Monthly Archives: May 2012

Keeping the Good Moments Good

Sometimes kids with grief issues can have a hard time enjoying the good moments in family life. This afternoon we settled in to work on a Christmas craft,  a pine cone elf project. Most of the kids got into the project and enjoyed it. But one was struggling.

After beginning the project halfheartedly, the child asked if it was OK to make elves with frowning faces. Hm, how to answer? Yes, I could sanction the creation of a cranky elf. But then, I’d hate looking at the thing, and the child’s negativity would be manifested in a durable way. Nope. I didn’t think that’d do anyone any good.

I could lecture the kid and insist that the elf be a smiling one. Except I lecture enough in a day, and this was supposed to be fun. Nobody in the room needed me coming down on the kid like a ton of bricks, as tempting as that was. No, I had to find a way to make my response fun, while still encouraging the child towards a project that reflected cheer.

“Oh!”  I said, jumping to my feet and pulling up the child too. “I think that you must not have gotten enough hugs today!! When people don’t get enough hugs, they have a hard time with joy, and of course this project should be joyful. Come here, and let’s hug until you’re strong enough to make a happy craft!”

Grinning ruefully, the child gave me a noodle-armed hug.

“Oh, no!” I said. “We’re going to need to hug until your arms are strong enough for a good hug. We’d better practice kissing too while we’re at it.”

I smooched the child’s cheeks, alternating sides til the child began smiling in spite of efforts to be stone-faced, and actually gave me a decent hug. “OK, now you kiss me!” I said, offering a cheek. Kisses were given, still with a rueful grin.

“Now, are you strong enough to make a happy craft, or do we need more hugs and kisses?”

The child hurriedly assured me that enough strength now existed to create a smiling elf, escaped my hug, settled back at the table, and proceeded to work on a happy face.

During the next hour, a few more hugs were needed to refresh the child’s ability to craft happily. Yeah, I was basically threatening the child with hugs each time cooperation and good attitudes began to slip away. In an ideal world, my child would actually seek out my hugs, would be comfortable with happy family time.

But that is not the current reality for this child. And here’s the thing: each time I engaged the child in this way, every person in the room ended up smiling. Even the child. We ended each interaction more connected, with the child truly more able to participate in the activity. I felt better. The kid felt better. And no one else in the room was subjected to an unhappy showdown.

I don’t always handle it this well. When dealing with a child who is consciously or unconsciously trying to sabotage family fun, we’ve had plenty of showdowns. But when I remember to play the humor card, while still sticking to my guns, I tend to be much more successful in redirecting the child, and also safeguard the joy of everyone else in the room.


Mary Ostyn has been married for 25 years to the guy she met in math class at age 17. I have kids in college, high school, junior high, grade school, and preschool, 10 altogether. Six of her children arrived via adoption, 2 from Korea and 4 from Ethiopia.She homeschools, gardens, cooks, budget-stretches and takes pictures obsessively. Also she writes. Her 200-recipe cookbook/ shopping guide Family Feasts for $75 a Week came out in September, 2009. She also wrote A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family which came out in March, 2009. If she had to describe her blog in one sentence, she’d say it is about making the most of your resources so that you can have the greatest impact possible on the world around you, beginning, of course, with family. Visit her site Owlhaven soon!

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The Wrong Diagnosis

Several months ago, I took Evangeline, our adopted daughter from Ukraine, five years old, diagnosed with Down syndrome, to a developmental pediatrician.

“I heard this doctor is good at what he does, and I want his opinion about Evie’s lack of development since she’s been home from Ukraine,” I affirmed rather loudly to my husband Sergei in an effort to hide that really, I was taking Evangeline to this doctor for a second opinion.

A year ago, Evie was evaluated at the Erikson Institute here in Chicago for Autism. At the time, her main activities included rocking back and forth, sitting on her bed, and looking at a light-up toy. Her eye contact was sporadic at best, and she could not tolerate textured food nor touch (unless it was rough housing). I was certain we would come home with a dual diagnosis of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and Down syndrome because almost every time I reached out to my beautiful blond little girl, my hand would get slapped.

After several appointments, Erikson concluded that Evangeline was not on the spectrum but probably suffered from the debilitating effects of orphanage life paired with cognitive and developmental delays that can accompany Down syndrome.

But I wanted an answer.

