Nearness

For the last few weeks I’ve not been picturing my girls or wondering their whereabouts as much as I was before, if at all. Some of it may be my subconscious defenses, as our adoption hangs in suspension (along with many other details in our life). As I type a picture pops into my head of mobile hanging above me with all the major variables of our lives (house, career, family) just teetering flippantly.

A very natural response of the human heart to uncertainty is numbness. At least that’s the response of this human heart. Hope in overall outlook and in prayer takes work and sometimes I just don’t feel like working anymore. My stubborn mind doesn’t always want to be reoriented towards the thoughts of God and I can sometimes just settle for soaking in a big bathtub of nothingness (more appropriately called “self pity”).

But, today, after having my own church service in my Sunday best: foot duvet’s (Restoration Hardware’s name for really soft, furry slippers), sweatpants, and a sweatshirt that are starting to feel like my Christmas-break uniform, my longing returns.

This isn’t a longing to be a mom.

It’s Him. I just want to be near Him. I don’t want to move from this moment where His presence is so near.

And I want that for our girls too. More than anything else, this is what I want for them.

God, in their brokenness and destitution, would you take their little hearts and open them up to You?

Speak to them God. Interrupt their lives with the overwhelming sense of your love. Be a Daddy to them. Take their pain and, in exchange, would you give them as much of yourself as their minds and hearts can comprehend.

Give them a desire, too, like mine … to just be near You.

God, would you let them hear your heartbeat? In their darkness, would you whisper to them your secrets? Would you let them see a side of you that only their pain allows?

God promises to be a father to the fatherless and the anxious part of me that wants to get them into this home and under our roof so that they can be safe forgets who’s really taking care of them. And the household that God runs is upside-down from the one I can so easily cling to … what’s lacking in the physical only opens the door for abundance in the spiritual. As my grid for life and the “American dream” continues to change, I can’t wait to see how He takes these lives marked by deficiency and makes them into something glorious.

And The Pendulum Swings … Musings of A Temporarily Barren Woman

Warning: Lengthy musings ahead

This blog vacillates, for me, between being a bulletin board of progress updates on our adoption for friends, family and others in the adoption world to being my version of artistic expression only to be appreciated most by me, Nate and one day our girls – as it’s so very specific to our lives and what God is doing in us. You see, I’m just not an artist. I totally envy those who can somehow channel their innermost thoughts into something tangible like songwriting, art, or dance. Me, I settle for writing these words here as my rag-tag outlet. It’s sort of my stream of communication back and forth with God and for some reason at this time in my life it just feels very natural and even at times necessary.

So, for those of you reading for progress updates or who get slightly squeamish at my proclivity (these days) to over-share, read with caution (or wait until the next post, which I anticipate will be my version of diet blog).

We’ve just taken off from Cincinnati on our way to ski with friends out west. (No, we’re really not skiers and skiing out west sort of seems like we’re freshman who’ve been invited off the bench for the last 24 seconds of the varsity game. Sadly, the outcome of that scenario is never pretty.)

As we were on the runway, there was a slight drizzle of rain, not quite sure whether it wanted to be snow or sleet. For whatever reason, it brought me back to a public school cafeteria we were in years ago where our church was meeting. One of the women in our church was giving a talk – not sure on what – but she, as a side tangent, referenced her and her husband’s struggles with infertility. She talked about “barrenness” as analogous to rain. At times it was a drizzle in their lives and at times it felt like a rain storm in its truest form.

As she talked I remember diverting my eyes, as I’m sure many did in that cafeteria. I think it’s human nature to, when staring into hardship in someone else’s life, figuratively try on their shoes and see how it’d feel. I couldn’t do that with her story.

Even though at the time I wasn’t feeling the ache of desire for being a mom and was actually pretty content in just being married. I had enough to deal with in figuring out how to live with someone so “other”; child-rearing just wasn’t in the immediate trajectory for me. Yet, as she talked I just didn’t even want to picture the possibility of not being able to have children with Nate. It was too much for even my voyeuristic mind to envision.

