Making Room for Christmas

I can’t think of very many things I love more than Christmas time. I love the wonder and the cheer and the twinkle lights & evergreen. I love the family time and the sweets in excess and the exchanging of gifts. I love the story of the birth of Jesus. I love that it’s the beginning of the fulfillment of every promise God made and prophecy spoken in scripture.

I love the hope it always brings. I love that from Thanksgiving to December 25, we wait in hopeful expectation of Christmas day. I love that it reminds me every year of how wonderful it must have been to witness the magic of that night… the coming of our long awaited Savior. Our Rescuer. Our Prince of Wholeness. Here to mend all things broken and pay our every debt for all of eternity.

Last weekend, just like we always do right after Thanksgiving, Noland and I went to pick out our Christmas tree. In the spirit of building new family traditions in Utah, we went to the cutest Christmas tree farm right at the foot of the mountains. They played Christmas music and served us hot chocolate as we walked around in the snow in search for the perfect tree.

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We picked out a 9-footer and they strapped it to the top of Noland’s Scion XB that we lovingly refer to as “the toaster.” It was kind of hilarious. Since my ever-so-careful husband wouldn’t drive over 45 mph on the interstate on our way home that afternoon, I had a lot of time to think.

I laughed to myself at how hilarious we must have looked in that moment, with our very Griswold-esque tree hanging over every edge of our tiny car. I thought about how, for now our fourth married holiday season, we have had to completely rearrange our itty bitty living space to make room for a Christmas tree every year.

This year, rearranging looked like moving our dining room table for the next month to the back room that pretty much just acts as a storage space. It didn’t matter to me, though. We hardly sit at it anyway. I wanted my big tree in my front window, right next to the chair I sit in every morning by the fire with my coffee in hand.

With this vision in my mind, I went ahead and rearranged the furniture the night before, so the room would be ready for our tree when we got home the next day. We pulled the monster of a tree inside, just the two of us, and we died laughing at how we *might* have overestimated how much space we were working with in this room.

The top of the tree touched the ceiling and the bottom was first of all way too wide, and second, hanging way too low. We realized the ole’ tree farm didn’t quite do the trimming that Home Depot had on our trees of Christmas past. We pulled the tree back out to the front yard, sort of  chuckling at the hilarity of the situation — although I could tell Noland was a bit irritated, seeing as how I’d been the one to fight for the taller tree back at the tree farm.

Praise the Lord for neighbors who have all the things. Our neighbor, Gabe, let us borrow his chain saw to trim our beloved tree down to living room size (another Griswold moment).

Noland trimmed the tree and immediately shed every feeling of frustration due to the surge of manliness he was feeling with a chain saw in his hands. Don’t worry, though. He had his skinny jeans on for the whole thing. Look good, do good — right?

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So, back in the house we go with our trimmed tree. And, 10 minutes later, back out we go. Rookie mistake: didn’t trim enough of the bottom branches off, so she was still hanging a little low. I had to lovingly explain to Noland that the gifts were supposed to be able to fit under the tree — and right now, we weren’t even fitting an envelope under there.

Sweet man that he is, he trimmed a little more. Alas, third time’s a charm. The tree came inside and stayed inside after round two of trimming. Of course, then I had to go around with scissors to give her a little liposuction. Another half hour or so later, we were finally ready to decorate.

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We laughed about how most normal people who live in 1200 square feet probably just get one of those really skinny fake trees that can fit in any corner. I’m a bit of a purist, though, and I need the experience of picking out a real tree, and smelling that fresh evergreen scent every time you walk into the house. Oh, it’s one of my most favorite things!

We’ve been laughing at how, since Friday when we got our tree, every friend of ours who’s walked into our house has said, “Wow! That’s a big tree.” And has followed with something along the lines of, “Wait… where did the table go?”

And you know what? I love that we make room. I love that we rearrange things and make sacrifices to make space in our home for Christmas. I love that it reminds me to make space in my heart for Christmas.

It reminds me to do away with the things that aren’t necessary, and to quiet my heart and my spirit in remembrance of Him. To draw near and take in that old, old story that I love so much. To remember that when He came, it meant our wait was over. God wrapped in flesh, Immanuel,  was with us. Forever.

Here’s to making room in our homes and our hearts for Him this season. I can’t really think of anything better.

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That time I didn’t know he was carrying me: revisited.

