Infertility, a cramped New York apartment, racial dynamics, moving across state lines, lost adoption documents and more. Join co-hosts Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber as they discuss with Carmen Coe her family’s process of adopting two siblings and loving their biological families. Carmen and her husband faced many joys, seasons of waiting and sudden surprises as the Lord grew their family. Their journey beautifully demonstrates what it looks like to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit through the adoption process, in loving their children’s biological family and in the midst of the unknown.
Discover ways you can support foster families and their children at www.sendrelief.org.
Tara Melber: Welcome back. We’re so grateful for the time you spend with us, for choosing to listen to this podcast and make us a part of your busy life. We really don’t take that for granted and we truly just want to be an encouragement to the body of Christ, resonating that everyone can do something in the orphan crisis in our world.
Lynette Ezell: You know, Tara, I was at a recent marriage conference and I heard something that truly, you know, just really grabbed my heart. The teacher was saying, “coasting kills.”
Tara Melber: We talked about that, and that is such a great statement.
Lynette Ezell: It is. Meaning that the moment we stop growing, we start dying, and so, if we’re not being stretched beyond our comfort zones–and this I didn’t know– if we don’t stretched and getting outside of our little boxes, depression chemicals elevate in our brains.
Tara Melber: Isn’t that crazy?
Lynette Ezell: Yeah, it is. And so God designed us to function at our best. We’re functioning it at our best when we’re living in faith and you know, in gratitude with him, but we’re still hungry for growth, and that’s what I want us to focus on day. That the Lord wants us to grow and change.
Tara Melber: That’s right. And when he asks us to do something, obedience usually –always–requires major adjustments in our lives. And our guest today has spent her entire life growing and changing and adjusting. So we wanna welcome Carmen Coe who lives here in Atlanta with her husband, Aaron. They have four children and a golden doodle named Duke.
Lynette Ezell: And he’s really cute. Carmen, I know that I’ve known you for a long time and that wherever you are, no matter where the Lord plants you, you’re all in. And I love that about you. I know you’re super active serving within the body of Christ, loving the loss, getting to know people in your community, investing in your children, and you’re also a real estate agent. And I know your heart. I know you’re busy, and you love your city with the love of Christ. So I just want you to share, I love your story and I’ve watched it from afar, but can you share how the Lord built your family? How this journey of adoption really began?
Carmen Coe: Yeah. Well let me just say I adore your podcast. I think it’s so helpful and encouraging to the church, the big C church, and all of us who’ve been adopted and just wrestling with how God wants us to live that out. And so, I think it’s so valuable, and I’m so honored to be asked to be on it.
Carmen Coe: My story is, I really didn’t have a big worldview growing up. I wasn’t exposed to a lot of cultures, other than my own, so that became a high priority for Aaron and I. Luckily, you know, the Lord sent me as far as Louisville, Kentucky to find a husband that, our families had known each other for a long time, but we just clicked and have grown together to value these things such as adoption and seeing the world and languages and cultures and valuing different cultures that are so different from my own.
Carmen Coe: And that can be different domestic cultures as racially or you know, things like that, as well as big world country cultures and stuff like that. So, I’m not a great planner, which makes me very prone to spontaneity, and my husband, if you know him, he’s the guy you want on your team if you’re ready to build something, starting something or move something. So we’re great at starting thing, jumping all in, leveraging everything we have. When the Lord called us to go to New York City, I think we were living there within three months of being asked. And so it’s just, it’s super easy. Change is easy for us. It’s exciting to me, actually. And so, the Lord through, doctors I guess, planted this seed of adoption in my mind and in my heart; you know, when doctors label you infertile, the Lord can do whatever he wants to do, and he does, and he gets glory from past the labels being put on you and overcoming those.
