

So, as we celebrate this Labor Day – a day dedicated to the “social and economic achievements of American workers” and pay tribute to “the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country,” my tribute turns a little different direction. It’s a direction that points to the “contribution” of what I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of – the hard “heart work” that my clients have courageously accomplished in order to remove the obstacles in their lives that have perhaps been barriers to deepening their relationship with others, with God. And, towards those in my life and my family’s life who have, and will, so graciously contributed to and strengthened our well-being.

Thankful. Grateful.

Let’s welcome our final summer days, soaking in the remainder of the shining sun and bike rides and sandy beaches and green trees and fresh produce and deck nights with lights.

And then, let’s roll onward to what’s ahead.

But today…rest, relax, pay tribute to what matters most to you.


year 10.

May 15, 2013

Dear Mom,

I miss you.

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

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

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

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

So, a little birthday letter to you…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 70th birthday, mom!

Love, Carissa

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


Skyla Rae – month one


Skyla Rae – year one

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Skyla Rae – year one 1/2


Skyla Rae – year two 1/2


Skyla Rae – year three 1/2

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Skyla Rae – year 4

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Skyla Rae – year 5

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Skyla & Zane – year 5

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Skyla & Zane – year 5

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Skyla & Zane – year 5

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Skyla Rae – year 5

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Skyla Rae & Daddy – year 5

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Skyla Rae & Mommy – year 5

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.

10 voices giving voice.

I feel so grateful for the opportunity each year to be a part of National Adoption Month…as an adoptee, as a voice in the adoption world, as an advocate for the human heart.

I thoroughly loved sharing the voices of Sarah Carter (waiting mama), Tona Ottinger (adoptive mama) and Brad Nelson (adoption advocate) this month. Their message, their voice may be just a sliver of what’s out there, but I know that their heart and experience covers a vast array of the human race. So, thank you, friends, for offering your voice and heart this month.

This last “adoption” post comes from the heart of the adoptive parent. 10 women so happily and eagerly volunteered to read Before You Were Mine and write a review for me, for you. I was totally wow’d at the response and even more wow’d by their ability to not only read the pages, but allow the message on the pages to soak in, deeply. They “got it” – that the story of their amazing and beautiful and precious baby’s heart…mattered. And, that it mattered before they held him or her in their arms.

So, thank you lovely ladies, stellar mamas, gifted storytellers…for being open to not only sharing your voice, but also giving voice to your children. May you sense God’s favor upon you, upon them, as you begin telling their stories.

And, here they are…

Welcome to…MaryLeigh Brown from Tennessee.

She’s a…children’s ministry director by day, mom of three amazing kiddos (Bates, age 3 from S. Korea and Brodie, age 2 from S. Korea, waiting on our daughter, Nell, age 1 to come home), waiting child advocate, blogger at

As an adoptive mother, I feel very strongly it is my job to put together the pieces, record, and treasure my children’s stories. For over two years “do lifebooks” has been on my to do list. I’ve tackled mountains of paperwork, blogs, photo albums, and videos – all the while putting off the overwhelming task of my children’s life books. “Before You Were Mine” is the tool I have been needing. Not only does it stress the importance of creating this life long treasure, it more importantly walks you through the “how.” It is so much more than another adoptive parenting book, it is a workbook and a tool so desperately needed in the adoptive community. Now I feel not only inspired to finally tackle my children’s lifebooks, but also equipped with a tool for those harder, heavier parts. I am honored to be able to put together this message of redemption, hope, and love for my children.

Welcome to…Elizabeth Isaak from Illinois.

My name is Elizabeth Isaak and I am a mother of three. The first two came to our family biologically, and our third was adopted from Ethiopia in 2009. Adoption was always a hope of my husband and I, and we are so blessed to be called to this amazing adventure. With an 8, 6, and 4 year old, we are always busy and sufficiently exhausted by the end of our days, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, we plan on adding more to our brood through adoption, because we feel God has called us to this life. We’ve already broken the “American” standard for a neat and tidy family of four, so we figure, why not keep going? Our life is hectic, there is always a level of chaos in our house, there is always laundry to be folded, and if the house is spic and span, it probably means a social worker is coming over for a home visit. But there is love here, and we have room for more.

