Sometimes Love Is War

August 27, 2014 Attachment, Carrie, first year home, journey to adoption, microtia 48 Comments

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.


I often find myself looking forward to a year down the road. When she’s not so frustrated by her lack of communication. When our heart bond is deeper and stronger and wider and we both have more grace for each other. When she feels more secure and doesn’t need to be held for 8 of the 10 hours a day she’s awake.

And, if I’m being honest, I often find myself looking backward, too… to our years in China when orphan care was more exotic and garnered more attention (Yes, I just said that. Yuck.) and seemed more meaningful because it was happening “on the ground” and with actual orphans. I remember those hot Beijing (pre-children) summer nights when Jacob and I would get on our little red scooter and explore the villages around our home, watching them harvest the wheat by hand and lay the corn down to dry on the road. I can still hear the cicadas thick in the trees, buzzing over the roar of the scooter’s engine. I’d listen to worship music on headphones and spread my arms wide and marvel at how I’d ended up in such a place at such a time. I can still feel the breeze.

But I pull myself back to the now and the here. The dishes and the unmoving clock and the two little girls at my feet. Here and now. I know it’s where I find my Emmanuel. He is with me now and here, even if it sometimes feels like nowhere. Even if the beautiful everyday more often feels like the boring mundane. I’m not sure how to be fully present in this season that I often find so tedious and draining and challenging. I’m not sure how to be fully available for these little girls who have been entrusted to me… but I know it is the task He has called me to for this season of life, and I trust that somehow He equips me every day for what He has called me to. I try again.


The doorbell rings and the dog barks and Alea jumps out of her skin and starts screaming again. A woman stands at my door holding a package, and as she apprises the meltdown happening in my living room, she smiles and says, “No need to sign; I’ll just mark it as left on the porch.” I nod my thanks and balance the box on one hip and a baby on the other. Cora runs for her scissors and descends on the package, excited to see what it contains.

“Who’s it from, Mama?” she asks.

I glance at the address. “It’s from Sammy’s family.”

We get the box open and she begins pulling out packages of Chinese noodles and hot pot spice mix and bottles of Chinese cooking wine and black vinegar. There’s a note saying that Sammy and our friend Joy wanted to help us find some of the Chinese cooking ingredients that can be hard to locate in our small West Texas town. Cora finds a prettily wrapped package for herself, and I pull the card out. The handwriting is neat and precise. It’s from Sammy… I read the note and tears well and the words blur. He calls us his heroes and thanks us for the role we played in helping his family find him. As I read the last line, I don’t contain the tears anymore. “Without you guys there won’t be a Sammy S. in this world.”

And just like that, I hear His voice deep in my heart.

“Without your yes, there wouldn’t be an Alea M. in this world.”


I don’t want Sammy to give us too much credit. God sets the lonely in families, not us. And I neither expect nor want Alea to “appreciate” the fact that we adopted her someday. She is my daughter, plain and simple. Children don’t owe parents a debt of gratitude for doing what parents are supposed to do. So please don’t misconstrue what I’m saying and think that the reason we adopted a child was an extension of our heart for “orphan care,” or that we’re looking forward to the day when Alea can express her thankfulness to us.

What I am saying is that this stage of grafting a child into your family… these early weeks and months when their worlds are still topsy-turvy and their hearts are still unwon… this stage is HARD AS HELL. Of course I think she is adorable and sweet and cute as can be, but rooting her deep into my mama heart is hard work. It feels more like pruning than growing at this point. And pruning hurts.

In my experience, the process of making an orphan your child doesn’t allow for much of a blissful baby-moon. It is part orphan-care, part baby-sitting, part mothering, part trauma-therapist, and ALL-consuming. When I hear people say things like, “Well I’d rather adopt a toddler than have a baby and have to do the newborn stage again,” I feel like screaming. This is so much harder than having a newborn! I’m in a fight for her heart, and to be honest, I’m in a fight for my own too.

But sometimes Love is War.

And I’m going to keep fighting to give Alea her rightful full place in my heart. I’m going to keep fighting to give her the chance for full healing and restoration and redemption that she deserves; it’s her birthright as a daughter of the King. I’m going to keep fighting until the dark shadows of her orphan spirit are gone and she is secure in her identity as my dearly loved daughter, Alea M.

Love is War and she is worth fighting for.

You may be in a battle, too. And if you’re like me, you often feel exhausted, hopeless and like you are drowning in triviality (and perhaps dishes, diapers, and disorder). But I think I have a plan. It’s impossibly simple, really. We try again. We don’t necessarily have to try harder – striving rarely gets us anywhere. But we do pick ourselves up, try again, and keep saying yes to love. And I don’t mean fluffy-feel-good, everything is beautiful love. I mean the hard stuff. The kind of love that dies to self and puts others first… And I’m the first to admit that sometimes the hardest “other” for me to put first is the little one clawing at my legs.

