My Weakness

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My Weakness

In November 2014 we completed our one and only round of IVF, “our last try.”

The cycle was almost a bust because for reasons unknown at the time my ovaries weren’t responding to the meds. (We would later learn that we got a bad batch of meds that were virtually useless).

Of the over 24 eggs eventually harvested, only 17 were deemed mature enough to fertilize.

Of those 17 eggs, only 11 actually fertilized through forced sperm injection in a petri dish.

Of the 11 that fertilized, only 6 kept growing past day 2.

On day 3, one looked “slightly better” than the others, though none looked “perfect.”

That first embryo of just 10 cells would be our first transfer, and she would become my first ever successful pregnancy.

A few days later I got the call. Somehow, 2 more embryos had proven strong enough to freeze.

2 more chances, maybe…

 

I had lost over 100 pounds and was in the best shape of my life when we began in 2014.

I had planned, and I had worked hard for every inch of victory I gained.

I did the hard work of therapy and began the arduous journey of dealing with my crap that had led me to the grim prognosis I received about 2 years prior.

It was in my control to change everything, and I did.

I didn’t know it then, but while I pressed into the intense runs and long mountain treks, I had also begun an injury to my hip, a tear to the cartilage in my hip joint. The tear was completed the day I gave birth to our sweet daughter.

That day, I learned anew how little was actually in my control.

 

Exercise, which had become a welcome refuge and deep therapy of its own, was ripped away from me and was instead replaced by a steady and never ending pain.

It took 15 months for a correct diagnosis, 1 very painful hip surgery that I still can’t google the specifics on,and almost 3 years of rehab, learning to walk again, and countless setbacks to arrive where I am today.

And not a day went by that I didn’t think about those 2 frozen embryos and wonder if instead of “when” we would try if instead we would “ever” be able to try.

2 months before the actual frozen embryo transfer I finally got the “go ahead” to try.

My pelvis was finally holding, I had regained enough strength, and the muscle spasms had subsided.

Only this time, I would be heavier, older, and in worse physical condition than ever before. How could I do this now?

 

I felt so weak and unable, and, to be totally honest, ashamed to be in this space with my fragile flesh.

The world will think me a fool.

My power is made perfect in weakness.

I heard it echo through my mind again and again, His still small voice.

It was time.

God moved mountains to get me to even this space, and He was once again asking me to trust Him.

 

We were finally able to give one of the embryos a chance at life. A chance I had thought many times might never actually come.

 

I have had doubts fill my mind, I have battled fear relentlessly, and I have been reminded constantly of my weakness. And He gently reminds me that I am not the author; He is.

Here I sit, wonderfully nauseated by the new life that grows within me, because God is bigger than my weakness.  He is able. He is the author and perfecter of my faith. And though I might have to lay my weakness before Him one thousand times a day, He isn’t mad, He isn’t surprised, He holds me in all my brokenness, and He loves me so much that He is willing to keep repeating, .”

 

His love truly is more precious than rubies.  What do you need to lay before Him right now?

 

To Be Seen

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I have eyed the medicine sitting in its bright blue plastic bag in my refrigerator door off and on all day; tonight the shots will begin.  It is a 3-pronged approach to hopefully wake up my ovaries and shock them into function–not that I will need the eggs for the transfer we hope to do, but our bodies are picky-down to a cellular level-when it comes to breeding life. I need an egg. Technically, I need 1,000 things to go perfectly; the egg is just one part. My head throbbing, thoughts racing, all the improbability I seem to be facing, and I hear the familiar thought echo through my mind once again. “Now God? Now we are hoping for a child? At our ages? With this body?” My thoughts cascade into a familiar loop of all my fears and I feel the heaviness growing within my chest.  It feels like the choking of impossibility.

Remember the story of Abraham and Sarah?

Not that story again, not now.  How many times have I read through different writings of this familiar story, a seeming favorite to quote to the barren and infertile to remind of God’s ability.  Honestly, I have found it irksome. Our stories could not be more different. Sarah and I are in different worlds, and what could I possibly be reminded of that I haven’t heard a hundred times before?

Read it again. Dig. Look at it as you are, a woman who has long journeyed with barrenness and infertility. 

Sigh.

That was several days ago…and I am still blown away by all I had never seen before about my girl Sarah.  So, I invite you to pull up a proverbial chair and sneak behind the scenes into my favorite chapter of Sarah’s story, the promise, as I unpack what I think the scene may have actually looked like on that day so very long ago.  One infertile woman’s look into the day of another…(Genesis 18)

….

Sarai. She had always heard of her incredible beauty, some even believed she was the most beautiful woman alive.  Even middle aged her body showed all the firmness of never having carried a child, another attribute of her beauty in others eyes, but a searing daily reminder of what had never been.  Her golden skin tones, her symmetrical features, she was a prize for any King, and once already she had been captured by a King because of her looks. Her worth as determined by her beauty fell flat as she considered how time had passed her by. Would she trade it all for a child? The one thing that every woman could do, she could not– she could not bear a child.  There was not a day that had gone by since early in their marriage that she did not hope for a child. As year after year passed, her desperation grew. There was only one thing left in her power to try: to substitute another woman in her place to be her surrogate. The desperate try turned into a cold reality of yet another hope broken when it worked, and Sarai still felt the same inside.  Her womb was still empty as she watched the swelling belly of another offer proof that it was her shame that made a child impossible. Not even Abraham could make her pregnant, though he could her surrogate. The world now knew without doubt it was Sarai who was broken. Her beauty, her freedom, and the wealth she enjoyed would never comfort that deep ache within her for a hope that seemed to be impossible.