Prior to reading, “Before You Were Mine,” I had no idea what a Lifestory was and why it was so important. I am a second-generation adoptive mom, and back in the early 80’s, when my younger brother was adopted from South Korea, there was no education for adoptive families on how to address identity with your child, or the importance of celebrating their heritage. My brother was American, and that was it. We knew a little about his story before he came home to our family, but it was never addressed directly or sensitively. My parents thought that loving him, making him part of our family, and providing for him was all he needed to feel fulfilled. Personally, I don’t have to wonder about my beginnings, or my identity. I am genetically related to my parents, so there is no question where I come from. But my son doesn’t have that privilege. He will wonder about who his biological parents are, what they looked like, what they did, where they lived, what was important to them. Those questions were easily answered for me, but not for him. As his mother, I have the opportunity to help him know as much about his beginnings and his identity as I can. While exploring our child’s life story may become emotional and oftentimes painful, they deserve to know that they HAD a beginning, that they matter, they are loved, and to know their identity. Addressing the beginning of their story is essential for them to embrace who they are and their value. “Before You Were Mine” not only lays out the importance putting together your child’s lifestory, it also provides an easy, step-by-step instruction for how to put it together. For someone like me, who is seriously lacking in the organization and time management department, this book was just what I needed to encourage me to discover my son’s lifestory. The feeling of being overwhelmed has now been replaced by a feeling of confidence. I can’t wait to get started! Thank you Susan and Carissa for this very handy tool!

Welcome to…Ellen Ragsdale from Kentucky.

I have been married for 13 years to my husband, Nathan. We have 3 children two biological sons, Ethan 12 and Isaiah 6; our daughter Annalee is 3 and was adopted from South Korea. Ethan and I traveled to Korea and brought her home when she was 11 months old. I work in military healthcare and my husband is the primary homeschool teacher to our kids in our second year of homeschooling. I am the editor of the monthly newsletter for our area homeschool group and a guest contributor to our ladies newsletter in our church. As a former journalism major in college I have a love for the written word!Just two weeks ago our family moved into a new home to become neighborhood ambassadors in an at risk neighborhood in our town. We will be building relationships with our neighbors and hosting programs such as Jobs for Life, tutoring, and Bible Clubs in our home. We are so blessed to be serving with our children and are in awe of how God is working in our lives!

When given the opportunity to read the book, Before You Were Mine, there were two words that came to mind – curiosity and excellence. As an adoptive parent I had heard the term “Lifebook” many times, but had never given it a thought beyond a scrapbook of my daughter’s adoption, so I was curious as to what exactly this book would share. I expected nothing less than excellence in this piece of writing, as I had been afforded the opportunity to attend a conference in which author Carissa Woodwyk was a keynote speaker. As an adoptee her words were like gold to adoptive moms just hoping and praying they were doing the best for their precious adopted children. Her words were raw, honest, and enlightening…she spoke with passion and excellence.

I picked up the book and read slowly through the first chapter. It seemed hard for me to process the concept of a lifebook outside of the preconceived notion of a scrapbook, but in chapter two I was drawn into this treasure of knowledge and could not seem to stop reading the words that were inspiring me to see my child’s story and that of her birthparents in a new light…

From page 27, “We now become treasure hunters looking for gold – but not just the gold found in the facts and data in our child’s documents, as important as that is, but also the gold found in Scripture that we can intimately tie to our child’s unique adoption experience.”

Page after page I was prodded to make notes of wisdom written by a mom that has been in my shoes, a mom to three young kids, knowing someday questions will surface and still thankful that there is still time to prepare. The overwhelming task of being a story teller and guarding our children’s hearts and self-worth is simplified in such a way that it does not take away from the sacredness of the mission, but makes it manageable for a parent to undertake, whether they consider themselves creative or not.

