Inside Out

This week we took Emily and Julianna to see the new Pixar movie Inside Out (trailer here).  It’s a movie that goes into the head of an 11 year old girl during a time of turmoil in her life.  She and her family have just moved to a new city, and she is struggling to find her place in this new life.

InsideOut2Although this movie is an animated film, it explores deep concepts.  It shows the wrestling match between all the feelings that exist inside every human during times of loss and challenge.

The five feelings voiced in this story are anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and joy.  They were shown as manning the switchboard of Riley’s mind, each taking a turn at control. As each feeling was shown, I couldn’t help but think which of the feelings in my life, and in the lives of my children, are most often voiced, and which are shoved aside, and not allowed expression.

Inside OutI’m one of those Pollyanna people who is most comfortable with Joy, often to the exclusion of all other feelings.  Joy is my comfy place.  And yet there are other feelings down deep, of course, feelings less comfortable, less socially acceptable.  Feelings that I don’t even want to admit.

But as much as I could identify with this movie because of my own internal life, it hit me even more deeply on behalf of my adopted children, some of whom have experienced great loss in life. I’ve struggled so much to help some of them break free of anger and sadness, and find their way to joy.

Before me on the screen was a vivid and compelling description of the way loss can make anger and fear and sadness take over a person’s soul, causing all joy to flee, at least for awhile. At the peak of her struggle to settle into her new life, Riley became almost a different person.   It was only after she found a way to voice all her feelings that she was able to come to a more balanced place, to embrace her new life, to appreciate the richness that even the hard feelings add, and to find joy again.

It was such a great reminder to me that we as parents need to show our children the way to that more balanced place, where they can safely express all the feelings, not just the pretty, socially acceptable ones.  In being open to all their feelings, we can love them more fully, more truly, and support the kind of balanced emotional health and well being that many people struggle all their lives to find.

Though the concepts were deep in this movie, they resonated with my 10 and 13 year old daughters, and we had some good discussion on our way home from the movies.  Have you seen this movie yet?  I’d be interested to hear what you think of it.

Other thoughts about this movie:

The Roots of Real Joy

The Inside Out of Grief


96% efficient?

One of the features of my new fitbit is that it evaluates the efficiency of your sleep on any given night. This morning the fitbit informed me that in the 8.5 hours during which I was in bed, I woke TEN times, which sounds absolutely horrible.  Except I still slept a full 8 hours, which the fitbit rated as 96% efficient. Nevermind the whole ‘awake 10 times’ thing.

efficiency-expert-cartoonI’m not sure how the fitbit sleep algorithm works– how can a good night of sleep include so many wakenings?  But it got my mind wandering to my own ‘efficiency rating’ as a mother, and how so often I judge my effectiveness as a mother by the last time I was impatient, or didn’t really meet the needs of one of my kids.  If there was a gadget to rate me as a mom, I’m kind of afraid  my efficiency rating wouldn’t be in the 90’s.  Some days I’d probably be an outright failure.

Except it depends on where I’m focusing, doesn’t it?  What if, instead of noting every failure, I was noticing every time a child and I had a good moment together, a point of connection.  Times where I guessed someone’s feelings, or validated them, or gave them a hug or a cookie or a ride home when they needed it.  Times when I prayed for them, cheered them, loved them well.

Too often I am way too focused on the ‘wakenings’ — the bumps in the mothering road–the times where I don’t get it right— so much that I am not noticing the times I’m doing well.  I know I’m not perfect, and maybe not even 96% efficient most days.  But if I can remember to notice the times I’m getting things right– instead of mentally tallying every oops in my little black book of mothering– most likely I’m going to have more energy for the things that I want to do more of.  More energy for the things that really matter.

Come to think of it– that’s probably what my kids need more of, too.  More focus on what they’re doing right, and less on the moments of ‘oops’– the wrong turns and the mishaps and the bumps in the road that we all have.



the muddled middle

A few months ago I was doing that thing when the weather is foul where you look around your house and it starts feeling like bear cave. Everybody’s been inside too long and you haven’t found a place for Christmas presents yet, and all you can see is the clutter built up around the edges. 

