Sex Would Never Work

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It was 8 months since I had gone off birth control pills and we began trying. 8 months of timed intercourse, negative pregnancy tests and mounting tension. There was an unspoken ache growing in my womb instead of a baby. We had purchased our first home and we eagerly painted one room the sweetest pale yellow we could find, as we dreamed of our first baby.  I knew something was wrong, even when others would speak of our “young age” and the need for me to simply “relax” in the waiting. Finally, we went to the doctor for testing.

I can still remember the phone ringing as I sat at our dining room table, trying to plan out my decor for the rest of our tiny home.

“Hello?”

“Hello, may I speak with Crystal Coates please?”

“This is she.”

“Hello ma’am.  This is So-and-So from Such-and-Such Hospital. I am calling with your lab results, is now a good time?”

I said yes, later I would wonder if I had said “no” if it would somehow buy me more hope, as if doing that could stop and change the story.

“I am sorry ma’am.  There is no way for you to be able to get pregnant naturally.”

“Naturally” meant sex.  But we could have sex every waking moment for the rest of our lives and never “fall pregnant.”  In one moment my world seemed shattered.

I don’t remember anything else that was said. I do remember dropping the phone as tears slid down my face.  I remember calling my husband of 1 year and repeating the words like a robot. I remember dropping to the floor and weeping and wondering why this was happening to us.

That was 17 years ago.  I was 22 years old. I would spend so many years and tears navigating people talking about how God did the impossible for such-and-such a couple or after we adopted, people sharing how it was “after adopting” that so-and-so unexpectedly got pregnant.  Those stories are glorious, no doubt, but they felt like salt in a never ending wound. We would never get pregnant “naturally.” And for years that held a shame and weight I can never express with words.

Eventually, we would opt to try and get pregnant.  Eventually, it would work. Eventually, I would lose those babies and learn of a pain when I buried them that felt far heavier then the infertility. Eventually, we would adopt, and adopt, and adopt again.  Eventually, when all hope seemed gone for us to ever be able to try again, we did.

This time it was IVF (In-Vitro Fertilization), the mac-daddy of all infertility treatments, and I was 35 years old.  Finally, I would know what it was to carry a baby full-term and the joy of hearing her first cry when she was born. And, I would also have 2 more embryos frozen for the future.

It has been almost 4 years since our daughter was born, almost 3 years longer then we had planned on waiting to try again by doing a FET (Frozen Embryo Transfer), but that is another story.

The future is now.  This week marks the beginning of walking through a FET, of (God-willing) giving those 2 embryos a chance at life, and I can’t help but remember the very beginning of our story.  A story that began so long ago, a story so full of sorrow and joy and God’s unwavering faithfulness that it steals my breath with its enormity. So tonight, as I swallow my meds, I need to remember His past faithfulness.  As I ponder my fragility, I remember His strength and His power. When I am tempted to fear, I lean on his faithfulness. Because one thing I have learned through it all is that I was never meant to walk this road without Him.

 

12 Years Later I am Quitting Being a Homeschool Mom

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For the last 12 years I have worked tirelessly to be the best stay-at-home-homeschooling-mom that I could be.  Some of you reading that sentence are applauding me, while others are rolling their eyes and maybe even releasing an audible groan.  I know this because the one certainty I have learned over the last decade is that most moms like to pick a camp to side on and firmly hunker down on their side, pretty certain that their way is THE best way.  Mom shaming is a real thing, y’all, and it needs to end.

Is it possible that parenthood, motherhood, education, and even are children aren’t cookie cutter experiences? Maybe there isn’t a one size fits all approach? Maybe we could allow space for women to do what they believe is best for them in their motherhood journey without throwing stones? Maybe we could be inclusive in our tribes instead of exclusive? Maybe we could just seek to love each other well on this super hard journey called motherhood, without adding difficulty? That is my dream…but I digress.

So why, why after more than a decade am I calling quits to homeschool mom status?  It’s simple- I am done being afraid. Now if you had ever asked me why I homeschooled I would have told you it was because it was the best educational option that we could afford.  There was tremendous truth to that, but it wasn’t my root motivator. The thing that kept me plugging away when I was miserable, or pushed me to try again when both my child and I were in tears, was fear.  I had bought into the belief that this is what was required of me if I was going to be a “good Christian mom.” And if I wanted to do what was best for my kids I needed to protect them from all-the-things. This belief was reinforced in a thousand different ways, but it’s root was actually established in my own hard childhood experiences.