I am thankful for Before You Were Mine, because now I am prepared to write my daughter’s story, not just from the day she joined our family, but from the day she was born. This book is a treasure…both excellently written and sure to fulfill the curiosity of an adoptive parent that is seeking the inspiration to create a loving keepsake that will provide guidance and assurance for their child.

Welcome to…Julie VanderMeulen from Michigan.

She is…a stay-at-home adoptive mother of two children born in Guatemala.

Before You Were Mine is a treasure for adoptive families. It weaves the practical steps of creating a Lifebook with invaluable reminders of how God’s hand is at work in every moment of our children’s lives, including the ones they lived before we were united as a family. It shows how to tell our children’s sacred stories, no matter how painful they may be, so that our children come to understand how God has always been their loving Father, even through relinquishment, encouraging healing throughout their lives. Before You Were Mine reiterated to me how necessary Lifebooks are, and it made a huge project do-able. I’m so grateful!

Welcome to…Karen King from North Carolina.

I am Karen King, 43 years old, wife, mother and special education teacher. I have two wonderful children. Declan, 8, is my biological son. He is red headed, bright, loves learning about all things science, building with Lego and thinks his sister is way cooler than she thinks he is. Terefech, 7, is our daughter from Ethiopia. She is curly headed, athletic, girly, loves school and loves her brother some of the time. We were brought to adoption for a variety of reasons. I had always said I was going to adopt for as long as I can remember. Around Declan turning 2, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis which led us to the path of adoption at that point. My husband has his undergraduate degree in international affairs/African studies which drew us to Ethiopia as a place to adopt from.

I was excited to read “Before You Were Mine” because I saw Carissa speak at an adoptive mom’s retreat. I identified with her ways of thinking about talking with your children about adoption, race and how to talk to your children about their life and challenges. I just felt there was so much I could learn from her as an adoptive parent.

As I started reading “Before You Were Mine,” I felt I had addressed many of the issues it would be talking about. I was lucky that my adoption agency provided us with a pre-made lifebook while we were in Ethiopia. It documented Terefech’s life in Ethiopia once she came into care. Our agency also had provided us with information about her birthplace and her birth family. Terefech has these books in her possession and looks at them occasionally. have also made books of our trip to Ethiopia and pictures of her friends from the orphanage and care center I basically felt like I was done. I still wanted to get all of our paperwork organized for her to look through at some point but I felt pretty accomplished.

“Before You Were Mine” has made me realize I am not done. I need to keep going I have so much more of Terefech’s story to tell. And I saw her in the personal stories that the authors shared. I saw that she needs to hear all I can tell her about her life before me, what I know of what happened and why, and see the faces of the people who continue to love her from another country. It will help her in ways that I can’t even define at this point in her life. I am so glad that I got to read this book and have it help me be a better mom!

I liked this book for so many reasons. I really enjoyed the personal stories that were told, how the life book can work in your life and your child’s life, the different ways scripture was shown to incorporate into the life book. I am a Christian and a very liberal Christian at that. Often my views of Christianity and Christianity as it pertains to adoption, don’t agree with the way others views it. I felt as though I had a place in this book. That it gave me a place to incorporate my beliefs of God and how his love is involved in our story. The quotes and quotes of scripture give me the ability to share with my daughter the love I know God had for her from the very beginning and that hasn’t changed because of who she lives with. “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Jesus Christ had.” Romans 15:5. I was especially drawn to the lines in the book, “We believe our children are with us today because God responded to their need and our desire to parent them.” As well, “He is the defender of the fatherless, not the cause.” To be honest, those words helped me define how I believed it all worked or why it worked or why I hope it is working.

Welcome to…Natalie Henderson from Kentucky.