When the report came in the mail, I opened the letter while sitting on the toilet seat behind a locked bathroom door and cried. On some level, I wanted the dual diagnosis because I wanted answers. I wanted to know why Evie ground her teeth constantly, why she sought out dust and dirt to eat but refused real food. I wanted to know why she scratched her sisters when they tried to hug her, and cried at loud noises, and sat off to the side of our lives alone, most days, rocking.

But I did not get a concrete answer. I got a “keep doing what you are doing. Find more therapy opportunities, give her time to bond with your family.” And slowly over the next few weeks, I started to shut down. I found it too painful to try to connect with my daughter. For months, I went through the everyday motions of caring for my family as best I could, all the while holding back from climbing into bed. I no longer attempted to bond with Evie. If she was fine being a part of our family without really being close to me, than maybe, I could live like that too.

And, then I realized something.

I was seeking out the wrong diagnosis for the wrong family member. Sure, it was good to have Evie evaluated a year ago. She certainly had characteristics that could point to ASD. But really, I was the one who needed the most help. I was struggling from post-adoption depression, which could have only been aggravated by a little post-traumatic stress disorder thrown in after Polly’s stroke, diagnosis of Moyamoya, and two brain surgeries. After our time at the Erikson Institute, I quietly unravelled.

I have struggled with depression all my life, but alas, it is kind of like that pesky monthly period for women. Every month I am shocked that my foul mood results with menstruation. And I am 36 years old!

Depression is like that for me, too. It sneaks up on me: a few aches and pains, feeling a little down in the dumps, sleeping poorly. I fight, I do what I absolutely need to for the family and then when I can’t anymore, I get into bed and I don’t get out.

I started to see a doctor and a therapist, but I wasn’t feeling better. I cried out to God to help me, to show me how to trust him and get back on track, but to no avail. I struggled for months, but still, somehow managed to post perky facebook stati often enough so that people outside my direct family wouldn’t suspect a thing.

But I was drowning.

This past fall, God gave me the strength to try again to get help for my depression. I went back to my doctor and let her put me on a higher dosed anti-depressant. I started seeing a different therapist and we clicked right away. I started to wake up in the morning and notice that the sun was shining.

And I saw Evangeline, a little girl considerably changed from a year ago.

Since Evie has been with us (over two years) there have been little breakthroughs here and there in our bonding. I liken them to nicking the surface of a frozen lake with a BB gun.

Now that I am above water again in life, the ice is starting to thaw. I can sit a stare at Evie for a while, marvel at her button nose, appreciate her smell, want to pull her to me.

So, why did I take Evie for the second opinion last week?

Because I wanted to make sure that a dual diagnosis isn’t in the picture for our girl. A lot of her behaviors have fallen away but she has a lot left. And although we are doing much better, I am now struggling with the guilt of that missed time when a shadow of a mother was parenting my daughter.

At the appointment, Evie climbed up into a chair, uninterested in the train set the doctor attempted to entice her with. But she laughed when he tickled her, and followed his finger as he played with her, and looked both the doctor and me in the eye almost the whole time.

I loved the doctor. He was a bit brash and un-orthodox (took a text from his wife during our interview and laughed out loud at what she wrote :). But he cut to the chase with me and it was just what I needed.

“I don’t see any definite red flags regarding a dual diagnosis off the bat, of course, if you’d like, we can do a full evaluation of Evangeline to get more in-depth. But I have to ask, why are you here? You’ve already had your daughter evaluated at Erikson?”

“Because, well”, I took a deep breath. “Because I am afraid I am not doing enough. Our other daughter got sick and ended up needing two brain surgeries six weeks after Evangeline came home from Ukraine and I. . . well, I’ve struggled with depression.” I kind of left my answer there but in my heart I added, I am afraid that I have already failed her.

“Mrs. Marchenko, your family has been through a very difficult time these last few years. I want you to know, you are doing a good job with your kids.”

I had to look away as the tears pooled in my eyes.

“And now, Ms. Evangeline,” the doctor turned to Evie and let me attempt to compose myself.

After the visit to the doctor, I realized I had been looking for two things: 1) the wrong diagnosis, and 2) validation that I am the right mom for my child.

Adoption is beautiful, but it is also very hard.

With God’s help, we all can be the right parents for our children.


Gillian Marchenko

Gillian Marchenko is a writer, speaker, and advocate for individuals with special needs. Her writing has appeared in Mom Sense Magazine, EFCA Today, The Four Cornered Universe, and Chicago Parent. Gillian lives in Chicago with her husband Sergei and their daughters Elaina, Zoya, Polly, and Evangeline. Connect with Gillian on Facebook or Twitter, check out her website at, or follow her family blog Pocket Lint.