And, now – here we are. Our current infertility (and I say current, because we are still fervently praying that God would “open my womb”) has become a back-drop in our lives. Although I’m really not staring it in the face at every moment, it’s just … there. Kind of like a muscle strain. You don’t think about it incessantly, but it affects the way you see and do almost everything else.

In September we had dinner with friends who have been amazingly compassionate through this time. Although they’ve had no problems conceiving their own children, it’s almost as if – at times – they’ve been given the ability to actually feel our pain in not having our own. I told them that I didn’t want to rush past this phase of infertility, as I really wanted to embrace the suffering that God had put before us. Our friend Jonathan said, ever-so-graciously, something that has stuck with me since then and I believe will for the rest of my life. “It’s not about embracing the suffering, Sara, it’s about embracing God.”

That’s it. It changes everything. It moves me from being a victim of my circumstances, forever wallowing in what I don’t have, to being someone standing on the edge of possibility. This is feeling awfully similar to much of what I’ve written already in other posts, however it’s so deeply profound for me that I just can’t get away from it.

Something that in some cultures becomes a scarlet letter for the woman who beholds it, is actually a blessing for me and for Nate because with it we get to press further in to the God who holds all things at His fingertips. I can honestly say, even as I type, that I am so overwhelmed with joy. This is not to negate the moments of deep sorrow. They go hand in hand, which really doesn’t make any sense to our natural minds.

A few years back Nate and I both, independently yet simultaneously, were going through a bit of a crisis of faith. From the outside, we had done Christianity “right.” We were spending time reading the bible everyday, giving of our lives to other people, modifying our behavior according to the tenets of Scripture … yet feeling so lifeless. It was like the worst sort of hypocrisy – it’s not like others were noticing (if anything they were lifting us up as leaders in our faith) but we couldn’t ignore the dissonance. Week after week we were teaching high school kids about what it means to follow Jesus with fervor and passion, yet were so dull inside.

I remember one night about six years ago, lying in bed with Nate and literally counting on our hands the people we’d seen who, as far as we could tell, were actually engaged in their faith into later adulthood. These were people who weren’t just doing things that looked like the sorts of things Christians should do (in fact they were really honest about their shortcomings in the faith), but had a richness and passion about them that only pointed to a deep love for God and a deep awareness that they were loved by Him.

The common thread with each of these people (there were about 7 that we could count at the time) was suffering. Some had broken marriages, others death in their family, still others faced with deferred hope—even in the midst of tidier circumstances. The odd thing was that their suffering wasn’t really the defining characteristic of their lives. We knew this because we had to dig a little bit to find this commonality among them.

Maybe us having this conversation was the thing through which God was given permission (as if He really needed it) to take us down a similar route. Anyone who has really felt the disconnect of saying one thing and living another would know that staying there for any length of time is mind-numbing. Who knew that one night’s pillow talk might contribute to the path we’re walking now.

If there is anyone still reading this post at this point 🙂 I would say to you the words that Jonathan said to me …embrace Him. Although we are praying every day that this infertility is only a season and really believing that one day I will live out my namesake (Sara Elizabeth – both were woman in the bible who were “barren” until God miraculously, at a ripe old age, opened their wombs) and birth children against the odds, it would be utter denial to not face the pain of being infertile now – at this moment — and the fear that we may not have a child carrying the combined best and worst of both Nate and me.

But, I can not stay there. This suffering—or whatever pain however big or small—is not meant as a stopping point, a place to set up camp; it really is just a proxy. And, praise God, that these are not just words I’m typing but they are small attempts to illustrate the enormous change happening within me at this very moment.

More than ever in my life, I am seeing that this God I’ve been following since I was 15 is real.

