The Wait is Over

I heard someone say once that to be a great writer you have to be a great steward of pain. In the last few years I’ve learned that’s true — that to be a good steward of pain, you have to be willing to sit in it long enough to make some sense of it. And even then, after all of that, you have to be brave enough to show up and relive it in order to write it all down.

I haven’t always been the best about that last part these last couple of years. It felt exhausting sometimes to revisit trauma, and exposing to put my bleeding heart on paper while it was still gushing. I wrote when I felt like I had the grace, but a lot of times I sat in front of my computer with an aching heart and a blank stare, and I walked away with nothing.

The last time I posted here, we were waiting to be matched with a baby. Tonight that baby is sleeping soundly on my chest as I type with my falling-asleep-arms, not wanting to wake her.

It all happened so fast and unexpectedly, the way a snow storm comes quietly in the night and you wake up and everything looks different, blanketed in white. We were matched with our little girl on November 6, and on November 30 we got on a plane to Phoenix to be there for her December 1 birth.

Everything had been so crazy that day — the phone call that her birth mom had gone into labor and the frantic packing and trying to get on the next flight — that I didn’t even think about the date. That night around midnight, when we knew she would be born the next day, a friend reminded me, “Sara, this baby girl is going to come on December 1. The first day of Advent, which literally means arrival.”

What a sweet prophetic mirroring of that night in Bethlehem, when 400 years of silence ended with the cries of a baby boy — a King. A Savior. And there we were in a hospital room in the desert, far from home, anticipating the glorious ending of our own years of silence and longing — and the sound of her first cry, it was magic. Like a trumpet heralding the end of a long and painful road to family.

In the chaos of our girl coming early, I wasn’t able to get quite all of my work done before we left. So the day after our daughter was born, as I sat snuggling her in our hospital room and bonding as much as possible, I also had to finish designing a sermon graphic for our church’s Christmas series, which was starting that week.

I laughed at the awkward juggling of motherhood and ministry that I was being immediately thrown into the fire of, but as I opened my computer to finish this project for church, I wept when I remembered the title of the series:

“The Wait is Over”

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I sat there with this tiny miraculous promise fulfilled in my lap, reliving that moment in the delivery room the night before where I got to be the first one to lay eyes on her, all the emotions of years of silence coming to an end rushing back to my heart and out of my eyes in a river of tears.

The wait is over. And my baby girl in my arms on December 1 is only the tiniest glimpse of the Greatest Gift we celebrate during this season.

Can you imagine the glory of that night? The shepherds interrupted in the shadows by the great light of an entire Heavenly host of angels. The chaos of labor and delivery in a barn. The sound of angels singing, and the image of Mary “treasuring it all up and pondering it in her heart.”

I felt a little like Mary that night in the hospital. Noland and me navigating the sort of awkward but somehow beautifully comfortable relationship with the birth parents of our girl. Nurses in and out of the room looking so confused by our dynamic. Our hilarious case worker entertaining us all to keep things feeling light hearted. The sounds of labor and pain, the buzz of doctors and nurses, and the sobering reality that what we were about to celebrate, our girl’s birth parents were going to grieve.

It all seemed to be spinning around us, echoes of every story in that room being orchestrated into this beautiful harmonious moment. And then her first cry — it was like it silenced every other sound, and time stopped, and the room froze, and there was her face. And even in the middle of all that chaos — I was overcome by peace & wonder.

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The wait was over.

I looked at her, and I thought about all the things that had led to this moment. The promises and prophetic words spoken. The hope deferred and longing and loss. The ways God always proves His Romans 8:28 promise to be true — a working of all things together for good.

I felt in that moment like I tasted a little bit of Mary’s pondering that night in Bethlehem. Like maybe time stopped for her for just a moment, and she thought about that first conversation with the angel who told her what would happen and she said, “but how?” And now she knew. She never doubted that it could be. She just wondered how.

Two weeks later we were standing at an intersection in Scottsdale, waiting to cross the street, and a lady commented on how pretty our girl was. We got to talking and told her that she was adopted, and that we were getting to go home the next day. As we parted ways after crossing the street she turned to me and said, “Enjoy your new life!”