However, after trying to parent in various forms for over 16 years, watching, listening, and learning from it all– especially other parents, I have finally realized something in my core.  I am learning that motherhood isn’t about protecting our kids from all the hard, it is about modeling and equipping them to be able to navigate it all and ultimately being a safe place when they ache.  Somewhere along the line I began living like God was somehow small in all of this, that belief showed up by me acting like everything rested on my shoulders. Who my kids became, their futures, their everything was completely dependent on me as their mother.  I poured into and planned all the things for my kids, especially their education, not realizing that in so doing I took ownership of it all and deprived them of so much that is beautiful in the struggles of our journeys. I also forgot that in the end they have a free will, one that could, and sometimes has, varied greatly from my hopes and dreams for them. One day I will have to let them go, did I model fear or freedom?

I have seen mamas gifted to homeschool and children who thrive in it, and I have seen others who make my heart ache in the perceived failure of it all.  I have seen working mamas who are sending their kids to public school rocking it out, and I have seen others who are detached and their kids are on fire.  One thing they have in common, no one wants to be shamed about their choice. I choose to cheer for every single mama out there and support them completely on their motherhood journey– wherever they are and whatever that looks like.

Me?  I have no gifting to teach math or science, and it pains me to try.  Don’t get me started on how much I clench my jaw while watching a kid learn to write their letters. I love my children but trying to teach them all the things has sometimes resulted in me teaching them how to cuss instead.  I will treasure (most) of our homeschool memories and trust God will use it all but now we are all excited about a new chapter in our family story. Their academic teachers will get my unwavering support, random gifts of dark chocolate, and my unending gratitude for doing what I shall not.  I will work on modeling for my girls what it looks like to run after Jesus and the dreams he has given me, to fail, to press on, and to not let fear determine my steps. And, if I am doing it all wrong, there is Jesus and therapy.

 

Untethered

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“Go back.

It was supposed to be my time to recharge, not to revisit places that seared my soul like a branding iron.

Go back.” Over and over the thought pressed, set on repeat, echoing in a gentle whisper.

I drove out of town, willing myself forward as the sweat made my palms slippery on the steering wheel. I drove the once familiar path that led out to my childhood.  To a town so small it feels hidden away and untouchable.

Unconsciously I began slowing down as I crept closer.  The sights, the smells, the atmosphere of the place bringing back a host of memories that were unwelcome.  I slowly drove down the street where I grew up and was struck by the realization that I was still tethered to this place, to the past.  Flashbacks tore through my mind like an old-school flip book, flipping to the rhythm of my increasing pulse. It felt like a noose tightening.  It was then that I grabbed for my cell phone, my tie to the present, my unconscious lifeline, only to realize I had forgotten it at home. Without hesitation, I found my foot gunning the gas before the invisible noose finished closing around my neck.  Picking what seemed like a random road out of town, I drove and frantically prayed for deliverance. It was instinctual and so familiar. The further away I got, the easier it was to breathe, and the angrier I grew.

That night I sat and cried ugly, angry tears for hours.  It has been over 30 years since the searing; that place doesn’t get to have a hold any more.

Again, the gentle pressing: “Go back, you are not there anymore.”

And so, the next day I returned, this time with my husband driving so I would have no excuse to leave.  He drove faster then I desired, doing the speed limit. He had no apprehensions toward the place.

The town was still with the white noise of chickens clucking, and we were clearly outsiders.  My childhood home now changed, blue paint replacing the once pale yellow. Attempts to modernize the simple home were evident.  And yet, the random yard furniture continued to be a theme– trailers, cars, random sheds, grassy overgrowth, the accumulation of stuff in wide open spaces.

Get out and walk this road.”

I didn’t want to.  This was not a town where you walk the streets unnoticed, nor was it welcoming.  Plus, 2 of my children were now with me. Wait, why did I allow them to come along?  A panic swept over me.

I have you, Crystal.

We parked in quite literally the only place possible, the town park.  The town park, with it’s single swing set and rusting baseball diamond.  As my daughters rushed toward the swing set to play I walked into the past.  Slowly, I walked to the back of the park, to the ditch where I was once held down by the teenage girl as she instructed her younger brother on how to violate me.  Hidden. Her voice echoing in my head, my pulse started to race. But now, a new thought. What had happened to her to lead her to do that? Why? A new and unfamiliar sadness swept over me. What was their story?

