Author Archives: Sara Hagerty

When You Stop Being Invulnerable

A friend (who’d worked at length with children) watched the two of them play innocently in the one small section of the waiting room where we’d told them they could unpack their tote of just a few toys. We’d described to him their first few months at home with with us and he witnessed what we’d said and more. They played without fear and securely under our boundaries, even though we’d not been within immediate reach. They took delight in simple trinkets, but even more in one another, as ones who were already siblings before they became our family. Neither set of eyes was dull, but alive.

“There’s a word for that,” he said. “They are ‘invulnerables’.”

He spoke to what we’d presumed. They were untouchable, unadulterated by loss that had shrouded the years before they could even walk. Our children — former orphans — had been preserved.

And I was relieved.

We’d said ‘yes’ to them knowing what the books said about the possible implications of loss and brokenness, but we hung on to optimism more than we did hope — because optimism is often marked by naiveté, but hope is forged. (We were too new at this to have forged real hope.) She’d always fight for her little brother and lean into me as mommy. He would trust. Their eyes would always be bright with expectation. They were the rare kind of “normal” that gets produced out of abnormality. I thought for sure.

Phew. Both Nate and I knew I wasn’t cut out for layered pain as a new mom. So we called them The Invulnerables and I exhaled.

Until one day we couldn’t anymore.

IMG_5376-copy

Growth and time and siblings added to the mix revealed worn edges that two-on-two hadn’t. One struggled to trust. Another to lean in. The brightness in their eyes waned, for a time. A little bit of pressing and we saw tired years behind those wide-smiles and flickering eyes. Life had, in fact, worked them over before we held them for the first time. They weren’t as invulnerable as they once appeared.

{But really — is anyone?}

+++

I cringe, later, at what I’d call an over-share with a new friend sipping coffee. She wasn’t ready for that. I wasn’t ready to say all that. I blush when my child says that thing in that way in public. I don’t want to send the text for the third day in a row that begs “I need prayer” and I feel slightly naked before the friend with two older (read: more composed) children, who stops by unexpectedly and sees my wreck of a house at 3pm on a Tuesday.

I resent the tears I cry over missing my Dad in the middle of someone else’s birthday dinner when I’m reminded that he’s gone.

Who, really, doesn’t want be an ‘invulnerable’?

Most of us have let life and humanity train us into thinking that vulnerability is to be avoided — in us and in others. It’s toxic. We’ve bought into the lie that exposure of the heart — in even the smallest of ways — only brings pain.

The one who makes that 9pm crisis call to friends to say “our marriage is stuck, can we come over and get some help?” wakes up to a morning-after “why didn’t we just resolve it ourselves?” gulp of shame. The 50 year-old woman who musters courage to whisper to her decade-old Bible study group “I’d still like to be married. Would you pray that God would give me a husband?” leaves that night feeling foolish for putting herself out there. The 25 year-old wanna-be songwriter sings the first song he wrote, passionately, before he steps off the stage and makes a promise to himself to never take a risk like that again. The mother of that baby in the NICU — whom the doctors said wouldn’t make it — works up a prayer for healing and asks others to pray with her, only to wish she’d just accepted her lot as the reality of that exposed prayer creeps in and over her. What’s it gonna feel like if He doesn’t “come through”? What will they say about me and my wild prayers? she thinks.

We’d all like to climb out of those few circumstances that somehow slip past the gate of invulnerability we so fiercely guard because we’ve only been trained to know the downside of vulnerability — the human side of vulnerability.

Branch Water MJ

When the first two we adopted stopped living so seamlessly in our world — no longer without a bump or blemish — I coiled. I’d built an understanding of us as family that required them to be invulnerable. They were smooth, easy, and I was safe and unexposed. During those first months after we got our second two children and when the bumps and blemishes began to surface in our first two children, I was terrified. My heart had attached safety to invulnerability and I was now unsafe, by my metric. Their vulnerability — the fact that their past had impacted them in ways I couldn’t easily tidy up — made me feel vulnerable.And I didn’t know what to do with that.

I didn’t know what to do with vulnerability.

It wasn’t all that different than the walk to the car after my “overshare” with a new friend or the way I felt after leaving a baby shower where my barren womb was noted … or when it wasn’t.

