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What Does it Mean to be Successful?

It’s Sunday night, and the only light in our foyer is from the moon, stretching its arm-beams across our lawn and bringing the outdoors inside with its reach. The house is at rest. Finally. It’s as if we all sighed — the walls, the keyboard, the well-loved doormats and me — when the last child turned off her light.

Time lapse would have revealed sparkling white dishes unloaded, piled high, scraped (licked?), and rinsed for a reload — all in twelve hours. Blankets, folded then strewn across the family room and folded again.

My life sometimes feels like “rinse and repeat”.

What does a creative-type do when 90% of their day feels so … uncreative? When the margin for imagination appears to be small?

So, it’s Sunday night and I sit down to my desk that faces the dark foyer. I see the moon through the glass french doors, aslant on the floor, except now the light is on in my office and the GE bulbs are crowding out the remnants of organic outdoors. My fingers click against the quiet. I’ve been planning to write tonight.

My music is set. I’ve listened to the same song on repeat for 3 years of writing. One single track.

I write the first sentence, read it in my head and I delete. Three times. Then four. I start on my next paragraph with hopes to circle back to the first after I’ve gotten into a flow. Except I’m in no flow. I’m stuck.

I don’t have the kind of words that feel like they sing when I move from reading in my head to reading out loud — which I always do when I feel good about what comes out of me. I have words, but not music. Just clicking of the keys.

Ten. Twenty. Thirty minutes of this and I have a decision. I can push through with what feels like filling out paperwork in a doctor’s office or I can wait to sing later.

This “stuck” isn’t unique to writers, it’s the influenza of all creators. It comes and goes as if in a mystery — at least that’s how we treat it. Who knows when a glorious stint of writing books or composing songs or sketching or choreographing a performance might just one day … fall sick? We creative-types can live under a low-grade anxiety about this flu that might come and leave us bedridden and unaware of what exactly hit us.

As a creator, “stuck” isn’t a barrier getting in the way of what I’m supposed to do, “stuck” is the indicator telling me that something isn’t quite right on my insides about how I perceive God and how I’m approaching what He has given me to do to bring Him glory. And this principle goes beyond creativity: “stuck” in life and in creating, in raising children and growing a marriage and cultivating a new ministry — it isn’t something we need to begrudgingly just get past and over. It’s the gift He has given us to pause.

I write because I love Him. And I write best when I’m most aware of His love for me.

This whole thing — the creating, the inventing, the mothering, the ministering — isn’t transactional, in which He gives me a task and I perform it. He’s not the Proctor In The Sky. He’s a Father, wanting to continually grow deeper with His people. The work He gives us is merely opportunity for this communion.

These days we are all tempted to work against a clock. We feel the deadlines like a metronome: always ticking, always reminding. Because in many ways creating has been whittled down to what can be monetized and followed and shared and spread wide.

From this perspective, “stuck” feels especially terrible. Every part of being stuck in every season feels exactly what the word implies.

I write because I love Him. And I write best when I’m most aware of His love for me.

But for us God followers, any time we’re stuck … He is moving. Hedging. Getting our attention, alluring the eyes we wouldn’t necessarily give to Him when we’re in a flow or when life is producing as it should.

“Stuck” is a gift for the believer, for the creative type, creating with Him. It simply means “there’s more dialogue with Me to be had, right here. Let’s sit and stay a while. Your project can wait and it will be better for the waiting.”

Throughout scripture, He has held up His people in prisons and deserts and way-stations of their own making. Paul was held up from sharing the gospel because he was in chains. Stuck, we might have called Him.

Invited, God might say.

Your project can wait. And it will be better for the waiting.

(Life as you want it to be can wait. And it will be better for the waiting.)

The dialogue that happens with God in the waiting is what changes a person, what grows a person.

Now it’s two o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon and I’m at a coffee shop. The plan is for me to write. Two hours before, I was prepping dinner and prepping kids for an afternoon at home with Daddy and prepping myself to create. Except on this particular day that ominous “stuck” overshadowed me. One option is to push through. The other is … to wait. To talk to God about what He might want to reach in my heart. (These barriers to my creating are actually barriers to my communing with Him.)

Three hours later and I’m home without a single sentence, but a heart just a little more engaged with His work in my life and His Word.

THIS is success. Not cranking out work towards a deadline, not prolifically producing, not being ranked as “best” in your field.

Success as a creative (as in most vocations) is engaging with the heart of God and having it bleed out into your work such that those who receive from it (when and if, in His timing, others may receive) are truly receiving … Him.

{On a practical note, my best work has come after multiple delays and hiccups that seemed to be roadblocks but were what He’d created to slow me up so that I might talk to Him. And I mean in life — my best work in life — not just my writing.}

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The Gift of Limitations

It was a rambling college-town that hosted the race that was to be my last for a long time. It is a town where narrow dirt-and-dust roads lead to horse farms with near-perfect views of the Blue Ridge and millionaires shamelessly drive beat-up old Volvos. Eccentric.

Every year, the allure of this four-miler, with its humanitarian push and socialite atmosphere, makes runners out of walkers and athletes out of those who don’t like to sweat. Women train all summer long to run Garth Road on Labor Day weekend.

I was one of many. 

I’d placed in my age group in the past and after seeing the winning time from prior years, I decided that I wanted to try to win this race. I spent my summer mornings following a training plan that my friend (who was also a running coach) devised for me. On race-day, however, I hadn’t accounted for the handful of Olympic Trial-ers who were, unexpectedly, going to run the race this year. I’d also trained at 6:00am during an unusually cool summer. The start time for this race was 8am and we ran on black-top roads in an 80-degree thick heat, that day. 

I ignored the weather and I focused on the runners around me edging their feet towards the starting line, and on the split-times I’d written in permanent marker onto my hand. 

And three miles later I passed out.

Well — before I passed out (in delirium), apparently I stopped to ask the fans lined up along the race course just where I might find the finish line. The heat and the pace set by the top runners and my thick-headedness made for the perfect cocktail. I served myself up a heat stroke.

Weeks later, as I researched the implications of this heat stroke, I came across information that indicated that people who suffer heat strokes are often the ones who don’t know their own limits.