A Plea for Alea

What would you do if your child had no hope to survive? 

What if after they told you there was little to no hope the doctors offered your child hope in the form of a surgery that would restore your child’s health completely?

What if it was a miracle that this surgery could even be offered, but it WAS being offered to YOUR child?

What if the only thing standing in the way of your child having the hope of a long, full life was money?

What would you do?

I know what you would do.

You would do anything.

You would stop at nothing.

You would tell everyone, and you would take a second mortgage on your house.


Because that child means everything to you.


This is Alea.

God made her. God loves her. She means EVERYTHING to Him.

In fact, He died for her.

Without surgery though, Alea has no hope to survive. She was born with biliary atresia. In ten months (at the most), without a liver transplant, her body will begin to shut down and she will die.

But, she doesn’t have a mom or a dad to advocate for her- to tell everyone and to stop at nothing.

She is being cared for New Day Foster Home in China, and they want to do everything they can to save Alea’s life- because she matters to God. They have explored every avenue possible for Alea. They have been praying for one of four miracles. But, they have limited resources from which to draw, and a lot of kids in there care who need life-saving surgeries.

One miracle has already begun: Alea’s doctors in China are searching for a liver donation for her- organ donations are unheard of in China, and they think they are close.

Alea is currently in the hospital in Beijing. All the tests she needs pre-op are done, the only thing they are waiting for is a liver.

But, there is one more thing. The only thing standing between Alea and her liver is money- $65,000 to be exact.

That’s how much Alea’s surgery will cost, and that amount is astronomical for New Day.

They need people who are willing to do do anything, to stop at nothing, and to tell everyone- because Alea means everything to God, therefore she means everything to us.

Alea’s life matters because God made her and God loves her. She is created in His image, and He loves her so much He died for her.

God wants us to defend the cause of the fatherless (Is. 1:17), and that’s what we are inviting you to do.

To defend Alea’s cause- her very life.

If you want to help to save Alea’s life, please visit the Hope for Alea blog. You can read Alea’s whole story, see lots of pictures and video, and you can be part of the Red Envelope Fundraiser that is taking place right now to raise the $65,000 needed to pay for Alea’s life-saving liver transplant. 

We have raised nearly $7,500 already, but we still have over $55,000 left to raise. We are asking people to do what they would do if this were their very own child. Let’s not let money stand in the way of Alea’s life.
She’s worth SO much more than that!


Jenna Hardy

Jenna is a teacher, turned stay-at-home mom, turned Children’s Ministry Director who is passionate about children. After hearing God’s call to care for orphans 4 years ago, she has become increasingly passionate about adoption and orphan care. She and her high school sweetheart, Scot, have been married for 13 years and brought home their son Cooper from China at 3 years old. They are excited to see what God will do in the next chapter of the story He is writing with their family. Jenna and Scot feel strongly about sharing their story so that they might be of encouragement to others in various stages of the adoption process. You can follow along with them at Our Many Colored Days.

How Long?

We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us;
we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.
– C.S. Lewis

I came across this quote in a rather timely read of Mary Beth Chapman’s book Choosing to See. The book is about Mary Beth’s life, her marriage to musician Steven Curtis Chapman, the birth of her children, the adoptions of her three youngest daughters, and the tragic death of her 5-year-old in 2008. Reading through this painful story has helped me work through a lot of the pain and sadness I’ve run into this past week as John and I wait endlessly for our adoption to move forward. Sort of an “if-she-can-make-it-through-that-then-I-can-make-it-through-this” kind of a read.

While our adoption process had been moving along fairly well- albeit slower than we had hoped for- we’ve come to a standstill. The home study is long done. Fundraising complete. Agency fees paid and sent. Our preliminary dossier carried to Russia; it should even be translated by now. All our immigration paperwork has been sent in to the US government. And now? We wait, endlessly- waiting for Moscow to lift the adoption suspension and start registering dossiers again.

I wake up every morning, hit the snooze button, and begin to pray for our little guy. I walk around our neighborhood, whispering prayers to God- asking him to AWAKE and act on our behalf. Pointing out that if he can make spring happen, raise every blade of grass to life, and command the trees to burst with blossoms- if he can create new life where only weeks ago it looked like there was none- then surely he can move a government to lift this adoption suspension. I lie down at night wondering what our little guy is doing, if he’s just getting up for the day, and hoping he’s well cared for. I imagine what it’s going to be like to finally hold him in my arms and then I force myself to think about something else, otherwise I’d never sleep.

