Mar 24, 2015

It's Been a Year

It’s been a year since this…

“I want to remember it all. The way I saw her walk in... I knew it was her even without seeing her face, just because she was the size I imagined she would be. The way she clutched my China necklace the moment they handed her to me, winding those little fingers in and out, in and out. No tears. Just quiet glances at my face when I wasnt looking directly at her. The way she sucks her first two fingers when shes overwhelmed. The surprising way it felt to meet her for the first time... a stranger yet not a stranger at all. The way I realized late last night that it already felt like she has been a part of our little family for more than a day... it feels not only like she belongs, but that shes been missing all along.

The room was chaotic. I think Alea might have been the only child not screaming in terror. And nearly twenty children screaming in one concrete block building with coordinators yelling above the noise creates an indescribable sound of sadness. Alea wasnt crying, but rather a bit shut down. She was taking it all in, but was clearly overwhelmed by everything.”

(Keep reading about the day Alea joined our family.)

And I’m so glad it’s been a year. A year later, and I can honestly say I am the one Alea wants when she is scared, tired, or hurt. I’m her mama now… and those roots of belonging to each other are no longer as tender and fragile as they were a year ago or even two months ago. Our bond is growing deeper and stronger day-by-day as we walk this journey of love out together… I’m discovering there’s something perhaps more fierce and powerful and deep in hard-fought love than love that comes easy.

It’s been a year since this…

"Visiting Alea's orphanage was hard but good. We've been in lots of orphanages, and as far as orphanages go, hers is a nice one. We've been in many orphanages, but this is the first time I've been in an orphanage that cared for my daughter. And I can't fully explain the way it felt to see her bed. To see her nannies. To see her little friends still waiting. I need more time to let it all sink in. One week ago, this was Alea's daily routine. Sleep in one room. Play in another. Go back to the first room to sleep and eat some more. Repeat tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. And today I was in her room with 30 kids and babies who needed their mamas and daddies to come yesterday. Babies who will wait for who knows how long... maybe months maybe forever... for someone to come for them. 

Alea's crib was still empty, and my heart soared, but it won't be empty for long. I want to see all the cribs empty. None of them full. I want to see mamas pulling yellow hats over their babies' heads on a cold winter day. I want children to never enter such a place -- where even the most well-intentioned and loving caregivers can not possibly meet all the needs of the babies because there are just. so. many. -- and for those who are there, I want them out. I want to see people step up and say YES to adoption... to all the fears, and terror, and uncertainty. I want more people to recognize that life isn't about being safe and certain, but it is about loving others well. And these little ones have so much worth -- so much intrinsic God-given value. They don't know it yet, because they've never had their mamas and daddies sing it over them; or its been far too long since they heard it. But it doesn't take long for the song to shape their souls and heal their hearts. Not even 3 days after joining our family, we are already seeing joy crinkle the corners of Alea's eyes and hearing her cry out her needs -- two signs she is learning that she is precious to us and to this world."

(Keep reading about the day we visited Alea’s orphanage.)

It’s been a year, and I still haven’t forgotten that room full of cribs. And I still haven’t stopped wishing that more people would “step up and say YES to adoption... to all the fears, and terror, and uncertainty. I want more people to recognize that life isn't about being safe and certain, but it is about loving others well.” This year has been a beating in many ways. I know I haven’t attempted to gloss over the challenges. But this year has also been beautiful! I LOVE THIS LITTLE GIRL! And when I've felt most afraid, most unable to continue -- I’ve grown to understand the sound of the Father’s voice and know the feeling of His heartbeat more deeply in this last year than ever before. Sometimes God calls us into a place that doesn’t feel very safe, and sometimes we see that He isn’t very tame. But He is always so, very good. He has held our family together through this journey, and even knowing how hard it was, I’d do it again. A thousand times over.

