Melanie Dale knows something about life not looking like she thought it would. After twelve years of building her family through infertility and adoption, she finally snuggled down with three kids from three different continents, cultures, and stories. She thought, “Now the fun begins,” but then they encountered diagnosis after diagnosis. With words like “autism,” “mental illness,” “ADHD,” and “trauma” hanging over her family, she’s had to redefine what life looks like. And through it all, the infertility, the waiting, the loss, the adoptions, and the diagnoses, she’s learning to love the life she didn’t choose. It’s a grace to welcome Melanie to the farm’s front porch…
My whole family is together because of unfairness.
It’s a weird thing, wishing with all my heart the unfair stuff hadn’t happened to any of us while simultaneously being incredibly grateful that we’re all together because of it.
Infertility, loss, sickness, autism, mental illness, death, countless transitions, and layers of pain. We didn’t choose any of it. But we’ve learned to love it. And we learn to love it more every day.
Sometimes I have to blink to see if this is real. My life.
I whisper to myself, “I get to do this.” This life I never saw coming, not in a million years of planning.
Our family is raw and real and layered. Each week there is fresh pain, a new unfairness, but we are learning together.
I love my extraordinary kids so much I feel like I can’t breathe typing this. And I could’ve missed it. I could’ve missed them. If I had gotten precisely what I thought I wanted a million years ago.
Picture yourself getting on a roller coaster. Part of the ride is waiting in line for a crazy long time. You’re sunburned and annoyed and the person behind you smells like the bottom of a garbage can. Sometimes it feels like the line will never move, but you watch the coaster loop around up ahead and know that it’ll be worth it if you just wait.
When it’s finally your turn, finally, after all that waiting, you step into your little coaster car and ease into your seat. You fasten your seatbelt, and that harness thingy comes down over your shoulders.
You’ve waited all this time, and now you’re feeling a little nervous.
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Just as you think about running away, the ride takes off and you’re inching up a really steep hill. During the climb, you have nowhere to go and the terror crawls into your throat and you hear the car clack clack clacking to the top. The climb feels like forever.
You finally make it to the top and feel like you’re going to barf. The car starts down, and for a moment you hang over the top until you plunge down, loop, and spin. The wind punches your face and your lips blow open into a grinning scream.
Your stomach feels like it’s dangling out the back of the car. After plummeting to new lows and rising to new heights and spinning till you can’t spin anymore, you land back at the beginning with bugs in your teeth and a smile askew on your windblown face. It was terrible. And wonderful.
This is what I call the God-ride.
It’s waiting endlessly, feeling petrified, fighting vomit, miles of anticipation, and whirling, racing, plunging through the air.
It’s exhilarating, and you want to go again and again.
I didn’t choose this unexpected God-ride, but I love it with all my ripped-apart, sewn-back-together heart.
I’m so glad for every moment of the journey, even the moments when I thought I wouldn’t make it, because now I get it. Now I understand. All the pain. All the waiting. It was all for them.
I’m not the same person I was when I started.
I’m still in progress.
I’m still a mess.
But I’m their mess. I’m their mom.
And it took the whole journey to bring me here.
I want us to walk into a life of thankfulness and security in God’s grace.
Our circumstances may not change, but as we walk together, we can experience joy. It’s not fair. It’s absolutely not fair. It’s hair-raising and occasionally stomach-churning. And it’s oh so exhilarating.
I’ve been changed by a God who loved me through disappointment and continues to carry me through the unfairness of life.
I’ve discovered the intense joy that comes through the pain, through unfairness.
I’ve moved from desperation and desolation into gratitude and grace.
Rather than listing all the ways life isn’t fair, I begin to offer praise, and in the praising, I worship deeper, love harder, and experience God’s pleasure.
I just reread that last paragraph and am equal parts mm-hmming and wanting to gag myself with the nearest available spatula. It’s all true . . . half of the time.
The other half I’m still a big whiner. It’s a work in progress, blah blah something about the journey blah.
After years of telling God it’s not fair, I can now say that I’m grateful for my struggle. I would never, ever tell someone else to be grateful for theirs.
We can’t tell people in their pain to be grateful. That would be the highest cruelty. But over time, after having raw conversations with God and acknowledging the life unfolding around me, I see the beauty of His creation.
It’s not fair. It’s different than fair. It’s new and unique and it’s mine.
When I was a child, we used to gather at my grandparents’ house with the whole family for Christmas. On Christmas morning, we’d tear into presents, and there would be these little gifts without bows tucked in with everything else.
My aunt loved estate-sale shopping, and throughout the year she’d find little surprises that made her think of us and she’d scoop them up and save them. These weren’t the expected gifts, the ones with the shiny bows front and center under the Christmas tree. These were the unexpected bonus gifts, unadorned and tucked amongst the fancier things. She called them “no-bows.”
This unexpected life is a no-bow. There is no neat little bow on top. Nothing can quite tie it all together.
There is no bow.
Whatever you’re going through right now or whatever you’ve been through, it’s hard, maybe it’s awful, and it will leave a mark.
There will be times when you stare at a wall, and times when you wave your fist in the air, and times when you’ll feel like you’re tearing apart.
And there will be scars.
And there will always be those things people say or photos you see that will take you right back to that feeling of helplessness or desperation.
There will be triggers. You are marked.
There is no bow.
But what I’ve learned and what I’ve seen in my own life and in the lives of so many other brave warriors is that we do learn to love our lives, as is, with the scars, naked and bowless.
Scars can be beautiful.
Melanie Dale is the author of Women Are Scary: The Totally Awkward Adventure of Finding Mom Friends and It’s Not Fair: Learning to Love the Life You Didn’t Choose. She’s also a contributor for Coffee+Crumbs and an advocate for Children’s HopeChest. Her writing has been featured on Parenting.com, Scary Mommy, Working Mother Magazine, Deadspin’s Adequate Man, and Today’s Christian Woman, and she’s a panelist for MomsEveryday TV.
Sometimes when life falls apart the only acceptable response is hysterical laughter. When things get so far gone, so spectacularly a world away from any plans you made or dreams you dreamed, you feel it bubbling up inside of you and you scream, “It’s not fair!” And it isn’t. Fair is an illusion and life is weird. It’s Not Fair: Learning to Love the Life You Didn’t Choose is a safe place where we can talk honestly about how to survive the death of a dream, without annoying platitudes and bumper sticker Christianity. We can learn to love these lives we didn’t choose. We’ll do it together, and we’ll laugh along the way. And yes, she’s got it right: Life can be broken and hard and you can have scars and love it anyway. Please visit unexpected.org/itsnotfair to learn more.
[ Our humble thanks to Zondervan for their partnership in today’s devotion ]