When God Has a Better Word

As I sighed under my breath towards her, I caught her eye.

She’d heard the exasperation that was intended only for me. Her sister was on edge, too. She needed my cheek against hers and my hand on her back, but in my tiredness she got the one-sentence pep-talk that rarely moves a heart. I was coach, today, barking instructions and correcting their errors. I couldn’t see them past the seven things on my list that needed to be done (yesterday) and the fact that I was hours away from dinner and I’d forgotten the main ingredient at the grocery store meat counter. Again.

They were players on a field, not hearts, to me on this day.

But the real evaluation happening in our home was centered around me. Failed! — at the chance to reach her when my sigh betrayed my words. Failed! — at speaking to where she was when I used flat phrases. Failed! — at training when I chose to command, not teach. Failed! — at keeping up with yesterday, which left me in the negative today. All capped off by another family dinner from Chipotle to cover over this mama’s gaps.

I carried my internal report card into the nook off our bedroom, without even noticing. It’s hard to catch on to your own scrutiny when you’re always under it. As I stepped across the threshold into that sacred place where I get to breathe, I heard on my inside His declaration over me: yes, this is good. And I knew as I absorbed the words that “this” meant my home, these children, this environment we’d created in the space that held more laundry and disparate doll clothes and random puzzle pieces than I’d like.

He had a declaration for me that day. It was different than my own. {continue reading over here –>}

Waiting On Thankfulness

We’d been home for months when this curious stranger approached me with eyes full of questions. “Where are they from?” and “Are they siblings?” and “Are they all yours?” stumbled out of her mouth. I was trying to shield little ears from hearing when she looked at my daughter and said, “Sweetheart, you must be so thankful to have a mommy like this. You sure are lucky.”

I cringed, hoping my little girl didn’t hear. Sure, she’d been adopted. We flew halfway around the world to get her. To this innocent bystander, my daughter had a bed and a doll and cute boots and a headband and could expect a meal every 3 hours. She was getting an education and could take a shower every day. She was “lucky.” Why shouldn’t she be thankful?

For many years before that bed and doll and those warm showers, my little girl went to sleep every night afraid. No one had told her the boogie-man wasn’t real. She didn’t even have a last name. The intersection of that history and ours came to mean that two strangers with skin that looked and smelled different were telling her to call them “Mommy” and “Daddy.”

Becoming a daughter meant inheriting even more questions, and different from when she was one survivor among many. Did my birth mommy’s nose wrinkle when she smiled, like mine does? Would she sing while she cooked? Did she talk to God? During these early days, thankfulness would have been an extension of luck. Airy. Light. Here today, gone tomorrow. Mere optimism, with no weight.

This woman’s well-intentioned mention of thankfulness spoke to the way we can so often short-circuit the long and painstaking work of God towards the darkest parts of our story. {Continue reading on Christianity Today’s Her.Meneutics blog … }

Inviting Your Child to Find God, One Minute at a Time

At fifteen, I said “yes” to Jesus under the Michigan sky. My body shivered under layers of winter gear but my heart burned.

At twenty-three, I linked my arm inside my Dad’s and walked with him to meet the man who would now kiss my life-ouchies.

At thirty-two, my dad died and at thirty-four I went from being a mother of two, to a mother of four.

All these mile-markers — the dates I remember — lead me to believe that it’s in life’s biggest moments that a change occurs. For me, and for my girls.

I want a weekend away when she’s thirteen to commemorate moving from wee thing to big girl. I want a surprise birthday party to memorialize just how much we celebrate her. I want her baptism when she’s six to be a forever flag of what she’s said yes to.

But really — it’s the minutes between the commemorative moments that shape a girl and her mama.

We didn’t talk for hours on my bed the night after when she opened up to me about the heartache of losing her biological mother. She wasn’t ready for it. But I did see her surreptitiously copy down scripture we’d read as a family that spoke to the void she’d expressed earlier in the week. {Continue reading here, at Mothers of Daughters … }

How to Find Beauty In The Mess

He went fishing.