Her hands went to work preparing the bread like she had done a thousand times before–the flour, the water, the kneading. She created the bread absentmindedly as her thoughts wandered to the guests her husband had said arrived.  Both culture and status demanded their hospitality today, but this was something more. Something inside her whispered these were no ordinary guests. She remained in the tent, hidden away, unseen, doing as was expected of her. But when the food was done, something drew her to the tent door, to the men that sat just outside of it.  She had to know more. Who were these men? Why were they here?

Then they said to Abraham, “Where is Sarah your wife?”

God shows up with two angels, shares a meal with Abraham and asks where Sarah is.  The omnipotent God knows exactly where she is. He knows she is listening at the tent door; it is His presence that drew her.  He sees her, not for her physical beauty like everyone else, and not for her barrenness. He is not hindered by her hiddenness; He has shown up, and He wants her to know that He sees her, truly sees her.  And he calls her not by the name she had known all her life, but by Sarah, the Mother of Nations. He lets Sarah know with one question that He sees her and exactly how he sees her: not as barren, but as exceedingly fruitful.

Sarah. Sarah? His words touched places deep within her. They held power; they held life.  This is what it feels like to be seen?

He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him.

Sarah couldn’t believe her ears as she laughed to herself.  Her heart raced. Had she heard him correctly? She would have a son next year?  Now, Lord? Now we are hoping for a child? At our ages? With this body? When it has been proven impossible for me by time? When we feel old? Now?

It was the thing she wanted most. This was the promise she had dreamed of having for most of her life.  Just when she surrendered to the reality of never, God spoke of a certainty her mind could not compute easily.

And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old’? Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

Sarah, hidden within the tent, silent, her thoughts completely seen before the One Who Created Her.  Can you hear His tone as He pours His love into her? Sarah, I see you. I know your thoughts. I know you’re struggling to understand. I know it is hard to trust that the day will finally come. I know you don’t want more pain.  However, I am going to blow your mind. I am the God of the impossible. Nothing is too hard for me, and this is for my glory and always has been.

Sarah, shocked and fearful that her thoughts were known, and sad that they showed her vulnerability, her tenderness, and her pain, immediately sought to erase them.

Sarah denied it…

And He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

Seen. No hiding. Jesus is not mad; He is honest. He understands. He isn’t surprised. He wants her to know she never needs to hide from him her innermost thoughts and pain.  He has her. He is the God who sees.

Her pain was never without purpose. In her season of waiting, she may never have imagined the plans God had for her.  The waiting was not by accident but by design. In a time where the only certainty of barrenness, of impossibility, would be time, he allowed the time to pass so he could perform his miracle.  God wanted to give her a front row seat to see that He is the God of the impossible. The one who the world thought was barren would become the Mother of Nations.

The tears keep filling my eyes.  He is the God who sees, not just Sarah, but me and you.  In our heartache, in the deserts, in the brokenness, in the waiting, He sees us.  He is the God of the impossible, and He always has a plan. And He is inviting us to have a front row seat to watch Him do immeasurably more than we could ever comprehend. Whatever OUR impossible, He repeats, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Walking in that truth changes everything.

 

Gearing Up For a FET

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I stand in front of the mirror and look at my body that has gone through so much. My curves aren’t quite where I wish they were, and I am fluffier than I want to be. My scars are numerous, every one a tribute to a battle fought or a privilege carried. My gray hair is boldly declaring its victory crown which resembles more of a zebra stripe down the center of my head then an actual crown. My wrinkles are a map of a road well-traveled, and the only thing really left firm after having a baby, hip surgery and 3 years of physical rehabilitation, is my resolve to keep going. This is not exactly what I had planned when finally being able to try to conceive again.

I didn’t plan my course, I didn’t see all the twists and turns coming. If I could have, I am certain I would have tried to alter the course to avoid all the hard places that would mold me into who I am today. However, that avoidance would have robbed me of the most incredible knowledge and deeply profound experience of walking with the God of Love because I would have bought the lie that I could do this life thing solo. I was never meant to walk this solo. The hard places have shown me my absolute need of Jesus, and they have unearthed a great treasure of knowledge regarding His sweetness that I dare say I will never have the ability to put into words.

I need to look in the mirror and remember today who I am. Instead, I find myself wanting to focus on the giant mountain standing before me and it tempts me to quit before I even start.

