A Letter to Myself

Almost two years ago I stood on a mountain outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, sensing God calling me into the depths of a “desert valley” sort of season, much like the climate and terrain of the place I was standing. Knowing before we even began trying that it might be hard for us to start a family, I was sensing God nudging me to start believing Him for one anyway.

I felt like He laid this invitation in my lap in that moment: In the coming season I am drawing you into the wilderness with me, and if you’re willing to follow me to the depths, what I’ll forge in you there will be the very thing that makes you thrive in this place I’ve called you to.

What I didn’t know in that moment was how true those words would be — that there would be pain and heartache and disappointment to walk through, and that I was going to be refined like never before. Now, two years of infertility struggles later, as I get ready to plant a church in that city God spoke so clearly to me in, I’m realizing how true His invitation was that day. Knowing what I know now, I wrote a letter to the me that stood on that mountain two years ago, getting ready to begin a journey deep into the valley of the shadow of death…

Dear Sara,

The journey ahead of you is not for the faint of heart. There will be deep places of pain and great chasms of uncertainty. You’ll feel lonely at times, but you’ll realize later that you were never alone. You’ll get tired of crying, but those tears are actually watering the soil of your soul, preparing the perfect place for hope to grow. You’ll hurt more than ever before, but know that those who know suffering will know glory. Before you begin your journey, though, here are some tips for your travel.

Pack light. Everything you need is in Him. The next two years are going to feel heavy, but remember that you have always been a girl who travels light. Cast your burdens on The Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken. (Psalm 55:22)

People are going to say things that hurt. Things like, “You’re so young, you have plenty of time.” “If you just stopped trying, you would probably get pregnant.” “You’re worrying too much, that’s what’s wrong.” “If this doesn’t work, you could always just adopt.” (This one will really get to you, because you do have a heart for adoption, and how dare anyone imply that orphan care would be second-class parenting.) Know this, though: they don’t mean to discourage or offend you. They are trying to offer an encouraging word. Forgive them quickly. Do not let a seed of bitterness take root in that softened hope-soil of your heart.

Many of your closest friends, including both of your sisters, will get pregnant while you’re waiting. It is going to hurt like hell, and you will learn to fight envy and comparison like you have never had to in your life. Be honest with God in those moments. He isn’t intimidated by your anger. In fact, He can’t wait to meet you there with more grace than you’ve ever known. And what the enemy intends for destruction, He will turn around and use for good.

Press into friendship with Jesus and trust that you have a Good Father. In the midst of all your pain, you will find His nearness ever sweeter. What you’ll look back two years from now and realize is that all along, those words from Jeremiah 31 were true — He has loved you with an everlasting love, and He has drawn you with loving kindness. Ever near. Ever faithful. In the wilderness, yes, but not without a companion. And you will know Him more deeply and hold Him more dearly than ever before.

Your marriage will grow leaps and bounds in this season. Press into loving Noland. What you’ll learn is that your family journey is only yours. Just you two. Just the yet-to-be-realized dreams and little lives you’re longing to meet, and the two of you, hoping and hurting and fighting for all that you know He’s promised. It’s all knitting you closer together, and what’s growing, more than anything, is the love that will grow your family for all the rest of your days. It’s worth it.

You are sowing seeds of hope and faith. It will not be in vain. No one who hopes in the Lord will ever be put to shame. (Psalm 25:3) Seeds are sown in one season, but a harvest is reaped in another. This is your sowing season. Your harvest is coming, and the deposits you’re making in your deficit are growing interest like you could never imagine. Keep hoping. Keep believing. It’s all building something in the spirit that will far outlast any reward you’ll ever receive on earth.

You are a wildflower. Don’t worry. You’ll bloom when it’s time — not because of anything you’ve done, but just because it’s what you are made for. Growing in the most unlikely of places. Blooming where no other flower would. You have always been a springtime gal — and Sara girl, your springtime is coming. Those Luke 12 flowers — the ones clothed more beautifully than Solomon and all his splendor — you will bloom even brighter than them.