That was nine years ago. Before children. Before the circuitous path to adoption. Before the pursuit of our children’s hearts post-adoption. Before yet-longer years of infertility and losing my dad and rocking a babe to sleep at 3am and riding the roller coaster of my husband’s fledgling business.

And here I am, now, with six children and the most predominant data point I have of myself and my life is this: I’m limited.

I’m grossly limited. 

My limitations press in around me, all the time. The babe wakes at the very moment the toddler decides he’s ready to potty train and my thirteen year-old wants to talk about her heart. Not only can I not avoid these limitations, but they *are* me. I could add much more to this list, but you probably have your own list to harken to as you read this. I suspect I’m not alone and that this issue of limitations is not merely the struggle of the mother of six who moonlights as a writer. But even the mother of two or three (or one) or the woman who finishes a deadline at work just to face another, all while her dry cleaning collects dust, awaiting a pick-up. 

At twenty-five I wanted to conquer my flesh. (I wanted every area of my life to have a six-minute-mile pace.)

But these days, I have learned that what I really want is to surrender it.

More than resenting my failures, I’m starting to (more deeply) resent the days when my heart sinks because I see my failures. This should not be so.

Because in the kingdom of God, it is weakness that incites the miracles. It is weakness that incites the gaze of our Father God. Today, I want those stories more than I want a six-minute-mile pace. 

More than being able to rock the babe, potty-train the toddler and solve my thirteen year-old’s problems (all at once), I want that deep peace that comes with surrender to God. The deep peace that accompanies the safest of friendships. (He never asked me to be limitless. He just asked me to be His.)

This surrender is one of the most becoming things I’ve seen in a person. I’ve found myself scouring faces for it in the way a freshman does at the senior class on her first day of school. What is it that I see in these few sages in my life who finally rest at peace in their pursuit of God — who are relentless but not fearful, reaching but not anxious, determined but not proudly ambitious?

I want that

Because in the kingdom of God, it is weakness that incites the miracles. It is weakness that incites the gaze of our Father God.

You see, being settled within my limitations — seeing them as extensive and forever-lasting and likely growing, as they are — doesn’t actually relegate me to a boring and “mundane” life. It sets me up for the miraculous. 

I suppose it’s touching the part of me that sees the value of putting down my phone and sitting in the quiet, before God, with the acute sense of these limits that I now know I have.

In a given day, faced with all these needs and my inability to even come close to meeting them … I can push harder and plan better. I can Get Things Done™ and multi-task to keep up and shame myself when I don’t. I can scroll for minutes or hours and remind myself of every other person who’s hustling and “killin’ it” with their life.

But He just asks me to bring what I have. To pray. To watch what He does with my lack.

In a moment where I simply can’t meet the expectations of the people and the projects in front of me, I can use the midnight hours to work and sweat or run it around my head in sleeplessness.

But He just asks me to bring what I have. To pray. To watch what He does with my lack.

In the swirl of my children’s ever-growing needs I can solicit even more help. Make more appointments. Research more options. Troubleshoot.

But He just asks me to bring what I have. To pray. To watch what He does with my lack.

The quiet spaces in my life offer me perspective: I’m only five loaves and two fish away from some of the greatest miracles in my life.

His simple words in Matthew 14:18: “bring them here to me.

Perhaps today is your day to put down your phone full of lists and apps and reminders and pins that remind you about the wells that you’re not digging and the birthday parties you’re not throwing and the workout you didn’t finish and you take what little you have and bring it to Him.

Who knows but that basketfuls of overflow might fill your soul?

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God Wants Our Sad

This friend’s eyes were some of the first to read the manuscript that I’d almost tucked under my mattress, hoping it would only be shared between me and God. As a timid response to the whisper from Him — write your story — I stayed up into the wee hours of the night and clicked away at the keys during nap-times. Then that nudge turned into another and what I thought would just be a conversation between me and God turned into a story I would share. It found its way into safe hands, ’cause when you bleed on a page it feels safest having the first ones to read it be ones who also have bled.

Esther Fleece knew how to hold my story because she’d lived one of her own.

And now her words, below and in her book, invite us to stop pretending that everything is fine (as we Christians have too easily mastered) and talk to God with our pain. Esther invites us to bleed. To lament. And not just to the impersonal sky, but before the very personal God, as He tells us in His Word. 

This might just be the permission you need … -S

Lament is one of those words we don’t use very much today. It’s not a regular entry in our vocabulary, even with us church people. I was in my late twenties before I really even knew what this word meant, despite growing up in church and staying connected to a Christian community in my early adult years. When everything hit rock bottom, it was my counselor who was the one to first explain it to me.

Lament, he said, is simply expressing honest emotions to God when life is not going as planned. Whether we’re hurt, frustrated, confused, betrayed, overwhelmed, sad, or disappointed, lament is the language God has given us to talk to Him right in the middle of life’s messes. It’s real talk with God when you’re hurting, when all you can do is cry out for His help. It’s a prayer that says, God, I’m hurting—will You meet me here? And as such, it is a prayer to which God always responds.

This is not a prayer for the superspiritual. Lament is a prayer for all of us.

Not everyone experiences prosperity, but everyone we know will know loss and grief. Each and every one of us will experience setbacks, letdowns, failures, and betrayals. Every one of us will encounter change that is hard, lose loved ones before their time, and see relationships fail with people we counted on.

So what do we do when everything is not fine? Why are we shooting for the easy-street, pain-free life anyway? Where did we come up with the idea that we should be happy all the time? We all need do-over days, and sometimes we will wake up, eat a bowl of ice cream for breakfast, and head straight back to bed. This should not surprise us because Scripture tells us that we will go through different seasons—not all of them pleasant.

Adam and Eve were banished from the garden, the only home they’d ever known. The Israelites wandered the wilderness for forty years before they entered the Promised Land. The prophets ripped their clothing, grieved in the streets, and warned God’s people to repent and return. Jesus died the most gruesome death the Romans could come up with. And the early church faced persecution of all kinds.

I don’t see many easy-street lives in the Bible. And I certainly don’t see God demanding that we keep a stiff upper lip through hard times.

