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.

Repeat.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Tethering the Strings of the Heart

She slid up next to me, a sprig of a thing with her long, thin frame that will likely be taller than mine before the year closes. I was wiping down the counter — tasking — and she wrapped her arms around me and rested her head in the crook of my neck as if we were settling in for a late night story.

My children show affection in different ways, though all of us Hagerty’s tend to be cuddlers. This particular one, however, reserves her hugs as exclamation points. She doesn’t often initiate and when she does, I pay attention.

What was it today? I asked myself and then remembered that I’d been asking myself that more frequently with her.

You see, we’re living time backwards. My children are aging with the calendar but they’re also healing — four of them were orphaned, once — and healing tends to bring them closer to home, despite their age indicating that they’re closer to launch. When they move a little closer in — when they lean, when they initiate, when their eyes look straight into ours for a little longer — we take notes.

What was it today? {Continue reading over here … }

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.

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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.

Hidden.

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.

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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?

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“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.

When They Cannot Repay You

The day we pulled up into our driveway with the first two of our children that we’d adopted — into the home that had been full of empty bedrooms for years while we waited for them — we sat with the keys in the ignition while they, buckled into boosters in the back, slept off days of sleepless travel and we sighed.

Done.

We’d finished the hardest part, hadn’t we? They were … home.

They transitioned almost seamlessly into our home, except for some minor hiccups with attachment that an ergo and night-time bottle feeding (eye-to-eye) seemed to cure.

My little girl smelled like me. (She was mine.) My son even looked like Nate, aside from his chocolate skin. They slept through the night and played for hours like best friends and made our family of four feel easy.

A year later and we were adopting again. Insta-family.

And somewhere between that cloudless day when we brought our first two home and the one when we had five packed into our rusty suburban, the seamless days of adoption had vaporized.

The days when it seemed easy were distant. {Continue reading over here … }

On Tears (and Other Blessings)

It is the rare writer who invites you in, not only to their heart but yours, and through the back door — in such a way that words and story are subtly ushering you closer to the heartbeat of God.
I read Christie Purifoy’s book last summer and I’ve counted down the months until it would be available in book stores, until I could gift it to friends. Readers, writers, ones wanting to get lost in story and find themselves in Him in a new way: buy this book. Today I’m hosting her on the blog and learning from her as I read:

“I sometimes think that every good gift I’ve been given has its roots in emptiness. I cannot separate the blessing of these four children from the years of infertility and longing. I cannot distinguish this [home] from the restless wandering that brought me here. Even summer is a gift we receive only on the far side of winter.” – Christie Purifoy, Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons

In summer, we feel the warmth of the sun on our arms, we hear birds singing outside our open window, and we feel we are blessed. Yet we cannot know the fullness of summer without the emptiness of winter. So which one, truly, is the gift?

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I wrote a book and assumed I knew what every word of it meant. Two weeks before my book released, my family suffered a great loss. Now I am reading every word with new eyes. My own words, written so many months ago, have become my guide through a new season of emptiness.

“… I am finished with sifting. Finished trying to untangle the knots of good and bad. Finished naming one thing a gift, another a curse. … These things must be embraced entirely or not embraced at all.” – Christie Purifoy, Roots and Sky

The book I wrote tells the story of our first year in an old Pennsylvania farmhouse called Maplehurst. It is about all the ways God leads us home.

Now I know: our home, our place of rest, our moment of sweet arrival, lies on the other side of emptiness. On the other side of loss. And we travel toward it accompanied by a great many tears.

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I realize this sounds like bad news, but it is bad news the way snowfall in winter is bad news. God meets us in our empty places, and it is sometimes as sweetly quiet as snowflakes falling on a red-brick chimney. It can be as beautiful as the white-frosted limbs of a giant maple tree. In other words, it may be hard and cold, but it is not only that.

Certainly, it is nothing to fear.

“… there is always this edge running through our lives and our days. … the cliff edge between winter and spring. The fault line between death and life. It is the line between loneliness, which is easy, and friendships, which will be hard work. I am realizing how frequently we are invited to dive into the unknown. To make a flying leap toward light and life and love. How frightening it always is. And how necessary. And also how well cared for we always are, even if we are never, at least not exactly, safe.” – Christie Purifoy, Roots and Sky

I am writing these words from a place of emptiness and grief. At the same time, I am writing these words from my home. My armchair is pulled up close to the window of this attic room. Outside, snow is falling on the evergreens, the bare maples, and the fountain I can just see down below.

I have come home, and every day I see more evidence that the God of the universe is also making a home here, on this hilltop, with me. But this does not mean that there will be no more emptiness. This does not mean there will be no more tears. Not yet.

Not yet because there are new things to come. New life yet to grow.

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And one more spring approaches.

