I remember etching our family plans into a napkin at our two-year anniversary dinner.

We were eating at Rio in Sisters, Oregon and I couldn’t wait to get back to the little cabin we had rented to watch Harry Potter and dream about babies. Weird combo? Probably.

First we would conceive and carry a miracle baby in my actual womb. Then after a bit of time had passed, after we got “the easy one” birthed, we would enter into the adoption world.

I think back to my barely 20-year-old self and think about how naive she was—I still only have about half a clue. The difference is I now know I only have half a clue.

We did know adoption was big and complex, an entire world we couldn’t yet understand or fathom. We were busy building a youth ministry from the ground up, and adopting sounded like it’s own giant adventure in and of itself . . . one we didn’t yet have the capacity for. Adoption seemed so far off, way in our future.

But then the whole conceiving miraculously was taking longer than I thought He’d allow, and we just wanted to be parents.

So we decided to begin that journey, to crack open the pages of adoption and explore what that might look like for our life.

What I didn’t know was how much it would wreck me and rebuild me.

I wasn’t aware adoption would be what was used to tear apart everything I thought I knew, whittle me down to my rawest form, and force me to see the world with much clearer eyes.

Adoption has been an avenue most used to sharpen me, reveal to me, build my faith, and humble me.

My glasses became a little less rose-colored but a heck-of-a lot clearer. My perception began to fill in and become a little fuller, whole. I began to truly acknowledge the tension of both suffering and joy—instead of simply skipping to the happy-go-lucky-God’s-got-me attitude I mustered 24/7.

But I wasn’t prepared for how much adoption would humble me and reveal to me that I actually don’t know much. Who is ever prepared to be undone, to find out they don’t know much at all?

It sort of silenced me in a lot of ways, slowed down my words and my assumptions . . . but also created an urgency and confidence in other ways.

Adoption has made me a better person because it has taught me to slow down enough to genuinely embrace other people’s and culture’s lived experiences. A definition of embrace is to adopt; I began working really hard at mentally adopting other people’s lived experiences, thinking through how it might actually feel to live in someone else’s shoes, and quickly realized I had no room to tell someone how to feel or live or protest or fight for justice.

A deeper sense of empathy has been dug into my soul, thanks to adoption.

It has hushed me down, humbling me enough to listen and learn from people who are different than me. It has revealed to me on an incredibly deep level the absolute importance of truly listening, caring, and seeing.

Adoption has wrecked my belief of willing-ourself-through-tragedy and taught me sometimes, life is just downright hard and broken—but even in those immensely broken seasons, we somehow find an incredible strength to do the impossible. Adoption has revealed to me, more than most experiences I’ve walked through, that brokenness and loss are absolutely not “God’s plan.”

The plan for us doesn’t contain loss and trauma and brokenness. But this world is broken and imperfect, and out of that comes hardship.

And even in those dark, pain-filled seasons . . . there is still goodness in the darkness. There is still beauty rising from the ashes.

Adoption has taught me the immense value of words and educating ourselves and advocating for those whose voices are too often hushed or shoved away. It has revealed to me how loose my lips can be, how quick I am to speak when I should shut up and listen—it’s shown me time and time again how a simple word change can shift the entire meaning of a conversation.

Adoption has made me a better mama I am most definitely not who I was even two years ago, but I would hope that is the truth for you too, that we all continue growing, evolving, shifting, transforming, and changing more into who we were made to become.

I count it a privilege to have been made a mom by adoption.

Natalie Brenner

Natalie Brenner is wife to Loren and mom to two under two, living in Portland, Oregon. She is the best-selling author of This Undeserved Life. She likes her wine red, ice cream served by the pint, and conversations vulnerable. Natalie believes in the impossible and hopes to create safe spaces for every fractured soul. She's addicted to honesty. You can love Jesus or not, go to church or not: she'd love to have coffee with you. Natalie is a bookworm, a speaker, and a wanna-be runner. Connect with her at NatalieBrennerWrites.com and join her email list.