I am a mother of two sons, adopted from Ethiopia, one of whom is HIV+. I am also a pediatrician, training to be pediatric intensive care doctor and live in Louisville, Kentucky with my boys. I spend my time free from work with my boys and advocating for HIV+ children. I hope in the next three years to be running an adoption clinic in Louisville.

When I adopted our first son, I was guilty of saving every momento, picture, and piece of paper throughout the process for his “lifebook.” It was not until he was home for over a year, in the middle of our second adoption, that I realized this was more than a scrapbook of our adoption. We were going to meet his birth mom and I wanted to tell the real story for him. I did my best but still felt something was missing.

I just finished “Before You Were Mine” and now feel equipped to do justice to both of my sons’ stories, both the one overflowing with information and the one scarce and full of pain. Having heard Carissa Woodwyk speak previously, I instantly valued her opinion, but having that combined with Susan’s personal experience as an adoptive mom gave a palpable and real look at the impact of lifebooks in both the adoptee and the adoptive parent’s life. Moreover, they integrate the necessity of faith and Christ’s words into the life book in a way that both teaches and gives deeper meaning to the child’s journey. A must read for all adoptive parents.

Welcome to…Janet Disotell from Arizona.

I’m a stay at home mom of two children – school aged son and preK daughter. Both of my children were adopted internationally, and I’m always in search of resources to help me be the best mom I can be to them.

I’ve been an AP (adoptive parent) for 6+ years now, and I “thought” I knew what life books were all about. When I first opened “Before You Were Mine,” I expected another viewpoint on adoption and life books. Let me say that the “Overview” in itself inspired me to do a better job at creating my children’s life books. Finding scripture verses to add to the pages of their story, I’d never considered that before. Reading about that was such an “aha” moment for me. I now see that my children’s stories before coming home need to be written out so that they can put the pieces together when they want. I’m responsible for sharing everything I know in an honest yet delicate manner to help my children. “Before You Were Mine” is filled with checklists, thought provoking questions, numerous ideas and suggestions to help AP’s tell their children’s stories. Any AP who is looking for help or where to begin with their child’s life book needs THIS book. I also think that those who “think” they know what lifebooks are should get a copy as well. Thank you, Carissa Woodwyk and Susan Tebos for your knowledge and for sharing your hearts.

Welcome to…Kamarah Sietsema from Michigan.

I’m a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of two biological children who are 8 and 10. I’ve been married to Ryan for 14 years and God has recently called us to expand our family through adoption. We are currently waiting for one or two children to join our family from Ethiopia. We are excited and blessed to be on this journey and can’t wait to see how the Lord continues to guide us. In my free time, I love photography, reading, hanging out with friends, walking, cooking, and eating tasty food.

Many of us have grown up not giving a second thought to where we came from or parts of our history…the details of our past have been woven into our lives as a natural, effortless component of our story. But for adopted children, this is not always the case. Their past is fragmented and torn; parts of their story are often left untold.

“Before You Were Mine” is an amazing resource aimed to equip parents in capturing their child’s story. The book details how to write a ‘Lifebook,’ which is “a story book that acknowledges, celebrates, explains, and honors the life of an adoptee prior to adoption.” It also gives insightful information on when to discuss sensitive aspects of the child’s history, as well as which details to share, depending on his/her age.

The writing guide this book provides is well laid out and organized; I don’t need to brainstorm a list of what to write about. Well thought-out questions are divided into sections and parents are guided step-by-step through the writing process. Example Lifebook pages are provided with tips on how and what facts to include.

What I appreciated most about the authors’ perspective on writing a Lifebook was their God-honoring focus. Prayers are sprinkled throughout chapters, encouraging parents to pray through the writing process and for their children. Scripture verses are included as empowering guides for parents as they prepare to engage in adoption conversations with their kids. This book embraces God’s Word as Truth and fully acknowledges our trust and reliance on Him as we guide and raise our children.

I believe that this book could be a valuable resource for parents to help their adopted children embrace and understand their past and the unique plan God has for each of their lives.