In the spirit of seasons of waiting, I’m sharing a story from six months ago again today. In the midst of learning how to fight for big things together in prayer, my husband and I have both been so refined this year. I can’t wait to build on where we’ve come since then in posts soon to come, but first, a look back at one of the most pivotal moments of this faith journey we’ve been on with God this year.

January 2014:

Marriage is the most awesome, most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Figuring out how to do life in unison with another person is a serious learning curve.

You have personality differences, communication differences, organizational differences, anatomical differences (sorry, just thought it’d be funny to throw that one in there. I didn’t have brothers growing up. Living with a BOY was new to me a year and a half ago).

Here’s the one that I think has been the weirdest to try and connect on: the way Noland and I communicate with God is different.

We spend time with God differently in the mornings. We’re spiritually gifted in different ways. His prayer life looks different from mine. We read scripture differently. We see things of the kingdom through different lenses.

Sometimes that’s a huge blessing, because we tend to point out things to one another that we wouldn’t have seen on our own. But sometimes it’s hard, like when we’re believing for big things together, but we don’t necessarily fight for those things in the same way.

Prayer is communication — a conversation with God, right? So let’s talk about how Noland and I communicate.

He’s a linear thinker. He goes from here ———> to here ———> to here.

I’m all over the map. Up, down, left, right, do a few somersaults, stop and smell the flowers, moonwalk … and we’re there.

Noland processes things externally. He needs to talk things through. His brain lives outside of his body.

I process internally. I need to get some space, write some things down, connect the dots, and then talk about it.

Then you throw in our emotions, because communication is emotional!

Noland is steady. Even if he’s about to explode internally, he has this cooling filter that all his words go through to calm them before they come out. It’s quite remarkable.

I lack said filter. My feelings are coming out the same exact way they look on the inside. Blood, guts, tears. It all comes out.

So when we’re praying through the things we feel like God has promised, the things we’re believing for in our life, it looks different.

Noland speaks things forth in such a way that makes you think they must have happened already. He’s already thought logically through the whole thing. So nonchalant. For him, it’s as simple as, “ask and you shall receive.” He’s confident and cool, and he’s so good at that part that sometimes makes me feel anxious to say out loud, “Your will be done.”

He always says to me when I get anxious about our future, “Sara, God doesn’t give us second best. We get the best. He knows.”

Well, I’m a little bit more of a shout-down-the-gates-of-hell prayer warrior. Still just as confident as Noland that the things God has promised will come to pass, and just as eager to partner with God to see those things happen. I just pray for things with a little more volume and a lot more tears. I feel them through every step of the process.

So as we’ve been believing for some big promises in our life this year, we’ve had some conflict about whether or not we’re on the same page with the things we’re praying. I’d get frustrated because he didn’t seem as emotionally involved as me. He’d get frustrated because he felt bad for not seeming to feel things as deeply and emotionally as I do.

It was hard! It’s not fun to feel disconnected from your spouse. I had to reconcile with God that I knew Noland was believing for the same things I was.  I had to reconcile that I still believed, although he didn’t carry them like I do, that he cares for them like I do.

This had gone on for months. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I was in Charlotte. When I have to work away from home, I use our iPad, which is connected to Noland’s phone on the iCloud. So I opened the iPad late one night to make a few notes of what I needed to do the next day for work, and I found something.

It was a note Noland had made on his phone, that popped up on the iPad when I turned on the wifi. I saw in the sidebar something titled, “Prayer for Sara.” Obviously I opened it.

In this note were 10 different prayers. Each of them was a paragraph long, beautifully crafted and quoting scripture throughout them. He was asking God, on my behalf, for some of the deepest longings of my heart. And he was asking Him using God’s own words. (And now I’m feeling a little convicted that, although I pray for him daily, I have never prayed such beautiful prayers for Noland.)

I’m weeping. I mean, like, ugly crying, in my friend’s living room alone.

All this time I’m wondering if he’s carrying God’s promises the same way I am, and all this time he’s simply carrying me. Alone, in the secret place with God, I’m the one he’s talking about. And I never would have known it had I not stumbled upon that note.

I read it over and over. It was the best bedtime story I’d ever heard.

I thanked God over and over, and I repented over and over for ever believing a lie that we weren’t fighting for the same things.

Never again will I be uncertain or insecure about us being on the same page in our prayer life. Those words Noland always speaks were ringing in my head as I fell asleep that night in North Carolina.

“God never gives us second best. He knows.”

I had never been more certain that I had been given the best.