A year later and Alea invites me to imaginary tea parties. She drags the chair to the kitchen counter and unloads my silverware tray at least 3 times a week, and yesterday I caught her with a coffee mug she had taken from one place in the kitchen to another, where she was attempting to get the Keurig to top her off with a fresh cup. She spontaneously recites the names of all the people she loves. She points out she sees Elsa, Anna, and Olaf. (Cora just shakes her head and says “Alea really likes Elsa.”) She loves to play in the sand box and read books, and she gives the very best hugs. Tonight we are taking her for ice cream to celebrate the day we became a family. A lot of “our people” will be joining us. A year later, and Alea isn’t a scared orphan with her whole world turning upside down; she’s a brave and tender spitfire of a girl who is right in the middle of a whole community of people who love her.

What a year.


Mar 9, 2015

To My Daughters on My Birthday

I wrote this yesterday... on my birthday and on International Women's Day.  I'm posting it a day late, but it was my birthday and I can do what I want to.  Or something like that...

A photo posted by Carrie (@carriemckean) on

Dearest Girls,

You are the greatest gifts. With your impish grins and your wrinkled up noses. With your squeals and laughter and whirling-twirling love of singing songs barefoot in the living room. With your kisses and cuddles and tiny-arms-wrapped-tight-around-my-neck hugs. You are the greatest gifts I could imagine.

To be honest, to say I love you seems small… like it can only dance around the edges of what I feel. Have you ever watched a time-elapsed video of a flower blooming? That’s what mothering feels like to me – watching the slow unfurling in warp speed and hardly daring to blink for fear of missing some small piece of the transformation. There was a time (before I was one) when I underestimated motherhood… when I thought it would mostly be tedious and trying and a season to endure rather than celebrate. But now that I’m in the midst of it, and I see your lives taking shape, I can hardly believe what a gift I’ve been given.

And my favorite thing of all? You’re girls. Beautiful little women-to-be who I see growing in strength and dignity. Little girls who can roar like lions and be as fierce as tigers; who then scoop up their baby dolls and shush them to sleep. Little girls who already love well; whose hearts are full of compassion and tenderness and toughness and bravery.  (And I'd be lying if I didn't add a good deal of mischievousness as well.) 

It’s Women’s Day. It’s my birthday. That the two are together has always meant something to me. As a little girl, I remember looking at the calendar as I eagerly counted down the days till my birthday and noticing year after year that the calendar said "International Women's Day" in neat little letters across the bottom of the square that I had outlined with a pink highlighter and decorated with yellow stars. And I remember feeling a swell of happiness and pride deep inside and thinking, "YES! I was born on the day that celebrates being a woman!"

Because being a woman is worth celebrating, my dear daughters. It doesn’t mean we despise men or think we are better than the other gender. But we can celebrate all the beauty and life and love God poured out when he made Eve. Daughters, if I could have one birthday wish on this Women’s Day, I want more than anything for you to live into all that it means to be women.

And I want more than anything for you to be whole. For you to feel comfortable in your skin, with the birthmark on your thigh and your slightly crooked front teeth. With your ear that isn’t quite the same as everyone else’s and your delicate almond-shaped eyes. I want you to look into the mirror with gentle self-acceptance and see all the beauty.

And I want more than anything for you to be brave. For you to stand up and ask the question that no one else will utter and learn that to be respectful and gentle doesn’t always mean being quiet and docile. For you to be a voice for the voiceless and a friend of the friendless. I want you to know the sound of yourself in a quiet-but-full room and be able to say hard things in love even if your voice shakes as you do.

And I want more than anything for you to be kind. For you to always say hello to the kids who might look or act or sound a little different and for them to know they always have a place to sit by you in the cafeteria. For you to treat everyone you meet – from the woman who checks your groceries to the man who might not have a bed of his own – as they should be treated, as a son and daughter of the King. I want you to be the kind of women who leave Jesus in their wake and remind people that love wins.