Enjoy your new life. I love that. I’ve been thinking about it constantly ever since she said it. New Life — it’s who He is. It’s why He came. It’s what we remember these weeks of Advent, as we light candles and sing carols and take time to be still and adore Him.

Our wait is over, and this is the part where we enjoy our New Life.

And me? I’m not really sure what that means yet. But I know I feel awake again, and ready to be a better steward of all that pain I’ve been sifting through the last couple of years.

This Christmas week, though? I plan to treasure up all these things and ponder them in my heart.

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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.

Maybe to know suffering is to know Jesus.

#StainedGlassDec

This isn’t the version of this part of my story that I wanted to share for this series. I had written something different — something hopeful and full of resolve and reflective of everything God has been teaching me in the last year and a half. Then God, like He does, interrupted this part of my story this week. It’s not the end of the road, I guess. In fact, I have no idea where the end of the road is. But I know I it seems like the rug was ripped right out from under me this week.

So today I’m still in process. Today I’m still in pain. Today I still feel like all those pieces of me are being broken in order for Him to rearrange them into something beautiful.

I got a call from my doctor last night. He told me my most recent blood test indicated that my body hadn’t responded like they had hoped to the medicine I’d been on, and he wants to go ahead and have a few more tests done and then refer me to a fertility specialist.

He was kind and encouraging, but every word still pierced my heart like a dagger, beckoning me farther into the wilderness I’d been traveling for longer than I ever wanted to. Back on the rollercoaster I go, on this ride that I was so certain was going to end soon.

The phone call came ever so conveniently in the 20 minutes I had between work and having to be at a training at church, so I got off the phone, told my husband what the doctor said, and tried to pretend not to be heartbroken. “I just need to stuff these emotions for a couple of hours, and then I’ll come home and deal with this in my heart,” I thought.

Well, I got home from church and like a volcano, everything I’d been feeling build inside of me for the last few hours erupted. I was angry and confused. I was sad and defeated. I was tired of choosing hope. So far, hope wasn’t proving to be an investment that I was getting much return on. So there I was, on my knees in my living room weeping, the only words I could muster up through my sobs, “God, where are you?”

I lifted my head and looked at the blurred glare of the lights on my Christmas tree through my tears, and immediately the words, “Immanuel — God with us” echoed in my mind. All at once I was comforted that He would remind me what this season is about, and at the same time I was kind of mad that He was so quick to tell me what’s true instead of letting me linger in all of my pain and disappointment a little while longer.

Christmas has always been my favorite. There is something about it, a tenderness and mystery and wonder, that draws my heart deep into the story of the way God chose to come into our world. The way He chose to enter into our suffering. Not just this omnipresent higher being, but a man. A man who walked in our shoes to the point of death, ultimately, just so we could live.

Maybe to know suffering is to know Jesus. Maybe to continue to willingly enter into these places of pain and longing is to live fully in the tension between Heaven and earth. Maybe our suffering is a gateway to deeper places of intimacy with Him. Maybe there are secrets of Heaven hidden in this place — and maybe a lot of us miss those secrets because we don’t want to walk in suffering.

A friend told me this week, “You know, the reality is that once we get to Heaven, there is no suffering. Our time on earth is the only time we get to know Jesus in our suffering. It’s the only place we get to know the depth of what He rescued us from.”

I find myself staring at the same invitation He’s extended to me so many times this year: Will I stay submitted to the journey and my process, or will I go my own way?

When I think of it this way, the answer is easy. Today, in my brokenness, in my pain, in my anger and confusion — I’m still choosing hope. Even when my arms are tired. Even when my heart is overwhelmed. Even when circumstances say I should be hopeless. My reality is not bound to the limited possibility of earth, but exists under the limitless possibility of an open Heaven.

So I’m re-reading that story I love so much that we celebrate this time of year over and over. I’m marveling at the angelic visitations and the promises fulfilled and the wonder and mystery of that holy, hopeful night. Because I want to be the kind of woman who the Elizabeths in my life look at and say, “Blessed woman, you who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to you from The Lord.” (Luke 1:45)

I want to be the daughter that says at the end of this, with confident wonder in her eyes, “Oh, Dad. I knew you were coming!”

“For all the promises of God find their yes in Jesus.” (2 Cor. 1:20)