What adoption taught me about Advent

A year ago today, Noland and I officially got custody of our little girl. We were in the delivery room when she was born and I never once doubted she would be ours, but we still had to wait until the legal amount of time had passed for her birth mom to sign her rights over to us.

So on the morning of December 4, she was officially handed over to us. Noland (the more cautious half of us) made me sit in the back seat with her the first time we drove with her in the car. She didn’t even weigh 6 pounds — she looked like a baby doll in her car seat.

For us that day was the beginning of a new adventure, and one we’d fought long and hard for. For her birth parents, though — her first parents — it was the beginning of grief.

Ellie Joy turned one on Friday. Her birthday is on the first day of Advent. I love that about her. I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same at Christmas time since she came along. Her story is such an incredible picture of what we remember this season: a God who keeps His promises, who rescues us, who moves in the most unfathomable ways that we never would have written ourselves.

A God who gave something up in order to have us back.

I imagine all types of parenting gut you, but adoption has blown all my paradigms and split my heart right open in so many ways. It’s hard to look into the face of your baby every day and see the little pieces of her that she got from each of her birth parents without thinking about them, and being so deeply grateful.

And in the very next moment, I almost always find myself grieving with them. I can’t imagine being on the other end of this deal, giving up Ellie Joy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it was like to watch them grieve her up close last year, knowing they had made the best decision, but aching so deeply that it cost them something so precious. I’ve been wondering if that night Jesus left Heaven to come to earth and a weary world rejoiced, if God was kind of sad & missing him. And how crazy it is that He gave up His son because He missed us more.

I used to think we experienced God’s heart & spirit for adoption from His perspective when we adopt, but really we are always the needy ones and He is always the Rescuer, and for that reason, EJ’s first parents will always look more like His heart to me that most anyone else I’ve ever met.

I think about how the world was groaning for a Messiah to come, and how there had been 400 years since the last word of Him, and how desperate that must have felt. And how glorious it must have been when He came.

I wonder what the Shepherds felt that night, just showing up for another nights work and winding up at the feet of King Jesus as he lay in a manger.

I wonder what Joseph must have thought, staring at a baby He’d done nothing to conceive, yet there he stood with the charge of fathering the King of Kings. I wonder what Mary thought as she sat there treasuring up everything and pondering it in her heart (Luke 2:19). I wonder what a Heavenly Host of angels even looks and sounds like.

And I can’t help but wonder about how the spirit of adoption began that night, with a Good Dad who knew that what had to happen would cost Him the highest price.

This is love at its core. A love that lays down a life in order for others to find it.

And while I’ve certainly been on the losing side of these stories before, in this one, I’m the lucky recipient of His grace. I am the weary world rejoicing at the advent of a promise at last, after years of silence.

Watching someone else grieve the gift I hold tight with the most gratitude every day has changed my perspective of this season forever.

We have been given the greatest gift, at the highest cost.

I don’t ever want to stop marveling at that.

To lighter days.

Sit down, friends. Refill your coffee and come on into the living room and pull up a chair, and let me tell you a tale of real life marriage.

A few weeks ago Noland and I were sitting up late one night talking after having been on a date. It had been a really sweet night — one of those rare ones that we were actually able to keep work-talk and serious-life-matter talk at bay, and just enjoy each other.

We were dreaming about things like what neighborhood in our city God would have us buy our first house and invest in our neighbors in, where we want to see our ministry grow in the next few years, and what we’re dreaming about creatively as individuals in this season. Inevitably we started talking about our baby girl, and dreaming about who she would become along the way.

Lately we keep saying to each other, “When did our baby start becoming a toddler?” She’s losing her baby face and starting to try to say words, and I feel like if we blink she might start walking. The thought of her becoming a big kid got us talking about what it’s going to be like to tell her the story of her adoption.

And while we can’t wait to share the unbelievable series of miracles that led us to her, there is also a sobering reality that those conversations will come with some grief. She will undoubtedly feel a sense of loss of the family that gave her up, and I ache so deeply at the thought of watching her wrestle through that.

Noland and I were sitting on the couch processing all of this, me of course wiping tears from my face, when Noland said to me, “Hey, will you promise me something?”

