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.

The Hope Candle

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If you were in church this past Sunday, you may have lit the messenger’s candle of hope in honor of the first Sunday of advent. I love this tradition. I love the thought of lighting a candle — just a tiny flame — and it being enough to push back the darkness. The story you’re about to read is one I wrote two years ago, and I love to revisit it every Christmas season.

It’s my candle of hope, I suppose. A collection of stories unfinished — true stories of people I know and love, in their most broken places. Some of them have experienced great breakthroughs in the two years since I wrote this. Some still long for hearts healed and promises fulfilled. Some grieve losses that won’t ever be fully reconciled on this side of Heaven.

But this is a season that we pull back the curtain and peer into the other side. The heavenly side. The part of the story that says, despite our current circumstances, that the war has already been won. This is the season to wonder at all that’s yet to be. So we read unfinished stories, and we marvel at the possibility of how our God might complete them.

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December. The malls are a zoo, with all the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping. It’s just like the song “Silver Bells” says, ‘Strings of street lights, even stop lights blink a bright red and green, as the shoppers rush home with their treasures.’

Christmas parties fill every weekend until New Years for most, and church attendance will hit an annual high on Christmas Eve. And behind all the crowds and craziness, each individual has a story.

A widow hangs an airplane ornament on her Christmas tree, and she still misses the pilot seven years after that unforgettable April morning. An ornament falls off the back of the tree and shatters, and she laughs at the irony because that’s kind of what life has felt like since he’s been gone. Twinkle lights and the prettiest of ornaments in front, but in the back something always seems to be breaking.

A faithful wife makes her husband the same Christmas breakfast they’ve had together for 50 years. “Surely this will make him remember,” she thinks. But he still doesn’t know who she is — the dementia is at the point of no return. She wonders when she’ll have the heart to let him go, and let someone else take care of him. “Oh, but it’s Christmas,” she thinks. “We have to be together on Christmas.” And she’ll think the same thing for Valentine’s Day, and Easter, and all the holidays that follow… And her daughter says with tears in her eyes, “Momma, he’s not really here. It’s time to let him go.”

A young husband spends Christmas in the hospital. He’s been fighting leukemia all year, and it’s finally gone. He’s not here for his cancer — he’s here for the cancer his wife was diagnosed with while he was recovering. They can’t seem to catch a break this year — but at least they made it to Christmas. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

Somewhere in Houston an old man sits alone in a trailer, sipping a glass of scotch and thinking about the family he abandoned so many years ago. He doesn’t know they won’t be together this year, because the brokenness that he left them with decades ago has finally become such a mess that they can’t even get together anymore. And all less than a one hour radius of one another, they spend Christmas alone, because they don’t know that the answer to their pain lies in that manger in the all-too-peaceful scene they can’t seem to get away from during this season.

All of them except their baby brother, who has a family of his own. And he takes care of mom, and she follows this Jesus he started talking about so long ago now, too. They envy his strength but they’ll never admit it, because he’s just their little brother. They want to taste the hope that he seems to walk in such peace in, but they don’t quite understand what it is — and they’ll never ask. They’re too prideful; too wounded.

So he keeps hoping, and he finds joy in those three little girls who are now grown up women of God. He thanks his Father — the Daddy who swept in and saved him when his own dad left — that somehow despite his own past, he created something new. Something beautiful. Something full of hope for the future generations of his blood line. Not without a few of his own painful mistakes, though. And he thinks about those, too. Oh, but grace is a beautiful thing — he thanks Dad for that, too.

He takes the last ornament of the advent countdown off the shelf and hangs it on the tree on Christmas morning, as his beautiful wife puts candles in a coffee cake and readies the family to sing “Happy Birthday Jesus,” just like they have done since those three grown women were just little girls. He looks around and marvels at his life. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been hopeful, and God has always been faithful.

This is his Christmas miracle. 

And with a heart full of thankfulness, he sneaks back to his bedroom and kneels on the kneeler he prays at each morning. Because 48 years later, he still believes. He still hopes for the souls of his broken family. And a thankful heart prepares the way of the Lord … so he thanks Him, and he pleads for those he loves that don’t yet know his Father.

Just like the song we sing each year at this time says, he knows it’s true:

“Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother.
And in His name, all oppression shall cease…”

So the widow hopes for eternity with the pilot as she watches the grandkids that bear his name play with their new toys. The faithful wife enjoys her breakfast despite her circumstances, and hopes for the day her husband knows her again,  though it won’t happen this side of heaven. The young couple in the hospital shares Christmas night take-out in a matching pair of flannel PJs — it’s the little things they’re learning to find joy in.

That’s what this season is about. Hoping in our darkest places, in our deepest wounds. Because this is the season that we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace. Peacefulness is healing — and healing is peace.

And the peace is contagious, and even those who don’t know what it is can feel it. So the old man puts down his scotch, and he pulls out an old photo album. He kept one of them, even through all the years of running. He doesn’t know what it is, but he knows there’s something about this time of year that makes him wonder if he really could mend all those broken relationships.

I watch all these stories unfold, and I’m humbled, because I’m one of those three little girls that the baby of the family raised. And he sees me as a hopeful future, but maybe the purpose of the hopeful future is to bring healing to the broken past.

He came to bring restoration, didn’t He?

So I hold onto the words that come at the beginning of that same song that I love.

A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices.
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.