I cry a lot because even though I know God’s putting all things back together in Christ, the effects of the fall are still too powerful. I cry out because I hate that the world is still so broken and I lament that God seems so slow to move sometimes. I cry because I don’t know whether my faith is weak or whether I’m right to be so upset in the face of brokenness.

I’m not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us;
I’m wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.

I’ve received a lot of assurances through our adoption journey. “It will all work out.” “All in God’s timing.” “He has a plan!”

Yes. True.

But “a plan” that “works out” in “God’s timing” still leaves room for lament. Think of the martyrs whose testimony far surpasses my own; their deaths were part of a plan that worked out in God’s timing… but still, they died.

The only thing I know is that somehow it all works out for God’s glory. In that, my faith is unwavering.

But in the rest of it, I cry out with the Psalmist:

How long O Lord?

Will you forget me forever?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts?

And day after day have sorrow in my heart?

I trust that this endless waiting and wondering and worrying is God’s best. I trust it works out for his glory. I’m just wondering how much more painful it’s going to be.


Jillian Burden


Jillian Burden is an expectant mama; she and her husband are expecting their first child by way of a Russian adoption. While her belly might not be expanding, her heart and her faith sure are growing! You can read about this soul stretching journey to parenthood on her blog. And, take a few minutes to check out her storefront as well; for one more week, she’s partnering with The Sparrow Fund by giving 10% of all her sales from her Etsy store to help adoptive families.

With the Lights Off

I have a story to tell you. A story about racism.

I love to take one of the littles after bath time, even when Mama insists on asking me several times, “Do you want to take him? Or do you feel like you have to take him? Are you sure?”

My answer is always the same.

I want to take him because I love them! And it also helps procrastinate my chore of cleaning the kitchen.

Today, Jude got out of the bath first so I got him in his pjs, read him a story, said prayers, and told him Mom or Dad will be in soon to give him a kiss goodnight.

That’s when Jude asked me a question.

Jude: looking at his arm next to my arm. “Why is my skin browner than yours, Sissy?”
me: “Because you’re from Vietnam, Jude”
Jude: “Why are people from Vietnam browner?”
me: explaining it the only way I knew how, “Because that’s the way God made them.”

I dimmed the lights and shut the door a bit, thinking that was the end of the conversation, but as I was cracking the door he decided to sum up his thoughts on the subject.

Jude: “Sissy, what if we turned off all the lights? Everyone would be browner… right?”
me: “Yes, Jude. Everyone would be the same color. Goodnight, I love you.”

That last comment that really caught me off guard. How is it that my 4-year-old brother had captured the
essence and understood the subject of differences in ethnicity? Was it because he is a minority, and he knows what it feels like to be stared at? Was it the ethics he’s is being raised with? Is it just his personality to see truth? Had one of his classmates asked him about his “browner” skin? Whatever it was that made him think about color as simply color, he understands a concept that many adults still might not understand completely.

We should all strive to be a little more like Jude, and try think about the people we meet on a daily basis with the lights off.



Livy is a insightful 15-year-old sister to 6 siblings, 3 of which were adopted. Livy traveled with her parents to both Vietnam and China to adopt her three youngest siblings, and these trips changed her perspective on how she wants to live when she grows up. One day, she wants to be like her parents and have a big family. She hopes to be a nurse someday and work in the NICU with premature babies. Until then, she is saving her money to volunteer in an orphanage hopefully in the next couple years.

Beautiful Feet

Driving down the road in my ginormous brown van feeling stressed and stretched and strained and DONE, I heard the whisper of the Lord posing a simple question. Whenever the Lord asks me a question, I know I’m in for some freedom. His questions always seem to lead me out of a problem and into an answer.

“What would you rather be doing?”

Art by Life Verse, click on image to see store

So simple. And immediately my complaints of dealing with sibling arguments, of correcting rude behavior, of dropping off and picking up seven children all within seven years of each other in age, figuring out AGAIN what we would have for dinner–you know the story–were transformed from overwhelming to strangely satisfying. The plain truth of it was that I would not rather be doing anything else in this world.

I love a lot about my life; I love a lot about being a mother. I think the thing I like best of all is that I get to create the first forum for the Gospel to be experienced by the seven people that God has given me to mother. Think of the missionaries over time who have had the absolute thrill, the challenge, the honor of taking the Gospel of God’s Goodness to a people for the first time.