Days before, we’d sat around a table of those to whom we’d entrusted the most broken parts of ourselves. He stared at his hands and I tried to look through the expressions of these ones who spoke tough love, wondering if they had hope for us. Could anyone have hope for us? The typed document from which they read, delivering strong but full-of-love suggestions for the health of our marriage and of our future family, was weighted paper. We weren’t little kids anymore.

How did we get ourselves here? I wondered, identifying with the woman who’d been dragged, half-dressed, before a sea of men who saw her sin and didn’t just hear about it. She couldn’t dress it up for them. Did she think back to when she was innocent and sin felt small?


I’d done everything in my adult walk with God to avoid mess. My sin was tidy, explainable. I could share it with a Bible Study or over tea with a friend and not bat an eye. I was a Good Girl by most standards. Until I married this man. The pain of my life got pinned on the sin of another. I wasn’t so messy before I got married. He made me this way.

Days after this meeting that left my stomach feeling hollow, not hopeful, and as I realized that we’d really moved past juvenile offenses with our emotional dukes raised high towards one another — that we’d gotten to the point of needing outside intervention … he went fishing.

I couldn’t uncurl myself from the ache of this man who’d de-robed me.

All while he was fishing.


I groped in the dark and found the only thing I could to give me any perspective. I was either angry and fuming or reading Words that told me of another reality. His Word was my escape. For one of the first times, His Word felt beautifully other to me. So often it had been a tool I’d used to share with others. I came to it and through it with an air of strength and familiarity. I quoted it and taught from it as if I was on my way to mastery. “I got this!”

Though, this particular weekend, when I’d been unraveled, not just in my home but now before trusted friends, His Word came in sharp contrast to who I was and what I was living.

It was water and I was parched. Finally parched, after years of seemingly clean christian living.


I got up. Off the couch of my grief, and started speaking it. It read like German to me, there where I was. We had been strangers, me and God’s Word, and I never knew it. The girl who’d made a life of neat and tidy couldn’t climb into the pages of whores and beggars and the always-bleeding who always needed something. I’d neatly positioned my life not to need, not to lean. So of course it became “a great tool”. A resource. (You either breathe God’s Word because you’re desperate or it becomes your System For Better Living.)

The guy who went fishing made me desperate.

His sin uncovered my sin. His need-to-lean made me uncomfortable. He was unkempt and his mess threatened how I’d spent years positioning myself, in my own mind and before God and others. He exposed me.

That mess that we couldn’t just keep underneath our roof — that mess that got aired to our pastors and mentors — put me in the line-up of the whores and beggars and always-bleeding who always needed something.

I didn’t know that line-up and didn’t know those people, but quickly I began to learn that here, among the desperate, was where I wanted to be. I wanted to be them and if to be hungry I had to have my mess exposed, not tightly tucked out of sight, I was willing.


So the fisherman came home living the Word I’d been reading.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so so sorry,” he said with eyes on the ground.

Then he looked up at me from underneath heavy shoulders that had been bearing the weight of his wife’s expectations of perfection, and I saw something new. I saw life. A life that would grow, over years, well beyond what “neat and tidy” could ever accomplish.

He made me a true wife, in all of his mess: broken, hungry, desperate. In undeserved white. He put me before the throne, with his life (and his own beautifully unkempt hunger for God that got birthed right there,  in that unlikely season).

The mess I’d been avoiding my whole life had been the very invitation I needed into desperation for God. (And the desperate are the ones who find Him.)

FLower opened

I’m not the woman he married, he tells me all the time, with a spark in his eye. “You made me this way,” I say, in response.

His mess took the uniformed-girl in knee socks and plaid polyester and put her in the line-up of those that would open their eyes to a God-Man who doesn’t clean-up … but consumes.

Hey you, the one with a neat and tidy life that seems to be slipping through your fingers (the one who cringes at the thought of walking through what I describe),

Might the person you’re resenting or the circumstance that seems to be dragging you away from the life you’ve patterned be the very thing you need?

That son, that wife, that husband — that child you adopted — could it be they’re stationed, purposefully? Yup, right in their mess. Your mess. Could the end of “neat and tidy” be the beginning of passion and the pursuit of Him you’ve secretly always wanted but has evaded you whenever you’ve tried it on? Are you dragging a dustpan to the parts of your life that are mess — when He’s whispering in the background “this may be the greatest turning point in your story”? Find Me here.