And I want more than anything for you to be strong. For you to know that strength never means pushing others down but pulling them up. For you to know that gentleness and compassion are some of the hallmarks of strength, and that worlds change when we live strongly. I want you to embody that beautiful feminine combination of tenderness and confidence, trusting that God goes before you and fills you up so that you can pour out His love and mercy in this broken world.

And I want more than anything for you to know you are loved and precious and valuable. Not for how well you do in school or how perfectly you behave; not for how many friends like your posts or what career path you choose. No, your worth comes from the Father who made you, and is based solely on the fact that you are His daughter; the keeper of a divine spark… precious and worth far more than rubies. I love you. Your daddy loves you. And most importantly, I want you to walk in the knowledge that your Creator loves you.

At an ordinary stoplight on an ordinary day, Cora you shouted out, “I’m going to change the world!” And all I could think was, “AMEN, sister.” You are going to change the world, brave girl! You will change the world, because you are powerful and full of His light; you will bear His name with you wherever you go, and it will undoubtedly change worlds. You've both already changed mine.

So, my daughters… be women who love. Be courageous. Be brave. Be world-changers. Stand up for underdogs and don’t back down in the face of darkness. You are bearers of his light, and darkness has no place or power around you. Be gentle and tender and kind, with yourself and all whom God puts in your path. Remember that someday the most world-changing and powerful thing you’ll ever do might also seem like the smallest… like holding a baby close and whispering into her ear as she falls asleep that she is loved and precious and carries a bit of the divine. As women, we are an intoxicating mix of God’s power and his tenderness. His strength and his compassion. His bravery and his empathy. Live into that, daughters. And celebrate all that it means to be a woman.


Feb 27, 2015

Out of the Darkness

I don’t think I will ever be the mom who believes God’s original and best plan for my daughter was for her to be in my home.

I realize that’s a controversial statement, and perhaps many of the people reading this will feel something bristle inside of them as they think about their own precious children who came into their families through similar roads. But I can’t believe that a loving God who designed all of creation to be whole and in harmony and in relationship with Him would carefully knit my daughter together in her mother’s womb with the intention that she be wrenched away from the very spot He placed her in the earliest days of her life. That was a tragedy. She was collateral damage in this war-torn and fallen world. I do, however, believe that a loving God redeems and restores all broken things, and I have no doubt that He orchestrated untold miracles to ensure that our paths would cross at just the right time and give me the unspeakable honor and joy of walking out life as her mama. But there is a tension there, and in recent weeks, I’ve come to realize that this tension between His original plan and His redemptive plan has wrongly settled in my heart as often feeling that I’m really not the woman He meant for this job. 


She came out of anesthesia kicking and screaming… holding her breath without ever opening her eyes, she stiffened and clawed and then gasped and screamed. Then she’d hold her breath all over again and do the whole cycle once more. She was clearly fighting to wake up. “It’s normal,” the nurse kept saying to me over and over… looking at me with the unblinking calm of a woman who has seen far too many wide-eyed mamas panic as their children writhed and kicked and battled their way back to reality. “Just keep holding her,” she said. “You’re doing great, mama.”

Keep reading over at No Hands But Ours...

Sep 3, 2014

Love is War

She’s been clawing – literally, until I cut her fingernails – at my legs all day long. Whining and whimpering and the hours go so slow I sometimes wonder if the clock is moving at all. Cora entertains herself, like she does almost every day lately, and I squelch the feelings that I’m letting her down… that I’m not present enough for her… that I’m not putting together Pinterest-worthy craft projects to help her grow and learn and get ahead of the curve.

I stare at the dishes in the sink and the laundry in the hamper and the spilled juice on the floor. I vow to finish cleaning the kitchen even if I have to pry Alea off me 1,000 more times. I know the saying about letting the dishes pile and the laundry stay unfolded because babies don’t keep. Believe me, I feel guilt for this too. But I can’t breathe in a cluttered house and it seems like the only time she isn’t fussing is if I’m either holding her or not present to pick her up. I look at the clock again and calculate how many minutes are left until naptime. 3 hours. 180 minutes. It feels like the first time I’ve used my brain all day. The whining cuts through my thoughts again.