How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
Isaiah 52:7

Isn’t that a description of what you and I do everyday–over and over and over? How often have you “proclaimed Peace” today? In the thick middle of conflict about whose turn it is to sit in the front seat or who got to pick the movie last time or who borrowed whose clothes and didn’t return them, you and I get to be the one who release the Peace of God. Isn’t that what we are doing when we walk our children through conflict? How beautiful on these mountains of family life are my feet, and yours, because we are the ones bringing the Good News.

We mothers have the Ministry of Reconciliation.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.
2 Corinthians 5:18-20

Reconciliation is defined as “making oneself or another no longer opposed, settling a quarrel or difference, making two apparently conflicting things compatible with each other.” Hmmmm, strangely familiar?! This ministry is our child’s first and primary exposure to the beauty and freedom and power of the Gospel. I truly consider it an honor to have such a ministry, although I must admit that in the middle of conflict and opposition I do not always have thoughts of beautiful feet or being honored! But really, what would I rather be doing with my life? To be able to foster an environment where the truth of God’s love is experienced, lived out, enjoyed, challenged, tested.

Wow, what a wonderful and honorable calling is motherhood!

Dearest ones, be encouraged in what you are doing in your homes. It is no light or trivial thing. You are doing a kingdom work that bears eternal fruit. Indeed, all those daily tasks and irritating interruptions are actually the God-ordained setting for the proclamation of Peace, the sharing of the Good News, the declaration of Salvation and The Reign of Our God.

It is true you know—we mothers do have beautiful feet!


Beth Templeton

Beth has been married to her husband, Stephen, for 25 years. They have seven children, ages 16 to 22. Several years after giving birth to three girls, God called their family into the adventure and blessing of adoption. In 2000, they brought home a brother and sister, ages 5 and 10, from Russia. Then they returned to the same orphanage 18 months later and brought home two more brothers, ages 7 and 10. Stephen and Beth serve as leaders in their local church. Beth leads a ministry called Hope at Home, dedicated to help adoptive and foster parents encounter the Father’s heart for their families, partnering with God to transform orphans into sons and daughters. For more parenting insight and encouragement in the Lord go to the Hope at Home blog.

Lord, Teach Us How To Pray

a lesson from a sermon…

“have you ever prayed for something and not gotten what you prayed for?”

have you ever thanked Jesus for NOT giving you what you asked for?

we were asked why we pray. the general consensus was “to get stuff”. but after hearing the lesson – we see it’s because we know our Father will only give us what we need. we’re praying for “YOUR” kingdom come – not “MY” kingdom come. listening to this – i mean REALLY listening to this – hit me hard.

i have vividly haunting memories of being at work in the last bathroom stall praying to God that i was not having a miscarriage. i prayed to God that i would do anything He wanted me to do if He would just let me keep this baby. that was 8 years ago, but i can remember it like it was just an hour prior. at the time i could not understand why i could not have what i asked for. i was not praying for a new car, or a house, or a new cell phone – but i was still praying for something that i wanted. i was praying for my will to be done. not what God wanted and knew i needed. it hit me hard because i knew, sitting there listening to this sermon that if God had given me what i wanted then, i probably would not be Dax’s mommy now. that stirred up a wave in me that’s pretty hard to digest.

i thank Jesus that i was not given what i thought i needed in 2004, or in 2008, and thank God that He gave me Dax because he’s more than i could have ever dreamed of.


Adrianne Taylor White

I am a dedicated follower of Christ, wife of 10 years, mother to our 6 month old son Daxton and our two doggies.  Adopting Daxton was the best thing we ever did. My husband and I thank God daily for helping him find his way to us. He’s an amazing boy who has taught our family about deep love. He’s definitely heaven sent.  We hope to be a good role model for openness and transracial adoption. We welcome you to follow along on our journey.


On vacation my girls, my mom and I wandered through the outlet mall for awhile.  On various clearance racks I found t-shirts for the boys and for the little girls.  So near the end of our wandering when we walked into Old Navy, I figured that might be a good place to find t-shirts for our teen daughters as well.

I should have known better;  like most teenage girls, they are persnickety about their clothes and habitually get overwhelmed by choices in stores.  But since I’d already found things for the other kids, I wanted to get them something. A quick cruise around the store didn’t spark their interest. To simplify things, I headed them toward a display containing basic T’s in 6 different colors.  I’m always glad to have more simple t-shirts myself, and I figured they’d be useful neutral additions to their wardrobe.

