A Birthday Message

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We met mid-October, just 4 months before this picture was taken on your 15th birthday.

I can still picture it like it was yesterday, you standing there wearing that black boa wrapped around your neck while your sister sat at the table. Me 25, you just shy of 15.

Impossible.

Crazy.

Mom number 6, I believe they said.

I can still remember how the goosbumps rippled across my flesh when the whisper echoed through my mind-

“Meet your daughters.”

In fact, just thinking about that moment brings tears to my eyes- every. time.

Impossible, God!

Absolutely crazy!

No way! I immediately started to argue back…

Not because of you and your sister not being worthy of being chosen, you both have ALWAYS been worthy, but because I felt so unworthy, so ill equipped. And I was.

But then God did something only He can, he knit you both deeply into our hearts.

Forever and always.

Nothing and no one can shatter what God bound.

I know, it feels impossible to understand but one day I fervently hope you do.

So today, on your 29th birthday, just over 14 years later, here is what I long for you to know:

I pray that one day you will see and understand…

you were chosen then, you are chosen now, and you will always be chosen by us.

us choosing you is NEVER contingent on you choosing us.

you are loved deeply and passionately, imperfectly but ALWAYS.

 

I pray that one day you will walk in total freedom…

that the wounds of the past will heal.

you will believe your worth.

you will walk in victory, for that which the enemy meant to destroy you God can redeem and use powerfully.

 

I pray that one day you will see…

how God has always loved you.

how God has always pursued you.

how God is the only way to the healing place and the land of fulfillment.

how God has created you and sustained you and has great plans for you.

 

I pray that you would know…

that we understand our love can’t fix everything or maybe anything at all, but we are still here loving you anyways.

that we understand we can’t ever fully understand.

that we know we can never take the place of another.

that we are always fighting for you, no matter where, no matter what, we are fighting for you in the only way we can: we remain and we are lifting you up to the God who is able.

that we long to see the day where you are walking in freedom, enslaved by nothing.

that we still believe that your birth mom is remembering you today, if able.

 

Happy Birthday to our dearly loved and precious oldest.

We remain here, still loving you, still choosing you, imperfectly but always.

You are worthy.

 

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.

 

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.”

 

Time Hop

Rachelle age 15, Ariana age 14, Emily age 1

A photo can act like a time machine set on mute. In a instant it can send you through time, replaying different moments and scenes, sometimes even playing on your senses–but you can do nothing but watch.

Welcome to 2005, near the beginning of our parenthood story. A time of optimism and naivete, a time of hope and hard, and a time when I still didn’t realize I could never be a savior. Of course, at 25, that is NOT how I would have worded it–it would have sounded more like, “If we love enough, work hard enough, fight for enough THEN…the story will FOR SURE have a happy ending.”

Sometimes I have to remind myself that it is not yet the end…

That when hope lies deferred and my heart grows sick that God is still able…

That even though I have no answers to a long list of why’s it is all still worth it.

Sometimes I have to remind myself several times a day.

But woven through the hard is the beautiful–gleaming like Christmas tinsel among the darkened tattered places…

This cheap wally world studio shot is our first family photo. I remember trying to find matching clothes for two teens and a toddler, being frustrated but excited that I even had the opportunity at all.

I remember Ariana and Rachelle allowing me to curl and braid their hair for the very first time–humoring me in my desire to dress them up like dolls (see age 25).

I remember staring at them while the photo was shot, overcome with emotion, and in awe of how beautiful all three of them were. They were not yet officially ours at the time of this photo…that would be a long road…yet they were ours. They were already sealed in our hearts, forever.

I remember whispering to God, “please let me be their mom, let there be no more good-byes, not because I am deserving but because I know the love I have for them only you could create.”

And I remember the whisper of that moment: then you will become a fierce warrior…

and I have been learning how to fight for them ever since.

The Picture

Maybe it was the infertility struggles, maybe it was naiveté, or maybe it was just a really good sugar high from too much cake, but there was a time when I held the lofty certainty that I could be the perfect parent.  I know what you are thinking, “perfect, really?” Well, no, I didn’t process my thoughts in my mid-twenties with that verbiage but let’s just be real, that was the burning desire– I was never one to be content with average performance.  So imagine my horror to find that I could indeed be the crappy parent I promised God I would never be.

I can still remember the moment my therapist said the words, her legs crossed as she pressed down the pleat of her pants, her top painted in warm inviting hues–really her very personage being akin to a warm, soft sweater on a cold, rainy day–safe and inviting– “What about being a good-enough parent?

I could feel the veins in my temple start to throb as the color rushed to my face and I found myself giving the armchair an undeserved death grip while I willed my fingers into its yellow flesh.  What the heck was she saying? Her calmness was disarming and infuriating. How dare she

Would that be ok?” she asked, and I found myself wanting to cuss at her and I really didn’t understand why.

NO! That would not be ok, why would that ever be ok– in a million years, no. Did she not understand my love and devotion to my children? Did she not understand that it was up to me to give them a perfect childhood? To make up for any brokenness that some of them had started life out with? To be Mr. Rogers, Martha-frickin-Stewart and Mother Teresa all wrapped into one? My kids deserved a mother that did it all perfectly and I just needed her to understand her dang job was to FIX ME. As the words rolled off my tongue and touched air for the very first time the light began to dawn, illuminating all the brokenness to my thoughts.

You are wanting to be a perfect mom, but is perfection truly possible?” she said, calmly shifting her hands in her lap as she grabbed her mug to take a sip of her tea.

Oh. Ohhhhhhhh. Dang it. Dang her.  How dare she? Why was I angry with her?  The depth of this depravity was not her doing but she was the one bold enough to point the stage light toward the steaming pile of crap.

Where did that leave me? What would this mean? If what she said was true then I don’t understand the mommy-hood picture I am aiming for anymore. 

The picture.  The picture of the perfect mum.  I knew immediately that this perfect picture hung in my head needed to burn.  It was all a lie. A mirage. It was also a means of torment. The yardstick by which I would measure myself every dang day and find myself failing.  But how could I not fail? I had set myself up for no other option.

Perfection isn’t possible.  The enormous pressure perfection burns into one’s shoulders actually breaks the barer. Yet, I ran after it like it was the great prize that determines my every worth and the entire fate of my children.

Snap.  There it is.  The why. If I do it all right then I will earn my motherhood honor badge and have avoided all the struggles and all the pain and all the problems that could befall my children, ever.  The picture in my head, haunting all my moments and reprimanding me like a brutal taskmaster every time I fell short. That impossible dang picture. The lie.

I sat in my therapist’s office, broken–not because of all the hard circumstances I was trudging through (like I thought)–but because of all the lies that lay buried beneath it all like a festering wound eating away at my spirit.  So, as the tears streamed down my blotchy red face I vowed to understand what good-enough parenting looked like and I finally let the fire burn the perfect picture away.

The freedom…

Good-enough parenting:  Where you work at getting it right a bit more than you jack it up, you deal with your crap and model that process for your kids, and fall heavily into grace in the midst of “I’m sorry’s.”  It is a messy place full of learning about love, compassion, and forgiveness. It keeps showing up, pressing in, holding onto peace and running after the truth that leads to freedom. And, knowing that when all else fails, there is always therapy.