That particular day I’d already thrown away three bags of junk from my laundry room and two out of the linen closet and I was about to start in on the coats in the front closet. That may not have been a strategic move considering there was a foot of snow in the front yard—but I was done with coat-chaos in the entry way! Thankfully logic prevailed. Instead of throwing away coats completely, I decided what would really complete my life was a new coat rack on the wall by my front door. 

So I did what any smart woman with an idea does—I looked on Pinterest for the perfect heavenly vision of what was in my head. Then I went to Lowe’s and picked out wood and coat hooks, and had a buff young man in a Lowe’s apron cut the wood for me.

I went home and started pounding nails into my trim boards. The first couple went OK, except then I couldn’t find the studs in the wall, which meant my boards were just stuck in sheet rock, and if anything bigger than a Barbie coat ended up on that thing, it’d all come crashing down. I gotta mention here — I have a husband who is a woodworker—he does gorgeous work—but Pinterest had me convinced I could totally whip this out myself.

I prayed for studs and pounded more nails. And it turned out my wood was that fake stuff that’s basically glued-together sawdust. Which totally works for folks like my husband who actually hit the nail every time. But that’s not me. And when my hammer missed both nails—the actual nail AND my thumbnail, then the hammer would smash into my fake wood and make a nice divot. 

Partway through the project it was looking pretty scary. My fake wood was all dinged up. A couple of the nails – the ones that had actually HIT studs– would NOT go all the way in no matter how hard I pounded. And by now my husband was only an hour or two from coming home. My inner two year old was bound and determined to do this thing BY MYSELF without any male help (well, except that cute young man at Lowe’s, but my hubby didn’t have to know about him).

Every now and then one of my kids would come over, look at the wall doubtfully, open their mouth to say something– and then notice the steam coming out of my ears and retreat.

Finally I got most of my nails pounded in and the coat hooks screwed in and it even felt reasonably stable. I got out the putty and filled in my mistakes, and slapped a coat of white pain all over the whole project. DIY coat rack

While I was standing back looking at it with my head cocked over sideways trying to decide if it actually looked OK, or it that was just my hopeful imagining, my daughter came up and stood beside me. I’ve walked through fire trying to love this precious one well, and on that long journey, she has been the one God has used most often to show me my own flaws and imperfection. So that’s the kid who came alongside me companionably.

And she tipped her head sideways too and she squinted at my project and she said, “It looks pretty good.”

I told her I’d been really doubting for awhile that it’d be OK.

She looked me in the eye and said, “Yeah, lots of projects look kind of messy in the middle, but they usually work out OK in the end.”

Do you know what it meant to me to have that child—out of all my ten– speak those words to me? It was as if God himself whispered in my ear, “It’s going to be all right in the end.”

As Christians we know it’s going to be all right in the end, right?

Then why, so often, do we judge our success as mothers by looking at the muddled middle of our child’s story? The muddled middle of our own story?

And– another thing–how often do we try to do this project of motherhood ALL BY ourselves even though we’ve got the limitless power of God RIGHT there? Totally forgetting that our Father in heaven loves us and our precious kids more than we ever can. Forgetting He has every resource at His disposal, and He’s working powerfully in all of our lives this very minute.

He’s even preparing a place called Heaven for us some day.

Never forget: Our God is able to do immeasurably more than we can ever ask or hope or imagine according to his power that is at work within us.

Do not be weary in doing well, for in due time – after you get through the muddled middle – you WILL reap a reward if you do not faint along the way. I think it’s the King James version that talks about fainting along the way and I really, really appreciate that translation because so often as a momma I feel like today might be the day I faint along the way.

But let me say it again: Our God is able to do immeasurably more than we can ever ask or hope or imagine according to his power that is at work within us.

