May 29, 2015


There was a time, not so long ago, when I felt like I needed "something" to do to make me valuable and justify the space I took up on this planet.  "Something" has taken various shapes and forms through the years, from on-the-ground orphan care in China to helping families adopt children.  At times it was volunteering with refugees and in one season it was trying to maintain a near-perfect college GPA.  For the last 6 years or so, it's been founding and running a small social enterprise, Scarlet Threads.  It's been different and sometimes random, but there's always been "something."  Something that gave me a sense of identity and worth.

Except one thing.


That was never "something" for me.  From the moment I became a mother 4 years ago, I've loved being a mama and watching my girls grow and change.  But if I'm honest, I never felt like it was enough to make my existence worthwhile.

Motherhood wasn't something that gave me a sense of purpose, identity, and value.  And I honestly don't know why.  My husband has only been encouraging and supportive.  He's never asked me "what I do all day."  I haven't been told by anyone that caring for my children is a waste of time... the opposite actually.  But I spent the better part of these last 4 years trying to make peace with the fact that I'd chosen not to do "something else" and frantically trying to stuff "something else" in the margins of my life as a full-time stay-at-home mama with very little outside help and very small children. If I really look hard at it, I think I developed some skewed perspectives on femininity and feminism that resulted in me striving to be anything but the "traditional wife and stay-at-home mom," even though in my heart I wanted to be fully present for my husband and kids and had the luxury of making that choice. 

But when Alea entered our world, and Motherhood 2.0 began for me, some things seismically shifted.  Motherhood-through-adoption is a whole new experience for me... one of survival, really.  It is really nothing like mothering the little one I birthed and sheltered and nurtured since the day she was conceived.  Adopting a child who spent 17 months experiencing profound loss, abandonment, deprivation, and tragedy changes absolutely everything.  And though every adoption is different, for us it shifted the foundations of our family unit.  And instead of briskly trucking along with my two little ducks following closely behind me, I found myself in a battle for Alea's heart.  And the fight takes every bit of emotional, mental, and spiritual energy I have to give. 

Now that I've been Alea's mama for over a year, we are both in a much better place in every possible way (though we still have so far to go).  I went on survival auto-pilot for most of the first year, but in recent months I've had the mental clarity to begin sorting through all my experiences, responses, and emotions of the last year.  And I came to realize the intense need I have for margins in my life... those margins that I'd been stuffing full with all these other "good" activities.  I wanted to put my To Do list to death and fiercely protect empty space in my life... space I needed to feel like I could breathe and do more than just rush from one thing to the next with my two little ducklings, one of whom was decidedly NOT following closely behind me.  This realization led me to one of the scariest decisions of my adult life.  I sold Scarlet Threads.  It probably doesn't sound like much... after all, it's just a tiny little social enterprise operated out of Cora's closet and our spare bedroom.  But it was something that had been giving me an identity and purpose and self-worth for the entirety of my motherhood journey.  It was really the last "something" remaining in this season of my life.

The transition to the new owners has been going on for about a month now and today it is official.  (Check out the Scarlet Threads blog to read a bit about the new owners!  My business partner/SIL, Eileen, and I are so thrilled to have found such a lovely family to take over!!)  Rather than telling my girls to go play while I worked on the computer for a few minutes yesterday afternoon, I sat on the porch swing in my back yard.  I laid down on it and watched the clouds and let Alea gently push me.  I listened to them play and closed my eyes and answered questions about ants and butterflies and what floats in water and what doesn't.  I didn't think about what time it was and I didn't think about the To Do list.  I just enjoyed the moment with my girls.  Most importantly, I realized this was something.


There are definitely some more possible essay topics in here... namely, all the strange places we find our sense of worth and purpose.  And perhaps digging a bit deeper into my skewed perspective on motherhood that was underneath all of this.  In the coming weeks, I might delve into those a bit more here on the blog.  But I may not.  I've got two little "somethings" I need to pay attention to.  ;) 

Apr 4, 2015

Ordinary Holiness

I had so many plans for this Holy Week.  Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services with my church family; an Easter Egg hunt with my biggest little and her preschool class.  I had a full calendar partially because my husband is in an incredibly busy (and what I think is insane) season of work – he leaves every day before dawn and comes home well after the girls are in bed… 7 days a week for the last two weeks and possibly for the next six.  (I can’t think about those weeks stretching ahead of me too much or I start prepping for a spectacularly big Pity Party.)  So I had my plans – plans to keep us moving and busy and passing the time, plans to dig in deep into all the beauty and ugliness, light and darkness that is Holy Week. 

Instead, the week found me holding my biggest girl’s hair back while she rode waves of nausea and kept reassuring me that she’d “feel better tomorrow.”  We spent the week visiting the doctor daily as they tried to get strep, an ear infection and bronchitis under control.  Two shots and lots of anti-nausea medicine later, and I’m finally starting to see my little girl come back to me. 