Carmen Coe: But for six years we walked through infertility, and the Lord laid Psalm 1:26 on my heart in that time and that I was ashamed of that. And so I hid that. I didn’t even talk to my mom about it. Like, I just didn’t want anybody to know that I even was hurting about that. So when you, you know, sow your tears, you’ll reap and harvest. And so, God just convicted me to start sharing and opening up. And as God would do it, we started down the adoption process then, but that month, after previous miscarriages and things, we conceived Ezra– a full term healthy baby boy. Doctors couldn’t…there was no medicine involved. There was no nothing. So we had Ezra first and then, but the Lord had firmly planted this seed in my heart that I was made for adoption, and that he knit me together in such a way they would send me on a journey that my plan A was to find that I was going to have to find kids outside of my womb and that they were purposed and intended for me to find them.
Carmen Coe: So that was our plan A from God. And so we just started down that path, but to be honest, everything we knew about it at the time, was international or domestic that tends to have a lot of heartache and birth moms changing their minds, and things like that. And we were church planting in New York City, and literally had leveraged all of our money to be there, all of our grandparents’ money to be there. I mean, every resource we had was just trusting the Lord to provide in a very expensive context, and so he owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Right? Those journeys…those paths, and a lot of people do fundraising. And I know, Lynette, you said you have a collection of tee shirts and things that help support other families.
Carmen Coe: But because we had already sent support letters to support us in church planning, all of that, I just didn’t seem right to me. I didn’t have a peace about it, and on top of it, they were telling us we need to pick a country, we need to pick a gender, we need to narrow our request down, and I couldn’t. I physically could not. God did not give me that. I know he gives people some direct things sometimes, but we had a girl in our community group who was a social worker in New York City, and she said, “have you considered fostering to adopt?” And I said, “yes,” but I didn’t know if they were different ages. And I looked on the state’s website is all 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds, and at the time we had a two year old at home.
Carmen Coe: And she was like, “oh, no, no, we have 15,000 kids,” (this was back in 2008), “we have 15,000 kids in foster care in New York City, we get all ranges in ages.” So she kind of just planned it, open that door for me and kind of showed me how I could do the training and be made available as a foster parent. And that, to me, was the answer. Like in an instant, I felt that peace of “this is it; this is the calling on our life.” We are here to be an answer to the depravity of this community and our streets and our neighbors. And we’re answering the call for a child who, you know, doesn’t have a safe home or can be a bridge gap to helping a family in crisis.
Carmen Coe: And so, I didn’t have to pick an age or race or gender or any of that. It was whatever the Lord willed was going to be brought to us, and however we could serve our community. And so, we went through training from July to September. And then about December 23rd, they called us about Joshua, and he was a little…I didn’t even know…. but he was born of course, December 1st. So he had been sitting in the NICU for almost a month by himself. His mom had left him there, and you learn the backstory of course, but she had lost the rights on five other children. And so in her mind, she knew they weren’t going to let her keep him, so she just left the hospital. And so, we got him on Christmas Eve eve, with no notice, hardly 24 hour notice, and had to get preemie diapers.
Carmen Coe: And he came home– to our tiny little apartment– and was four pounds, five ounces. And as his life has grown, he has from birth, I guess, has all eight major food allergies, asthma, and he’s been surrounded by lots of doctors his whole life. And I think going into adoption too, moms or parents would be like, “but what if they come with issues” or I don’t want to be the bad guy who, wants to just find a perfect, healthy kid, and I’m disappointed if it’s anything less. But as with biological children, the Lord equips you for the task at hand, and he expands your capacities. So that’s how we entered, stuck our toe in and then jumped in the deep end.
Lynette Ezell: Well, and I remember when you got Joshua and seeing the pictures from your mother-in-law, how excited they were and then just, we all fell in love with him again, praying for him and man, he’s just so healthy, so beautiful, such a blessing. His smile can light up a room, but he was just the beginning, right, of God adding to your family.
Carmen Coe: Yeah. When they dropped him off, they were about to leave, the social workers, and then they kind of reopen the door and they stuck their head back in and they said, “oh, by the way, he has a one-year-old sister.” And so from across the room, Aaron and I looked at each other and just, you know, we were in a apartment that was 600 square feet, maybe, maybe 600 square feet. And we had two kids–two little kids. Yeah. So, um, we just looked at each other across the room and nodded. And so we were like, “yeah, of course we’d be open to it.” And they were explaining, that the judge is going to want to keep them together. So we kind of just made a quick yes.
