Night driving

When Noland and I were dating, we made a lot of late night trips to and from Memphis and Little Rock from the tiny town in Arkansas where we lived, because those two cities were the closest places where there were actual “things to do.” That was a few years ago, and still those late night drives together are some of my favorite moments in our story.

Truthfully, I think the place I really fell in love with Noland was in his car on those trips. We would tell stories for hours, and talk about all of our crazy dreams for our life. Everything felt so full of promise, hope and adventure.

And there’s something about driving in the middle of nowhere at night, where the sky seems more vast and brilliant — it makes the world feel big enough to hold all the endless possibilities of the morning that lies ahead. Stars shine like tiny windows peeking into a new day, each one holding a little bit of light that invites you in for more.

There was something in the mystery of that time that drew my heart out in the best kind of way. There was mystery in my story with Noland, wondering how or when or where we’d end up getting married and starting our life together. There was mystery in all the dreams we were dreaming, the places we wanted to go and things we wanted to experience.

But it wasn’t the kind of mystery that was frustrating or exhausting — it felt exciting and thrilling and just full. I always felt so full in those moments.

I was thinking about all of this recently, and I realized that those early days of dating were marking what the rest of our life would look like. I realized that what God has been doing for three years since then is invite us on late night drives into the mystery of whatever is next.

And the thing about driving at night is that you can’t really ever see too far ahead of you, but it’s always enough. There’s always enough light in front of you to keep moving forward.

This season of my life has been a challenge to keep moving forward, if I’m completely honest. It feels scary to go places I’ve never gone and do things I’ve never done. It feels risky to believe for outcomes I can’t control.

But it feels right.

The farther I get into this journey with God, the more I understand that maybe the bravest thing any of us can do is just stay the course we’re on, trusting that it’s good and believing that it’s worth the risk.

I guess I won’t know until I get to wherever I’m going — but then again I’m not convinced that arriving at a destination has ever been the point.

So we stay the course. We dream our dreams and we embrace the mystery and we fall in love under a night sky with the endless possibility of a story unfinished.

It has to be good.

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Disappointment and Double Rainbows

A little over a year ago, Noland and I began a journey of believing God for a baby.

We felt like He initiated for us to begin to think about and pray for the family we would raise, and so began this strange adventure that has both refined us and grown us together more deeply than ever before.

I wish I could tell you right now that there’s a happy ending to the story God is writing in our family. I suppose I could tell you that — I certainly believe it’s true. But I know nothing of its ending at this point. 

I only know that God has made a promise, and that He always keeps His promises. This I know to be true, more than anything else I have ever known.

In the last month, I’ve been seeing double rainbows everywhere. Literally, thanks to Instagram, everywhere. Friends were posting photos of them in Florida, Texas, California, Canada, Italy, Arkansas, North Carolina, Colorado — I was seeing them almost daily for a while. Finally I started thinking it was a little bit strange.

But one day I just decided I’d claim it as a promise, that a double portion is the reward for all that Noland and I have been fighting for this year. I don’t know it to be perfectly true — it’s just a faith statement, really. Every time I see a double rainbow (a seriously weird normal occurrence as of late), I thank God that my promise fulfilled is coming. I have never known Him to be a liar.

The last time I remember fighting for something that felt this impossible was about 5 years ago. My little sister was walking through a pretty dark time, and she had wandered pretty far from the truth. It was the first time I felt like I could feel a rift between my family members, and it hurt. It felt dark and lonely and honestly, pretty hopeless at times.

I remember wanting so badly to see my sister redeemed and walking with Jesus again. I remember a friend of mine challenging me to memorize some Psalms and pray them over my family as promises from God.

So for two years, that was what I did. I prayed the same words from Psalm 40 over my little sister for nearly 24 months. I knew it had to be true that God would answer my cry. I knew He would pull my family from the pit of destruction and set our feet upon a rock, and that He would put a new song in our mouths. 

I knew that I would one day look at all He’d done, and I would proclaim those same words in Psalm 40, “You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us — none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.”

I guess I didn’t know for sure. I didn’t always feel like it was true — but sometimes when you’re facing a seemingly impossible circumstance, the only way to find the light at the end of the tunnel is to keep walking, believing it has to be at the end. What’s the alternative? Sit in the dark? No thanks.

Fast forward about two years from the first day I started praying that prayer, and I’ll never forget the sweetness of my sister telling me that she had decided to follow Jesus. I’ll never forget seeing my dad baptize her in the lake in east Texas on Easter Sunday in 2011.

But you know what’s even better than our ideals of the perfect ending to a story? God’s ideal perfect ending. He always one ups my “best case scenario” expectation. Last weekend, He did exactly that. My little sister married the most Godly, amazing man.

As we started leading up to her wedding weekend, my own journey of struggling to get pregnant was getting harder at the same time. We’d gone through a second round of fertility treatment to help us, and the same day I left for my sister’s wedding weekend, I found out for certain that my body had responded poorly again.

Everything in me wanted to grieve instead of celebrate. 

The reality, though, is this: God was going to wave a banner of hope and of His faithfulness over the weekend ahead of me, whether I felt like it was true or not. It’s just what He was doing. There would be no stopping it.

As soon as I felt myself start to get discouraged that day, I had to have one of those out-loud moments of having to put Satan in his place. He could have none of my joy. This weekend was the grand finale, more-than-perfect ending to one of my favorite stories God has ever written — and I was going to celebrate it like crazy.

I had just gotten done telling my little sister a week earlier, as she told me she knew I was having a hard year and that she had been praying for “little Gilmores” daily, that I would be riding on the coat tails of her victory while I still waited for mine.