You aren’t here anymore.  I want you to see.”

Loudly, I spoke truth in that space; loudly I declared my freedom.  The weight began to lift off my shoulders, and laughter began to pour out of my chest.  I turned around to walk back and watched as my children laughed on the swing set as my husband pushed them.  A new memory in this space.

I walked on down the road, remembering.  I looked over at the little market where I would take all my parents’ change and buy every piece of candy I could. Then I would hide and eat every last piece until my belly ached–the birth of my eating disorder.  I stood at the bus stop where I would wait every morning to take the long bus ride into another town where I attended school. I rode with two of my abusers. Me, the elementary school kid, being beckoned to the back of the bus after a certain stop along the way, to hang with the “cool high schoolers” and do their bidding under the hiddenness of a jacket.

I walked on and stood before the home of my littlest years.  I remembered the trailers, the “friends.” I remembered the abuse, the theft of my innocence. I remembered the pictures, the child pornography.  And again I wondered why they did it, what had happened in their stories. Again, I spoke the truth in this space, loudly, looking like a crazy person.  I am not here anymore.

And then, with incredible clarity and indescribable power I realized–

Where do you think your passion was born?

Where did the seed get planted for who you would become?

Where did you find your voice?”

This place.

When the enemy said, “I will destroy her,” God said, “Wait until you see what I do.”

God has used all of it.

I looked down at my girls who were trying to take in this strange place and realized they were the ages I had been during that season. Age 3 when we moved there, about 10 when we left.  God had me. Intimately, always, he was with me in that fire.

As we left, I realized we had even retraced that old bus journey I once took daily.  He had covered and redeemed every single inch of the journey. I was free, finally untethered from this place and space.

“Mommy, what was that place?” asked 3 year old Victoria.

“That was the birthplace of Mommy.”

 

The Death of a Son

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Jesus on the cross.

A few years ago I was asked to contemplate and create a piece of art through photography that spoke to that scene.  At first, I was overwhelmed. What could I possibly do with photography that could speak to this profound moment?

As I prayed, I looked down at my sleeping 8 month old baby whose fingers curled tightly around mine and thought, “What about Mary?”

The one who carried Jesus in her womb, the one who nursed Him at her breast, the one who did all the late night feedings after birthing Him into the world–she was there.  She was at the cross as He died. He was first the son of God, but He was also her son, and she held all the memories of raising Him while He hung dying on that cross.

Jesus was fully God and fully man, but I would pose that Mary was simply fully human and fully a mom.  And as a mom, I sought to ponder what it might have been like for her during those hours…

She knew it was coming, but nothing could have truly prepared her for the scene, the feelings, the smells, the sounds, the helplessness she felt.  Even if she was able to grasp the importance of the sacrifice completely, it had to war with her instincts as a mother, powerful instincts to protect and defend her child, her son.

As she watched Him die, did she flash back to that baby she held in the humble manager? To the fingers that once curled around her own in total dependance on her care, now being drained of their life while He hung on the cross?  Did she think back over the thousands of memories she held of watching Him grow into a man? Did she weep bitterly knowing that while this incredibly hard thing was God’s will, it felt like it was impossible for her to bear?

Mary, you didn’t run from the hard of any of those moments.  You stayed present. You stayed steadfast even as your knees dropped to the ground, and you wept and your heart broke into what seemed like possibly irreparable pieces. We know God had you even then, especially then, because through incredible pain and with extraordinary effort Jesus spoke from the cross about you:

“‘When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!’” John 19:26-27

Ordinary Mary. God used her to do an extraordinary thing. He chose her, He loved her, He had her…even and especially in the shadow of the cross.

He has you today too. From the cradle to the crosses in your life, He has you. He loves you. In the pain he promises to bring forth great purpose. Even when we feel crushed, He has a plan. He is never surprised, and He always gets the victory.  Like Mary, may we draw near to Jesus and not only find the resurrection power but also find the power that only comes at the foot of the cross.

 

A Question About Adoption

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“Would you do it again?” she asked, curious to know my answer as she watched the tears fall down my face.  I knew what she was really wanting to know–was all the pain worth it?