“Alea! You’re OK!” I bark the words, cringing at the harshness ringing the edges even as they come spilling out. Alea is unphased, and her fussing continues unabated, but Cora pipes up.

“Mama, be nice.”

“You’re right, I’m sorry. I just feel a little tired because Alea has been fussing all day long.” I sigh, feeling like a failure again. The critical voice inside pipes up, “Actually it’s been 4 months of fussing, but what does that matter… who speaks sharply to a baby who is going through the greatest trauma and transition of her life?!”

“Did you make a bad choice, Mama?”

“Yes, Cora, I made a bad choice. I need to use kind words, don’t I?”
“Yes Mama, but it’s ok. You can try again.”

I look at the clock. 175 minutes till naptime. I try again.

Keep Reading at No Hands But Ours...

Jul 18, 2014

In My Kitchen

He stood in my kitchen, chopping vegetables and preparing ingredients for a stir-fry. I rummaged through my refrigerator, finding more vegetables wrinkled and withered from too long in the bottom shelf. He rejected a few and accepted a lot and purposefully went about the business of cutting the red pepper into thin even strips. For a 15-year-old boy, he knew exactly what he wanted to create.

I watched in amazement. Because the last time I spent time with this young man we were at his orphanage in China.

It was only our second time to visit China – before we decided to move there – and we were serving at Sammy’s orphanage for a week. We were there for his 9th birthday, and we bought him his only birthday gift… a small package of M&Ms. I certainly could have bought him more, but that was the only gift I could think to give him that wouldn’t immediately become community property. If I remember correctly, he still chose to share them with all the other children.

He bonded with Jacob. In most of the pictures I have from that trip, he was nestled as close to Jacob as a boy could get. And at the end of the week when he was crying at the airport as we said goodbye, a reporter told him that if he stopped crying and did good in school, we would come back to adopt him. Sammy straightened his shoulders, wiped his tears, and bravely nodded.

And I wept. I wept harder than perhaps I’ve ever wept because it simply wasn’t true. We were 24 and 26 years old. There were several adoption requirements we didn’t meet, and at a bare minimum, we were 6 years away from meeting the age requirement. And all I could think of was the fact that this sweet boy would spend the rest of his days in an institution thinking that he just wasn’t doing good enough in school to deserve a family. And there was nothing I could do to tell him otherwise.

A year passed, but we hadn’t forgotten him. And one day I opened an email on a lark and read a brief – and completely vague -- description of a boy that was available for adoption that might be him. And it was. Back in 2009 I shared what happened next, and to be honest it remains one of the greatest miracles I’ve witnessed in my life. (Seriously, go read the story...)

And this week Sammy’s family brought him to visit. And he stood in my kitchen and made a stir-fry. And he shared bits and pieces of his story – hard memories from the orphanage and what it is like to have a family. “I never, ever dreamed I would ever get a family,” he said, shaking his head with the thankful disbelief that clearly still lingers. You know the verse that talks about how the Father loves to do more than we could ever ask or imagine? For Sammy, that was getting a family… something I know I still take as a given, despite what I’ve witnessed in life. This week I’ve been pondering how sometimes WE get to be the thing that someone else could never ask or imagine when we say YES to God, even when it is terrifying.

My heart is heavy tonight. Heavy for kids like those listed on this page who maybe don’t have the benefit of an advocate who can share insight into their personality and heart. Heavy for kids like Esty and Branch. Heavy for the friends of Sammy who still remain in the orphanage and are now too old to be adopted. It’s a lot of heaviness. But I also have so much HOPE because I know the One who makes burdens light, and I know the One who in His goodness and mercy never ever forgets a single lost sheep.

Because He brought Sammy to my kitchen this week.

May 27, 2014

A Birth Story

Motherhood always starts with a birth story.