In fact, D. A. Carson, a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, writes, “There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but to a faith so robust it wrestles with God.”

So where do all the clichés and false hopes we use to explain suffering come from? Not the Bible, and certainly not from God Himself. My insistence that I have a nice, easy, “fine” life was not only unbiblical; it was also an unrealistic expectation that ended up making me feel disengaged from God and disappointed in Him. I thought I was suffering because I had done something wrong. I had fallen for clichés, which only increased my pain.

For so much of my life, I thought sucking it up and faking away the pain showed true strength. But real strength is identifying a wound and asking God to enter it. We are robbing ourselves of a divine mystery and a divine intimacy when we pretend to have it all together. In fact, we lose an entire vocabulary from our prayers when we silence the reality of our pain. If questions and cries and laments are not cleaned up throughout Scripture, then why are we cleaning them up or removing them completely from our language?

Scripture doesn’t tell us to pretend we’re peaceful when we’re not, act like everything is fine when it’s not, and do everything we can to suppress our sorrow. God doesn’t insist that we go to our “happy place” and ignore our sad, yet so many of our churches preach that we will have peace and prosperity just by virtue of being Christians. Scripture, in contrast, tells us that as followers of Christ, we are called to serve a “man of sorrows” who died a gruesome death. Until we identify ourselves with our Savior and acknowledge, as He did, just how painful life can be, we won’t be able to lament or to overcome. And if we silence our own cries, then we will inevitably silence the cries of those around us. We cannot carefully address the wounds of others if we are carelessly addressing our own.

The fact is, God does not expect us to have it all together, so it is a real disservice when our Christian communities create this expectation. We will be unsuccessful at sitting with hurting people if we have not allowed ourselves to grieve and wail and mourn and go through the lament process ourselves. God understands that life is full of pressures, hurts, stings. He took on flesh so He could relate to us in both our joy and pain. He wants us to feel and express every emotion before Him and not minimize a thing. There is no “fake it till you make it” in Scripture. When we fake fine, we fake our way out of authentic relationship with God, others, and ourselves.


Esther Fleece is an international speaker and writer recognized among Christianity Today’s “Top 50 Women Shaping the Church and Culture” and CNN’s “Five Women in Religion to Watch.” Esther shares her story in her first book, No More Faking Fine: Ending The Pretending. Stay in touch with Esther & share your own lament on her website at


Taken from No More Faking Fine by Esther Fleece Copyright © 2016 by Esther Fleece Used by permission of Zondervan.

The Myth of Human Strength

My best and brightest moments have been laced with weakness.

We met our first two children in Ethiopia and spent our first days of parenting in a tempered state of shock over the rolling meltdowns. While adopting our second two children from Uganda, I saw miracle-level movements of God I’d never before or since seen. Even in the times when we’ve repeated the stories, I feel that lump-in-my-throat awe over just how rare they were and how near He felt. And yet in between those miracle days were tearful nights under mosquito nets and terse words spoken to the man I love, the one who brought us there, and more of my own meltdowns than I’d like to admit over power outages and the broken shower in the guest home and the smoggy air.

(Nate tells the stories from Uganda — these glorious moments that only God could have orchestrated — to new friends and others who hadn’t heard what we saw and I can’t help but flash back to the argument we had outside of the van scheduled to take us to our court appointment, and in front of the unsuspecting driver who quickly got schooled in American conflict.)

I birthed my first biological baby after twelve years of marriage. Twelve years of waiting … and more than long hours of labor.

Yet somehow I still imagine the most glorious moments I have ahead of me in God to be seamless. I look at others who’ve accomplished what I consider to be great feats of faith and ignorantly assume they came with ease.


Recently, a friend who has been a missionary to a remote village in Africa for years witnessed those she loved getting their hands on the very first translated New Testaments in their language. Translators had been working for 20+ years on these pages and the ones in her community now held their own Bible, in their native tongue. My friend sent me pictures and I cried — couldn’t get it out of my mind for days, this momentous event of hungry people getting the food of the Word. But when we finally connected so that I could hear her voice telling me more of the story, she cautioned me. This is complicated, Sara, she said. Bibles that could be read fell in the hands of many who have never read anything in their own language. This pinnacle moment was, in fact, another beginning towards a different ascent. These Bibles would be sweated over before they were read.

Our greatest moments in God are laced with weakness and we humans don’t like it.


Though I quote Paul’s letters to my children and to my fickle heart, I often forget what he walked through in order to be able to say “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). I love that David was a man with a pulse melded towards God and one about whom God looked through his boyishly-rouged cheeks to see a heart that could hunger, but I’d like to ignore the tryst that leveled his life and made him weak and needy for God, and the son who stealthily betrayed him.

I want His best moments to also include me, at my best. I give accolades to friends who “pulled it off” and slap an “I’m doing well” on the times when I feel best about my motherhood and my home and my marriage and my writing and my friendships. I still want the great strength of God and my own great strength, too.

But it never happens that way. No, never.

When my human strength attempts to compete with His glory (let’s be honest: near daily), I am subtly despising the unique way (read: unfamiliar, unconventional, not-of-this-place-where-we-live) that He moves in power.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

It’s a rare thing that I call my weakness a treasure. But to skip to that step and merely use the verbiage — while still secretly wanting the glory of God to seamlessly manifest within my tightened life — I miss what David had. What Paul had. (And, ahem, I then lead people to me.)

They knew His eyes on them when all hell broke loose in their life. They knew destitution of the heart and body and yet also how one received look from God made that single moment their richest. They knew what it was like to have their heart … race. In love. From love. All because of a surprising brush with the near gaze of God in their most unsuspecting hour.

When I’m admittedly weak (because, as my husband sometimes tells me, my stated “weak moments” are truly just the ones where I’m acknowledging a weakness that was already there before I noticed it), I’m supple. Receptive. His glory streams brighter through all the holes in my countenance.

So, people, let’s stop dreaming about the day when it’s all slick and we’re strong and then God is glorified. It’s a myth.

So, people, let’s stop dreaming about the day when it’s all slick and we’re strong and then God is glorified. It’s a myth.