We keep saying yes to love. That’s how we win this war.

I see glimpses of the girl she will become… the woman she will be someday. I see the spark of life in her eyes, growing in trust and love and hope. But Alea is still becoming Alea, and she still needs me to say yes.

Without my yes, there would be no Alea McKean.

I’m going to keep saying yes. When I fail, I’m going to try again. I’m going to stay in the battle, because Love is War and she is worth fighting for.


Who needs your yes? I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to pray for you as you keep saying yes. If you don’t mind, take a moment and fill in the blank. “Without my yes, there would be no _____.” Saying YES is hard, but I can pray for you and you can pray for me and maybe together we will feel more brave.




48 responses to “Sometimes Love Is War”

  1. Rebecca says:

    Amazing post. Real, raw and vulnerable. We are embarking on this journey and I needed to read this. Thank you. God is so good.

  2. Mary says:

    Thank you for sharing your heart! I have felt so many of the things you talked about and will be praying for you as you do battle for your daughter.
    Without “Without my yes, there would be no Bowen Miller.”

  3. Andrea says:

    This was my story. This was my story so much. That part of my story is now many years behind me, but when I was going through it, IT WASN’T TALKED ABOUT. I thought everyone was having a blissful babymoon with their newly adopted non-newborn except for me. And that feeling of isolation was harder than the things I was feeling about my new child. Thank you for being honest – I hope that newer adoptive parents don’t live in the dark like I did. (And yes, they do eventually root in tight!)

    • Carrie says:

      I don’t think much good comes from keeping quiet about the hard parts… if I can help one mama feel not so lonely, all the brutal honesty will be worth it. 🙂 And thanks for the reassurance that they do root in tight! I feel it more and more with every day.

  4. -Michelle says:

    “And I don’t mean fluffy-feel-good, everything is beautiful love. I mean the hard stuff. The kind of love that dies to self and puts others first… And I’m the first to admit that sometimes the hardest “other” for me to put first is the little one clawing at my legs.”

    Thank you for this post! Without my yes, there would be no Kai P.

  5. Susan Bardolf says:

    I am sitting in my backyard on my summer”stay cation” listening to my almost 6 year old daughter try to express how she feels about puzzles. In a few days she will start first grade. Home 2 years tomorrow. I love this girl with all my heart. It is very hard alot of the time. Honestly it’s more work than I anticipated. I adopted a limitless boy three years earlier and he was only 3 at the to just like her. Different experience all together. But I wouldn’t do anything differently and absolutely would do it all over again:-)

    • Carrie says:

      Isn’t it amazing how we can think something is both terribly hard and terribly beautiful all at the same time? Sometimes I think people are afraid that if they admit something is hard, it will seem like they regret their choice. But, as Glennon of is so fond of saying, “We can do hard things!” And I’m with you… I wouldn’t do anything differently. Even on the hardest days.

  6. Sharon says:

    Yes! I understand.

  7. Desiree says:

    I absolutely love this, thank you so much. This hit home for me. I so needed to see this today, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Without my yes, the would be no olivia Kingsley . Praying for you too! Dez.

  8. Monica says:

    Thank you. This post is perfect timing. We are approaching the 4 month mark with our newly adopted almost 4 year old and it is hard. Harder than expected. But, without my yes, there would be no Gabriel T, Riley T or Samdon T.

    • Carrie says:

      We are almost at 6 months, and I have to say overall this last month has been our best so far. And the 4th was among the hardest. I’m praying for you to find grace for each moment so that you can keep saying yes to those sweet boys!

  9. Tracy says:

    typing through tears…thank you so much for your honest, convicting, and encouraging words. You have spurred me on to LOVE <3 "Without my yes, there would be no Brock!"

  10. Jen says:

    Thank you for your transparent post. We are at the beginning of this journey with our new 5 year old. The 8 and 10 year old are struggling with their new brother. Without our yes, there would be no Caleb. It is the hardest thing we have ever done.

    • Carrie says:

      Praying for daily grace and daily mercy for your WHOLE family… Praying you’re able to find the support and encouragement and glimpses of what is to come.

  11. Sara says:

    Love the honesty! I resorted to a sling for 3 months during our first (toddler) adoption… it was the only way I could get dinner on the table. But wearing a child can be so wearing…

    This was so hard for me personally but I’ve finally learned how to ask for help…. I highly recommend the next time someone says can I do anything for you?? Say “Yes! I need meals for the weekend and/or can you do my laundry?” It’s an amazing feeling to receive back 4 baskets of clean folded laundry, and a crock pot full of yumminess you didn’t have to make. 🙂 it’s tough it’s hard and it’s worth it!