Vulnerability shuts down the systems of self-defense we create around our manicured lives.

And vulnerability, to God, is beautiful.

It’s His currency.

Flower Cherish

I form a language about God and nearness and tenderness, but I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced it independent from my own vulnerability. I talk of Him as a kind Father and a gentle leader, but that language rarely moves to reality without some level of uncomfortable exposure in my heart. I pray for “more of God” but I rarely grow in personal, intimate understanding of Him without, first, wearing the kind of vulnerability that I seem to spend most of my time avoiding.

The invulnerables are impenetrable.

And those who learn to re-set their system in the face of vulnerability — to turn to Him and bury their otherwise-shamed faces in His chest — are the ones into which He reaches. They’re the ones who grow.

I want to be them.

Daisies MJ

I want to make the call to a friend at midnight because I need help, and turn to Him the next morning when my shame tells me otherwise.

I want to send a dozen texts for prayer and find out how safe it feels to curl up in His lap when that voice in my head tells me I’m a burden in my weakness.

I want to write a book (another one!) that exposes layers of my heart and life I’d feel safer not sharing and see Him wildly celebrating my partnership with Him when my heart starts to shrink back in fear.

I want to pray for my once-barren womb to open again, even past 40.

If the naked exposure of my vulnerability before God means I get to not just see but smell Him and touch Him and be held by Him, I’ll take it.

Invulnerables1

For Your Continued Pursuit (cause I don’t want you to just take my word for it): 2 Corinthians 4:7 | Psalm 22 | Psalm 34:18 | Isaiah 42:3 | Psalm 31:1-2 | Romans 8:1

 

____________________________________

Sara Hagerty HeadshotSara is a wife to Nate and a mother of five whose arms stretched wide across the ocean to Africa. After almost a decade of Christian life she was introduced to pain and perplexity and, ultimately, intimacy with Jesus. Her book, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet released October 7, 2014 via Zondervan, is an invitation — back to hope, back to healing, back to a place that God is holding for you—a place where the unseen is more real than what the eye can perceive. A place where even the most bitter things become sweet.  She writes regularly at EveryBitterThingIsSweet.com.

When Love Has Its Way with Us {Summer Flashback}

She elbowed and writhed and pulled at my fingers which were wrapped tenderly around her arm. She shimmied with adrenaline-charged strength I’d not seen before in her, determined not to know the intimacy of my hold or to hear healing words. Her body fought what it needed most.

In between her resisting my embrace and collapsing underneath it, I brushed fingers across her forehead and wiped away tears from overfull ducts. I held her head to my neck, flesh against flesh, my touch an attempt at smelling salts. I wanted to awaken her to that which was more real than her experience of years past: love.

Shame has a way of settling itself into our bones and making us believe it’s a security blanket.

And she didn’t want to release it.

Just days before, she’d told us that she thought we were sending her back after a year. Though we’ve dreamed with her about the years ahead — when she’d try different birthday cakes, and be able to ride in the front seat — and she’s even found a regular pretend role as a bride dancing with her daddy in the wedding her siblings concocted, the enemy’s words slither through her back-drop.

And, if I step back and view these moments as vignettes, separate from His story, they appear to be exactly what I’d feared about adopting an older child. (Some of you reading, considering older child adoption may feel your heart race as you read my words). But the enemy of lies fed me a lie, even in that fear.

I feared the discomfort which adopting these older children might bring to my recently-achieved placid existence.  Yet, at the same time, I prayed prayers to know Him more. It’s almost laughable now that I didn’t make the correlation: in order for me to grow in my understanding of Him, discomfort is required to produce the shedding of old skin.

Molting is often painful.

We run from the very thing through which God has ordained to align us to Him. We put baby-gates on our lives and padlocks on our hearts in hopes that we can avoid anything which hurts. We sit in the emotional kiddie-pool wearing a life-jacket.

We inhale self-protection, a path to a nice christian life that never knows the love of a fiery God who enraptures His people.

But pain grows us. Discomfort shifts our stalemate. It irritates that which was never meant to sit stable, stagnant. And it stretches us into newness. If we let Him, the pain He allows reveals new angles of His love. It changes us.