I wish I could tell you how the story ends. I wish I were writing this with a sleeping baby in the next room, letting you know your promise is on its way and that you can set your stride accordingly to run this race that has a definite finish line. But truthfully, I’m not sure. The doctors say it’s nearly impossible, and all the while, God seems to be moving on your behalf more than ever.

What I can tell you is that two years into this journey that feels really scary right now, you will be thriving even more than you are at the beginning of it. It won’t be without a lot of pain, or without relinquishing a lot of dreams of how you thought things were going to be by now. But you will know the character of God better than ever, and you will hope with a joy that must be chosen and fought for — and truly, I think that might be the deepest, most worthwhile kind of joy.

So, here’s to hope seeds that are finally beginning to bear fruit. To joy that’s deeper than the valley you’ve been dwelling in. To the storehouse of perseverance you’ve been making deposits in all this time, and the return you’re getting in faith and love.

We can do this. Whatever the rest of the journey looks like… we were made for it. I’ll keep walking if you will.

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Get your hopes up.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Proverbs 13:12

Heartsick. There are some days that even this doesn’t feel like an accurate description of what hope deferred feels like. I wonder if maybe King Solomon meant, “Hope deferred makes your heart feel like it’s just been ripped out and trampled on by a whole herd of wild animals.” Sounds a little less poetic, though.

If you’ve been following along these last several months, you know about our journey with infertility over the last almost two years. It’s a tender topic and quite honestly I hate writing about it — it makes me feel like I’m having open heart surgery in front of a bunch of strangers, or living inside of that nightmare where you go to school without your pants on.

God is doing a deep, deep work in me here, though. So here I am again, open wounds exposed and feeling like I could bleed out at any moment. And somehow, it’s helping heal all of us.

Last week I went in for a hysterosalpingogram — a pretty routine test done to have a look at my tubes and make sure there isn’t anything abnormal going on. So there I was, laying on a table in a hospital gown, tubes in all sorts of places that tubes are not supposed to be. There’s doctors and nurses and screens displaying a picture of my insides as they all discuss what they’re seeing.

I try my best to hold back tears as I just keep thinking, “This is not how I saw this story unfolding in my head.”

When you start dreaming about building a family, you don’t usually write months that turn into years of disappointment into your ideal version of the story. You leave the fertility specialists off the cast list, and you certainly don’t write in the discomfort of foreign objects roaming about in your body while several strangers look on.

I dreamed of this going so differently — of surprise positive pregnancy tests and the excitement of new life on the way — the stuff that movies are made of. Or, if I’m honest, the stuff that all my friends and family members lives seem to be made of. I look at friends who are having babies, some of them on to their second and third, and I wonder if I’ll ever know what that feels like.

In the midst of so many circumstances outside of my control, I’ve caught myself trying to protect my heart a lot recently. If I just don’t think about it, it won’t hurt. If I can just stay busy, I won’t sit around and be sad. I fill my time with things I can control — a finished to-do list at work, a clean house, a week’s worth of meals planned, a new workout regimen — all things I can dictate the outcome of.

And you know what’s happening all at the same time? Bitterness and resentment are growing like weeds in the garden of my soul, because hope deferred has left a gaping hole in my heart that I’ve tried to fill back up on my own.

Just a couple of nights ago, needing some space and desperate to hear God, I went for a drive alone. I cried out, from the very bottom of myself, asking God how on earth He was going to sustain me if I keep walking in this wilderness.

I felt like He so gently replied, “You have to be willing to get your hopes up, and you have to stop trying to be your own shelter.”

I realized in that moment that I had filled the chasm left in my heart by disappointment with everything except for more hope. I had pitched a tent made of pride and independence to try to keep the wind and the rain from hitting me. But maybe the wind and rain are meant to wash away the dirt of the wilderness that’s tried to cling to me along the way.

Maybe that wind and rain is exactly what’s consecrating my heart to prepare it for the wonder that’s to come. (Joshua 3:5)

So today, I’m walking boldly back out into that wilderness. And I’m doing it by letting down walls and letting hard days be hard days — allowing God and His Church to carry me instead of taking cover beneath independence. I’m throwing off the ceilings of doubt and not fearing getting my hopes up.