“Yes, of course, what?” I answered, thinking there must be something about the adoption conversation with Ellie that he feels protective of.

“Promise me you will not leave this house again without shaving your armpits.”

Y’ALL. I had been sitting on the couch with my arm sort of perched up on the back of the couch, and I looked down, and behold, I was apparently getting ready to hibernate for the winter and really thought my armpits needed a sweater of their own.

And before those of you who are fully functioning multi tasking humans say something like, “Sara HOW did you let it get to there!?” I just want to say that working full time and keeping a small human alive is a lot and something has to fall by the wayside, and if you can do all of those things and still remember to shave your armpits regularly then you are a unicorn to me.

Needless to say our conversation was completely derailed and we have yet to finish the “how are we going to handle Ellie’s grief about her adoption” conversation, but my armpits do look fantastic, thanks for asking.

We both laughed until we cried, although I think some of Noland’s tears were of genuine disgust. I have been laughing about this night for weeks, though, and I think it’s because the last few years of our life have been so serious and heavy that it felt nice to stop talking about something serious and just laugh about my armpits. (Let’s go back and count how many times I’ve written the word “armpit” in this post so far…  huh. Only six. Felt like more.)

Here’s my point: I think we need to lighten up. ESPECIALLY those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus. I wonder if He and his disciples ever had moments like this.

“Jesus, teach us about the greatest of all the commandments.”

“The greatest commandment is this, Peter: for the love, have a breath mint. Just kidding, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength… but really, dude, your breath.”

Ever since the divine appointment that was the hairy armpit moment in my marriage last month, Noland and I have decided that maybe “lighten up” is actually a prophetic word for us in this season.

And I want to submit that maybe this is a word for the Church in general. Everyone is so uptight these days. We’re all offended about something. If you say the words “Donald Trump” there WILL be an emotional explosion of some sort, regardless of which side of the fence it comes from.

For the love, America. Have a laugh. Watch some Saturday Night Live. Watch “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” on YouTube. Pull out your favorite funny movie. Forget to shave your armpits and see what happens when your husband notices.

These are just a few suggestions of things that work at my house. 😉

Here’s to lighter days, y’all. We need ‘em.

“I wonder if you need to forgive.”

Remember that time I said something along the lines of, “I’ll be back next week” in my last post, and then a whole summer went by and I said nothing else? Sorry about that.

Confession — summer is really hard. I wish it wasn’t. It’s so bright and sunshiny and happy, and life slows down, and ALL the fun summer things happen like lake trips and beach trips and outdoor concerts and sno cones. It’s the lightest time of the year, and it is the darkest time in my soul.

Summer is bookended for us with the day we lost Judah and the day we should have met him, and everything in between comes with the remembrance of a surprise pregnancy that ended a month later with a devastating miscarriage. Summer is a kind of dark time in the Gilmore household, to be honest.

All summer long in the back of my mind I knew if I would just be disciplined to write some things down I would probably feel a lot more like myself, but it felt scary and vulnerable, so I didn’t. This is a thing I’ve been working through in counseling for months. I don’t know who I am anymore, I say. Have you been writing at all, he asks. Repeat.

And then this week I went to visit my friend Ellie. We were catching up the first night I got there, and she asked me how I was doing and why I haven’t been writing much in this season. As I began to unpack all that’s been going on in my heart this summer — the remembrance of and resurfacing of grief, the way its affected my marriage and my whole life, really — I started to realize that there’s a pretty deep wound at the root of it all.

Somewhere along the way with all the grief and the trauma, I just put walls up. I didn’t really mean to, but at some point I just started to operate like I was waiting for something else bad to happen, so I’d put up a ton of defenses to keep anything from hurting me again.

What dawned on me as we were talking that night is that there is a very specific piece of God that I’m still offended by, and it’s the Father Heart of God. It isn’t with the person of Jesus — I feel like I know Him better because I’ve suffered. It isn’t with the power & presence of the Holy Spirit — I have made it through the last few years because of Him.