Carmen Coe: But that took the courts about 10 months to work out. And we had to go find another apartment. We had to sublet our apartment. In New York, there’s rules about square footage and having space for the kids. So we got all that lined up, and then Ella came to live with us right after her second birthday. So this was about October of 2010. So, then we had three kids living in, kind of in, South Harlem, in New York City. And it kind of probably physically broke me a little bit, just getting three kids on the subway twice a day to get my son to his preschool. And, I had probably an unhealthy love affair with New York City. And, the Lord just kind of broke me physically. So about a year later, Aaron got the opportunity, from Kevin, to come to Atlanta, and we did that, said yes to that, and left New York.
Carmen Coe: I had always thought all my children are miracles when you learn their back stories; they’re all miracles, and how they survived and were formed and created, but survived the womb they were in, and then survived to make it to our home. I mean, it was all purposed and intended by God. Then I thought God had just given me this experience with Ezra, my biological, and I never asked him for another one or anything like that. But surprise of all surprises, we found out we were pregnant. Yeah, so a healthy little girl came in December of 2012. So now we have four kids and a millennial that lives in our basement and a dog.
Lynette Ezell: Okay. Well, you know, and I know moving from New York was difficult. I know it was. And then that also meant moving the children away from any biological relatives. So, um, how have you maintained that? Have you made that work?
Carmen Coe: Well, it’s interesting. You’re not allowed to leave the state with foster children, and at that point, we were still in the foster system. It took them probably 18 months in New York to sever rights.Your heart, or my heart, just really went on a journey to figure out and to empathize with a birth mom and dad. We know them, and because of visitation and stuff like that, it was a slow process of getting to know them, of opening up. My first–because it was Christmas– visitation with their extended family, and in that African American culture, your extended family is brother, sisters…I mean they’re like brothers, sisters…there’s aunt and uncles and cousins and stuff, and they’re like, they’re brother and sister.
Carmen Coe: So our very first visitation wasn’t even with the birth mom, it was extended family. And the grandmother of the mom and a great grandmother of Joshua’s came, some of the siblings were there, so they got to meet Joshua for the first time. It was really just a sweet, precious time, but when the family heard that we were pastors, church planners, there in the city, she– this must have been an 80-years-old little lady– gets up and just start this little praise dance in her quiet little, and it’s like this little bounce had.
Carmen Coe: And it was just the most precious thing. And she was like, “we got a first lady!” She was just so thankful to Jesus that the foster mom was a pastor’s wife. So from that initial meeting, I just knew that the Lord was at work, and I have always been so, so blessed that they have always been so supportive of us and treated us with kindness and respect and love. And although she’s said to me one time, “I’m trying not to bond with Joshua and Ella ,specifically because I won’t see them very much”, and it hurts her. And I totally get that and understand that. But we established in our hearts that in the cousins of mom who adopted some of the other siblings, it was so important to us that the kids know each other and have a relationship and connect with each other on a regular basis.
Carmen Coe: But back to your original question about leaving the state, when we got this job opportunity. We had to go petition the court and say that basically we’re arguing that it’s in the kid’s best interest to keep the foster family together. And they had told us there was precedent of one other case being allowed to do this. It was kinship. And so we were told it was kind of a long-shot that the court would allow us to move to Atlanta. And so, we sat in the courtroom, and had the kids with us. And we were the only family, home situation, that they’ve ever known that we were pre adoptive meaning, we were open to adoption and wanting to adopt them if they were made available. And so, miracles, miracles. On August 3rd, the judge said, “yes,” and allowed us to move to Atlanta in 2011.
Lynette Ezell: Oh, we’re so grateful. He did.
Tara Melber: That’s an incredible story.