It’s all Him. It’s all Him.

Walk humble. Love deep. Be faithful. Don’t lose hope.

He is mighty to save and He loves you and your precious children with an everlasting love.

Don’t be afraid of the muddle in the middle.


(Excerpted from Forever Mom: What to Expect When You’re Adopting)

Book giveaway: Every Bitter Thing

About three years ago at a blogger’s dinner for the Dot.Mom conference, I had the privilege of sitting next to Sara Hagerty with some time to talk for awhile. As a fellow adoptive momma, I felt an immediate kinship with her, and an understanding of some of her life. But the evening left me wishing I’d had time to visit longer, as I could tell that she is a beautiful person and I just knew there was a lot more to her story than we’d really had time to talk about. I had the sense there was lots more to know.

So when I heard a few months ago that her book had just been released, I was thrilled, and eager for this chance to know a little more about how God had been working in Sara’s family.  Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet: Tasting the Goodness of God in All Things  is a deeply thoughtful, sometimes heartbreaking, always truthful telling of Sara’s story through infertility toward adoption.  Whether or not you have experienced infertility or adoption, I think you’ll find her story to be compelling.

I have the privilege of giving away a copy of Sara’s book to one lucky reader this week.  I am planning on selecting a winner on Monday, and to enter the drawing, all you have to do is comment below.  Simply tell me you’re interested in the book, or if you’d like, share one sweet blessing in your life this week.

One thing I’m enjoying is my new co-workers at the hospital.  They’re smart and funny and energetic, and I’m looking forward to knowing them better.

If you would like an additional entry for this giveaway, share this post on facebook or twitter, and then come back to comment again and tell me you did so.  And as long as you’re in the giveaway mode, you may also want to go over to Copperlight Woods where Shannon is doing another adoption book giveaway, featuring her book Upside Down and my book Forever Mom!

Win TWO adoption books!

First off, I wanted to mention that if you like podcasts, I had a fun (and somewhat  rambling) conversation recently with the lovely Julia, from the blog Running on Om  which you can listen to right here.

Today I’m teaming up for a adoption giveaway with the lovely Shannon of Copperlight Wood.  We are offering one lucky reader a copy of each of our newly-released adoption books.  As you know, mine is called Forever Mom: What to Expect When You’re Adopting and Shannon’s wonderful offering is called Upside Down: Understanding and Supporting Attachment in Adoptive Families.

We decided to do this giveaway together when we realized how well our books complement each other.  Our messages are very much related, but each has a slightly different emphasis.  My focus is very much on helping families be better prepared for adoption.  Shannon also talks about this, but focuses in depth on the ways that friends and extended family can be prepared to be a strong support to families facing adoption challenges.

By necessity, adoptive parenting is going to look a little different, especially when parenting kids who’ve arrived in your family at older ages.  And having experienced some of those challenges in our own families, Shannon and I both put our hearts into writing messages of hope and faith and encouragement for others also walking this sometimes-rocky path.

If you are interested in winning a copy of each of these books, you can enter this giveaway in several ways.  First, comment below, and tell me your interest in or connection to adoption, whether it be your own, or a friend whom you’d like to encourage with these books.  Second, for an additional entry, share this post on facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter, and then come back here and comment again, telling me where you shared about this giveaway.

I’ll announce the winner of this book set next Monday.  And be sure to keep your eye out at Copperlight Wood as well, since Shannon will be offering this giveaway soon too.


Over the weekend John and I had a really sweet getaway to attend the Refresh Foster and Adoption conference put on by Overlake Church near Seattle.  It’s always a little nervous-making to leave the kids at home and take off for a weekend.  But with a combination of teens supervising and a variety of friend/grandma/adult sibling visits, and a few LONG phone calls home from me, everyone seemed to have survived our absence and not starved.