I could focus on the fact that I am fluffy, almost 40, and uncertain if I will be able to do this again.
I could focus on my 3 kids and the age gaps that I never intended and how sometimes I feel like I am already failing at parenthood.
I could focus on the money, so much money, and how we are a single income family.
I could focus on revisiting the million hard places that I have already traveled on our parenthood journey.
I could focus on all that could go wrong as we begin diving into the FET process next week.
I could focus on everything that is out of my control.
I could focus on the 2 precious embryos who have been waiting for over 4 years now.
I could focus on how I feel like I have already failed in a thousand different ways.

OR I can be thankful and remember all of the moments He has shown He is bigger than my failures. My focus is always my choice, it remains the one thing in my control.

I am so thankful that I even get the privilege to try and become a mom again. Many times over the last 4 years of physical pain and disability I have cried out to God and wondered if we would ever even get the chance to transfer our embryos, if my body would ever heal enough? It has. What once seemed impossible became possible. How quickly I forget. I am grateful that despite my faithless moments God remains faithful. It is no small miracle that I am even here, at this junction of the road.

I will hold onto gratitude, and the monuments of remembrance erected by me of God’s power in my journey with white knuckled fists right now; I have to, or I could never journey down this road again.

I would love to say I won’t fear, I really wish I could. Instead, I will humbly surrender my fears to the One who has proven that regardless of the outcome, the hugeness of the impossible mountain, He has me, He is able, and He is good. Sometimes faith is a war cry, other times it is a sweet surrender. Of this I am certain though, sometimes God moves the mountain, other times He teaches you how to climb.

Why We Are Leaving the Church

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This last week I learned that having been born in 1980 I am right on the line, classified by some as a Gen X’er and by others as a Millennial.  It doesn’t really matter. Some say it is only the younger generations like mine that are leaving the Church, I say it isn’t limited to age at all.  Some aren’t present even as they “actively attend” and I think many are missing the point as they argue over details.

Some will dismiss what I will share here as the musings of a no-body who could not possibly understand the complicated litany of reasons this is happening.  I would counter by saying it is just like Jesus to use no-body’s like me.

I have spent the last year asking, listening, watching and learning about why people leave the Church.  I have been listening and here is what I have heard:

Hurt. Hurt. And more hurt by all sides, like a live channel with never ending streaming content.

There was a long list of other reasons given, some regarding lack of faith, some about disagreements, personal preferences, etc.

All sides seem to have a long list of reasons to answer why we are leaving the Church.  I think all of those “reasons” are just the symptoms though, they aren’t the root cause.

I think it really boils down to this: It is about people not being seen, not being held, not being heard, and not being loved.  

I simply believe this- if Jesus followers stepped up and loved in the radical way that Jesus modeled and taught we would not be able to keep people OUT of church.

There is no such thing as a perfect church, true.  However, show me a spirit-led church with solid, healthy leadership, serving the needs of the people, equipping and training the congregants, and loving people right where they are while never hiding from the messy-hard and I will show you a church that is growing.

A few churches are doing this REALLY well, most aren’t.

Distract them with their issues, their selfishness, their pride and they will be useless– I can almost hear the enemy whisper.

Blinded, we are.

To everyone, people are going to hurt you, we humans tend to do that.  We get to choose to be the walking wounded or to be free. I am deeply sorry you have been hurt, I have too.  And we have all done the hurting at some point in time. Imagine if we allowed room for God to actually use it all for our benefit, even the most ugly, like He promises?  Imagine if we deal with our issues instead of playing with masks to wear? Stop running from the hard stuff, you are a warrior.

Leaders in churches, it starts with you.  You can only lead to the level of freedom you yourself have obtained.  No one is expecting perfection, which is impossible, so cast away that lie.  Our most basic need is to be seen, to feel valuable, and to be loved. Love covers so dang much it is mind boggling.  We need you to be striving to be an example worth following. How you treat those you want to lead and those who seek to help you matters profoundly.  Stay humble and teachable. Don’t play favorites. Rely on Jesus (I know you know this but do you actually do this?). And lastly, teach everyone else how to go and do likewise.  Already know and do all of this? Awesome. Would all the people not trying to kiss up to you agree with that?

Jesus followers, what are we doing?  I can leave “a church” but I could never leave THE Church.  Why? Because I LOVE the people- imperfect, messy, broken, Jesus-died-for-each-of-them people and I deeply love Jesus.  His example is THE example, He is the goal, the Church is His beloved. As hard as it may be at times, we are meant to journey together.  You know what is great about 2019? We all have access to opening the Bible and digging deep into scripture. We have access to more information than any generation before us.  Our journey with Jesus is first our responsibility. What are we doing? Are we running after Jesus, after truth, after freedom? Or are we making it all about ourselves and whatever sounds good to us?  Time is short. It is time to grow-up, put on our big girl/boy pants and go deep with Jesus. Through Him we can do this radical love thing, instead of a judgy, I have-to-stay-in-my-comfort-zone, it-is-all-about-me thing.  Jesus didn’t say we wouldn’t get hurt. Love costs us, it cost Him. He said it would be worth it. Weary? Take a nap and then go deeper, don’t get going. We are failing a world in desperate need of us showing up and being the Church that Jesus has called us to be.

Signed,

An Observing No-body Who Has Been Changed by Jesus

 

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.