“I long to see the glory of God in this place, to taste it even, but for everything there is a season. These are still planting days. These are the early days of small beginnings. Days to sow, quite often in tears, hoping, believing, that we may one day reap in joy.” – Christie Purifoy, Roots and Sky

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Christie PurifoyChristie Purifoy earned a PhD in English Literature at the University of Chicago before trading the classroom for a farmhouse, a garden, and a blog.

In lyrical, contemplative prose, Christie’s just-released book, Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons, unveils the trials and triumphs of her family’s first year at Maplehurst. Christie invites you into the heartache and joy of small beginnings and the wonder of a God who would make his home with us.

Connect with Christie and discover more about life in a Victorian farmhouse called Maplehurst on Instagram and Facebook.

That Voice of Surprise

She was turning eight on the first birthday that she celebrated with us. I think this was her first birthday ever, as the first years of her life had been undocumented.

And I was overwhelmed – a likely coupling.

We’d just completed our most recent adoption of two more children and my head was still spinning. Life hadn’t stopped to let me more deeply absorb the impact of melding lives and histories and cultures all under one roof. I still had to cook dinner every night. We all needed clean underwear.

In the times of transition like this, I was most aware of how limitless life can feel. We’d just adopted internationally and outside the birth order. I could find hundreds of blogs and dozens of articles to inform this transition. I was cooking for six now, not just four.  And there were countless sites I could search for recipes and women offering advice on the screen about how to feed a large family. I was homeschooling – certainly no dearth of resources there to tell me what to teach and how to teach it. And in an effort to keep myself sane, I was still running several mornings a week. According to the sites, barefoot running was the new trend for the well-studied runner. {Continue reading here … }

That Holy Loneliness

“I want a friend who is just like me, Mommy,” she said through tears to me, years ago.

“I feel alone.”

She dismissed those siblings of hers who like different songs, and sing to different beats and the spend their time ordering when she wants disorder or deconstructing when she wants to construct. She didn’t want a friend who was a year older, or another a year younger. Surely not one that’s too “rowdy”, or another too quiet.

We made a verbal list. She wanted a girl who knew what it was like to live with all those crazy siblings, while also one who wanted to put on her pajamas at two o’clock in the afternoon some days. Oh, and one who didn’t like messing with her hair. {Continue reading over here …}

“I wanted to show you my secret place.”

Several years ago when I was a new mom, my dear mentor and friend casually slid me a book by Sally Clarkson. I didn’t know when I started reading that I might find another mentor within the pages, teaching me through her words on paper. Sally has encouraged women all across the world in seeking God’s vision for their home and family. Including me. (And, yes, even as an adoptive mama with unique dynamics and challenges to our home. Especially as an adoptive mama with unique dynamics to our home). It is a sweet privilege to host her in this little space here, today, from the pages of yet another golden book that she’s written (and this one, with her daughter!). I’m only a few chapters in, and already scratching down notes and asking Him to breathe on the new pieces He has in there for me. {Read on for a taste and I suspect you’ll be buying the book yourself after you read.}

As I glanced out the kitchen window, the shadows that were overtaking the mountain told me that the sun was just about to set. Clay had proposed a rare and much-needed dinner date for just the two of us. Lots of issues in our life needed our focused attention—ministry conferences, book deadlines, taxes, a possible move, new staff for our ministry, a health problem with one of our children, a relationship problem at church—plus, we just needed some time together alone.

It was ten minutes before six, the time Clay had told me to be ready. I was still in the kitchen washing dishes, trying to get the kitchen clean before we left. And eleven-year-old Nathan, my bubbling, energetic extrovert, kept run- ning into the kitchen demanding that I come look at something.

“Mama, I have something to show you! It will take just a few minutes, but you have to come now.”

“Not now,” I almost told him. “I promise I’ll spend some time with you when I get home, but I have to finish the dishes now before Daddy takes me out to dinner. This way you kids won’t have to clean anything up!”

I almost said that, but I didn’t. After a brief mental battle I put the greasy pan back in the sudsy water and dried my hands.

“Nathan, where are you?” I yelled. “I’m ready to see your surprise.”

“I didn’t think you were ever going to come,” he moaned as he appeared from the den. “I hope we’re not too late.”

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He led me into the narrow laundry room, then stopped, looked me in the eye, and commanded in his high-pitched boy voice, “I want you to follow me up to the mountain, but you have to hold my hand and keep your eyes closed. I promise I won’t let you fall.”

I obediently followed him out the back door, which opened to a tiny block of cement patio at the base of a steep hillside bordering the national forest on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains. This was my own private hill, where I ended my early morning walk on the mountains each day. Its slope was covered with large red boulders, sandy hillside, and pine trees.

Holding my hand tightly in his pudgy little one, Nathan now led me up the steep hillside. Eyes shut, I followed the best I could. Then he stopped. “Mama, there’s a big rock here. If you put your hand right here, I can help you climb up on top of it, and we can sit there together. But you have to promise not to look up yet. Just look at your feet.”