    • Carrie says:

      Oh I could write a WHOLE BOOK about my amazing tribe of people who have loved and cared for us DEEPLY in this journey. I’m all about community, and I really do believe it takes a village. I can’t imagine walking this road alone!! (And I’ve been breaking out the Ergo lately. It really does help to cook if the baby is on the back.) You are so right though… these two things are so critical to keeping your head above water in these early months.

  12. Amy says:

    Without my “Yes” there would be no Grace S. Thank you for writing these words. They echo in my soul and my heart responds “me too”. I’m so grateful for your honesty.

  13. Melissa Iner says:

    In some ways I feel like I just read my own thoughts. This road is hard and I have been on it twice now, once with an 8 1/2 year old who was “zoo-ey” and wild and yet extremely sensitive as she came into our family. And now again with a 2 year old… and our Aleas did the same “hold me” techniques ALL DAY LONG some days… my husband actually was able to stay home for months after she came home and that was my only thread of hope to get anything done or give attention to anyone else. When he decided it was time to go back to work for a few days each week I was afraid I would fall apart. (I must have looked like a deer in the headlights when he broke this to me) I did fall apart some days, but I found that Alea had come further than I realized. We just passed the one year mark and things are different now and we are settled in to our new normal… you will get there and I am so thankful for your honesty and the validation that it gives to all of us. Posted pics on facebook are little windows into the process, a beautiful moment captured here and there. Adoption is amazing, and worth every single moment, and the joy that comes with the morning makes me know these girls belong to us, and we are family. Without our yes, there would be no Mary Katherine Lu Jia Iner, and no Alea Rose Meng Mi Iner.

    • Carrie says:

      Thanks for your encouragement Melissa… I love hearing from mamas ahead of me in the journey — it just reminds me of where I’m heading. 🙂 I love watching your sweet girls grow up, too… <3

  14. Laurie says:

    I needed this more than you can imagine. Without my yes there would be no Joya or Megan Sweeney.

  15. Tara says:

    I find myself in need of this post too. Without my yes, there would be no Yandel S. Each day is a challenge. 2, almost 3, is a tough age. Thank you for your honesty.

    • Carrie says:

      As the mama to a bio baby who is 3.5 and my newly adopted gal who is almost 2… there ain’t nothing easy about EITHER of those ages regardless of HOW they come into your family. 🙂 But oh there is joy and sweetness too. It’s such a mix, but I pray that even in the midst of the hardest times with Yandel, you’re able to keep saying yes and cling to the sweet moments.

  16. Char says:

    Oh it’s all so painfully true. We have gotten through those stages of early on, and are now 6 (six?!) years out. Sadly, I still feel like I’m in a battle for my son’s cold, closed heart. It can be very depressing, because I expected to have hard times for the first year. However, he still arches away from me when I hug him, or turns his head so I can only kiss his hair. Still, I don’t give up and pray for his heart to melt. I don’t mean to be a downer. He’s smart and great and I don’t want him to be anywhere else in the world but in our family. But I see other people’s pictures of their (adopted) children with wide smiles and cuddling freely, and I wonder. Did I do something wrong? Am I the only one with a now older child who still doesn’t feel like their kid is “healed”?

    • Carrie says:

      Oh Char, my heart breaks when I hear things like this… and I don’t want to leave my response at only simple platitudes. There is help for those of us on the journey who have children who are having a harder time than others.

      Each child is so individually affected by their pre-adoption life experience that it is impossible to predict — regardless of age at placement — how they will respond post-adoption. So NO, IT IS NOT YOU. YOU DIDN’T DO ANYTHING WRONG.

      But you’re the one in the trenches now, and you don’t have to be alone. Have you heard of Karyn Purvis and The Connected Child or her website So many great resources there. That’s just a starting point; if your agency or social worker hasn’t been able to provide you with resources, and you don’t know where to turn and want help, e-mail me at and we will help you find someone to talk to who has walked (or is walking) a similar road. That’s what makes communities like this so helpful.

      I will be praying for you to not grow weary… for you to keep saying yes… for you to see signs of him softening… for you to have great wisdom and insight into what might be going on underneath the surface… and for a community of people (whether online or off) who can encourage you on the journey. Thank you for being brave and being honest. I’m sure you aren’t the only one in the place you are right now, asking the same questions and wrestling with the same fears.

