Author Archives: Karli Smeiles


Six months ago I poured my heart out to a friend via email:

Because you are also an adoptive Mama, I think you’ll understand that I find myself very much at a loss to remember why God called us to do this in the first place. I know the “right” answers: that He loves children. That we are adopted and so we do the same. That justice for the least of these is so crucial to the Kingdom. But truthfully, I can’t quite remember my own heart answers. 

Why did I want to partner with God in adoption? 

Did I really know what I was getting into? 

Why doesn’t God heal all of JM’s body, instead of just in part? 

I want very much to keep the idealistic mentality that God really does redeem the stories of kiddos like mine, but sometimes even down to my very core I am wrestling with the question, “Is God actually good toward my son? Toward our family?” 

Of course, even having these questions at all feels like a terrible betrayal of the faith I’ve held all my life. That’s where much of the depression comes from. I have not yet found God’s continued delight in me even as I question whether or not He’s the God I thought He was. I don’t think He’s afraid of our rants and raves and questions and accusations. As I’ve been living and breathing the words of many of the Psalms I keep thinking, “God let David rail against him too and didn’t strike him dead for blasphemy…” But this is a life-altering journey for me just as much as it is for my little boy. I chuckle at my naivety all the time. I really didn’t know that God would use my son’s adoption to unravel me

I just read a verse in Hosea this morning that I find is my question and prayer: “For He has torn, but He will heal us.” 

Does He still heal our kids, dear friend? Does He still heal us too? Or is it possible to be failing so miserable at being an adoptive Mom that I’ve ruined the possibility of healing for my son and for me?

There is a playlist of songs on my iPod that I listened to frequently as we prepared to make JM a member of our family. I’d listen to it in the car as I drove, looking into the backseat and picturing my boy finally there, swinging his legs and singing along to the radio with me. I’d listen to it through headphones, facedown on the couch sobbing because every minute felt like an eternity before I could tell him, “Hi, I’m Mami.” I listened to it when I couldn’t sleep, as I prayed a mother’s prayer of protection over my boy as he woke up thousands of miles away from me in a different time zone.

These songs have weathered many storms in my journey toward motherhood.

I haven’t gone back to that playlist recently, although some of the songs filter through every now and again when we’re just listening to our music on shuffle. But this morning as I worked, I intentionally chose that list. Knowing the order of the songs, knowing what songs would come up. I picked it and prayed that God would show me something new in the familiar refrains.

He didn’t disappoint.

There is a song by Sara Groves called “It’s True.”

I listened to it, as I have hundreds of times, and felt a comforting thrill in my soul as I listened to the words,

“It’s true, a God who came down to find you.”
“It’s true, angels sing through the night ‘Hallelujah!’”

In one of my recent counseling sessions I explored how the word “grafted” – used often in the adoption world – has taken on new meaning for me through the journey of adopting our son. At first, it felt lovely and beautiful. “Grafting” a family meant creating something new like a flowering tree or a hybrid fruit, juicy and sweet. The idea of being grafted together made my heart leap with excitement.


“Grafted” means beautiful, yes. But it is a beauty forged in the fires of battle. It is a healed beauty. It is a beauty that first knew deep pain. I told my counselor that now I know we are “grafted,” but as burn patients understand grafting. To be grafted is to have a wound that requires deep cuts and stitches before it heals. A wound that will continue to burn and ooze agonizingly long after you want it to be healed. We lived in the proverbial “ICU” during our first year and a half at home. All three of us have the scars on our hearts to prove it. (We will likely find that our wound reopens at various stages of our life as an adoptive family.)

But we are healing into a grafted family. And it is beautiful. My heart does leap with excitement as we become.

I wrote this in my journal just last week:

This season feels like one of rest and fulfillment after a really hard climb, complete with falls, scrapes, and painful bruises. It feels as though we’ve reached a huge meadow after a tortuous hike and can rest here for a while in the beauty of flowers, sweet breezes, butterflies, a bubbling brook, a shade tree, and a picnic lunch. I am feeling full and alive and rested in a way I haven’t felt in a long time. A “before we started our adoption” kind of long time. Back in 2013 kind of long time.

As I listened to the words of these special songs, my heart breathed out a sigh I didn’t know I’d be holding. Oh, how we prayed for Him to find us in our hard days! Oh, how we prayed for songs of comfort in the night! Oh, how how we ached to believe that what we were fighting for was true!

He was answering all along.

And then I heard another song. A rejoicing song. A song we’ve played over and over and over. One of the first songs JM “sang” for us in the car one day last year.

“I am not who I once was,
defined by all the things I’ve done.
Afraid my shame would be exposed,
afraid of really being known.
But then you gave my heart a home!

So, I walked out of the darkness and into the light
from fear of shame into the hope of life.
Mercy called my name and made a way to fly
out of the darkness into the light.”

– Ellie Holcomb, Marvelous Light

Two notes into the song, JM came into the kitchen dancing, laughing. He was singing the words of the song to me, not knowing that his very life is the words of this song.

It was one of those moments when the world stands still, everything but him turning blurry in my vision. Watching my son, home, singing the words to a freedom song in my kitchen. Believing with me that the truth of what we fought together has brought us into the marvelous light of God’s healing in a way I used to only dream about.

So Mary trusted God more than what her eyes could see.

– The Jesus Storybook Bible

Now my eyes are seeing.

He does heal our kids. He does heal us.

For He has torn, but He will heal us. (Hosea 6:1)

It’s true.