Carmen Coe: And that did come with some cost as far as, now you have to do this interstate compact.
Tara Melber: Yes.
Carmen Coe: We got lost in the Georgia system. And so, Georgia kind of, whoever had our case, whoever’s desk it was on, kind of lost us. And then New York called a couple of months in–not even a couple of months, it was more like nine months, 10 months in– and said we’re coming to get the kids tomorrow. Georgia has not responded to any of our stuff, then we have to have them back in our care. And I was started with the governor’s office.
Tara Melber: That’s a good place to start, Carmen.
Carmen Coe: And so I just called anybody and everybody who was on this letter head of everything we had received, until I got somebody who can make it right, and got New York, the paperwork they needed to prove that the kids were in good health and had been seen. So, it probably cost us about a year in our timeline to finalize their adoption. So it was a good four years before we were able to finalize the adoption from start to finish.
Tara Melber: Man, but they’re forever home now.
Carmen Coe: Yeah.
Tara Melber: Well, in our lives, faith requires action, and it sounds like, what I really loved was every yes that you gave was a quick yes. And I often think that when we’re walking and following the Lord, that he tells us that if we delight ourselves in the Lord, that He will give us the desires of our hearts. And that doesn’t mean He’s a genie or a wishlist, but it does mean that as we delight in Him, that our will aligns with His will. And so you knew that you could say yes because he had asked you and you had had spiritual markers along the way to tell you that it was a good yes to give. So, you were ready. So foster families, adoptive families, everyone that’s a Christ follower just needs to be ready that when God is at work, and he invites you to join Him, that you can say a resounding yes.
Lynette Ezell: And you know, we talk about so often, and Carmen you shared it so clearly from your life experience, but the Lord knows the beginning of the end, he’s reigning in the middle. So when things take four years, it took us a long time to get our son home from the Philippines, and we just would grow weary and we’re Facetiming with him, and he’s not doing anything but growing older, and we couldn’t get to him. But you have to know that the Lord is working in all of that as well.
Carmen Coe: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I know it’s not just for me, it’s going to be for my good for his and his glory, but it’s going to be for that harvest with other people to share. And I think if you’re praying the simplest of prayers, like the Lord’s Prayer “as it is in heaven,” and my goal is to make things on earth as it is in Heaven. To give somebody a healthy loving home environment, to keep open communication with the birth mom and extended family, I mean, those things will all be made right one day, but these are just glimpses of ways that I can make it on earth as it is in heaven. And that’s my goal. That’s really our goal.
Carmen Coe: And our kids are African American, so there’s obvious adoption in play there, but their identity is such a huge thing. And as they process adoption at every stage of development, we kind of have to reprocess adoption in light of their development. And so for my 10 year old daughter right now, identity is a very big thing for her.
Carmen Coe: And she so identifies, even though she barely knows, she’s similar, identifies with her sisters or half sisters that live in New York. And she wants to be known by them and she wants to talk to them and she has that deep connection with them, even though they don’t live side by side. I would rather her navigate those waters with me than to keep all of this, and let her come to a point where she’s in crisis of identity and try to seek out her birth family.
Carmen Coe: I think a lot of adopted families live with this fear of, “what if they leave and try to find or go live with what if they reject me and go live with them one day? I don’t know that my heart can handle it.” Well, as it is in heaven, I want that unity. I want her to have unity. I want to have unity with their birth family, and so I want all of that experience to process. I would rather be there and help her process it than it be it on her shoulders when she’s 18 and trying to figure and navigate all that out.
Tara Melber: Right. Because over the time, she’s 10 now, and over the course of time it bonds the two of you and connects your family even tighter knowing that you’re on the journey together and you’re always on her team.
Carmen Coe: Yeah, exactly. And it’s an interesting journey for birth moms and adoptive moms. You start to feel like what life is like for her, what choices she has, the environment and home she was raised in. And then you start to see, because there are things I couldn’t, I will never be able to give my daughters as much as I love her and want to give her everything, find everything she needs. I will never look like her. And she connects with people who look like her, who are loud like her.