I think it is easy to romanticize adoption, to paint this fairytale story where there are heros and villains, dramatic turns and plot twists that eventually lead to happy endings for the people involved.  I used to see the ads play on TV tugging at the viewers emotions with pictures of beautiful children in need of homes, sweet smiling families embracing them and words like “changing lives” echoing in the background, alluding to sweet promises of the power you hold to change everything. I used to watch them and bite my tongue, physically forcing myself to stop the words I wanted to yell at the TV screen.  I understood the point of the ads, I understood the need, I just wished it was more accurate. Real life is not a fairy tale. But would people still say yes if they knew what was coming?  That thought makes my heart sink, we are a culture who idolizes the easy, the fun, the “guarantees” that something will feel good and runs from the hard out of abject fear…or maybe that is just me?

I can still hear my dear friends words, spoken in love all those years ago, while we were fighting to adopt our first three girls through foster care, she knew well what the road ahead could hold if we insisted on saying yes, she had already been dwelling years in those trenches, “You don’t HAVE TO adopt them you know?” I did know.

I lost track of the number of people who questioned why in our twenties we would agree to adopt two teens from foster care, or the number of social workers and therapists who would try and dissuade us as well.  At the time I was irritated with them all for trying to change our minds about doing this wonderful thing, I thought kids in foster care NEEDED families after all? Looking back, I can now see that many were genuinely just trying to help us understand what they in all likelihood already knew…the road would be anything but a fairytale and the odds of us saving anyone were statistically impossible. Could they smell our naviate? Sometimes in the heartache I can still hear their words, echoing, always echoing in rhythm to the pound of my heartbeat through the stillness of my tears.

In the midst of our adoption dreams we really didn’t leave room for the messy, the broken, or just how limited we would be in this story.  We also never really considered how it would be for our families who would also go along on the ride, not because they choose this but because we did.  But more then anything we didn’t want to consider that when we signed up to say yes, when we signed on the legal line choosing them forever that would in NO way guarantee they would ever choose US.  The beauty of us doing this in our 20’s was that we were gloriously hopeful for the future, our rose colored glasses shined up and polished to such a fine degree that the glare of their reflection could blind you.  Sure, there would be hard BUT it would all be great in the end, right?

That was before the effects on our girls surfaced, like well hidden emotional bruises, from all the days before us.  They would explode in their consequences and sobering reality into our lives like a set of well placed land mines–eventually leaving us sitting in a crater that looked a lot like the explosion of what once was our dreams of what life would look like. Us, hair scorched, wounds visible, smelling like fire ravaged us, sometimes in shock, we sat.

I have lost track of how many times I have questioned God in the mess, how often I have expressed my inability to navigate this road, certain I was not the right fit.  If God is collecting tears, on this issue alone, I feel certain its volume could easily fill a corner of the ocean. I still have more questions than I have answers, even more than a decade later.  Our girls, now parents themselves, are now both older than I was when we began our story, a fact that I often find incredible and sobering.

And so, through tears, I answered her, my sight clearer and words more certain now then the day we finalized our forevers, even knowing the hard–

“I have learned so much.  I have learned that God is not looking for the perfect but for the willing.  He is not asking us to change others but for us to trust Him while he changes us. He doesn’t expect us to do it alone but instead he promises he will give us himself. And most sweetly he promises that none of it, whether we see it or not, will ever be wasted. None of it.

So, I can say without hesitation that yes, I would do it all over again.  While we can control so very little in the story, we can keep choosing love, we can keep saying yes, we can keep pressing on because the two things I now know are certain are that God is changing me, and that our girls will always be worth it.”

 

A Bartender and a Carrot Cake

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I sat in the hotel lobby area sipping on my morning coffee, watching the beautiful, golden, early morning light pour in through the glass doors just a half dozen yards in front of me when I noticed him slowly shuffling into the lobby with his walker in the lead. The white hair left on his head trimmed short, once tall, he was now slightly hunched over, the crease from his oxygen line permanently imprinting his face during his sleep, he moved slowly forward. Carefully, he grabbed a complimentary newspaper from the front desk, and setting it on the seat of his walker, for what I assumed was easy transport, he began heading over to sit at the table in front of me.  Sitting carefully down, he opened the newspaper and began to read it.

Newspaper. “Huh, those still exist?” I thought to myself as I tried to focus on my plans for the day. It was my vacation and the possibilities were endless. It was all going to be about me for the first time in a very long time. So, God, what should I do today?