Oh, friends. It was victorious, indeed.

I could never put words to how beautiful she was coming down that aisle. The most perfect picture of the promise of the wedding we’ll all attend in Heaven one day. A bride, dressed in white, without blemish, to be presented to the bridegroom — who had loved her fiercely and waited to be able to finally spend eternity with her — as it was intended for them.

A Dad, the most proud he’s ever been. He was handing over his prized possession to the only one she was made for. And he would be the one not only to hand her over, but to officiate the marriage ceremony that would unite them together forever.

And there was something extra sweet about my husband’s voice being the one that sang her down the aisle. My most favorite part came at the very end — the bride and groom taking communion together as Noland sang, “How Deep The Father’s Love For Us.” 

I wept and I prayed and I thanked Jesus over and over that because of Him, we get to experience these holy moments on this imperfect, unholy earth. These are the moments we live for. The ones where we know, without a doubt, that we have access to a world that is beyond this place we live in now.

And wouldn’t you know it, right in the middle of all of this, that off in the distance, beyond the fields of farm land, painted across the expanse of a Texas summer sky, was a double rainbow.

A whisper from a most thoughtful God said, “Hey, I see you. I know you. I’m here.”

It was perfect. It was finished. There was a sense that my family was complete, and that the completion of one family would release the building of a new one. There was a reminder that God’s timing is worth the wait — and that it is a privilege and an honor to fight with Him and contend in Heaven for the things we want to see on earth.

There was an affirmation of the truth that His promises never go unkept. 

And so here we are, embracing a new chapter. I don’t know how long it will be. But I know as sure as a double rainbow in the sky, that I know no other way of living besides to choose to believe that even the most impossible things can happen when God has said so.

My story is authored by a miracle maker. How dare I think it would be anything short of miraculous?

But we have to be willing to be in need of a miracle if we’re going to receive one.

Doubt is not an option

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You know the feeling. The sun has set on another day that you didn’t get what you’ve been believing for.

You’re still unemployed. You’re still fighting cancer. Your prodigal still hasn’t come home. You still can’t shake that depression you’ve been battling for years. You still can’t get pregnant. Your adoption journey has hit yet another roadblock. You’re still waiting on your husband, and my gosh, it’s been more than a decade and you must have been in 15 of your friends weddings by now.

We’re all waiting for something. Some of us are in the early days of waiting where it still feels hopeful, or maybe even exciting — like a new adventure.

But some of us are tired. Some of us have been trekking through the wilderness for a long time, and we’re dying to reach the end of this journey. We wonder if we’ll ever reach the mountain tops or walk the beaches of paradise we thought we had been promised. We wonder if maybe the promise was just our imagination, and we sometimes wish this season of empty longing was just a bad dream.

I sat across a dinner table from a friend a few days ago, and I told her I was sick of not enjoying this season. I told her I felt like something in me had shifted, like I knew that no matter how long I was here, I was still headed towards the promise. I guess I had reached a point where I felt like I had no choice but to keep moving — I wasn’t going to quit.

I had decided to draw a line in the sand where doubt could no longer continue to accompany me on this journey through the desert. I didn’t know how much longer the journey would be, but I knew I’d be traveling lighter from here on out.

Doubt was heavy. It was a thief of joy and a murderer of hope. Doubt had to go.

I told my friend I was tired from the journey, but I just know it has to be worth it — I can feel it in my bones. And I want to live like I know God has something for me here. I want my eyes to be filled with wonder again, and I want to travel this winding road that’s longer than I thought it would be with a heart that’s eager to find every piece of treasure God has for me along the way.

At the end of all this my friend said, “Sara, that’s you living in the story like it’s already finished — living inside the promise before it actually comes is the nature of the story of God.”

She was right, and I was encouraged. We live in a world of here and now, but we belong to a kingdom outside of time.

I get frustrated that my story still lives in the land of not-yet, but I’m reminded that God’s story is still here too. It isn’t finished.

Everything we know about the story of God and His people, from the beginning of time through the history of mankind, through the deserts and the valleys, the heartbreak and the barrenness,  the adultery and the wars, the lowest of lows rescued by the best love story ever told, a savior who would take our place in our pain and promise an eternity of happily ever after — even that story was left us with a, “to be continued.”

It’s not finished yet. And I wonder if it’s because He is so kind as to invite us into the story with Him.

I wonder if the desert is actually one of the best places to be… it’s the pathway to the promised land. It’s the place where he stamps us with his image and meets us where no one else ever could.

I was at a vineyard a few weeks ago, looking at a giant warehouse full of barrels of wine, waiting to be aged just right before they would be bottled. I laughed a little bit to myself at a thought that was strangely comforting: even the wine has to wait.

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Waiting isn’t punishment, and it isn’t a rite of passage. It’s an invitation. An invitation to deeper places, where only the brave dare to continue to dream and hope, knowing without a doubt that there are storehouses of good things waiting for their time. Like barrels full of great wine.

So here we are, each of us in a desert of our own. And in this place I’m choosing to believe that there are heavenly storehouses filled with barrels of good wine with my name on them, waiting to be poured out when it’s time.

In the meantime? I’m throwing parties in the desert. I’m choosing joy even when my hope feels tired and my faith feels tattered, weathered and bruised — because He has given me so many other reasons to dance and to sing, to laugh and to love and to celebrate.

The story isn’t finished, but the ending already has a promise. So I keep going. I left doubt a few miles back on this journey, and I’m not turning back.