    • Char you are not alone! We have had our girls for 8 and 9 years and it has been a tough journey for both of them in different ways. One is super clingy and if she wasn’t almost as tall as me she would still want me to hold her. The other is just beginning to trust me and it has been a very.long 8.years with her. Sometimes I handle it well and sometimes I don’t…I have to learn to forgive myself for being human…a lot! And with two children that wake up on high alert and go to sleep that way as well, life is hard. Life is so hard that sometimes you really do wish the Lord would come back right at that moment….sometimes I wonder why my babies have to suffer for the sins of others. Trauma makes me so stinkin’ mad sometimes I can’t see straight! It has stolen the childhoods of my two girls and the only way their hearts will heal is through the Lord. I have poured myself into them and it is a deep well. Be merciful with yourself….make sure you are taking care of you (and I’m preaching to myself here) and find a good trauma therapist. If you live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, I can recommends an amazing woman who was adopted herself as a baby in Korea. I wish I would have known the needs of my girls 9 years ago but it is what it is. She has helped us to make amazing progress but still….grief is a life journey. I don’t think it every goes away, sometimes I think God is just asking us to love them for who they are. Email me anytime:

  17. Erika says:

    With tears streaming down my face…without our yeses there will be no DD#3 and the thought of that now seems unbearable. A month ago a third daughter wasn’t even on our radar, now the idea of who she is and what our family will be with her in it won’t leave my soul.

    • Carrie says:

      Praying for you as you are on your journey… I know the wait is excruciating… But I trust God uses the time to prepare our hearts and theirs for the journey that is ahead.

  18. Jill says:

    Thank you so much for this beautifully expressed fight of our lives! And thank u for offering prayer! Without my yes, there would be no Jade, Kidist, & Tigist Bergman.

  19. A friend sent me a link to this article because this is precisely what I’ve been trying to say (but haven’t managed to spit out!) these past few months as we are also choosing (every day every hour…who am I kidding…every second….) to say “yes” to love.

    I needed to read this. It was helpful to hear the brutal honesty alongside the bone weary determination to keep at it!

    Thank you for this.

    • Carrie says:

      And I’m thankful to hear from other mamas who can say they are right there with me!! It’s encouraging to know we aren’t alone. And I love that phrase — “bone weary determination to keep at it.”

  20. Wow! Well said! Without my yes, there would be no Bristol!:)

  21. Carrie says:

    Thanks for sharing! I’ll pray for you as you keep saying yes to Bristol!

  22. Amanda says:

    My daughter came home a year ago, and it has been a very, very tough year for me. I have a blog post I started 9 months ago, that I keep in drafts, because it so raw and messy. Just when I go to post it because I’m feeling better about it all, I have a bad day and I can no longer share. I close down. I hope that someday soon I can feel good enough to post it. Without my yes there would be no Amara. Thank you for reminding me of that.

    • Carrie says:

      All these stories… all these precious lives… all this love… Every.Single.One.Of.Us. is fighting a battle and we need each other. We need the support, encouragement, and to know we aren’t alone. There’s nothing to be ashamed of — just because something is hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. If it is shame or anything like that holding you back, I pray you feel the courage to stay open. And if you ever decide to post it, I hope you’ll share a link with me. I’m so glad you are saying yes to Amara.

  23. Thank you for your honesty. Reading your words make this song (You Make Me Brave) pour over and over through my head. The bridge: “we say no to fear, we say yes to love, we will go where You are leading us…”

  24. Lindsey says:

    Without our “yes”, there would be no Camille, Evangeline or Tallulah B. Our first adoption (of 9 month old Camille in 2007) was and still is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Every single day with her is a battle for her heart. It has become clear that she is just not going to invest in our relationship until she’s tested it in every possible way. Boy, I am trying to pass those tests, but come close to “fail” MANY times. I’ve read that kids who need the most love ask for it in the most unloving ways. It’s so, so true with our Camille. In contrast, adoptions #2 & 3 were storybook perfect (aside from the first few days of trauma of course). Those girls have attached beautifully. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. I know the struggle I face with my daughter is a drop in the bucket compared to the struggle she faces within herself everyday. Thank you for this honest post. Hang in there. Remember there are many of us taking it day by day…

  25. life is complicated, but as we move forward it is the joy in little things that keeps us going, I hope no matter how hard you are going through you still find joy with your lovely angels.

  26. Molly says:

    Wish I could have read something like this 4 years ago. Maybe I would have been more graceful with Evan and myself. While he attached beautifully, (no thanks to me) the grafting is still going on in my heart. I am grateful to God for the gift of Evan W to our family.

  27. Amber Parker says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I can understand a little bit of what you are going through because Zach has reached a similar stage of clingyness and crying and I heard those same words come out of my month all the time telling him he is ok and to stop crying. It is a battle every single day to keep going and keep it together. Thanks for encouraging me through your words.

  28. Rebecca says:

    So beautifully written!
    Thank you for sharing.
    So many precious little ones come to my mind…but for me, personally, without our YES, there would be no Maylee, no Sam David, no Emma Claire, and no desire to serve and minister to orphans full-time……one day.

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