Karli Smeiles is a wife, mother, and birth doula. She finds inspiration for her writing in the faces of her boys, and in the abundant love of a redemptive God who recycles everything for good.
Karli and her husband welcomed their first son through adoption in February 2014, discovering along the way just how beautiful and painful adoption can be. The Smeiles family grew by one more as they welcomed a biological son to their family in May 2015!
Find more of Karli’s writing at

The Healing Power of Predictability

I crave predictability. I always have. There is comfort for me in knowing what to expect. I don’t particularly like surprises.

I also hate this about myself.

I hate that others can say “You’re so predictable” about my preferences or about how I’ll respond to a certain situation. I hate that what feels most comfortable to me (knowing what to expect) is often perceived as my need to be in control or micromanage.

I’ve also wrestled many years with trying to “let go,” “loosen up,” “learn not to care.” That hasn’t worked out so well for me. In fact, I think that the stern inner voice I often use to push myself to be better in good ways has found the perfect niche for turning abusive. I can berate myself for not being flexible, for not being spontaneous or fun, for running “too tight a ship” or having hard and fast “rules” for how I want to structure my days, have relationships, or organize my kitchen cabinets. Notice all the ways I tell myself that I am “not” – with no mention of what I am. After a while, hearing the constant “I’m not [fill in the blank]” self-talk makes me feel as though I’m constantly failing.

I have always been failing at trying to be unpredictable.

Which is funny. Because of the son I now have in my life.

I am Mami to a little boy who desperately needs predictability. Not only because of all the upheaval he’s been through in this past year, but because of the way his nervous system processes sensory information (feelings, sounds, sights). And because all that he knew before joining our family was the very predictable life of an institution. A predictable rhythm to our days is essential for him. Who comes and goes, when we eat, how (and where) we get dressed every day, where his toys live. Predictability is a healing rhythm for him. When something upsets that rhythm, it can sometimes feel catastrophic to his body, to his mind, to his emotions.

To the families who love us so much and want to see us more: it is very hard to upset the predictability of JM’s world. It is even more difficult to describe what happens when the predictability is upset. Tantrums, irrational fears, defiant behaviors, disruption in eating habits. Whether or not these sound like “typical four year old” behaviors is beside the point. Our child hasn’t (and won’t) live a typical life. He isn’t even cognitively four years old in some developmental areas. Sure, other families see what we see with their children too. But likely the behaviors another family sees in their normal four year are not connected to fear issues stemming from the loss of a birth family or a brain injury that dominates how we do even the basics of life: like zippering a jacket or taking a sip of water. So, while the external behavior may look the same in many ways, they are often coming from very different internal causes.

Children who test boundaries within the confines of a safe and trusting environment are normal. Children who test boundaries because they are used to being self-sufficient and don’t understand how to trust the authority of the grown-ups who love them are dealing with issues of a different kind. Not worse or more important. Just different.

Within the past few months I’ve come to understand something foundational about myself: I try to disappear as much as possible. I want to quietly go about my business, avoid intruding on others, and be self-sufficient so as not to inconvenient those around me. My counselor calls it “taking up as little space as possible in my world.” Over the years as this desire grew in me, it sounded lovely, and humble, and appealing to stay out of the way. But it isn’t healthy.

Actually, this is isn’t just unhealthy, it is really destructive. Because it means I grow silent when I need to speak. It means I hide when I need to wave an SOS flag. It means that what I need or want consistently takes a backseat to the people around me. And inside I die just a little bit more each time I shrink away from taking up the space that was granted to me simply because I live.

And then my son enters my world. And he takes up a lot of space.

We make plans only to break them a few hours later when he encounters something unpredictable and disrupting. We try new things only to have them backfire and we rush home to huddle in predictability and routine, letting its healing rhythm sweep back over us while we ask God to help us learn how to do it better next time.

I’m the Mami, so it is my job to carve out and maintain the safe space my child needs in this season and for however long the need for predictability will last. But this is incredibly stretching for a person who wants to take up a very small amount of space in her world. To answer “This isn’t a good time for a visit” when you ask is very hard for me because it means disappointing you; even if it is what we need to maintain balance. Telling you what is best for us at risk of hurting your feelings is a terribly painful experience for me, even when you have grace for it. I am working to undo years of believing that in order to be loving, gracious, and servant-like to you means that what I need (or what my son needs) is ignored.

But it’s a lot harder to ignore the needs of my son.

Suddenly I realize that in all of the ways that we thank God for doing his redemption work for JM, I am also seeing the way God is doing redemption workin me because of my son’s incredible story. Redemption work He hasn’t yet attempted because I would ignore myself for others. Now I have an “other” who needs me to pay attention to him – and thus to myself too. Redemption work God probably couldn’t start or finish is actually becoming a reality in my heart. All because my son is in my world.

One day I will take my son out to coffee and, through happy tears, I will thank him for allowing me to be his Mami. He could’ve said no, you know. He could’ve rejected us. He could’ve refused to partner with us in all of the attachment work we’ve been doing. But he didn’t. He embraces us. He signs “I love you” to us. He’s choosing to be part of our family in his own four-year-old way. And because he does, his healing story heals mine too. Thank you, son, for being mine. Not only did our really Big God heal your brain then, he’s doing it now – and as he does, He gets to heal Mami too. Thank you.


KarliKE Smeiles is wife, mother, and birth doula. She finds her inspiration in the faces of her “boys” (her sons and husband) and in the abundant love of a redemptive God who wastes nothing.
KE and her husband adopted their first son in February 2014, discovering in greater abundance then they could’ve imagined just how beautiful and painful adoptive can be.
The Smeiles family grew by one more in May 2015 as they welcomed a biological son to their family.