In your sweatpants and a top knot and un-showered, He has power (and He sees you). At the height of some sort of messy unfolding of a new thing He’s led you to do, He has power (and He sees you). With your arms around a child who would rather be anywhere else than with you, He has power (and He sees you). By the bedside of a friend, He has power (and He sees you). In your own hospital bed or nursing a tireless infant at 3am, He has power (and He sees you).

In the kingdom of God, all those places about which we’ve been complaining, where we feel so weak, are in fact the places for our greatest access to the truest Glory.

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

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Photos compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography and Mandie Joy.

The Mindless Looking {and what it steals from me}

“Why doesn’t anyone else have to do this Mommy?” she asks again as we drive to another specialist appointment. No matter how I answer, she still has the same question. It’s as if there are no answers for her, for this kind of question. Yet.

With adoption, there are some days that I feel like we have a home full of cavernous stories that only God fully knows. As each piece is brought out for us to see, not over months but years, I can tell we’re near to change. Near growth.

One of mine reads a novel about an orphaned childhood and a severed story and an absurd amount of pain and asks the innocent question: “does anyone else have as horrific of a story as hers?” I get that lump in my throat. How can I tell her “yes, baby, you — you do.” They forget. Often. Is it our nature that He’s given us by which to cope or is it man’s way of avoiding the wound that enables us to feel the bare hands of God as a salve?

In their amnesia, there’s a lot they forget. And forgetful minds lead to forgetful eyes and those eyes, they go searching for something to make an impression. Anything.

For the one, she looks straight at her toothy-grinned friends eating ice cream with never-interrupted play. Surely never-interrupted lives, she thinks.

And she’s young and doesn’t even yet hold a phone in her hand, this potential portal into feeding our envy that all of us carry.


It’s almost as if it’s inevitable, and at all stages of life, this amnesia. This forgetting that all of our life is entwined with His story — a grand, plot-twisted page-turner. The aimless searching and looking at others’ lives that happens when we forget, it isn’t just for the pre-teen.

Sometimes it’s not the searing pain that makes us forget that all of life is a story, sometimes it’s merely the slow-drip of mundanity. Another carpool run. Another version of the same argument with our spouse. Another trip to the dry-cleaners before Monday’s flight. Another rushed dinner after soccer practice.

When you have twenty-minutes of quiet and you’ve forgotten there is a bigger story and a bigger God, there’s little reason not to “live the dream” through another person’s highlight reel. When you have twenty-minutes and there’s not a bigger story, there’s little reason not to see your pain as “only you” and then isolate your heart into the far corner of the gym relegated for those who weren’t picked to live the dream. Might as well peer into another person’s life and escape.

I have twenty-minutes in the middle of the afternoon and five options inviting me to escape the truth that I was made for something so bright and so real and so powerful that it would illuminate the people I touch and the things I do … that I was made for Someone so bright and so real and so powerful that He would overshadow me with His light.

And sometimes I still want to just choose one of those five options.

It feels easier. The amnesia.

hk-116There’s an epidemic happening among our people. We were meant to carry a glory that would draw any stranger into the person of Jesus and the cure isn’t merely to put down our phones (though perhaps that’s not a bad first step).

We’ve been given a look into our neighbor’s kitchen and our friend’s vegetable garden and onto our cousin’s daughter’s report card — none of which, of themselves, are bad things — but for a people who have forgotten the story we were invited into and the rich and unfolding plot to which we got linked when we said yes to “Jesus”, this look can become an escape.

And, if it becomes an escape, it can derail us.

While I’d love it to be as simple as “put down your phone and take the twenty minutes in the middle of the afternoon to ask Him to show You Himself”, I think there’s a heart-fissure underneath all of it that won’t ever stop alluring us until we see it, acknowledge it and address it.

Some days, I’d rather look at my friend and envy what her hedge-trimmed life looks like — with three well-matched children (that I’ve never seen shed a tear in her feed) and her shiplap walls and soapstone counter-tops — than I would address the part of my heart that started the looking with that slant eye, in the first place.


We’ve subtly made Him out to be a plastic Jesus, such that real-life ache and dreams on-hold and even the droning on of another Monday that was just the same as the Monday before don’t seem natural to bring to Him. So we escape into another person’s storyline — the one we wish we had, the one that we envy them for living, the one that seems brighter and bigger and more alluring than the sock-bin waiting for me in the laundry room. Mindlessly — we escape mindlessly.

There’s a lot more mindlessness than we’d like to admit happening for those of us who are offered the mind of Jesus, inside of our very heads.

All the while, the pages of His Word use phrases like “being filled” (Philippians 1:11) and “the riches of the glory of His inheritance” (Ephesians 1:18) and “He gives power to the weak” (Isaiah 40:29) and “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

These aren’t reflections of a plastic Jesus with arms that don’t bend, keeping us feeling human beings at a distance. This is what happens when we take that twenty minutes, get honest with God (and with ourselves) about what we’re feeling in the current moment and ask Him to show up.

So, today, what about that twenty minutes? Or ten? That five minute walk down the street to meet the bus or get the mail? What if instead of stuffing what’s inside and escaping into another world, we asked Him to meet us, right where we were? What if we introduced our eyes to the epic story available in Africa and in suburbia, in five-minute increments, knowing that a five minute conversation today where I feel His spark against my raw insides might actually lead to a ten-minute one tomorrow?


People, it’s time to wake up. There is a deep, thick and ever-unfolding connection with God — the story of all ages is available to us while we change the laundry today.

I don’t want to find myself at sixty-two, having missed it for a lifetime of ten-minute increments of escape (though sixty-two isn’t too late!).

Photos compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.




How Marriage is Teaching Me to Search the Whole Person

“How well do you think your husband knows you?” this new-to-me christian counselor asked me on a frigid January afternoon as I sat in her office.

“Really well,” I responded without thinking.

After a studied pause, she asked, “What percentage of ‘all of you’ does he know?” “Eighty percent,” I said confidently. We had known each other two and half years, with just more than a year of that time spent holding hands, not just brushing elbows, in ministry, and several months of being a wedded couple.