Because no matter if you pull your baby out of a birthing pool with your own two hands, receive her from the arms of a social worker outside the hospital nursery, or pull him – screaming – from the arms of the orphanage worker who brought him halfway across the province and met you in a stuffy civil affairs room thick with the smell of stale smoke and fear, motherhood always starts in a monumental moment.

And you never feel ready. But in that monumental moment, a mother is born.

Read the rest over at No Hands But Ours... Won't you please join me there?

May 10, 2014

Mother's Day Sorrow

Tomorrow is my first mother’s day as a mama of two.  Despite the moments when there doesn’t seem to be enough of me to go around, I remain stunned by the enormous gift Alea has been to our family.  I remain bowed low in thankfulness that God cleared the way for her to join our family... that absolutely every door flung open and there were no hindrances in our way as we sought to bring her home.  Today we turned the music up loud as Cora danced and spun around the living room – shouting for Alea to watch her.  And as I saw Alea’s eyes lock on her sister and untamed joy spread across every inch of her face, I could only think, “How did I ever deserve such a gift?”  These two beautiful and perfect girls and their amazing daddy standing right in that room, twirling and singing and shouting of His goodness.  It’s more precious and spectacular than any Mother’s Day gift I could dream of receiving, and I want to hit pause on this moment… to pause it so I can marvel just a little bit more at the miracle that happened when God set Alea in our family six short weeks ago.

But while my heart swells with joy at the gift I’ve been given in these children, Mother’s Day might never be the same for me again because I realize that it carries a sort of sorrow with it as well.  I am Alea’s mama, but I’m not the only one.  I feel her first mama’s gaze when I look into Alea’s eyes in the middle of the night – dark and searching my face.  I feel her arms tighten when Alea snuggles deeper into my arms as I’m rocking her to sleep and sometimes even when she’s pushing me away.  I feel her breath as Alea’s face inches closer to mine as she sleeps.  I hear her voice in Alea’s laughter as we twirl in circles, and I think about the fact that though I’m not her first mama, I’m the first one who got to hear the precious sound of Alea calling for her “mama.”  I’ve stood on the ground where she last saw Alea and I’ve clutched the little hat that she last placed on our daughter’s head.  This woman is as real to me as anyone could be, and while I don’t know – and may never know – whether it was circumstance, tragedy or simply choice that resulted in Alea leaving her care, I do know that she will forever be a part of our story and will always have a place in my heart.

I know for Alea, Mother’s Day will likely always be bittersweet.  I hope I can grow to be the mama she needs and the one she wants and the one she loves.  It is one of my heart’s deepest prayers for both of my girls.  But I don’t pretend to think that I could ever replace her first mama.  I don’t even want to replace her.  I’m OK with the fact that I will always share Mother’s Day with another woman in Alea’s heart, and my only prayer is that I can love her well as she grieves and wrestles and wonders and hopes. 

I know in the deepest parts of my being that Alea’s first mama will always carry a little part of our daughter with her and I believe she is never far from her thoughts.  I don’t think any mother can simply walk away from her child and never, ever, ever look back, and so I imagine she carries the weight and the sorrow and the tragedy of her choice with her wherever she goes.    On this Mother’s Day, I carry her in my heart.  She’s a sister-of-sorts to me, and though I may never know her name, I feel like we are more intimately tied together than I can find words to describe.   My only prayer is that she will find comfort as she grieves and wrestles and wonders and hopes, and that she may be freed from any guilt or condemnation that she may carry and know nothing but the boundless horizons of God’s amazing love and grace and mercy.

Every day I fall more deeply in love with my precious new daughter.  She is a gift and a treasure in every sense of the word... I'm so incredibly grateful to be her mama, and while I'll never be sorry for that, I will always wish her journey to my nest hadn't started in such brokenness.  Jody Landers said it best... "A child born to another woman calls me mama.  The depth of that tragedy and the magnitude of that privilege are not lost on me."


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