He’s reaching, wrapping, enfolding lives which subtly thrash and twist in their seeking to avoid the very discomfort that is the making of us. He’s brushing His flesh against our flesh to awaken remembrance. The scent of that same sweat which fell from the cross resuscitates. The life-nearness to Him is where we thrive.

We were made to be held. 

And the Father who knows better than we do may, first, have to break, before He can reset.

Holy alignment.

***

She broke the winds of the midwestern plains which tore across our yard with her squeals. Her bike racked-up mileage as she spun the circumference of our driveway, over and over and over again. The wind was now at her back and she’d progressed from a premature adult, fending for herself, to the little girl without a care in the world. Submission was safety. Authority — another’s — gave her permission to rest.

Another of mine retells the years of her life outside our home with the same theme: no food, no water, no sleep.

There’s no rest for one who lives fatherless.

What I feared most in bringing these ones into our home — this disruption to what felt “safe”– was the very thing He had ordained to bring forth a further “yes” with our lives to His leadership.

Hardship advances us if we let it. This moment you’re bucking up under, could it be the very irritant He’s allowing to answer your prayer for more?

I’m that little girl, just like her. We’ve both been molting. My defenses aren’t strong enough to resist His loving grip. My ponytail is whipping in the wind as I ride, fearless. And we laugh, me and Nate, at the hunger for Him I can’t quite quench underneath this little life which seems to say there’s no room for anything more than laundry and dishes and kissing ouchies. Eight months post-adoption, four kids in two years, a laundry-pile unending and dust bunnies that keep multiplying … and I am resting in HimHe that good that I can find Him, even here and now in this chaos.

When we stop trudging against His tide and say yes to what He is doing in the pain of stretching, we coalesce to a Leadership meant to make us soar, over and above all these circumstances.

Now to move from conversation to reality …

Do you have a circumstance which just won’t relent? Take a break from praying the singular prayer for it to end (or rest from rebuking the enemy, if you’ve taken this route), and sit on His lap. Ask Him what side of His nature He’s seeking to reveal to you. Open His Word and receive a new perspective on that same old itch and ache.

Moving forward: when you have the urge to cry uncle, to complain, to live in that place of discontent you’ve grown to know well, take captive each of those moments and adore. Our over-arching perspectives are won in the minute-by-minute eye-shifts.

Make a practice of replacing your heart of frustration with words of adoration and start with this moment.  Adoration takes our prayers from one-dimensional, one-sided requests, and makes them fuel for engaging with God as multi-dimensional over the circumstances of our lives.

Have you hit a stalemate in your heart’s communion? I’ve grown to believe almost all “lack of connection to Him” rests in a wall we’ve built for ourselves, knowing or not. He doesn’t barricade (His cross tore that down), but the lies we believe and the wounds that forged them – even from years past– they do.

Take some time. Sit with your molekine journal and ask Him to reveal the wound, the heart-pain, which stands between you and Him.  Let Him make you a little girl again, needing a daddy to kiss her ouchie. When He surfaces that wound, the old memory or the lie onto which you’ve somehow latched, ask Him where He was when it happened and for a piece of His Word about it and for His whisper to put in place of that hurt. 

Write it all down, this exchange: the wound, the image of where He was in that still-frame of your past-now-made-live, and His new Word over that old place. You may need to be reminded.

(This may take some time. Old wounds — or, if you are new at this, at least the first ones we begin to identify — die hard.)

But these wounds are holy opportunity. Some of my greatest moments of communing with God have come from taking an old, old hurt which turned into a rancid lie, placing it at His feet, and walking forward with His new Word over that part of my story.

And once we’ve gotten comfortable tilling the soil of those old wounds, when a new hurt comes — a terse word from a friend or a demotion when you expected promotion — it’s easy to take that hurt right up to Him.

He is always regenerating.

Photos compliments of Mandie Joy.

__________________________________

Sara Hagerty HeadshotSara is a wife to Nate and a mother of five whose arms stretched wide across the ocean to Africa. After almost a decade of Christian life she was introduced to pain and perplexity and, ultimately, intimacy with Jesus. Her book, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet released October 7, 2014 via Zondervan, is an invitation — back to hope, back to healing, back to a place that God is holding for you—a place where the unseen is more real than what the eye can perceive. A place where even the most bitter things become sweet.  She writes regularly at EveryBitterThingIsSweet.com.