Blue sky over Seattle

Refresh was just as good this our second year as it was our first.  We love the church family there, and the chance to visit with old friends and meet new ones, and play a tiny part in encouraging other families.  Always when I am getting ready to share with a group, I become so aware of my own imperfection and inadequacy.  I so much want to bless others, but I feel certain that others could do it much more eloquently.  Which certainly is true.

Seattle SunshineBut you know what? The weekend I was reminded in many ways how important it is to reach out and connect honestly and share hard and offer hope to the ones God places before us– even when, especially when, we don’t have it all together ourselves. Even if our voices sometimes quaver as we speak truth.  Because when it comes down to it, it’s not about us speaking perfect words. It’s about allowing the light of Jesus to shine into the heart of another fellow traveler.  And certainly that happened so many times, in so many ways this weekend.  We really did feel the presence of Jesus everywhere.

Last fall I met a neat group of adoptive mommas at a tiny retreat on Camano Island.  It was a sweet weekend of bonding and refreshment.  At the tail end of that lovely weekend, Darlene shared a bit of wisdom that an older lady had once shared with her:  “We’re all just dumb sheep, but we have a really, really good Shepherd.”

We all laughingly christened ourselves the Dumb Sheep, and this past weekend we had the chance to reconnect. Thanks to Refresh, some of the husbands are getting to know each other too– so neat. I think that sometimes husbands have a harder time making connections with other men and the fact that the Refresh conference gives men that opportunity is a real blessing.


The photo above is of some of the ‘dumb sheep’ Saturday morning at a breakfast where we chatted with a delightful group of earlybirds about nurturing passions and friendships amid the busy-ness of motherhood. (Toni, Tara, me, Jennie, Lisa, Darlene and Jen are in the photo.)  I’d never met Jennie before, but it was a pleasure to make her acquaintance.  She also did a fabulous job sharing encouragement and telling her adoption story in one of the general sessions on Friday.

Lisa and meI also had some precious visiting time with my dear friend Lisa, who recently lost her precious daughter Kalkidan in a car accident. Of course there is still much sadness in their home, but the light and strength of Jesus is also showing so clearly there in her whole family.  Her children shared at the conference and their precious sweet hearts were very evident.  Do keep praying for their family, will you?  It is a hard path they are walking.

A few other core highlights of the weekend:

~Relationship is central to this parenting journey– we need to keep reaching out to our loved ones even when, especially when growth is slow.

~God is the instigator of all growth and change, so we need to hold on and stay close to Him and trust His perfect will and His perfect timing, even in the middle of suffering, especially when the road is rough.

~Giving all our children voice is a powerful and important thing.  We need to keep checking in, keep connecting, to find out how they’re experiencing life.

~ Community is a gift from God– we need to remember the importance of reaching out to others, finding ones who are safe, and sharing honestly so that they can encourage us and that we can encourage them.  Yes, even in our weakness we can bless others.


Refresh next year is once again going to be the last week in February.  I’d encourage you to save the date and attend if you’re an adoptive or foster family anywhere near the Seattle area.  You will be blessed!

Book giveaway!

In Ethiopia with our two youngest daughters

I haven’t done a book giveaway for awhile, and I’m really excited about this one. The book is called More Love, Less Panic: 7 Lessons I Learned About Life, Love, and Parenting After We Adopted Our Son from Ethiopia.  Claude Knobler and his wife adopted their son  just five months after we brought our first Ethiopian daughter home, and a year before we brought home our second daughter  (pictured on the right).   So it was really interesting to read about their experience in Ethiopia, and also about his parenting journey since then.  As it turns out, his book is more about parenting than it is about adoption.

While reading the book, I found myself nodding (sometimes ruefully) because so much of what he’s learned is also part of my own learning curve.  So often early on in parenting I think we see it as our job to somehow ensure that our kids will be successful by making all the right parenting choices.  And then we discover that they’re already so much their own people (especially when we adopt them past infancy) that our best hope is simply to influence them.