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I submitted and finally, tentatively, eased my way on my stomach to the top of a boulder about the size of a small shed.

“Okay. Now turn around and sit without looking up, and I will tell you when to look!” Nathan insisted.

As I settled down beside his sweaty boy body, Nathan’s small arm fell snugly across my shoulders in an affectionate embrace. “Just in time,” he said excitedly. “Now you can look.”

I looked and gasped as I beheld one of the most exquisite sunsets I had ever experienced. Soft reds, vibrant golds, shimmering orange gleamed in fire-brightness before our eyes, filling the expanse of the sky with splendor. A symphony of colors seemed to sing in the evening sky. Then, slowly, the colors began to fade. The sun gave a final flourish, and a majestic wave of dark reds and purples seemed to spill out from the mountaintop, reflecting the last rays of burnished light. It was as though God Himself was providing a sparkling celebration just for us to document the importance of the moment.

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Nathan beamed at me, his smile cheek-to-cheek as he looked contentedly into my eyes. “Thanks for coming with me, Mama,” he whispered almost reverently. “I wanted to show you my secret place. I saw the sunset here yesterday, and I knew you would like it, so I wanted to surprise you and bring you here. I’m glad you and I are such close friends. I’ll remember sharing this sunset with you for the rest of my life.”

And yes, in his little boy, dramatic way, he actually said that!

As I reflect back on all of the years of our family’s life together, what I remember best is not the mountains of dirty dishes and pots and pans and socks left on the floor and piles of laundry. I reflect instead on precious times shared with Clay, the kids, and those we welcomed into our home—snuggling on the couch together, nursing babies and rocking them to sleep, sharing movies and huge bowls of popcorn, comforting children after a nightmare, and all those heartfelt kisses and cards that said “I love you!”

So many other memories come to mind. Friends piled around the dinner table, candles lit, telling stories about our lives, building bridges of love to one another’s hearts. Bible studies and cups of tea shared as the light of God’s goodness dawned and hearts were forged together forever because of our common bond to His love. Times of grief filled with tears but also with the sweet comfort of friendship and of not bearing burdens alone. Illnesses, some months long, that tried everyone’s patience yet created some of the most indelible memories—tents built, stories read aloud, soothing music easing an ear infection, one more Winnie-the-Pooh cartoon, a hand to hold during the painful and fearful moments.

To me, all these memories of love given and loved received glue the years together into a deeply satisfying collage. I am so grateful for the opportunities we took to say to each other, “You are important to me. Making time to share love, intimacy, and memories is so much more important that any task that would steal my time from you.” Yet feelings of regret also occupy my mind as I realize how quickly the years have flown. I find myself thinking, I wish I had spent more time enjoying these ones I love and less time fretting about all the details that have faded in my memory.

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Photos compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.

Get the rest of the story on the book right here.

Sarah and mamaSally Clarkson is the beloved author of multiple bestselling books, including Own Your Life and Desperate(with Sarah Mae). As a mother of four, she has inspired thousands of mothers through Whole Heart Ministries (www.wholeheart.org), which she founded with her husband, Clay, in 1998. Since then, she has advocated relentlessly for the power of motherhood and the influence of home through her Mom Heart conferences (www.momheart.org), speaking to audiences on several continents. Sally encourages many through her blogs and websites—www.sallyclarkson.com and www.lifegivinghome.com (the companion site to this book)—as well as through her e-books and live webinars.

Sarah Clarkson loves good books, beauty, and imagination, and thinks everyone else should too. She explores the intersection of literature, faith, and wonder at thoroughlyalive.com and is at very slow work on a novel. She currently hails from Oxford, where she keeps good company with the ghosts of Tolkien and Lewis and also studies theology.

I Think I’ll Choose Weak, Today

“It was almost like they were suggesting it could ruin our family.”

It took a minute to register.

What my dear friend had been carefully advised against — adoption — was the life I was living.

Ruined?

Rope

My mind flashed to Hope practicing her ballet routine for a March performance, holes in her tights and a leotard stretched thin across her muscular frame, with graceful movements that sometimes make me catch my breath. And then Caleb, making dollhouse furniture in stealth for his sisters in the basement; he loves a good surprise.

I share their names here, now, because they aren’t statistics or a rescue mission or a cause. They’re my children. But in the context of a conversation had by a friend and another — about a hypothetical for her life — children like mine (once adopted) were positioned as potentially destructive.

Though pained by the implication, I sympathized with the one giving advice. No one wants to walk with a limp. Most of us just aren’t self-aware enough to say it: we don’t like feeling weak. We’ll claw our way out of any situation to avoid it.

No one wants to walk with a limp. Most of us just aren’t self-aware enough to say it: we don’t like feeling weak. We’ll claw our way out of any situation to avoid it.