A friend on Young Life staff years ago told the story of his friend, also on staff, who battled cancer and died in his thirties. Just before his death, when he could barely speak, this cancer patient leaned into his friend’s ear and whispered, “It is real. Jesus is real.” Though I am not standing on the verge of a literal death, as I die to dreams I’ve had of a natural-born family, and heritage of children who will resemble me and Nate, I can honestly say:

It is real. Jesus is real.

And, you know what, He is even better than I’ve ever imagined Him. In the words of Horatio Spafford, who as the story goes wrote an old hymn when passing over, by ship, the exact point that his 4 children died in the Atlantic Ocean months earlier in a wreck almost as horrific as the Titanic, I can say:

It is well with my soul.

Nesting … and Waiting

For all those times I wonder if I have any nurturing, maternal, or uniquely feminine drive in me there are equally as many times — recently — where I find myself doing odd, very unlike-Sara, type things. Just yesterday I had a random (but quickly passing) thought that I might even get into scrap-booking. AGH!

I think I might have to call this burgeoning behavior creeping up within me nesting.

Thinking and praying through this adoption has slowly weaned me off of being obsessively introspective, so much so that I didn’t put this new behavior under a microscope until just this week. I think it was that for the first time in years my “To Be Filed” folder was empty. (I know, for some of you, even the fact that I have a folder that serves as a purgatory for waiting papers before they’re filed seems odd in itself.)

However, in this there is still the looming sense that I am waiting, uncertain, unsure of what’s next and where and when it’s going to happen. With a real pregnancy there is a timeline that, give or take a month or two, provides some sort of framework for a woman’s available time to nest. With any adoption the timeline is fuzzy. Adding our move to Missouri into the mix just means more potential chaos.

A real estate agent just came through our house and so the reminder that all these details are hanging in suspension is fresh. Then, as she leaves, here’s what I hear one of the singers from the International House of Prayer singing over the webstream:

Prayer sounds so romantic, but at times feels so barren … in the waiting, it can feel so unbearable. God, I know you’re good. I know you are … but …why …why am I here for the thousandth time. Prayer is all I’ve got…

For all those times I wish I had some amazing talent like songwriting (or, really, dancing … I’ll be honest, I can barely watch an ESPN team-cheer dance competition without picturing myself front and center), I am so appreciative that someone like Misty Edwards can put into words where I am.

If I go for too long in my day without re-aligning my mind, my heart, and my thinking with how God sees it and what He may be saying, I’m lost. I guess this post is feeling a lot like a dripping faucet given that many of my posts are lamenting the waiting period that God has us in.

Why are we here God? Drip. What are we doing God? Drip. Drip. What if we get all of our hopes wrapped up into what we think you’ve promised only to find it taken away, God? Drip. Drip. Drip. Will you be there to guide us? Can we trust you? And again, are you really who you say you are? Drip …

So, maybe I’m just typing this as a forewarning to Nate that — unlike most other woman who are expecting — my nesting has the potential to go on forever and ever, seeing as how we really don’t have a determined end point.

Though as I sit here soaking in the words of this woman half way across the country who, herself is waiting before God and wondering while she waits if the waiting will be worth it, while all-the-while knowing deep down that it’s producing in her something good … I don’t mind that this “pregnancy” is so unpredictable.

Now, as I finish, she’s singing:

You make all things beautiful … just in time. It’s just a matter of time.

Why the rush, really?

I’ve been thinking lately about all this rush to get our paperwork completed. On the heels of several conversations with new moms letting me in on how dramatically their lives have changed, I might expect that I’d be dragging my feet a bit so as to give myself a few more slow Saturday mornings or hours in the day of peace and quiet, just me and God.

Why are we both wanting to move so quickly through this?

The other night, at a weekly prayer meeting we have for our church, a few people were praying for our girls. Ugh, even as I type now my heart feels like a thousand pounds in my chest. My daughters are alive on this earth. They are in their core developmental stages, learning life … on the other side of the world, in poverty.