Can I say it again? This may be the greatest turning point in your story.

Candles Cherish

For Your Continued Pursuit: Ephesians 5:23-33 | Deuteronomy 4:24 | John 8:1-11 | Psalm 42:1-5 | Revelation 19:6-8 | Song of Solomon 1:5 | Proverbs 24:16 | Romans 2:4 | Psalm 32:3-5 | 1 Timothy 1:15-16

First and sixth photos compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography. Second through fifth photos compliments of Mandie Joy. 

[And …have you read this yet? It may be just the reminder of Him, in your mess, that you need:

Book & Keys]

When It’s Time To Redefine the Golden Moment

It was Sunday and we were ready. Early! The babe was in his brand-new fall overalls and my girls were color-clad. Caleb had time to find his belt. I didn’t just curl my hair, I wore lipstick and put on perfume too.

We walked into church and they were singing my song. Rather than being hurried and frantic (as it so often is from scooting seven bodies out the door and into our rusty suburban full of wrappers from yesterday’s lunch), my heart was open to receive.

This Sunday was ours. Golden.

Then, less than one song in, she melted.

Many days, I forget their history — their orphaned years — until I’m blind-sided by an unexpected moment like this and it all {Continue Reading Over Here –>}

What Happens When We Give Him Our History {with a podcast IF: Gathering interview & some sweet new adoration tools}

She was a babe, naked to all that the world can steal but with an infant life that was stolen, nonetheless. Loss was her lot. She has no early memories of gain.

So He hid her.

But she didn’t know it.

My former-orphan was protected, but spent her nights wide-eyed, vigilant, waiting for the darkness to shroud her.

He folded her lanky body in His arms, while she trembled with loneliness. He was near and she’d grown numb — vacant — from her searching. Her hope had been deflated by what she couldn’t see. Her world got small. It was whittled down to what was right in front of her.

And now that she’s in our grip, He is narrating her story. He is re-framing the narrative that she’d once tucked away into the darkened parts of her mind. (He’s going back there, with her.)

My little girl is starting to see. More than just what’s in front of her. And with her seeing, has come a song.


I sing about carrots and sweet potatoes in a stew of coconut oil, throwing words into the pot next to the babe who’s strapped into his chair (mesmerized). I make-up songs about “Baby Bo’s toes and all that grows.” I’m flippant with my choruses … while she sits with her piano teacher and pens the true narrative of her life, from who He is in His Word.

Just run to Me. And hide yourself. She writes.

She’s seeing the hand that hid her, now calling her to choose the hiding. What once was passive and barely-received (or even acknowledged) is now a call and a charge for my little girl who is letting God tell her not just who He is, but who He was to her, then.

And of course: she’s no different than me.

Today when I wake up to a morning meltdown from a child and a bill I forgot to pay and a stretching calling He’s put in front of me inside my home and out, when all I really want to do is run to the gym and pretend I’m twenty-three and free again, I need to know not just who He is now, but who He was then.

When I had a marriage hanging by a thin thread and a heart even more amuck, He was alluring me.

When I had an empty womb and stripped-dry heart — tired from years of running hard for God — He was the one unraveling me.

When I had a dad forgetting my name because cancer had taken over his brain, He was showing Himself to me as the Father who would never die.

Just as my daughter didn’t know when her body was paralyzed with fear over the sounds of the never-ending night, I didn’t know back then just how near He was. But as He re-frames the narrative of my history, today looks different. He looks different.

We force our history into a one-time testimony and try to tie it up all neat — just once, and (phew!) gone in a flash and never to intercept our life again — when it’s meant to be fodder for our now conversation with God. We run from the parts of our past that we wouldn’t share at dinner parties nor over the pews during post-Sunday service conversation, and we forget that He wants to redeem those, too.

She sings, now, of who He was … then. Who He was, then, is that He is giving her her song.

What’s the story He is telling in you? What’s the narrative He is re-framing from your life with His Word and with His whisper? 

Boots MJ

So, I have this book. This story. Who He was, then, in my own long night, is shaping the way I speak of Him now. And I’m blown away by how this little re-framing of His is making a dent in your hearts. The stories you’re sharing about His response to your reach and the hunger for Him welling up within you are … overwhelming.