Her Inheritance {Summer Flashback}

“And I want Mommy to have a baby in her belly,” I overheard her say as I was walking up the stairs this morning. I stopped in the hallway outside her room just long enough to hear “but sometimes it takes a long long time for babies to come. You have to pray and pray and pray. And wait.”

My daughter delivered a five year-old summary of her mommy’s life.

Nate had been talking with them about Zechariah and Elizabeth. And, to Eden, Elizabeth was another one of those women – like Sarah and Mary … or her mommy – whose story reminded her that pregnancy must come at the hands of a miraculous God.

I’d never told her I want to be pregnant.

She wasn’t my “second choice”, and I didn’t trust her young mind to later process my desire alongside of her own story with a healthy perspective. She was too young to catch wind of her Mommy’s pain.

The first time I remember her mentioning it was after a playgroup where all the women, but two of us, were pregnant. Children built towers, played instruments and read books around their mothers who shared life-stories. Naturally the topic of pregnancy came up. And my little one, who has not yet lost the hyper-vigilance that is a survival mechanism for many orphans, absorbed every word.

Later, in her prayers, she asked God to “send a baby to her mommy’s belly.”

It initially hurt my heart.

I’ve been preparing to field questions and observations about how our family is different for years. I just didn’t expect the first of them to be about my personal scarlet letter. I anticipated that she’d one day feel the pang of our skins’ different colors and her unique entrance into our family, but I didn’t suspect she’d have this other difference on her radar.

While the things that make our family different don’t seem to be a struggle for her now, they may one day become more than observations. I could call it maternal instinct that makes me want to protect her from every potential hurt, every pain. But my heavenly Father’s instincts were different.

His protection came not from avoiding that which would cause pain, but for offering His companionship as I walked through it. The valley of the shadow of death is land claimed by the Father. It is a holy place.

For me. And for my daughter.

At five, she has lived years I want to erase, but that God will redeem. And then, as one grafted in to this family, she has inherited new opportunities for pain.

But the ground I’ve taken in my life and heart, as it relates to processing my lack, doesn’t need to be won over, again, by her.

Her inheritance comes (from God) through me. She is my legacy. What I win in my lifetime — in terms of a hopeful perspective on all He has allowed and joy in the midst of “setback” — she gets to live out.

Her words to Nate this morning were not pain-filled. Sure, something in her – I’m not quite sure even why – wants her mommy to be like the other mommy’s with babies in their bellies. She longs, in the way a five year-old has capacity to. But what she has come to know as commonplace Christianity has taken me years to receive:

You don’t always get what you want, but in the face of delay, you pray and pray and pray. And wait. Sometimes for a long, long time.

And in the meantime you worship the One who holds beauty.

My highest aim as a parent is not to try and protect my children from all that might befall them, but to, instead, seek the healing touch of Jesus in every area of my own life, knowing that they will inherit what I leave behind. The “unfinished” will be theirs to finish or to pass along. And those ashes subjected to beauty, will remain their crown.

At five, Eden doesn’t wonder if God will still be who she believes Him to be if, next month, Mommy isn’t pregnant. “God is good, He is so so good to me,” she sings as her bare feet dangle from the potty.

Bracing myself against the hits I fear might come from the Father is a distant memory. After many years of having my soil tilled and turned, the ground is supple to receive the God of Hope.

And because of His great mercy in my life, to save me from my fearfully expectant heart, my daughter receives new land on which to plant.

My freedom won is her inheritance to build upon.

The fullness of God I pray almost daily for in my own life, isn’t just my platform for the next age. It’s hers too.

And her daughter’s.

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Sara Hagerty HeadshotSara is a wife to Nate and a mother of five whose arms stretched wide across the ocean to Africa. After almost a decade of Christian life she was introduced to pain and perplexity and, ultimately, intimacy with Jesus. Her book, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet released October 7, 2014 via Zondervan, is an invitation — back to hope, back to healing, back to a place that God is holding for you—a place where the unseen is more real than what the eye can perceive. A place where even the most bitter things become sweet.  She writes regularly at EveryBitterThingIsSweet.com.

When You Mother the Broken

The day we pulled up into our driveway with them — 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 — but 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.