I’m dreaming, unashamedly and without hesitation, of the new life we’ve been fighting for these last 20 months. I’m letting my heart long for the moment we celebrate a positive test. I’m dreaming of tiny feet inside of tiny shoes that I’ve been holding as I pray for the tiny human I long to meet. I’m dreaming of sweet snuggles and first words, of the blue eyes and big smiles that our babies are bound to have. I’m dreaming of who they will grow up to be, and the weight of glory they’ll carry.

I’m getting my hopes up, and I think you should too.

Maybe you’re longing for a spouse, and years of hope deferred has left you feeling empty. Maybe you’ve watched as friend after friend gets the promotion you’ve been believing for. Maybe you’re still fighting illness that you thought for sure would be gone by now. Maybe you’re wounded from a broken relationship or a death and your heart feels like it may never be back in one piece.

Whatever your story, your wilderness is real and your weariness is weighty. I see you over there, peeking with one eye out of the tent you made to shield yourself like I did. And I think it’s time we lose the tents, link arms and just keep walking.

Here’s to getting our hopes up, and to facing the wind and the rain together, because it just might be the way out of this wilderness. We can’t let our disappointment keep stealing our dreams.

Showing Up & Giving Thanks

At 10 pm I found myself once again staring at a blank white screen, drained of every ounce of creativity and eloquence I once held. I’ve been running really hard in every direction except for the one I feel like I’m made for: to write. To share stories of adventure and heartache; of failures and victories. To illuminate the dark nights of your souls with words of truth and life.

But I’m so tired. I’m strategizing for a church plant. I’m in school. I’m working 30 hours. I’m trying to nurture my marriage and maintain my friendships in my little bits of spare time. Head space is not a thing of abundance in my life in this season.

So last night, I gave up. I felt like I had nothing to give, so I walked away in frustration and sat next to my husband on the couch and I pouted. When I get tired, I start to grumble — and friends, I am beyond tired in this season.

So there I was, exhausted and broken, discouraged and honestly grieving that I feel less than adequate to maintain this little corner of the internet that’s mine. And I think maybe this is the state God prefers me in — when I literally can not move forward unless He makes a way.

How fitting that we should be celebrating Thanksgiving this week. That in the midst of feeling perhaps the weakest I have ever felt, it is right to give thanks. It is right to fight complacency and inadequacy and discouragement with gratitude. What I’ve learned, honestly, is that gratitude is the only weapon I have for fighting those things.

I wish I could say I sat down and immediately started giving thanks, and everything was lovely from that point on. But… tired Sara prevails, and the grumbling was louder than the gratitude. So instead I found myself arguing with my sweet, innocent, loving husband for no good reason. I was easily offended because I was frustrated about other things. I was slow to be gracious because I felt entitled to something better than what I was feeling.

Ugh. I hate when I have moments like that.

We resolved our conflict and everything was fine. He prayed for me like he does every night before we go to sleep, and I went to bed while he finished watching a football game. My head hit the pillow and immediately tears were streaming down my face.

Lord, what is going on with me? I found myself praying that Psalm 139 prayer, “Search my heart and know me. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Whatever was in my heart that felt so heavy, I was ready to hand it over. I couldn’t carry it any longer.

I felt like He said, gently, “Sara, I am uprooting the selfishness that still lives in your heart. Are you ready to hand the rest of it over?”

I wept. I knew I had let my season define my attitude. I knew I had neglected the weapon that is gratitude and taken up bitterness and control like a shield, thinking they would be the things to protect me.

So I handed it over, and with nothing left in my hands, I gave thanks. And this morning, I woke up feeling discouraged and inadequate again. But I sat down here and I gave Him my few loaves and fish, and somehow in all of His kindness, He promises it will be multiplied.

A lot of days I feel like I don’t really know how to keep showing up for my life. Not in a morbid I don’t want to be here kind of way — but in a “I’m not sure I have the endurance to keep running this race” kind of way.

But somehow there’s grace. Somehow we keep going. Somehow we believe that every word from God is true, and just to believe and keep going is counted to us as righteousness.

So today I’m showing up. I’m giving thanks. And I’m letting Him do all the rest.