As you read (and as some of you adore*) might you also sing? Tell the story. Even just a snippet. How is He re-shaping your perspective on your life through His Word and His whisper? How is He making you hungry for more of Him?

See below for the hashtag we’ve chosen (#EBTISstories), and share your stories in pictures and words … in your way. Let’s link arms and not-just-whisper how He is restoring our perspective towards Him (and making us hungry for more!) in our dark days.



‘Cause sometimes it’s nice to hear the story through a voice and not just on page: I had the total honor of sharing my story with Lindsey Nobles from the IF: Gathering. Click on over to listen.




For those of you dipping your toes in the water of adoration, Faith Gateway is giving away a 30 Day Adoration Devotional I created with my daughter, Lily. I love what these people have made available to you. (They’re making it hard for us to say no to this little habit of adoration that might just transform our families.)

children adore


And I say: Thank you.


Photos compliments of Mandie Joy. 

“Of My Own” {what our language about adoption reveals about our hearts}

“If Mommy gets a baby in her belly, will you send me back?” she asked him, with nervous eyes searching the floor, inhaling the shame of those words as if they were her indictment.

It’s often near the surface for this one — not the year she was “chosen” and a mommy and daddy flew all the way across the ocean to look her in the eyes and call her daughter — but the too-many, earlier years that still seem to weigh heavier. These days, she lives buoyant and giddy. Her eyes have found a sparkle and we see them more than we see those hands that spent nearly a year awkwardly covering them. My little girl laughs. A lot. And this week when I hugged her I could tell her body wanted to melt (not stiffen) in my arms.

But just within her reach is the shame she feels about her life on the other side, when her given last name tied her to no one. One phrase or question or hint of her past and I watch those eyes, which just harnessed a sparkle, go dark.

Adoption saved her and it haunts her, because of its open-ended definition to her. It’s still a question.

She, like many of the rest of us, has yet to reconcile the power of this one act.

I hadn’t even kissed their foreheads or tickled their feet and this stranger’s words about them stung.

“Oh, you’re adopting? Just you wait. Once you have them at home I’m sure you’ll be able to have children of your own.”

A phrase I’ve heard a hundred times, and it never ceases to give my heart pause. Children of your own, words that expose a subconscious understanding of adoption as charitable affection versus primal love. As if these, once-adopted ones, were somehow, not truly … mine.

There is a distinction in our language about those children, once adopted, and their biological counterparts that reveals much {continue reading over here on Christianity Today –>}


When Hunger Cracks You Open

There must be more.

I was 15 and full of expectation when I came to know God, personally. Everything about Him felt new. I filled the pages of a yellow legal pad (turned-prayer-journal) with Scripture I’d never read before and made long lists of names of those around me whom I wanted to see impacted for God.

I dreamed about changing the world, with Him.

Jesus was what was missing in my life.

I said “yes” to Him and stepped on the fast track to an in-filling, to growth.

The cavern in me was gone and I worked hard to tell others about Him so that the hole in their life, too, could be filled.

But somewhere around 23 I felt that hole, again. I couldn’t identify it. Where was this coming from? I was doing all I knew to follow Him well. I rarely left the house in the morning without first reading my Bible and I was telling others about Him. Often. I was memorizing scripture and disciplining my life. I was running — hard.

But in the rare, quiet moments, something felt hollow inside again. I was coming up empty. Where was He and how could I access Him? How could I have known Him for nearly a decade, only to know “empty”, again?

That’s about when my external life began to reflect the echo of my insides. Ministry wasn’t the oiled machine it once was. I felt opposition where there had been ease. My marriage was strained when we were supposed to be carefree and in love. I was tired. We hadn’t even yet learned that my womb was as physically barren as my heart felt.

I sat at the kitchen table mid-day, searching for some kind of answer, when I read {continue reading over here on Proverbs 31 Ministries —>}


How to Keep Hoping Even When it Feels Pointless

It was on the same day the baby was born that I sat with her. Her body had been drained, almost all the life she thought she had was poured out into 7 pounds of flesh that had her eyes and his chin. She was a mother now. In mere hours of labor she’d inherited a lifetime.