“We’ll talk about this more later, but I might suggest that he knows about one percent of you. Five percent, at best. There are vast frontiers of you to be discovered that he has not yet explored.”*

This was fifteen years ago, when I was boldly certain Nate knew most all of me and I knew most all of him.

We were twenty-three.



We do that with people, don’t we? Take a snapshot of their lives and push it through our own grid and come up with what we’re sure is an accurate analysis of who they are and how they fit into our story.

Yet here I am, turning the calendar on 15 years of marriage and realizing that the person with whom I share a bed and bathroom counter space and a checking account is only just in the beginning stages of being discovered. By me.

The man I married has taught me that relationships are a grand search. We barely know what we’re looking for (and whom we’re looking at) when we start.

At twenty-three I was certain I’d married one who would change the world with me. We’d share the gospel to the ends of the earth, seeing every person that crossed our paths as an opportunity to make Him known. This was our common language, what drew us together. We sometimes had single digits in our bank account but it didn’t matter: we had each other and God and we had vision.


But then there were the days when the soul-saving dried up and somewhere in there our hearts went with it. The vision faded and we looked at one another like strangers, wondering who the other was without a mission. (Wondering who we were without the mission.)

So we searched. God and each other.

The first search was intentional — we were desperate for answers and needing God’s perspective. We were needing God in new ways. The second, perhaps fueled by the advice of a counselor and most of it just happenstance. We were finding that both of us weren’t quite who we thought we had married. This wasn’t just that I didn’t know he liked his roast beef shredded on his rueben or he didn’t know I left all the cabinets in the kitchen open when I cooked. He was more thoughtful than I’d assessed, but about things I hadn’t so much seen as thought-worthy. I was more fragile than he’d assessed, and at times when he might have needed me to be otherwise.

We were different in things of substance and we had a choice, the kind you sometimes make without actually consciously making it: would we grow together here, in the newly discovered layers of ourselves and under Him? Or would we passively part ways over time, annoyed by what was masked when I wore white and he looked like he was 17 at the end of that aisle?

But Nate. But God, in Nate.

He led out, and pressed in. He started to study me and he wouldn’t let me box him in. He both fought to know the parts of my heart that were so quick to shut down when exposed and uncomfortable and fearful, and he refused to let me turn him into the man I thought he should be when I was fearful and exposed and uncomfortable.

God has taught me through this man that a person has layers to their story and when you spend five minutes (or even a mere five months) growing in friendship, you only see a very small part of a whole life that pre-dated those sporadic interactions. God has shown me through marriage that staying in it, when they’re unfamiliar and you’re afraid, means you get the gift of searching — on a practical level. You practice searching the other, as a means to grow a relationship.

God has shown me through Nate that there are not just often — but always — two (or more) stories to a person and that there’s a lot to lose when we label and move on instead of digging deeper to see His heart for the one across the table, no matter how different.

Covenant has bound me to a limitless search.

What my counselor said on that cold day in January 15 years ago could likely have been re-phrased ten years later, for the heart that was ever-so-slighly more mature and more experienced:

There’s an ocean of depth to explore in a person — any person. And you don’t know it. Don’t act like you do. ‘Cause then you’ll miss out on what this person is actually positioned to teach you to explore with expectation: there’s an ocean of depth to explore in God and in His Word. You don’t know it. Don’t act like you do. ‘Cause then you’ll step off the wildest ride of your life.

Fifteen years in, and I know Nate’s ticks and quirks and what wakes him up at 3am. I know what I could say that would irritate him and I’m certain what words would raise his spirits up out of the dust on a rough day. And yet. This is about 30% of this man and his story. He’s only just getting to know it, too.


There’s a lot of freedom in saying to one another: hey, we’re only just starting to figure out who we are in God and who we are, together. Just like there’s a lot of freedom in saying to God: hey, I barely know You. Can I go searching? Deeper?

My husband taught me to look for the layers in a person by not letting me respond to the 23 year-old version of him, in that suspended moment, as if that was all there was.

My husband is teaching me to look for the layers of God by the way he’s returning to the search, in me.

This isn’t just for marrieds (though it acutely applies), it’s for all of us: let’s cast off our quick judgments (yes, even the ones that come after a few months or even years of friendship), and instead take this stance of searching. We get to practice our search for Him in the way we search out the people in our world. We get to find more of Him when we see the layers of Himself, tucked away inside of the people we might otherwise peg a certain way.


The splendor of God is revealed in story. Your neighbor’s. Your husband’s. Your child’s. That person’s that just continues to drive you crazy.

Search it out.

*This first italacized section is an excerpt from Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet

For Your Continued Pursuit: 1 Samuel 16:7 | Psalm 139:23 | 1 Chronicles 28:9 | Psalm 139:1-3


Images compliments of Lucy O Photo, Cherish Andrea Photography, and Mandie Joy

I Will Not Defer

I was fourteen and still riding my bike to my best friend’s when I exchanged the innocence of youth for unbelief. I was out of pigtails but still had a bedtime when I siphoned myself off hope.

It would be at least 15 years later before I realized what had happened to my own heart on the day my dad’s injury sidelined him from coaching and teaching and from keeping my world normal.

The day my dad got sick and those subsequent, broken months were what started my relationship with the belief that things never actually do work out for good.

(When was it for you? I whisper.)


My most recent brush with hope — or, more accurately, the most recent time that I stared at cold, distant and masked unbelief in the mirror — came on a Thursday afternoon this April. I was in the waiting room of a doctor’s office — appropriate, seeing as how I’ve spent some time in the waiting room of life.

A broken ankle landed me there. A silly running injury. The x-ray would reveal my fate, except “excuse me, Mrs. Hagerty, we require a pregnancy test for all our patients getting x-rays.” I smiled. She didn’t know I might has well have bought stock in the companies that make pregnancy tests. Even the mere suggestion would have sent me spinning a few years ago, reminded all over again of what that test always revealed.  Reminded all over again that a waiting room might be where I’d spend my life. All she had in hand was a file with my chart, indicating that I had five children. Five names, no histories. A piece of paper. Of course a woman like me, on paper, might need a pregnancy test.

She couldn’t have known my story.

