That Question: “What Am I Doing Wrong?”

I had to hear it through a half-dozen other mouths before I realized it’d been in my head first, and for possibly years.

“What am I doing wrong?”

It’s the mother whose child isn’t sleeping, and the wife who’s husband isn’t emoting, and the daughter who’s father is still in rehab and the twenty-five-year-old who is still in the same cubicle, with the same title, three years into her job who are all saying it.

Haven’t we all said it? When was the last time you did?

We brought our second two children home from Uganda (which meant we were now parents of four) and this question roiled around in my head at 11 pm, just hours after another child’s meltdown. This was the first time they’d known the safety of a Daddy’s strong-arms, but my husband’s arms still seemed to feel anything but safe. This was the first time they’d known family dinners and full bellies and rhythm, yet here I was staring at their sobs and asking that question: what am I doing wrong?

{Continue reading this post over here —>}

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.

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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.

Shoes

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.

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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.

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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

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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.)

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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.)

Daisy

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.

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

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

Grapes

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.

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.

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 … }