If you walked into my kitchen at 5pm in the winter after we’d completed one of our adoptions you might have thought we were ruined. I surely did.

The sun would sink earlier every day, and one of my children would sink right with it. The “cause” changed daily: not enough food at dinner, too many piles to sweep, a sibling’s accidental elbow bump (all things that the rest of us have learned to weather), made this child wail. Night after night we fielded the sobs knowing it was probably easier for her to cry over spilt milk than to go into the crux of her pain, a loss that no five year-old should ever have to face.

So we held her when there were too many piles to sweep and I wondered if I’d ever know normal again.

My neighbor might have called that ruined. Gone were the days of cuddled read-alouds by the fire at dusk. At least for a while.

But after I tucked them in bed and in between her sobs and up the stairs and down, ushering children into jammies, I prayed a new kind of prayer. Prayer was no longer discipline, I was desperate. Tired and needy and confused. And weak. Really weak. There were no books to tell me what to expect from my child, with her particular history — her cocktail of losses and grief, who was wedged into our particular family. Even the best parenting strategies were not sufficient. I needed Him.

We were the kind of weak which many Christians spend their entire lives training themselves to not be.

Some might say we were ruined.

But something was happening on my insides that had started years before and is still working its way into me. I started to lean in to the weakness.

I started to like the benefits of seeing these layers of me unraveling at the feet of Jesus who never promised me a strength in my own self. I studied His expression towards me when I brought nothing but tears and questions to our conversation — the parts of His Word that reminded me that the brokenhearted weren’t just the ones we smugly label as “damaged” from within our cushioned lives, but the brokenhearted was me. I noticed how He treated the ones I would have judged — without a plan and needy — because now I was one of them.

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What some may have called the end of us was stocked with more understanding of the gentle-handedness of God than any single one of my strongest days could have produced.

My children didn’t “ruin” me. I was ruined long before them. They were the circumstance He used to merely make this safely-hidden fact, obvious (to me): I am weak. Terribly weak.

PitcherMJ

I am no more ruined than I was when life ran on time and all the piles were swept and we knew what to expect out of each day. It’s just that I now can see it a little more clearly.

We think: “when I get there [to that elusively strong place] then I’ll rest, be satisfied, be confident, change the world, [fill in the blank].” We go to embarrassing lengths to claw our way out of any situation that makes us feel helpless and weak. We’ll do anything to feel strong again, even if that “strength” is a mere shadow. However, His invitation to us was and always will be: die (to this figment of strength you’ve created), and then we’ll really go for a ride together.

My children didn’t “ruin” me. I was ruined long before them. They merely made this safely-hidden fact, obvious (to me): I am weak. Terribly weak.

This cross I carry bears down on me and makes me sweat when I haven’t planned that I’d be sweating it out. It sucks the productivity out of me some days and I have splinters from it that feel permanently lodged. I get grumpy, under the weight of it.

Yet, it’s stunning, this best part of my story.

She pirouettes through the kitchen and he stores books under chairs and couches so he can read them in between chores and another paints us a picture of a boat for our bedroom that’s better than anything I’ve ever bought from a store. They belt out hymns in the shower and pray for me when I’m sick and cut fresh flowers for scattered vases in late March.

But, lest you think the answer is that “it all turned out ok”, even the best part of them is not what elicits the best parts of me. 

These children of mine are ushering me into His chest, that place where I’ve crumbled and where He moves in power, I’m weepy and He’s full of surprises for me, I’m encumbered and He’s agile in my story. When my way feels thwarted, He lays out the red carpet.

The degree to which I allow myself to be weak is the degree to which I experience true, God-originated strength (crazy, wild strength).

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We get “ruined” by whatever circumstance He is using at the moment to usher us into an awareness of our weakness and He, then, comes with a power that’s nearly unfamiliar because we’re so used to the fake replica.

I think I’ll unmask weak today.

 

[Making it Practical: “So what if I’m just plain mad?” you say, as one who is admittedly resenting their weakness — just like the rest of us who resent our weaknesses, at first pass. No one likes to die under a weighted cross. We’ll do anything to claw our way out.

Enter adoration. This little habit is making a substantive impact on how I see weakness and how I see Him in the middle of my hot mess. Our bodies don’t naturally lean, in weakness. We buck and kick and claw (or the more refined of us strategize and plan our way out). Adoration takes my fitful self and gives me language for who He really is, from His Word, and ever-so-slowly my insides rest from their fit and I begin to lean into a crazy-powerful strength that’s not mine, right there in the mess.

To read a bit more on adoration: Why I Adore, How to Really Fall in Love, A Love That Isn’t Loud, The Words You Use When You’re Not Ready to Talk or just jump in over here.]

For Your Continued Pursuit: 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 | Matthew 16:24-25 | Psalm 33:16-22 | Psalm 147:10-11

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