Just as I couldn’t relate as her body morphed and stretched to incubate this life, the woman she was when she walked into Martha Jefferson Hospital and the woman that I was now sitting beside seemed … different. Except this wasn’t just a difference, it was a painful estrangement from my own experience.

She was fruitful. I was barren.

“After all that, you think you could do this again?” I asked naively, ignorant of the heart-swell that motherhood can produce and blind to what her answer might elicit in me.

“Of course,” she said, without a thought. “It’s a rite of passage.”

I left her hospital room an hour later in a fog. Those words hovered around me so much so that I could think of nothing else. She gave voice to what I’d felt for years but couldn’t say out loud—because then it might really stick.

She shared this “rite of passage” with billions of women across languages and colors and boundary lines—and that rite of passage had a “Do Not Enter” sign on it, seemingly scripted just for me.

It was too painful to make fourth-floor visits to Martha Jefferson Hospital and watch soon-to-be mamas open wrapped packages of onesies and bibs. It would have been easier to shut myself off to these mothers or to shut myself off to hope. Either option would provide a reprieve (because how else do you grapple with unmet, God-given desire and a room where you’re kept waiting?).

Everything in me wanted to shove down hope.

Choosing to hope when everything in front of us tells us otherwise can be the very choice that ushers us, very close, to God’s feet.

Whether it’s a financial setback while the surrounding world seems to be padding their accounts, or being asked to stand (again) next to another friend as she makes vows with a now-husband, or as a [continue reading over here on Relevant Magazine —>]

You’re Not Too Old To Dream {updated with November’s adoration}

At age eleven, I used my flash light to speak in morse code to Allison Noe across the back-yard — from my window to hers — after the sun had set and it was bedtime. Daylight wasn’t enough for this friendship between dreamers. We choreographed dances during the day, carefree, and talked for hours about who we would be one day when we grew up.

We were unencumbered by life, then.

It was ours to have and to hold and to wield. And to dream.

Feet MJ

A few years later, that same back-yard witnessed my late-night hours with God. I’d just met Him and I couldn’t get enough of Him. I’d scoot outside, under the light of the moon, and read my Bible like it was a love letter. This time, I asked Him about His dreams for me. It was only natural. I was fifteen and full of expectations and wasn’t God providing me with the ride of my life?

2nd Corinthians 5:17 was my first memory verse and I wanted every ounce of that new life in Him that I could have. He was becoming my marrow. I lived hungry before I had words for it. I listened to Steven Curtis Chapman’s “The Great Adventure” and had no doubt that this very adventure is what I’d said “yes” to when I opened my heart to Jesus.

Child at Window

And then time and circumstance began to have their way. Life, for me, became reacting to both.

The “work” of the kingdom of God began to push away the hours I’d once spent before Him like a giddy school girl with my Bible cracked open, expectant. Soundbites from leaders and friends spoke louder to me than memories from when that Word spread open on my lap. The people of the kingdom of God began to pace me.

I still held on to my thirty minute quiet time.

Dreaming became doing. I wasn’t eleven and carefree or fifteen and naive (new in God and wide open with expectations and a heart that wanted the nurture of sitting with a God who thinks big thoughts for His children). I had expectations, but this time they were different. I was nineteen and twenty-one and twenty-three — able-bodied and sure of what He expected of me. There was no time for dreaming with God when I was so certain of what He wanted from me.

Hard work.

So when I walked through the door of that baby shower, twelve years into my journey with God and barren, my pace (and my bone-dry heart) tempted me to shut down. I’d filled my days doing what I thought God had expected of me. I’d loved Him well, according to my standards.

But I’d left no room to dream.

Dreaming was for the weak, for the ones who needed an imaginary thrill. It was for the undisciplined and the ones who wanted loud faith, not for those who had the gumption to walk out “the long and the quiet” with Him. Dreaming was for the eleven year-olds who wanted to stay up past bedtime, flitting about a whole lot of nothing and the fifteen year-olds who didn’t yet realize that life in God required some grit underneath your fingernails, not simply an uninformed “yes.”

Dreaming wasn’t for the ones (like me) who studied certain passages of scripture and not others — we were the ones who had God figured out.

Red Lucy

Enter adoration.