I really enjoyed this book, and I’m excited to have two copies to give away.  If you’d like to win one of those copies, just comment below and tell me something that you’ve learned along your parenting journey.  Or if you prefer, you can share something that you vowed you’d never do as a parent.  (Do you find yourself slipping up and doing it anyway?)  Parenthood is such a learning journey, isn’t it?  For an additional entry, ‘like’ this post (using the buttons below) on facebook or twitter and then comment again, telling me you shared it.  I’ll pick a winner on Friday!



Will you all please pray for my friend Lisa and her family? She and her husband and daughter were in a car accident on Saturday and lost their precious, much-loved daughter. She was born in Ethiopia and came home to them eight years ago. My heart breaks for them. Hug your precious ones.

Merry Christmas!

Ostyns at Christmas 2014

Talking with our adopted children about their first family

Joy for the Journey panelAt the adoption retreat that I attended last month, the organizers put together a fabulous panel of birth parents and adult adoptees who talked about their experiences–  Robyn Afrik, Dr. Fran Edwards, and Darrick Rizzo were just some who spoke. Very often in the adoption ‘triad’, the voice of the adoptive parent is heard loudest, and birth parents and adoptees are sometimes not heard, or are marginalized, so it was really meaningful and rich to hear from others about their experiences with adoption.

There was a wide range of experiences among the adoptees. It was moving to hear about the hard and the good, and about the variety of relationships they experienced. Some adoptees shared stories about reunion with their first family. Others talked about rich relationships with adoptive siblings, or parents.  Some relationships with both first family and adoptive family were excellent and others were less satisfying. But I got the impression that those who were able to make contact with first family were glad to get some questions answered and know at least something about the people from which they came.  Even if someone is very happy with his or her adoptive family, it’s a really big, hard thing to not know anything about your first family.

Also hugely interesting to me were the words of the birth parents. There was so much longing in their voices as they described the agonizing decisions that led to not being able to parent their children, and also so much pride as they talked about their children now.  It seemed so obvious that they’re still parents in their hearts, even though they made the hard choice not to parent. One birth dad, Darrick Rizzo, signed papers as a teen because he was promised an open adoption including contact with his son, only to have the adoptive family disappear and not allow any contact.

I know that it can feel intimidating to adoptive families sometimes– the idea of having open relationship and contact with birth family, and in other cases it isn’t even an option.  But I came away from that discussion convinced that it was deeply appreciated both by the adoptees and the birth parents who were able to be in reunion.  I’ve read that it can be a key to emotional wholeness for many adoptees. I think we as adoptive parents would be wise to understand that, and to foster connection whenever it is safe and possible, even if it can sometimes feel scary to us.

Those brave story-tellers also left me remembering how important it is for us as adoptive parents to be honoring in our words about our children’s birth family.  I know there are birth parents out there whose choices are less than stellar.  Some children even need to be removed from family due to neglect or abuse.  Especially in situations like that it might be tempting to lay blame, or to be less than honoring in our descriptions and words. Our momma-lion instincts rise up and feel angry on behalf of our precious ones, and all that they endured before they came to us.

But still we need to remember this:  our children came from their first family. Their very DNA is entwined. If we disparage their first family, we’re also disparaging our children, whether we intend it or not. And our children will feel it. For the sake of our children, it’s up to us to find ways to honor the very real relationship that already exists between our children and their first family.

Denying it doesn’t make it go away.

Talking about it doesn’t make us less their parents.

It just shows our children that we’re brave enough and strong enough to be trusted with their feelings and wonderings and thoughts. Not all kids will choose to talk to us about those feelings.  In fact, some of the adoptees that I spoke with said that many adoptees feel disloyal even broaching the subject.  But that truth makes it even more important for us to be the instigators (at least sometimes) of such conversations– proving to our children that it’s okay to wonder, and to have questions, and longings for the loved ones in their mysterious past.

Maybe even to be brave enough to take steps to help our kids unshroud some of that mystery.


Our son’s meeting with his first family