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.

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.

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.