What I’m still offended and confused by is a Father who lets his daughter suffer. That we would step out in faith with the Judah story after all the ways He spoke so clearly, and then lose him they way we did. That He would surprise us when we weren’t even trying with a baby, only to allow us to lose that baby so soon after. It makes no sense. It never will.

And yes of course I know all the “right” things to say to something like this, things about the goodness and mercy of God, about His perfect timing, about how we see in part and He sees in full — but none of it changes that I was faithful and I lost anyway. I hate that. I hate losing. I hate loss. I’m still so angry with God for letting those things happen to me.

As I processed all of this through tears with Ellie she looked at me and said, “I wonder if you need to forgive.” Sweet Ellie. She always challenges me in the most humble of ways. What she should have said was, “Hey stupid, forgive your Good Father already. That unforgiveness is keeping you in chains.”

I don’t even really remember what we talked about for the rest of the night because those words were echoing in my mind, waging an entire war with my pride in a matter of minutes.

The next day I wasn’t feeling well, and I was tired and frustrated and laying on Ellie’s couch while she was out running a few errands. In my frustration I said, “God, will you please heal me?” and instantly I felt convicted that I know deep down I don’t believe Him anymore to do kind things like that for me, and that crushed me.

I cried and wrestled through whether or not I felt ready to say out loud that I forgive Him. (Quick theological side note: God is perfect. He needs no forgiveness. He has done nothing wrong. WE need to forgive so that we can stop seeing him wrongly. The forgiveness is from us verbally, but it’s for us spiritually.)

I sort of half way said something like, “I know you have never harmed me. I know you don’t willingly afflict your children (Lamentations 3:33), and I really don’t want to be mad at you anymore.”

And then that night Ellie and I did the same thing we always do at the end of our time together — we prayed. We pray for all the things. Our marriages, our families, our communities, our hopes, our fears — all of it. And as I began to pray that night it just all started pouring out of me…

“Abba, I forgive you.” I told Him I was still mad and confused but I miss Him. I am so tired from sitting down to try to spend time with Him but keeping myself from deeper places with Him because I built walls to protect myself from any more trauma or grief. I had built a wall in place of the veil that had already been torn. Sheesh. Who’s the real offender here?

I needed to repent. So I did. And as I repented through snot and sobs, I felt Ellie’s hands reach across the table and grab a hold of mine, and in that moment I just sensed God saying, “You’re OK. I’m here. I never left you.”

Sometimes we need a good friend to grab us by the hand and drag us into a holy moment.

The next day I was flying back to Salt Lake City from Nashville, and I had a layover in Denver that was supposed to be like 3 hours long. I had been fighting off a cold for a week, had a tired baby, and was so ready to get home.

Our flight landed about 10 minutes early, and I quickly looked up other flights to see if there was anything earlier I could try to get a seat on. It was 7:20, and the only other flight to Salt Lake before mine was at 7:40. I got off the plane at 7:25 and sprinted across terminal C to try to get to the gate before they closed the doors at 7:30. The whole time I’m praying, “Please God, let us make it and let there be an empty seat.”

I got there right as the last passenger was boarding. Completely out of breath and sweating, I blurted out to the girl at the gate, “Please tell me there are seats open on this flight I have to get this baby home!”

She said there were but I’d have to go to the customer service desk to see if they’d transfer me before they have to close the door, like, now. So I run over to the desk (which by the way is VERY far from the gate at the Denver airport), praying the same prayer, ask the same frantic question, and long story short they were able to transfer me and they opened the already closed door for me to let me on.

As I was boarding I cried and thanked God for reminding me that He is still kind in small places, when I’m tired and weary and just want to get my sad baby home and my sick body to bed.

“What makes things divine is the inclusion of God in them,” says John Dawson in a YWAM teaching from the 70s on the Father Heart of God.

I’ve excluded Him for too long, afraid of being hurt again. And man, I think I missed out on some intimacy with Him during that time.

So here’s to a new season. I love that I’m writing this late on the last night of summer, as the dawn will bring the official first day of fall to us tomorrow. May a new season in all of our souls follow along — guided by His kindness that leads us to repentance.

And for the love, someone hold me accountable to keep writing in this new season we’re all in together.