Thirty minutes later and in the most unsuspecting way I heard the kind of news that I’d dreamed about receiving a hundred different ways and over many years of my life. I cried on the sterile waiting room chair in front of women in scrubs whose names I didn’t know. How is this real? 

Then I woke up the next morning and I looked at unbelief in the mirror. Hello again.

Fence MJ2

I’d had this kind of crazy surprise 18 months ago and it ended with a baby that slipped right through me and into eternity. I remember feeling that I might as well be fourteen again, slowly disillusioned by life and now subtly learning the way of the world and that the way most people live is through self-protection. Better to expect the worst than to have it blind-side you in your naiveté.

For the person who’s given subtle permission to “hedging her bets” and “playing it safe” — to the person who is “rightfully cautious” — the opportunity for hope is actually petrifying.

It’s exposing.

I woke the next morning unavoidably aware of just how much I don’t actually believe Him. It felt easier to have a closed womb, a forever-and-done prognosis, than it did to have one small chance to hope that things might not turn out awful. Because if I had the chance to hope that things might not turn out awful then I had to wrestle with all the internal noise that stands between me and that actuality.

The wrestle to hope exposes what we so masterfully shove down inside: our unbelief in God. (We all have it. Let’s just admit it.)


You see, this wrestle isn’t actually for the object for which we hope — the baby that we carry to term, the steady paycheck over a period of time, the marriage that is all we’d wanted it to be when we wore white, the restored relationship — the wrestle for hope is the wrestle for belief in Him. The Person — the Giver — not the object He gives.

If I choose to hope — to throw myself into what most would call crazy, the unstudied and unmeasured and unrealistic possibility for which I desire — then I’m also choosing to trust Him to pick up the pieces of me that might fall if doesn’t come and to trust Him to hold all the mess of me that surfaces as I face the fret and uncertainty that I mostly stuff when I don’t open myself up to hope.


To open ourselves up to hope is to open ourselves up to God. The heart that hopes is the heart of a child, fully open, fully trusting, and perhaps fully ignorant of the negative possibilities because “isn’t Daddy there to take care of it all, no matter what comes?”

It’s a myth to believe that our wrestle to hope is a wrestle with the object for which we hope — the spouse, the baby, the paycheck. My wrestle with hope is a wrestle to believe, again, that God is good … to me.

“Hope deferred makes the heart grow sick” (Proverbs 13:12). It doesn’t read “the object of my hope, deferred, makes the heart grow sick.” It’s when hope is deferred that we get sick.

Could it be that the cynics, the hope-less (the ones like me, at times), are sick … on the inside?

We were made to hope in Jesus. Wild hope. Un-abandoned hope. Little-girl-in-pig-tails-with-a-fiery-look-in-her-eye-and-a-strong-Daddy-to-scoop-her-up-and-kiss-her-ouchies kind of hope.

And lives that don’t hope — lives that hedge their bets and play it safe and live cautiously and expectant of the worst, preparing always for the doom around the corner and saying under their breath at any good moment “this is too good to be true” — have hearts that grow sick.

Trust me. I know.

So I woke up the morning after finding out I was pregnant in the waiting room of a doctor’s office and I met my sick heart. Again. The one that decided at 14, and dozens of other, subtle times throughout the next fifteen years later that things never really do work out for good. No never. (And I don’t often notice the sickness when I’m “prepared” for every awful potentiality, with every rational reason to expect the worst — but yet still reading my Bible.)

Cherish Stained Glass

Meeting up with a chance to hope again has a way of exposing us.

And a way of unlocking us.

Thus, with a miscarriage in my history and a dozen previous years of barrenness, I chose to hope. I choose to hope. Daily. Sometimes hourly, of late.

Mostly because I’m getting old enough that I’m tired of playing it safe and swimming in an unbelief that I mask and I rationalize. I want Him. 

“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 3:5


So yes, you read that right. We Hagerty’s are growing by one in a few more months and I am living up to my namesake and perhaps stifling a laugh that in the same calendar year I turn forty I will have birthed a baby.

I surely didn’t expect this when I was twenty-three.

For Your Continued Pursuit: Proverbs 13:12 | Romans 5:3-5 | Hebrews 6:13-19 | Hebrews 11:13-16 | Psalm 147:11

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A Time for Everything: Knowing Your Season and Sticking to It

For years, our life has been rhythmic.

We pick up speed late summer and sprint through the fall until Thanksgiving. We slow our pace in December and gradually trot toward a long rest from January 1st until just around the end of March. Life gets full again in the spring, we play hard in the summer, our pulse already racing before we hit the fall sprint.


I know my seasons.

At least I thought I did.

I birth books and babies in the fall. (And even the children I didn’t birth myself have birthdays in the fall.)

Then the embers in our fireplace never fully die in the winter. “Start the teapot again, please, Mommy” is just as frequent as “Babe, would you light another fire?” I read novels in the winter and we piece together puzzles. The flurry of activity quiets but the walls field the noise of seven lives, slowing to a halt and reacquainting themselves with the stillness of winter on the other side of our steamed windows.

Last year was the same as this year was the same as the year before that.


So when April hit, of course I knew my season. Right? Soccer and weeding out winter clothes and wintered flower beds and finishing writing my book. I planned to finally put into place some ideas I’d had for this blog and my writing and a project about which I’ve been dreaming for a year — all the things I’d been scratching into my moleskine when life was quiet.

And then there was that surprise Tuesday morning.

I don’t consider myself “old”, and yet when a slip on the sidewalk during a morning run landed me in a cast with a broken ankle, I wonder if I’m eight again or pushing eighty.  “Nope, we don’t see many people in here your age, ma’am” said the twenty year-old-looking intern at the orthopedist’s office. That one time I wasn’t so thankful to be called ma’am.

In one day, my spring plans changed.

Though small in scale, this near-two-month stint off my ankle has been revelatory. As I grow in God, there is a subtle part of me that expects to not have surprises. And I get used to relating to God, without surprises, such that when they come I might spend a good bit of the energy I need to move forward, instead mining back through my calendar saying “this wasn’t the plan” on repeat, as if to convince myself (or God) that we’re stuck.