Carmen Coe: She just naturally is drawn to that. And so I’ve been very intentional about seeking out relationships with strong African American women who love Jesus and can be role models for her. But with respect to her birth mom, I have such value on her. There’s so much value in who she is in her upbringing. It’s just so different from mine, but it’s still valuable. It’s still very valuable. So, I have learned a lot about the way I judge things or situations or hear about a path, and how I would project that on the future. And so God’s just called me to strip away so much of that judgment and be open and trusting to him to guide their relationship. And I have told her, “you have given me such a beautiful, wonderful gift, and I thank you.” But it’s painful to her, and I don’t expect her to say, “oh, you’re welcome.”
Carmen Coe: You know? I mean, she’s with tears in her eyes. You know, my joy is part of one of the most painful things in her life. So if keeping the relationship open and letting Ella and Joshua see their birth mom and visit her, and we don’t even call her birth mom. I mean she’s mom. All the other siblings call her mom, and call their adopted mom “mom”. I was convicted of even that, like on social media, I was hashtag birth mom and I was like, why do I feel the need to put birth in front of it? Everybody knows.
Carmen Coe: She’s my daughter. Like I don’t have to differentiate by a label or anything. So if she gets to bear all the pain of adoption and I get to bear all the joy of raising this child, I want to help turn those tables a little bit and make things right the way they will be in heaven, but share some of that joy and let her in Ella’s life and let her share in that journey joy of a child that she birthed, that she could have aborted, but she didn’t. I want her to be able to share in that experience, and I want to be able to help guide my daughter through that experience.
Tara Melber: I think about you as a little girl with a very small worldview and how the Lord took your yes as you came to know Him, to open up your eyes to a world that you never could have even dreamed or imagined.
Lynette Ezell: Just putting your yes on the table and saying, “Lord, we’re all in.” Build your Kingdom here just as it is in heaven. I love that. The simplicity of that and just the love for Jesus in that.
Carmen Coe: And if I can just leave you with one scripture that I’ve been wrestling with and I’m chewing on is 2nd Corinthians 4 and how God makes light shine out of darkness. That he made his light shine in our hearts and, we know this verse. We all have this treasure, this light, it has shone out of darkness. We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that in all of this, this surpassing power is from God and not from us. And then it goes on to say– and for women who right now may be dealing with infertility or dealing with a difficult foster situation– you may feel pressed that you’re promised you won’t be crushed. You may feel perplexed, but you will never be in despair. You may be persecuted, but you’ll never be abandoned. You may be stripped and that precious kid maybe reunified and there’s value in that, but you will never be destroyed. So for anybody who is just in a difficult season with adoption and fostering, there’s promises of God that this light comes from the darkness and shows through so that when you are feeling pressed, the only thing you see is light shining through all of that pressing. Hashtag worth it.
Tara Melber: Yes, that’s right. But you may be pressed. I love that, but you won’t be crushed.
Tara Melber: That’s beautiful, Carmen. Thank you for being transparent and sharing your story today because it is going to encourage so many families and you know when we share and you know that you love living in community, I know your heart. When we do that, we really encourage one another to keep moving forward. Life equals movement and to keep growing and to keep changing and to just let his Kingdom come. His will be done. Yeah.
Carmen Coe: I would say too, just for any people who may feel like there’s no way to let my kids know that I don’t know anything about their birth family. I don’t even know where to start. Um, I think your kids will greatly appreciate your effort, and don’t be led by fear of what if it turns sad. God is there. No matter “what if”, God will be there in the “what ifs”. I would encourage people to truly lean in and press into that. Don’t just take the first “no”. Keep trying to keep those open doors of unity and communication available to your child.
Tara Melber: Yeah. That’s one thing I think foster moms and adoptive moms do is, we have learned to not take the first “no”, and to keep moving forward. Thank you, friend. It was great talking with you today, and we appreciate you sharing.
Carmen Coe: You’re so welcome. My pleasure.