“Pick something,” I said with a smile. “What color do you want?”

They looked uncertain.  They hemmed and hawed.  They picked up things and set them down looking disinterested.  Five minutes went by.  Meanwhile the other members of our party were done shopping and the grandbaby was showing signs of needing to nurse.

“Pick something,” I said.  My smile was starting to feel tense, but I tried to make my voice coaxing.  “I want to buy you something.”

But they couldn’t–  wouldn’t — make a choice.  I toyed with the idea of just grabbing two shirts and saying, “Here ya go.”  But then they’d be sure to hate the choice I’d made, which would translate to clothes sitting in the closet, unworn. My mom suggested quietly that I just give them money, which I knew they’d happily take.  But dangitall, I wanted to give them a gift, something to bring back as a memory from this trip, not hand them cash like this was some business transaction.

Finally we left, having purchased nothing.  Yeah, I could (should?) have been happy they’d saved me a few bucks by refusing to let me get them something.  But I was livid, and I knew exactly why.  This was not just about a couple of t-shirts  This was about all the times I’ve tried to show the girls I love them and they’ve turned me down flat.

Of the times I brought thrift store finds home, excited, hoping they’d like them, only to be met with wan smiles, and have the clothes languish in their closets until I insisted they wear them.  Of the hugs I’ve given that were returned with noodle-arms.  The times I’ve invited them to play games or go to the store with me and they’ve opted out.

Yes, I can force it.  And sometimes I do.  But it can be discouraging to feel such resistance to my overtures even now after they’ve been home nearly five years.

Sometimes things are good between us— like today when I broke the oven door and my 14 year old and I spent 30 greasy minutes trying to wrestle the thing into submission before calling the repair man in defeat.  We shared some absolutely lovely laughing moments.  But all too often I’m met with resistance.

I know that some of the ups and downs are normal teen stuff. Girls often have a hard time getting along with their moms– I know I did when I was 14.  For awhile I fantasized about being adopted by a rich family where I could be the only child and wouldn’t have to do chores.  I’ve told my daughters that, and I understand it’s a tough age.

But still–when a child home almost five years says you’ll never really be her mom, that signing papers doesn’t make it true, it is a knife to the heart.  A failed shopping trip, though a small failure in the grand scheme of things, feels like twisting that knife.  If we can’t even have a successful shopping trip together, what are our chances of a real relationship some day?

I comfort myself remembering how well they do when interacting with people other than me. Folks rave about how great the girls are, how sweet and fun– and I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve seen that sweetness from across the room. I just wish they’d show that loveliness to me more often.  When I do sneak a real smile out of someone, almost always the shades go quickly down over that light, veiling their hearts, snuffing the connection that flared for just a second.

I’m the second momma, you see, the substitute for the one they really want.  Maybe it’s anger.  Maybe it’s fear.  Maybe they love me way down deep, more than they dare show. (Oh, I hope so.)  But it feels to me that their automatic default is to push me away than to connect.

The years have scarred me, and make it hard some days to keep my perspective.  The truth is, eight of the kids think I’m just fine.  But I want these others to love me too, so much that some days my self-worth as a momma feels hinged on their acceptance.  I know how foolish that is;  they’re hurt kids, wounded souls. It’s only a little about me. But I care passionately for them and want them to feel truly enveloped in the love of our family.  No matter how wide the rift, they are part of my very soul, and I will continue to fight on behalf of our relationship.

I talked to the girls after the shopping incident, explained that gift-giving is one of the ways I show folks love– that I’d been trying that day in Old Navy to say ‘I love you’, and that I’d heard rejection in their refusal to accept my gifts.  I think they understood then, at least a little, why I’d come unglued over t-shirts.

While unpacking from the trip, I came across a handful of gummy bears in a baggie.  I stashed them back in a corner, thinking of a bedtime snack.  A few minutes later my 14 year old came into the kitchen, spotted them, and asked for them.  I said no, saying there weren’t enough to share with everyone.  It was true, but really it was more that I wanted them myself.

Later that evening I nibbled a few, but my conscience wouldn’t let me forget she’d asked for them.  I knotted the bag up and set them aside. The next day I came up behind her and tucked the baggie quietly into her sweatshirt pocket with a wink, then walked away quick before I could even see her reaction.  Come to think of it, maybe that’s exactly what I need to do more of:  quick stealth ‘I love you’ actions, without looking for or expecting any immediate reaction.