After the wrestle — you know, that part of me that made a mental list of all the things I couldn’t do without walking or driving and threw a little fit on my insides — I started to realize that somewhere pretty deep in there I wanted to be a little girl again, sequestered to her room for rest time, even though my body’s inertia told me I could play all day without interruptions.

I wanted to be led by a strong Daddy. I wanted to “get” to be weak, and follow.

Photo May 26, 2 17 09 PM

The mystery of God requires us to hang in the balance, at times, if we’re going to not only acknowledge it but receive it as beauty. And sometimes I talk myself out of mystery, less because I’ve gotten a new handle on a side of God from His Word and more because I don’t like the vulnerability of being led like that little girl.

In April I got told. This isn’t the season you thought it was going to be.

And I type through tears because I have felt profoundly loved by God in it all.

God made me a little girl again and told me that I needed rest time and, yes, even after pouring hours of prayer into the plan I thought we’d made together for this spring.

{If you will, an aside: this post isn’t about whether this whole ankle debacle was initiated by satan or God or just my uncoordinated flesh. There are some things that, once they happen and you ask for Him to bring miraculous healing — because, yes, I believe He does — and the healing doesn’t yet come, that require you to say “well, God, what do You have for me here” if you’re going to grow in the midst of it.}

I didn’t know how badly I needed to be grossly unproductive and see — from that very place — the glint in God’s eye that spoke to me more than words and said “just abide, here, in Me.”

Friends, it’s sweet to be my age and get sequestered. Grounded, if you will.

Dad and son

I’ll end with this note, to the creative-types out there — or, rather, the efficient producers. Or maybe all of us: We’re in a unique time in history when creating in a closet or producing something or experiencing the beauty of God, alone and in private, feels antiquated. Why write in my journal, when I can tell the world my latest insight into God? Why just live the private moment of God-kissed beauty that’s happened in my family room, when I can invite thousands of others to see it? Why create — if it’s not for another person? Why live, if it’s not be productive unto someone else’s benefit?

I say this as a writer, finishing my next book for which I can’t wait to have people pour over the pages. I love to work for the benefit of others.

But this unique time in history, when we weigh and measure our lives against dozens (if not hundreds) of people that we “see” harvesting in a day, has allured us into ignoring the importance of individual seasons — particularly the ones when the ground needs to rest before we sow or harvest.

We’re in a unique time in history when creating in a closet or producing something or experiencing the beauty of God, alone and in private, feels antiquated.

We’ve been allured into renouncing the leadership of God, who ordains for each one of us (and at separate times) a winter, a spring, a summer and a fall and each for its own purpose.

Could it be that you’re sowing during a time when the ground needs to rest or clamoring to harvest what you haven’t yet painstakingly sown? Or what if you’re resting and it’s harvest time?

We often live, pushing to harvest something during the wrong season that could be easily retrieved in the right one. Or expecting one kind of harvest when God has been sowing another seed. Or trying to sow into hard ground when, if we waited just a bit longer, it would take half the time and effort, all ’cause the soil was tilled.

Sometimes all it takes is the question and the set-aside time to hear the answer: what season do you have me in, God? And how to I partner and align with You, where You have me?

Slide outside, go for a walk, and start asking Him. I say start, because He’s not a Pez machine. Let this be the beginning of a lifetime of having this dialogue with God.

It all is really this simple: He’s a very good leader.

Yes, even for those of us pushing forty who think we’ve figured out a few things about life.


On that note, I’m leaning in to the season He has so obviously and surprisingly given me. I’m letting “the land rest” a bit on the blog. I’m going to live more than I write this summer (at least outside my private journal) and soak in what He has for me during this sequestered season of deep rest. Thus, this blog will breathe a bit until August. We’ll still be posting our daily adorations and some other short ruminations over here throughout the summer. Come August, when I’m back to writing again, I’ll send a note via my newsletter along with some fun new news on my next book through Zondervan.

For Your Continued Pursuit (don’t take my word for it, look it up): Genesis 8:22 | Matthew 9:37-38 | Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 | Proverbs 16:9 | Daniel 2:21 | John 15:9-17 | Leviticus 25:1-7 | Exodus 23:10-12 | Hebrews 12:3-12

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First second and fourth photos compliments of CJ Springer. Third photo compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.

Finding The Hidden Ones On Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day was for hiding.

Some years, it was behind my apron, fixing up a feast at home for my mother-in-law while Nate attended church. And other years it was underneath my covers, seeing this thin sheath between me and the world (which had what I wanted) as my greatest ally.

Our church seemed unusually prolific, busting at the seams with round-bellied women and diapered toddlers. It often felt like work for me to walk into a room and see them as more than merely women who knew this apparent “rite of passage” that I couldn’t quite get. At times, this surfaced envy and that thick ache of loss and all the “why, Lord?” questions that came with it. Some days it wasn’t about just hiding from them. I wanted to hide from Him, too.

I didn’t like who I was when I stared into what I didn’t have.

On one particular Mother’s Day, I took my customary pass while Nate joined the mamas being celebrated.

The day before I’d had a few extra minutes to pop into a greenhouse boutique that held almost nothing we could afford at the time. I poked and prodded through trinkets and potted plants and gift cards — something I’d rarely done.

One pot caught my eye; it was exactly my taste. With no wiggle room to splurge, I went on with my day.

Not twenty four hours later, Nate returned home from church with that very same pot, filled. A gift. My fifty-something friend, Linda, a mom of four and grandmother of three, had picked it out and packaged it just for me. She’d taken her eye off of her big day to ask Him who else needed celebrating.


Though she didn’t know this particular ache, she scooted close to His heart, the One who is the best gift giver.

And that day she was His detailed-reminder to me: not one of your tears is lost on me, Sara.

On a weekend when women stand and are celebrated for that glorious mundanity which is motherhood, there are just as many sitting beside them whose hearts are sunk. The one who lost her baby this month and the other who’s logged years — not months — trying to conceive. The mama whose husband died or isn’t around to rally those troops to celebrate her and the other who has fostered children into a forever-mama’s arms but has none, yet, of her ownThe single woman who wonders, on this particular day, if femininity has to be tied to offspring, and the mother — adopting — who has no stretch marks, only paperwork, to show for her pursuit.