Welcome to…Jennifer Vines from Alabama.

I’m a 40 year old wife and homeschooling mom of four. Our oldest was adopted domestically through the foster care system in Alabama. Parenting my children, especially my now 13 year old adoptee, has stretched my faith and caused me to lean more heavily than ever on my Father. I’m so grateful for the encouragement of Before You Were Mine and in the new year will be leading a group through this book as we compile our children’s life stories. I can’t wait to see how we gain a better understanding of our children’s losses, our own grief and reckon that impact into our parenting.

I heard Carissa at an adoption conference last year and was moved by her honest story and wisdom as a transracial adoptee, a family counselor and a mom. It’s a privilege to be able to review her book and share what an encouragement it has been. I believe Before You Were Mine can benefit every adoptive family. I am recommending it frequently to my many friends who have adopted or are in process. I only wish I had read such a great perspective when my adopted son was younger, but am now eagerly anticipating completing his life book.

So much of TeBos and Woodwyk’s book is practical, real encouragement to parents wishing to explain the story of their adopted children’s lives before their adoption. I loved the beach ball analogy, though it was also a difficult visual to face personally. The authors remind us that as we push down feelings of loss or grief, or at the least, do not encourage release of them, it is like pushing a beach ball under the water; the harder we push down, the greater force with which it will erupt later. The loss of an adoptee is of great impact in his/her life, and must be dealt with – by both adoptive parent and the child who has suffered the relinquishment or abandonment. I greatly appreciated the tips on journaling our children’s stories – keeping entries into the lifebook simple for younger kids and adding information verbally as they age and we share time together, reviewing their books. There was great encouragement to use teachable moments to validate feelings and encourage openness throughout the book, as well as examples of entries, how to handle difficult information, and Scripture to incorporate faith and the truth of God’s Word as it applies to our children’s lives. This book would also be wonderfully used as a group study for adoptive families, and has simple homework/questions for pondering at the end of chapters.

Overall, I found Before You Were Mine to be very helpful for the parent on the road to adoption or those post adoption to give their children voice when dealing with their past losses and to give them security in their places in their adoptive family. This is a story written with great heart, and practical wisdom that I will refer to again and again.

Welcome to…Christi Hughes from Kentucky.

I am a blessed momma, a loved wife and an adopted CHILD OF GOD. I live in Kentucky with my husband and our little Korean cutie, a super dog and a crazy cat. We are in the process of bringing home a sibling from South Korea and have been truly blessed by the miracle of adoption.

Absolutely wonderful..and this doesn’t even touch the fact that this book takes a very scary, daunting task and puts it into manageable goals. It is so wonderfully written with personal experiences and references to God’s unfailing love for our children. There are examples of conversations, which most of us have either had with our children or are dreading about having with our children. It is a road map to create a reminder, a keepsake, about our children’s lives before they came to us. This is sometimes hard to think about because of the circumstances, but our children deserve to know the truth and they must know that God had a plan for them from the very beginning. I will be starting my son’s lifebook now, not with apprehension and confusion, but with a wonderful book that has shown me where to start and how to gather the important information.

Again, thank you mamas for reading the book, writing a review, and for the ways you love your children.

This song was used at the Tapestry Conference special presentation, “Listen to Our Hearts” – a night of adoptee voices. I love the words and I hope you feel inspired as you remind your children of who they are, how God sees them.

Remind Me Who I Am – Jason Gray

Oh, and if you have read Before You Were Mine and would like to share your feedback, feel free to contact me. I would love to hear how your storytelling is going!


entering in.

So happy to introduce to you Tona Ottinger, an adoptive mama, an adoption advocate, a woman who seeks the beauty and hope in the world around her. I met her in my ever growing circle of adoption and have grown to love her heart for Jesus and her heart for what it means to parent the heart of her children. I’m confident you will be encouraged and inspired by what she has to share about “entering in” to the brokenness and beauty of story.