As our friends prayed the other night, my mind was flooded with questions. Where are they sleeping? Who’s giving them food? What do they have to keep them warm at night, as Ethiopian nights carry a chill? Do they have someone hugging them or holding them or even making them laugh?

If I believe that from the beginning of time God purposed for these girls to be our daughters, which I do, then the thoughts and feelings I struggle with now in regards to their safety only make sense. They are ours. In our arms or under our roof needn’t matter, these girls have been entrusted to us by God.

Our house has even begun to feel empty lately. It’s strange, but there are times where I find myself almost expectant of a child to shimmy down the stairs on their bum or bound into our room.

Though even with our anxious anticipation of bringing these girls home, the end goal for us has not changed. God, would you use this – every last bit of it – to draw us closer to You? The end goal is knowing Him and parenting, or waiting on the one-day chance of parenting, these two Ethiopian girls just happens to be the avenue taking us there.

In Psalm 68:31 it says Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God. As I wait, thinking sometimes hourly about the new lives God is preparing to meld into our family and how they themselves are faring in this waiting process, I pray the same for them. It’s the only way I can reconcile my daughters being exposed to the pain and suffering that comes with abandonment and loss. Lord, would you draw them close to you? Would you teach them to stretch out their little hands to you? Would you grow their hope?

And soon, although not soon enough, we will get to see living proof of the God who promises to give beauty in exchange for ashes and joy for mourning….

A Prayer For Our Girls…

As we get ready to go to sleep tonight, my heart has been with our future daughters. I’m praying this prayer for them tonight…

Kind Father, as they sleep, would You grant them peace.
When they rise, would You grant them joy.

Even now, before we yet know their names, would You prepare their hearts to receive the love we have for them…just as You prepare our hearts for You.

Would that they understand how deeply You enjoy them; how lavishly You love them; how beautiful they are in Your sight.

Plant the seeds now, for a family of laughter, security, love, and strength. Protect them from harm–both physical and emotional–and may they know abundance in the midst of material lack.

May they know Your love.

Amen.

Becoming a daughter

My mind naturally wanders to how dramatically these girls’ lives will change when in our home. A friend who’s sister recently adopted from Ethiopia commented on the adult appetites in these children her sister has brought home — they don’t yet know what it means to feel full. (And, let’s be honest, I’m not sure if I do either :)).

Their lives have been dramatically altered. My girls’ lives, too, will be never again the same.

As I sit here, again, listening to the web stream from the International House of Prayer while the singers are lingering on choruses about the love of God for me I realize I do have a context for this life-change these girls will experience in a little less than a year.

With God, everything is accessible to me … at least everything that lasts. With Him I can have a fulfilling life. With Him there is true rest for my anxious soul. With Him my cluttered mind has peace … and my heart has security.

These girls will not have done anything to earn their place in our home as a Hagerty child, just like I have done absolutely nothing to earn the glory and beauty of a God who is making me new everyday. I guess I just simply said “yes” to Him.

It seems like everyday I’m reminded of who I was — or am struggling to not be. I get easily frustrated. I can be really judgemental towards other people and sometimes I feel like my arrogance is like a dark cloud over all my thinking. But it’s in times like this that I see Him covering over all my warts with the beauty of His holiness. It’s a name-sake thing. I didn’t earn this name — He gave it to me. Just like our girls, overnight, will go from being orphans to being our daughters …

The Power of “Should”

I can’t explain this growing desire in me to play some sort of role in helping the lives of these orphans in Africa. It’s rare that I’m awake much beyond when my head hits the pillow, but lately I’ve been late to fall asleep and early to rise rolling over in my mind this AIDS crisis and how it’s affecting so many children. I can’t get them off my mind.

Why this need above any other need?  Although hurricane Katrina and the aftermath moved me to pray and even give money, I wasn’t compelled to go and build houses or feed those left without a home. Every night practically in my backyard there are those with barely enough food to get by, sleeping in alcoves and corners of downtown – yet I’m not spending my evenings bringing them food.