Adoration is for the tired and the studied who are tired of being studied. It’s for the measured and the cautious. It’s for the ones who’ve spent a whole lot of their lives thinking they’ve figured out God only to find out that they barely know Him.

Adoration is for the barren, on the inside and out (for those of us who are finally desperate enough to admit it).

Adoration is for ones whose “barren baby shower” might be 7am and three kids under the age of six whose needs feel unending or 9am when you sit at your desk of the career that you thought would launch you but feels like a dead-end or 8pm when you’re having the same argument with your spouse after the kids are in bed. Again. 

Adoration is for the forty year-old who wants to remember what it was like to be fifteen and in love. It’s for the fifty year-old who wants to find that great adventure in God. Again. Like it once was. Adoration is for the greying and jaded who have dismissed that He asks us to approach Him like children.

Adoration is for the one who wants to dream. Again.

Baby Bathing Suit MJ


So, what is adoration?

It is speaking God’s Word back to God, in your own words. It is making yourself open to seeing Him, with fresh eyes, according to His Word. Adoration is a conversation with God, that starts and ends with who He is as shown in His Word. It’s positioning yourself before God as one who barely knows Him but wants, desperately, to find Him. Um…it’s being who you were made to be — that little girl in pigtails with hunger and expectation and wanting the ride of her life with God and using His Word as your starting point.

And how do you start?

  • Blow the dust off these notes from the archives and you’ll find some great tips.
  • Join the ever-growing community of us, hungry for God, over here. Not to worry, you can be a lurker — external participation is not required. (But be prepared to have your insides moved towards Him.)
  • Print up October’s monthly adoration guide and get your feet wet or download November’s adoration guide* to get ready for the month ahead.
  • Ready. FIRE. Aim. The little-kid side of us needs some spontaneous jumping-in-the-water before we’ve figured the whole thing out.

Here’s a little taste of what it looks like in my world:

I read today’s adoration on the way out the door for my run. As I’m adoring God from Isaiah 51 and pounding my feet against the pavement, I’m remembering our little girl who weighed 17 pounds at age 3. She was a shell when we got her. We named her Eden after this verse. It wasn’t just for her, it was for us. Bringing Eden and Caleb home from Ethiopia was a physical representation of what God had been doing inside of us: making a garden out of what felt (for many years) like waste to us. They knew the orphan’s desert and we knew the desert of the heart. And then ….I come home from my run to this: she was waiting for me at the door all pinned up in scraps of white material. “Mommy I’m the bride!” This girl who was once a shell is a living garden. Of all days for her to dress up like this (!). The Lord makes the small ways we lean into Him so personal. His reach into me is so much greater than mine towards Him. Adoration just opens my eyes to it. #adoption #Octoberadoration #everybitterthingissweet

A photo posted by Sara Hagerty (@everybitterthingissweet) on


So this babe was the first time we’d ever done “baby”. We worked backwards with the others — former orphans — and bottle fed them when they were out of diapers and cradled their lanky arms and legs when it wasn’t natural. We tried to teach them the quiet of finding safety in Mommy and Daddy’s arms when the world had taught them that nothing was safe. But for this babe of mine, he nestled and cuddled and buried his face in me — from his first day on earth. For the others, they had to *learn* what is already natural to him. I’m like them — my former-orphans. I’m having to learn that He is safe enough for me to just.rest. On His chest. And we get to a place of quieting our soul when we know the One upon whose chest we’re resting. Today, the noise outside is loud, but His whisper feels like this: “it’s just you and me, Sara. Come rest on Me.” He’s safe enough to quiet all the noise. I can exhale on His chest. #octoberadoration #adoption #adoration #everybitterthingissweet

A photo posted by Sara Hagerty (@everybitterthingissweet) on


A photo posted by Sara Hagerty (@everybitterthingissweet) on

And have you heard about the book? We’ve been overwhelmed by the stories of how He is using this to crack open your hearts. For those not sure if they want to commit to diving in, we’ve made the first chapter available for you to download over here.

First fourth photo compliments of Mandie Joy. Second photo compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography. Third photo compliments of Lucy O Photo.

*We slid this here, at the end, for those of you ready to start adoring Him in November.