I like happy endings and packages wrapped in pretty bows. I like predictability and I grapple for control. I avoid pain whenever possible, trying instead to look on the bright side and think the best of everyone and all situations.

But that is not life. That is not relationships and it is certainly not reality. It is not living in the moment. When I choose to live in the moment, my heart is pushed to be honest. I am faced with a fallen and broken world, with shattered hopes and hurting people. I am forced to see the fractured pieces of lives affected by sin, evil, and suffering, including my own. The present is where my feelings are and where I should live. It is also where I hear the voice of the Lord and experience His presence and His peace that truly does surpass all understanding. He speaks, reveals, heals, and redeems in the present moment.

When we live in the moment, we are open and vulnerable to both pain and healing, to both fear and peace, to both sadness and joy, and to both loss and hope. When I focus too much on the past I get stuck. When I long too much for the future I am either paralyzed with fear of the unknown or lost in fairytale day dreaming about all the possible “what ifs.” But, I am not living with the joy and freedom of being present.

As a mom of four precious children through the gift of adoption, I have come to see that my children live in the present. Yes, they are affected greatly by the reality of their past and the loss, pain, and fear that weaves its hand through their stories. They are often very fearful of the future, but the healing they so desperately need happens moment by moment as we walk throughout our days. They are living and healing inthe moment.

They are longing for someone to cling to. Someone to trust. Someone to put their hope in and someone who will love them unconditionally, ultimately as Christ loves us. This is a tall order for a weak and fallen human to fulfill. I fail often. I make mistakes, and I am far from perfect. So I cling to His lavish grace. I need the same things they need from Him. So we are on a journey together. But that journey is lived taking one step as a time in the present moment. Where we all need grace, healing, trust, and compassion from our heavenly Father.

As their mom, I must be willing to enter into their pain and watch God heal and work. As much as I want to control, protect and rescue them, that is not what God has called me to do. That is His job. Please do not misunderstand me; I take very seriously the role that God has ordained for me and my husband within our children’s stories. We have the divine privilege of walking with them on their healing journey. God created the human heart and mind to operate inrelationship. That is where healing and hope reside. But, I cannot force this process and I must cling to Him as I wait.

Henry Nouwen says this about compassion:

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”

We are all broken and in that brokenness is the place where God’s redemptive hand creates great beauty. There can only be healing where there was pain. Peace can rush into the place that fear once took residence.

As God knits our families together through adoption, we are given a divine invitation to enter into our children’s lives with compassion and hope.

The human heart is sacred ground. There is power in sharing our stories and lives with one another. God created us as beings that are to live in community, with one another. We are, after all, made in Hisimage; the image of a triune God – One God in three persons. Relationship, community, family, life on life; this is how God created us to function. Together.

As an adoptive family we stand amazed that God in his infinite sovereignty searched the globe over and chose the 6 of us to live life together. None of us are related by birth or blood. None of us share an ounce of DNA, but we are a family.

We are a picture of his creative hand.

We are living life together.

We are loving deeply.

We are hoping in Him.

A song that speaks to Tona’s heart: Beautiful Things by Gungor

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Tona Ottinger has been married to Mark for 15 years and they live in Tennessee, where Mark serves as the Pastor to Families at Fellowship Memphis. They have four blessings through adoption. Camden(12yrs) – came home from South Korea at 10 months old. Mia (11yrs) – was adopted domestically at birth. Mallie (9yrs) – was adopted from Hong Kong at the age of 3yrs. Dax (8yrs) – was adopted domestically at 4 months old. They are passionate about special needs adoptions as well as compassionately walking with their children through their stories. Together they head up a city-wide ministry that resources and supports adoptive and foster families, as well as several projects that support the local foster care system. The Ottingers are parent trainers for Empowered to Connect. Tona is passionate about living a hope-filled life of abiding in Christ and being fully known and loved by Him. You can follow Tona on her blog.