My eyes focused on the man in front of me again and the thought pressed in, why don’t you offer to serve him?

“Seriously?” I mouthed silently. Slowly, carefully, not unlike the older man in front of me, I got up and walked over to him.

“May I get you a cup of coffee?” I asked.

Looking up at me, a small smile on his face, he said, “Oh, I don’t drink coffee anymore. I gave it up when my wife got sick 6 years ago and couldn’t drink it anymore. Don’t get me wrong though, I like the taste of the stuff.”

His smile, big and warm, and inviting.

“Oh, wow. I wish I could give it up, but this mama needs caffeine. Can I do anything else for you?” I asked, trying to avoid thinking about how awkward I felt.

While looking down absently at the paper, smoothing it unconsciously with his hand, he softly replied, “Oh, you are sweet. No, I am good. My daughter will be here soon to have a cup of tea with me. You see, today is my birthday, I am 84… (deep breath and sigh) Yeah, my wife and I used to come here together you know, before she died in November.  We were married for 65 years. Now when I come some things bug me a bit.”

As his eyes grew misty, so did mine.

“65 years? That is incredible. I am so sorry to hear of her passing.” (I briefly pause, quickly searching for some words that might be ok in this moment…) ”That is wonderful that your daughter is coming! Are you going to celebrate?”

Still lost in thought as he looked passed me, my question seemed to awaken him again to the present as he responded, “Oh, yes. Have you met the bartender that is here in the evenings? Well, she is baking me a cake for my birthday today! Yes, do you like cake? She is making me my favorite–carrot cake with cream cheese frosting! You need to come back today at 5 o’clock and have a piece of cake with us!”

Seriously?

I promised I would while wondering if this bartender was really going to bake this guy a cake. What sort of bartender does that anyway?

That evening I was there at 5, waiting and watching, unable to shake this conversation from the forefront of my thoughts. The bartender appeared, a 60ish lady with a warm smile and short curly hair that was covered with a sparkly green St. Patty’s Day hat. As she poured my drink I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Are you REALLY giving a cake to one of the patrons today for his birthday?”

With a chuckle she looked at me and said, “Oh! You mean Sam. Yeah, great guy! He loves carrot cake with cream cheese icing so I baked one up for him last night. Today is his birthday!” My shoulders sagged as I realized she even knew his name and it hadn’t even crossed my mind to ask.

I had no words, so I sat and sipped on my beverage and waited. A few minutes later here came Sam rounding the corner into the lobby area and heading straight to the bar.  I didn’t hear their words, but I watched. After greeting him and pouring him a drink she left to head into the kitchen area. A few moments later she came out with a humble, but delicious looking carrot cake covered with a liberal amount of cream cheese frosting.  As she set it before him with a huge smile on her face I watched as his face lit up too.

I was watching a scene I knew Heaven was applauding.

Humbled, I walked over and asked if I could take a photo for them to remember the moment, and carefully he handed me his cell phone.

Later, the next day, as she hurriedly passed through the area trying to attend to her duties, I put out my hand to stop her. “Thank you for the lesson yesterday on what love looks like.”  And with a knowing smile she looked right into my eyes and remarked, “You are very welcome.”

It was the best sermon I have seen in a long time.

 

The Death of Shame

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I have spent the last 3 years frustrated and angry with my body.  I have asked approximately 1 million questions, all related to the unfairness of it all.  The brokenness, the pain, the setbacks after surgery that have drawn out my “one year rehabilitation” into over 2.  The weight gain — the pounds pouring back on that I fought so hard to remove. The shame over it all has blanketed me like a straight jacket.  Surviving, not thriving.

And then the doctor’s visit that deafens like a 3 ton gong placed just feet from my face.  You have stayed in this space as long as you dare; survival mode will lead to your early death.

I have been here before. It smells, and sounds, and tastes of the same bitterness from just 6 years ago.  Then the scale tipped of 311 pounds of broken and desperate grief after abiding for years in the court of a god named Emotional Eating. How did I get here again? There is so much sameness that the god of Shame threatens to deafen the truth with his distorted lies.

Yes, it is a familiar battle. Yes, I gained back almost all of the weight I once lost.  No, it is not the same story!