And just like that, Holy Week is almost over and I haven’t showered today and my house is in an upheaval.  I’m not sure I even cracked the cover of my Bible this week.  I certainly didn’t get to do a single thing I planned, but I did change the sheets on Cora’s bed three times.  I’m looking forward to watching my girls hunt Easter Eggs and celebrating the Resurrection tomorrow, but that’s the first and last of my Official Easter Plans that look like they might work out.  This happened last year – my Easter plans got thrown out the window because our family was in a time of needing to huddle close.  And I can’t help but think about how there is an Easter lesson in this for me.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34)

When Jesus was having his last meal with his beloved brothers and friends, he washed their feet and served them.  He told them the secret to life… the secret to kingdom building and world changing.  And it wasn’t in swords or strong words or power.  It was and it is in love.  In that moment, he didn’t let his eyes wander to the world outside that upper room.  He was fully present with the people who God had given him to pour himself into, and he washed their feet and broke their bread and poured their cup.  He served them with love and whole-heartedness, even as his eyes were set on the path to the cross.  And he told them the secret to life; the secret to kingdom building and world changing. The secret is quiet and subversive and doesn’t often have the appearance of power… the secret is love. 
I’ve often wondered, especially as a child, how the cries of “Hosanna” could change so quickly to angry shouts of “Crucify Him.”  But the older I get, and the more I find myself in a position of unglamorous service to these little ones God has given me, I think I understand a bit more.  It’s easy to shout Hosanna when you think your savior is going to ride into town and turn the world upside down, breaking down unjust political systems and upending unfair social practices.   He will be powerful and prevail!  You will be a victim no more!! And when he takes his position of power, maybe you’ll get your status in life promoted, too.  "Allow us to sit at Your right and at Your left in Your glory.” (Mark 10:37) It’s easy for me to shout Hosanna when I see God giving me opportunities for influence and impact.  But when he rides into town and whispers words about love and peace and self-sacrifice and service, it seems to be human nature to feel at least a little bitterness and resentment rise up.  Or maybe a lot… maybe enough to change our Hosannas to Crucify Him. 

The girls’ NaiNai sent them some Easter books, and I found myself laughing out loud at the first few pages of the book as we read it yesterday.  Humphrey's First Palm Sunday, by Carol Heyer.

Cora kept looking at me like I’d lost my mind because there was nothing funny about it to a 4-year-old.  And I kept laughing so hard I cried, because none of us want to be the camel bringing up the rear.    

If I look at the work of my days and all I see is piles of laundry and dirty dishes, weeks upon weeks of managing bedtime by myself and grocery-store trips and meal-planning ad nauseam, I begin to feel as irritable as Humphrey.  “I’m capable of more than this, God!”  I grumble, like Humphrey, as I pull the load of clothes from the washer to the dryer.  “I can be of greater service if I could just have the chance!” I gripe, as I change yet another dirty diaper.  “I’m sick of watching other people change the world from the sidelines!” I complain, as if the only thing in my field of vision is another camel’s rump. 

“Managing a house and raising children and dealing with sickness by myself while my husband works 90 hours a week... This isn’t what I signed up for!”  The bitterness and resentment turns quickly to anger, and just like that, my Hosanna disappears and I join the ugly chorus of those shouting Crucify Him.
But His whisper doesn’t change… He breaks bread and pours out cup and washes the feet of those he loves on the last night he walks this earth, showing us that service is at the heart of his way.  He demonstrates peace as he tells his friends to put away swords and heals the ear of the enemy who has come to kill him.  He walks out self-sacrifice as he puts one step in front of the other and carries his cross to the hill on Good Friday.  And love?  From the very cross where he is giving his life, he asks the Father to forgive the ones who put him there.  There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends.  (John 15:13)

And so I’m finding that maybe I didn’t miss Holy Week at all.  Maybe these everyday acts of love and self-sacrifice and service are bringing me closer to the heart of what it means to be a Jesus follower than any grandiose act could ever do. 
Right now my life doesn’t look extraordinary, but I see his example to follow.  I hear him whispering to keep my eyes focused on the children at my feet in this moment, not letting my eyes wander to the world outside my living room when they need me here.  I hear him asking me to be fully present with the people who God has given me to pour myself into, washing their feet and breaking their bread and pouring their cup.  Serving them with love and whole-heartedness, even if it feels like sometimes it requires sacrificing all that I want to do. 

This is the secret to life; the secret to kingdom building and world changing. The secret is quiet and subversive and doesn’t often have the appearance of power… the secret is love.  It may look more ordinary than extraordinary, but in this ordinary holiness I will find Him.


This post is dedicated to my friend Lori, who not only took my girls on a fun date this morning giving me some truly child-free time for the first time in over two weeks, but also fixed them lunch so I could finish writing this.  She's a beautiful example of his love and service in action.

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.


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