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The gift of waiting

Six years ago I met a boy. I had zero romantic interest in him, but we became the best of friends. We loved all the same things… soccer, live music, pizza + beer… the list could go on but these ones carry most of my memories of friendship with him.

We spent more afternoons at my favorite coffee shop in Jonesboro, Arkansas than I can remember between 2008-2010, sometimes talking and sometimes just sharing a table while I studied and he planned worship sets. We took as many trips to Memphis as we could to see our favorite bands play together. We talked sports and there was never anything more than a high five going on between us every time we left hanging out.

Then 2011 rolled around. He had a girlfriend at the time, and I remember beginning to think that I missed my best friend. Somewhere over those few months of our friendship having boundaries for the first time, I started to wonder if maybe I could like… really like him. Obviously this felt horribly risky, so I decided to just pretend those feelings weren’t there for a while.

I remember talking to some of our friends one night and saying, “Guys, I don’t know what to do. I feel like when I think about the girl he needs to end up with, and I start to describe her in my head… she sounds a lot like me.” There they were, out on the table. My feelings. Exposed. I felt naked and afraid. And I knew it didn’t even matter at the time, because he was dating someone else. Even if I did have real feelings, he certainly didn’t reciprocate them.

I didn’t know what to do. So I fasted. For 21 days I was asking God over and over, “Lord, if these feelings are from you, I trust you’ll take care of me, and if they’re not, I don’t want to feel them ever again.” …well about day 5, he broke up with his girlfriend. My prayer took a slight turn to simply saying, “OK God, I think I want him. Can I have him?”

At the end of those 21 days, there weren’t words written in the sky, there wasn’t a burning bush or angelic visitation… but I remember feeling like God had given me this deep sense of peace, and I remember feeling like I kept hearing the words, “Just keep being. I’ve got you. I have the best for you.”

So for about a month, nothing changed. Besides that I felt like my best friend was back — and that was good. So good. And then one night in March of 2011, he called and said he wanted to come over and talk to me. He told me he was sorry that he had missed a season of my life when he was dating someone. He told me I was his best friend, and he loved spending time with me. He told me he couldn’t really imagine time with anyone else being better than time with me, and that he felt like he was growing feelings for me that were bigger than us being just friends.

Side note: OK, I wouldn’t probably recommend that all relationships go this way, but our years of friendship prior to this conversation made this next part not weird.

So basically we talk all of it out, and decide: (a) I think I want to spend my life with you; (b) we should probably date first; (c) we don’t feel like it’s time for us to date right now.

He told me he knew that with his fairly recent breakup, and him being on staff at our church, and me being in leadership in our college ministry, that it just didn’t feel peaceful to jump right into dating someone else. So we waited. For months I’d been working through these feelings in my own heart, then we finally had the conversation I’d been waiting for, and it ended in knowing we needed to keep waiting.

I remember him telling me, “I don’t know how long it’ll be until we feel like God says it’s time… it could be two months or two years, but I want you to know that you’re worth it, and I am going to wait.”

(Obviously I’m crying at this point.)

And then we went almost three months without really talking or hanging out. (Cried plenty more times during that time period) We just… waited. We knew we shouldn’t toy with the line of friendship/more than friendship, so we just stopped spending time together unless our friends happened to be all hanging out.

It was hard! I had gone through this whole process of believing for something, and then being told I could have it — but not yet. God’s promises are funny like that. Sometimes He shows us what He has for us and then He invites us in to the refining place of waiting and contending — not because we need to earn something but because He wants to stamp us with His image in those places. There’s a piece of His heart to be found in the waiting.

I think in that season the piece of His heart I found was that He’s for me, no matter what. He was stamping on me a belief that His promises are true, and the things He promises are worth fighting for.

Three months later we started dating, and this weekend I get to celebrate two years of being Mrs. Noland Gilmore. As I’m looking back on our second year of marriage, I’m reminded that it’s been marked by the same thing that started it all: waiting.

It’s been a year of the two of us contending for something that we’re not sure if or when it will happen. It’s been a year of learning to carry each other in ways we haven’t had to before. It’s been a year of unfulfilled promises.

But today, I choose to celebrate. Because every day I wake up next to a promise fulfilled. And that makes me want to keep fighting for the ones I’ll see come to life in the future.

Cheers, my love — to all the promises we’ve yet to see fulfilled. What glorious days ahead of us!

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And cheers to all the rest of you — those things you’re contending for are worth it. Keep going.