Sometimes I get so set on loving kids how I want to love them that I forget about loving them the way they want to be loved.  I’m not sure if that handful of gummy bears was received as the gift of love that I intended it to be.  But I’ll keep my eyes open for other chances like that.  Maybe one of these days I’ll actually get somewhere. Until then, I’ll just keep on loving my kids to the best of my ability, and hold onto the faith that God is watching over us all, and that He has a perfect plan for all our lives.


Mary Ostyn has been married for 25 years to the guy she met in math class at age 17. I have kids in college, high school, junior high, grade school, and preschool, 10 altogether. Six of her children arrived via adoption, 2 from Korea and 4 from Ethiopia.She homeschools, gardens, cooks, budget-stretches and takes pictures obsessively. Also she writes. Her 200-recipe cookbook/ shopping guide Family Feasts for $75 a Week came out in September, 2009. She also wrote A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family which came out in March, 2009. If she had to describe her blog in one sentence, she’d say it is about making the most of your resources so that you can have the greatest impact possible on the world around you, beginning, of course, with family. Visit her site Owlhaven soon!

It’s Mothers’ Week: Remember her. Honor her.

art by erin leigh, click image to see more

It’s that time of year again…my favorite time of year.

The purest and brightest greens add their voices to the outside world, sweet little flower buds say they’re ready to be seen, and the air…the cold brisk air begins to fade as spring gently pushes its way in. I love this time of year. I’m ready for this time of year. Something in it breathes new life. And each year, just like the last, I’m so in need of it.

As I find myself stepping into May and the newness of the world around me, two people fall back into my mind who always do so poignantly each year as April draws to a close…my mom and my daughter. Two people, two lives, that ground me to this world.

This world…both in its brokenness and beauty. This world…both with its pain and joy.
This world…where both death and life reside.

For me, each spring, each May, marks significant moments.

May 15, 1943 – my mom’s birthday
May 17, 2003 – the day my mom met Jesus
May 8, 2008 – the day I gave life to our first child

My mom….She was not the woman who gave me physical life, but she was the woman who taught me how to live life. A woman of strength, wise, intuitive, humorous, thoughtful, courageous, etiquette queen. I received intentional lessons about the kitchen to my clothes, to people and churches and makeup and nails, how to entertain guests to strategic ways to obtain used couches on “trash day.” But mostly, she taught me what it meant to be “a lady.” That’s what she was good at. That’s what she offered me. And now, as I wear the skin of an adult, I see parts of these things in me, reflecting her. I love that. I want that. I’m grateful for that.

Yet, in the midst of the good and lessons and character development, our relationship didn’t come without pain.

She was strong, and I needed tender love.
She was precise, and I needed space to make mistakes.
She was fearless, and I needed someone to run to when I was scared.
She was strong, and I needed to learn how to ask for help.
She was consistent with correction, and I needed connection.

Brokenness and beauty.

My daughter…she’s a girl who grabs onto life with both cautiousness and boldness. She’s a helper and initiator, filled with ideas and intent. She’s simple and straightforward, yet diligently charms your heart with her words and smile and eyes. Her spirit is tender, and her mind is sharp. Her love for me melts me. The love I have for her moves me. Nurturing this life has changed me…is changing me. The parts of me that have been called out in this season are mysteriously beautiful, yet the ways I feel drained I’m confident you could see with your very eyes. You give, you serve, you pour yourself out. You find yourself weary and vulnerable, unsure and expectant. This parenting season I’m in, right now, is hard…really hard. At least the way that I’ve chosen to step into it.

Brokenness and beauty.

This season, this month, this week…it evokes my heart in a myriad of ways. I sit in the tension of both the good and the hard. And that’s OK. I believe there’s something really honoring in doing that. It honors the past, it honors the present. It allows for the future…to unfold authentically. There’s this way that our humanness can deny the hard parts. Exhausting. There’s also this way that our humanness can linger in the hard parts. Despairing. Either may make a person feel numb, justified, prideful, battered. But, that’s no way to live.