They share the bench of our pews.

When I moved out from behind my plastered smile in this little Virginia church — amid all those women who birthed their first, second and third babies while I knew them — and I began to let them see my blood-red vulnerability, He used them. Beautifully.

Just like He used Linda on that Mother’s Day for me.

If we ask Him to highlight the unique pains of those around us, we might just get a chance to buy that extravagant pot. Even more, we might just get to receive a piece of the Father’s heart for us, in our giving.


We so often look away from another’s bleeding — what do I say? how do I respond? — as evidence of how our eyes dart away from Him in our lack. We subtly believe His hands are tied against their pain that is unfamiliar to us and our own pain, which is very near. We see Him like a version of ourselves: dumfounded in the sight of loss.

But His hands aren’t tied.  And He doesn’t turn, He leans in to the broken.

These women are at the threshold of discovering a side of Him, known uniquely in their ache. They have gold underneath those tears. Their reproach will one day be their crown.

And it’s in putting on His unnatural love for them that we get to see another angle of Him. (Their broken spaces are also holy ground.)

Whose Linda will you be this weekend? 

Ask Him.

Flowers in Hand

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Photos compliments of Mandie Joy

Sometimes We Need to Pray With Our Eyes Closed

I was sixteen and every single one of my girlfriends owned a pair of Birkenstocks.

Nine of us in khaki shorts, polo shirts and Birks, all lined up in a picture that I still have, hiding our secret thoughts and individual lives behind a safe uniformity. We had a shared understanding that no one was to diverge too much from the norm.

I prayed with one eye open then.

Many of us were new to the notion of circling up for Bible Study. On Friday afternoons, we’d sprawl across a friend’s basement — the same basement where we’d crowded in to watch March’s basketball madness — with our new Bibles that had whole sections still stuck together, wearing our Birkenstocks and talking Jesus in between making weekend plans.

I prayed with one eye cracked, unsure of what I should be saying and what I should be praying and tuning my ear to the voice of others to help me find my own, in prayer.

My early years in God held the unforgettable gift of girlfriends also finding their fresh way in Him and the hard-to-shake belief that my prayers and my reach for God would often (or even always) look like the ones’ around me, wearing their Birks.

Glass Mug Cherish

We highlighted the same verses in our Bibles just like we carried the same water bottles to lunch. We started and ended our prayers with the same salutations. God was making the pursuit of Himself familiar — we were no longer sharing just friendship bracelets, but Him — in a way that each of us newbies so needed.

But as I grew, this understanding that I would always have those others in Birkenstocks, earmarking the same pages of their Bible alongside me grew up with me. I still prayed with one eye open. I watched how the others in the room held their hands when they prayed and I listened for what they said and how they said it. I learned from my environment — a much needed thing — but in the learning and the looking I also began to form evaluations: This prayer seems too far out there. This desire of mine, for Him, too deep. This lurking phrase that I can’t drop from His Word isn’t one I that hear others saying … I’m sure that’s not from Him, but me.

And I calibrated.

I coached myself, in the recesses of my mind, and so subtly I might not have ever noticed it: Don’t be too weird. Not too far-reaching or too raw or too hungry for God. Don’t be the kind of vulnerable that makes you seem crazy. Make sure you’re a normal enough Christian that you’re relatable. Relevant.

And I lost some of myself.

Boots MJ

I lost some of who He’d made me to be — a girl who, at times, is too deep and awkwardly vulnerable, irrelevant, but hungry for Him in a way to which He keeps responding.

He made me to pray with my eyes shut. Behind closed doors. In secret.


And it’s from that place that I find out who He is and He tells me who I am.

In giving subtle (unknowing) permission to those sides of us that would rather not be all that different from the crowd, we’ve made our Christianity far too conversant. Sterile. We’re “smart” about it. We have a language for why our pursuit of this dangerous God appears clean and tidy and conventional. But when all the noise outside is quiet and we’re honest, most of us would likely know that we never signed up to follow Jesus in the very same way our eight best friends do.

Just one eye open to what the person in the seat next to us is doing is one less eye on Him.

In a single hour of my day I can see the fruitful efforts of my neighbor’s lawn-care, a picture of the award that a friend’s daughter won in the fourth grade spelling bee, the article a college friend wrote for The Atlantic, and what my girlfriend in Texas is eating for dinner (and what she’s wearing while she cooks).

The world buzzes and hums with eye-candy: just enough to give me a rush, not enough to fill me.

If I train my eyes to inform my pursuit of Jesus by what it naturally sees within a day, I’m asking for greener grass, more successful children, fame, a full belly and super-cute clothes.

If I train my eyes to inform my pursuit of Jesus by what it naturally sees in a day, my prayers are far too small and my pursuit of this dangerously uncontainable God is far too conventional. I learned this in my Birkenstocks, with one eye open. I’m getting to re-learn it dozens of times since. To walk out a wildly-alive pursuit of God — that thing we really signed up for when we said “yes” to Him — I need to go into my room and shut my eyes to the very normal, very calibrated world around me, and ask Him to give me His vision.


He forms us when the door to the outside is shut and within the parts of our lives that only the walls witness.* God breathes on what happens when no one is looking. These secret prayers — the ones that call from deep within us but that feel too wild, too unkempt, too unconventional, too raw — are intended to catalyze our life in God.

In the midst of an alluring culture, we’re intended to have an internal fire for God. (Yep, I said fire. On the inside. For Him.)Lantern

We were made to burn for Him. {If you’ve read this far, you feel it. You know it — something deep within you is resonating.}

Could it be that keeping one eye open is dulling the flame?


“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2

*There are many passages in the Bible about the secret and unseen spaces of our lives — this hidden place. Study them for yourself, with hands open, asking: God, meet me in the parts of my life that no one sees. Here are just a few: Psalm 139:15 | Matthew 6:1-18 | Psalm 27:5 | Psalm 32:7 | Psalm 17:8 | Mark 1:35 | Luke 4:42 | Psalm 91

First photo by Cherish Andrea Photography. Second, third, and fourth photos by Mandie Joy. Last photo by @thrivephoto.