This novella is full of never ending physical pain that left me too tired, too unable, and too desperate to carefully choose the foods that I ate.  Survival is not picky. However, the lessons of old did not depart me. I did not bow to the god of Gluttony, I did not tarry at the table of emotional overeating and food disorders.  Not this time.

Unfortunately, that did not save me from the weight gain.

This season has been ripe with lessons, and at the top of that list has been learning the power of genetics and of PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). Eating a “normal” American diet and being limited in my ability to do physical activity was all that it took to gain back over 62 pounds of the 100 I once lost.

And so, here I am starting over yet again.  I am stepping out of this hard season, and I am done kneeling at the altar to the god of Fear.  The trauma, the fear–it has just been too heavy of a burden to bear, and I refused to carry it one more moment. At the end of December I laid it all down at the altar of the one who instead will carry me.  I share this now, in real time, having no idea how the story will unfold. It isn’t about the scale this time; it is about trusting Him who is worthy and knowing He has me. It is about learning how to eat for my body and allowing it to heal from that which has hurt it.

And it is about changing my vision.

No longer am I mad at my body; no longer will I fight it.  Instead, I am so profoundly thankful. This body pictured here has faithfully carried me through every season of my life.  It has held me together through trauma and abuse. It has carried and birthed 3 beautiful daughters. It has nursed a darling baby girl for 15 months.  It has lost 101 pounds, hiked tall mountains, run 10Ks, survived 6 different surgeries, and endured countless other medical procedures. And now it is healing all over again, faithfully supporting me as I learn more and press into the journey ahead.  Always, always pressing toward freedom, victory, and my God.

Shame had to die.

 

Persistence Over Perfection

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By nature I am a quitter.

Quit the hard.

Somewhere along the line I bought the lie that the dream life was one of my comfort.

Today I looked longingly at the park, blanketed in a thin layer of fog, and ached as I thought back to all the hiking I used to be able to enjoy on its crazy lava rock terrain. How I had gotten to the point where I could run its trails and hike for miles… It feels like a lifetime ago.

I had worked so hard to get there, and now, after the last 3 years, that all seems like it was really not so hard after all. Perspective.

I have lost count of the number of times I have been tempted to quit in this season, often wondering if it was a season or instead a lifetime sentence. I don’t know how many setbacks there have been–too many to count. It has been 3 years of pain, surgery, rehab, and work. It has been wanting to quit a thousand times a day and battling fear. It is hearing my littlest ask over and over again, “Mommy, are you still hurt today?” It has changed me.  And along the way I found myself desperate to quit, for God to fix it all and take away the pain, and if he wouldn’t, then to find some crutches. Crutches, the things you can lean on instead of God.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

I wanted to mute the megaphone, all the while believing I was trusting God. This week God pointed out the crutches by informing me of some painful truths, and asked me to stop quitting. The crutches were costing me.

Hard seasons demand change. That I change implies my discomfort, that I grow, that I seek, that I am chiseled and that I trust Him.

The hard keeps me at the feet of Jesus, acutely aware of my need of Him. There is a profound gift there, even when we can’t see it through our tears.

This week I laid down my crutches.

I leaned on Jesus.

Persistently pursuing Him instead of trying to do any of it perfectly. Just as I am, fears, tears, and ugly bits pressing without ceasing into his arms. Persistently pressing my body forward through the squats, the lunges, the walking, the fear.  Perfection implies no mess, but my mess is exactly what he wanted me to offer over to Him. Persistent over perfect, always.

This week was my first week of victory in over 3 years.  It turned out I didn’t need those crutches after all; all they did was slow me down.  He had me. He was and is my perfect strength.

 

Paradise and the Camp Fire

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“Mom, you have to see the sky!”

I stood in my PJ’s watching the horrifying black cloud crawling through the skyline from our upstairs windows, fear and helplessness overcoming me.

I rushed downstairs and hopped onto my computer to see if I could learn of it’s cause, a fire had begun in Pulga and was rapidly heading up to Paradise. My heart sunk.

Here I sat in my living room less than 25 minutes away from so many who were in danger and there was absolutely nothing I could physically do to help them.

I started listening to the online scanner of the ongoing efforts made by the incredibly brave men and women who were present and I began to pray, fervently.

Tears poured down my face as I listened to the words pouring forth…

Children still at school.

A woman needing assistance who had gone into labor, a high risk pregnancy.

Traffic not moving as the fire raged.

Cars being abandoned.