Could it be that part of “honoring” our mothers means naming both the beauty and the brokenness, embracing both rather than eliminating one? When I imagine my little girl all grown up, I wonder what she’ll remember about me, about who I was…to her, to her daddy and brother, to our friends, to the world. Secretly, of course, I totally want her to think I was the most perfect and fun and balanced mom, extravagantly loving everything and everyone around me. And then I wake up from that dream and find myself hoping to be remembered not for how I escaped the broken moments, but what I did with those moments – acknowledging them, stepping into them…with dignity and honesty and grace – asking God to form something beautiful and purposeful out of my mistakes and all the ways I unraveled. That’s how I want my children to remember me.

This Mother’s Day, I urge you to take some time to think about your mom – her beauty and her brokenness, your beauty and brokenness, and the story you both share.

Remember her. Honor her.

And if you need it, whether because the relationship with your mom is fake or distant or gone, may the tender, loving, nurturing, relational parts of you connect with the feminine parts of who God is.

Mothering…it’s profound and powerful, sacred, and life giving. Because we, in this mysterious way, get to take care of our little ones in the same way that God takes care of his little ones. It’s because of His love that we are able to love the ones who gave us life and the ones who we give life to.

Happy Mother’s Day.


Carrissa Woodwyk

Carissa Woodwyk is a wife, mother, and marriage and family therapist. She is also coauthor of Before You Were Mine: Discovering Your Adopted Child’s Lifestory. She enjoys speaking on relationships, marriage, identity, adoption, and the human heart. She and her husband have two children and live near Grand Rapids, MI. You can find her here.

It’s Mothers’ Week: Birthmoms, Amazing Moms

On February 11th, 2009, we met our daughter’s birth parents. Terrifying. There is no other word to describe how the anticipation leading up to a meeting like that is; walking down the aisle, job interviews, my first day of teaching ever–all delightful in comparison….but this was just un- real.

As the hour that we’d meet approached, everything just clicked for me. It felt like this was what I was supposed to be doing, one of the things I was made for, and the minute we walked through that door and saw them all of our nerves just dissolved. We knew it was “them.”

There were 6 weeks between our meeting and our soon-to-be daughter’s due date. We spent quite a bit of time getting to know each other, talking about what would happen at the hospital, discussing names, and talking about our relationship once she was born. I felt an incredible weight in this assignment to raise her because I wasn’t just doing it for us but for the four of us. They’d made the ultimate sacrifice, and we were compelled to do a good job for them.

There is so much to say about bringing Georgia home from the hospital and the relationship that has been built with our birth parents. There was a day when Georgia was about 8 months old that really confirmed for me how incredibly noble and heroic a birth mother is.

I was at a doctor’s appointment. Inevitably, I got to have the conversation I always got to have with anyone who was providing some kind of service for Georgia before her adoption was finalized, the one about her last name and why it was still different and what do you mean she doesn’t have a social security number yet?, etc. etc. So, I explained to this particular lady the whole adoption “thing,” and she smiled and looked at Georgia who was smiling at her and said, “What? She’s adopted? What kind of mom would want to give her away?”

I just stared at the woman who in that moment didn’t seem as nice and cheerful as she had 2 minutes before. I said, “Wow. I don’t really know how to answer that.” She instantly realized she’d said the wrong thing and proceeded to back pedal with many weak attempts to say something nice; all the while just making it worse.

image courtesy of Amylee Weeks, click image to see more

But that question really made me think. The answer to her question was not one. Not one mom wanted to give her away nor did one give her away. She knew making an adoption plan was the right thing to do for Georgia, and, yes, for herself too, since they were both young and had a lot of growing up left to do. But, the right thing doesn’t always equate to WANTED. The right thing is frequently hard and painful and devastating, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less right. The right thing often means struggles.

In an answer to the lady at the doctor’s office who asked, “What kind of mom would give her up?” My response to her should have been, “A noble one. One that made the harder decision, the best decision for Georgia. One who knew she was not ready to provide a stable family for the little girl she was carrying. One who knew she had a lot more to learn before she was ready to be a mom. One who will one day be a great mom to her future kids. One who knows that being a mom means selfless decisions and heartache.”

Mother’s Day is a lot more about thanking the amazing girl who made me a mom, the amazing girl who was the perfect first mom for my little girl, and the one that exemplifies the sacrifice, courage, and strength it takes to be an amazing mother.


Maggie Terryn

Maggie wears the badge of adoptive mom with honor, pride, thankfulness, and humility. She lives everyday in awe of the fact that her daughter’s birth parents chose them to raise their daughter Georgia and entrusted them with her future and well-being. Her blog, Pink Shoes, is a platform for Maggie to write about those everyday, very simple moments that make a life and what she can learn from them.


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