I guess it sounds harsh, but come on – the truth is none of us can respond to every need that’s out there; what makes us migrate towards one over the other?

For years I lived under the power of the “should”, doing things primarily because I felt I was supposed to. I claimed and even believed this was driven by God. Caring for the poor was only one of many, many “shoulds” in my life that I carried on my shoulders from the time I woke up until the time I fell asleep. A mental checklist came along with it – my day and even my very existence was defined by how many of the shoulds I followed. Something didn’t feel quite right about this, but I had no reason to stop shoulding on myself and others because it’s the only way I knew motivation. It was the only way I understood God to be.

Then, I buckled. My shoulds came to an end when my bitterness at all the sources of my shoulds (primarily myself) became louder voices than the should. And I just stopped. I couldn’t do it any more. I couldn’t make myself do one more thing I thought I should.

My shoulds left me burnt-out, feeling entitled to what was mine because no more should was going to take that from me, and in many ways faith-less.

This stirring from God, however, is making me want to open my wallet, my home, my time, my energy, my in-the-middle-of-the-night prayers and my heart in response. I can’t shake it and – in all honestly – the thought of playing some sort of miniscule role in the lives of one or two children who might otherwise not have a life of food, shelter, and love brings me deep joy that, to me, is very other. Very not me. Very God.

His voice is louder than the voice of should (which I used to think was His voice, but have so gladly learned it was not) – and, today in my life, much more powerful. And it’s good.

To The Hungry Soul, Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet

There’s something safe about having a blog that you know no one is going to read for at least a while (or maybe never). Maybe it’s more like a journal. Regardless, this process seems monumental enough in our lives that I want it recorded.

Riding the range of my emotions with our struggles with infertility and our growing hope and desire to open our home to two Ethiopian children is like being an adolescent all over again. I find myself giddy and waking up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, as I dream about housing these orphans I’ve read so much about. This, then followed by a day where I have an emotional breakdown because our computer technician is a few hours behind on installing my new email account. “I’ve had enough of the waiting!” I explain to Nate when he asks why the big deal about my email. He is a patient man.

The overwhelming piece in all of this is what God is doing in my heart. Two weeks ago I read this verse that I think sums up what I’m feeling:

“The satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.” Proverbs 27:7

This thing that feels like our Achilles heal – our struggles with infertility – has actually been the avenue by which God is meeting me and speaking to me most. At the moments where I wonder if I can peel myself off the floor, I am so saddened by our lack … God is more real than He’s ever been.

I continue to see the game of chutes and ladders in my head as I pray. I find myself thinking “what the heck did I do to land on this stupid square that took me down a slide and landed me well-behind where I should be at this stage in life?”

My heart that wants to lean toward bitterness begins moaning out .. “not another set-back” as I am quick to remember being the newlywed wondering if marriage really would ever be good. (Thankfully I can say now that it is GOOD.) Then, God invites. He says to me “climb up here, there’s a ladder just one square away.” And I find Him. In a deeper and more real way than I have before, I meet him.

Sure, that’s just the summary of a drawn out process of what’s now become years. I’ve had months of numbness as I watch friend after friend experience the joys of having biological children, fearing that I may never have that myself. Most recently, August and September were like a mourning period for me. I’d have random waves of sadness, triggered by hearing children playing outside or even seeing a maternity dress in a store. I found myself daydreaming about what I couldn’t have, to the point of indulgence.

I don’t know where the turning point was and I’m fairly certain this may be a corner I’ll re-visit … but God met me. He showed up. He spoke to me, ever so tenderly. In just the right way. Almost as if to make all the waiting worth-it. Because the truth is, my soul is hungry for more than just the normal life… isn’t this true for all of us? And even this bitter thing, because of how it’s being wielded in my life at this moment to bring me closer to God, is sweet.

And separate, but not totally removed from that is our adoption journey…