People fleeing on foot.

Vehicles catching on fire.

Everyone working on just trying to get everyone out.

I felt ill. I thought of every single person trapped in those moments and I prayed again and again and again.

I started to check facebook and began seeing people posting of being trapped around the flames, uncertain if they would make it out. It wasn’t long before the pictures started surfacing of the charred and abandoned vehicles. I was undone and I could not wrap my mind around the reality of the horror.

November 8th, 2018. A date that most in this area will never forget, a date that will be seared into some souls like a branding mark. The day that Paradise, CA burned and tragedy struck.

So many have lost every earthly possession that they had. Too many lost their very lives.

As I write this I am watching as people are walking humbly by with food in their arms, given by a shelter a block from my home. The home we wondered if we would loose as the fire headed toward Chico, our home that still stands, and I am struck again by an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. But we are not helpless despite the feelings that may pervade us.

My heart has broken for all of these precious people; my neighbors, my friends.

God can do a lot with a broken heart though.

In fact, I am amazed as I watch so many people and businesses work hard to help, pour, serve, and love in anyway that they are able.

This is the beauty in the ashes.

The stories pouring forth make me weep anew at how beautiful it is when people lay it all on the line for each other.  And so we keep praying, we keep showing up, we keep pressing in, we keep serving, we keep connecting, we keep talking and listening and holding our dear brothers and sisters as the next weeks and months unfold. We give, and we lay ourselves out. We CAN help. While no one person can do everything, together everyone can do something and that is profound.

This is love in the unspeakably hard places.

 

I Was Such a Liar

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Long before the infertility diagnosis I remember begging God for the opportunity to be a mom. I fondly remember my “never conversations” with God and wonder if he was laughing at my ridiculous ignorance of parenthood and myself. I clearly remember praying profoundly dumb things like, “I promise to never take a moment with my kids for granted,” or “I will never be a mom who yells,” or my personal favorite, “I will LOVE EVERY MINUTE, even the dirty diapers and attitudes.”

I was such a liar.  Not on purpose mind you, it was well intentioned, but they were absolute lies.  I truly had no idea what I was saying. It was the uttering of a mad woman in the bargaining stages of grief.

While others are precious about their stories of parenthood, sharing all that they love and how baby Q was potty trained in utero. I will speak to that which is my reality…

Sometimes parenthood sucks. Sometimes it feels soul crushing and unrelenting.

There are moments when I have cried so hard that my eyelids have actually fused together in solidarity, willing me to stop.  I have lost count on the number of times I have raised my voice or at the very least mentally fantasized about duct-taping them to the wall for a well earned time out. I have actually asked God if he made a mistake, sometimes being certain I was more fit for the mental ward then motherhood…though sometimes I wonder if they are one and the same.

Parenthood has broken me in ways I could never have imagined and it has taught me more about the love of God then any other experience I have had in life.

It is also so amazingly good I could weep a thousand years at Jesus’ feet in gratitude.

This month marks my 13th year of actually parenting my village.  And lest you more chronologically seasoned then I should scoff, take note, mine is not a traditional story.  13 years ago, one week apart, a baby and two teens arrived in our home. Separate stories, now forever intertwined.  For the first, I was mom number 3, for the later, mom number 5 and 6.  If we were an old school Facebook relationship status it would read “It’s Complicated.”

For these children I prayed, right?  So it should all play out like the life saving fairytale it is…

Real life is far too dang messy to be a fairy tale.  I don’t care if you have birthed, adopted, or hatched those you parent, it will change you and them.

So as I reflect back on the last 13 years, and all of their drama, here is what I know for certain:

You were never meant to do this solo.  It requires dependency on God. In fact, it requires so much dependency, that you need him for every.single.step. If you don’t allow him to be the navigation system on this journey of love that costs you everything then you will be wrecked and they will miss out.

So, here I am, 13 years later, not living the fairytale, praying this prayer instead:

God, keep my eyes so fixed on you, my ears so sensitive to your voice, that I will know exactly where to place my next step.  May I be so dependent on you that I would not be tempted to think I can do this on my own, for that was never your plan. And may I be ever present of the truth, that if I don’t go to you, the source, that I will have nothing to give, that is will wreck me, and that my loved ones will miss out on the gift that was meant to be….true love. Help me to never forget that this journey, my purpose, is ALL ABOUT YOU, not me. Amen.