Rain

What had been long-hour stretches of innocent chatter and pretend-play became lives and histories of once-strangers who were now siblings, rubbing up against each other’s life-losses.

What had been remedied, after our first adoption, by eye contact and skin-to-skin holding – little daily steps to build that bond of attachment – had now grown into heart-issues that needed more than simple strategies.

I started totaling the years of fatherlessness among my children, blushing that my home study never surfaced how grossly under-qualified I was to parent them.

I’d signed up, naively zealous as if I were running for student council, not taking on decades of life with children who, mostly, only knew loss.

Seven AM, for me, meant that I would walk outside my bedroom door and face gaps that needed years of holding, not just a quick morning prayer. Their lives were bleeding and I’d never been trained with a tourniquet.

So I cowered.

I shriveled.

What mom wants to watch herself fail … in the face of tear-stained cheeks and expectant eyes that needed a win?

What mom wants to watch herself fail — period?

I shrunk. I folded.

And it’s here that He began to give me a perspective on my motherhood.

And for life.

Hagarty 2

Adoptive mama who is wondering how the “yes” you mustered to open your door and your bedroom and your late-night hours to that little life … dropped you right here, one bleeding, reeling mess with a bleeding, reeling child: today is where He tells you who you are.

Today is when He tells you who He is.

Biological mama who is almost wishing she could label this brokenness away. Who stares, deep, into eyes that look like yours — but which carry a kind of pain and disconnect that you aren’t even sure where it came from.

Today is when He tells you who He is.

She buckles (in public). She kicks and screams underneath that sullen shoulder shrug and angry eyes – the day after you stopped the globe to celebrate her birthday – and God says you get to find Me …”when they cannot repay you” (Luke 14: 7-14).

You pour yourself out for the child who can still barely respond to a hug and He tells you that He sees you in this secret. This child ties you to a reality that’s more than flesh in front of you.

The dinner-date you planned that never happened because your son melted down– with years of feeling rejection from someone who wasn’t you – left you homebound and aching. And it gave you a new chance to weep, at His feet. Your heart had never needed to open like this – to Him – before.

When they cannot repay you, you get to find the One who can fill up your insides — better than any repayment.

When we mother the broken we meet the Father of the broken. We can’t just quote His Word by rote and pray pious prayers, anymore, we have to wrap our little-girl fingers around His once-flesh and cling with all we have left, if we want to “more than survive” these years. 

Hagarty 3

What the world tells us is loss – these children who might smile big for our Christmas cards but cry themselves to sleep well past when they should be sleeping through the night – is crazy, beautiful gain, in Him.

We gain. Him.

 

The way into His heart is to go down, mama. And you now have an invitation, with this child who cannot repay you.

The four once-down-trodden under my roof have held my hand with their lives and gently led me to a measure of the love of God I didn’t need when I was successful.

Adoptive mama, biological mama, step-mama — staring at what feels like your failure, this oozing life that has kept you from a neat and tidy motherhood might just be exactly what you need to crack your heart open to God (the One whose eyes bore with love into your broken one … the One whose eyes bore with love into your broken you).

{{Originally posted on The Better Mom.}}

__________________________________

Sara Hagerty HeadshotSara is a wife to Nate and a mother of five whose arms stretched wide across the ocean to Africa. After almost a decade of Christian life she was introduced to pain and perplexity and, ultimately, intimacy with Jesus. Her book, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet released October 7, 2014 via Zondervan, is an invitation — back to hope, back to healing, back to a place that God is holding for you—a place where the unseen is more real than what the eye can perceive. A place where even the most bitter things become sweet.  She writes regularly at EveryBitterThingIsSweet.com.

When Love Has Its Way With Us

She elbowed and writhed and pulled at my fingers which were wrapped tenderly around her arm. She shimmied with adrenaline-charged strength I’d not seen before in her, determined not to know the intimacy of my hold or to hear healing words. Her body fought what it needed most.

In between her resisting my embrace and collapsing underneath it, I brushed fingers across her forehead and wiped away tears from overfull ducts. I held her head to my neck, flesh against flesh, my touch an attempt at smelling salts. I wanted to awaken her to that which was more real than her experience of years past: love.

Shame has a way of settling itself into our bones and making us believe it’s a security blanket.

And she didn’t want to release it.

Just days before, she’d told us that she thought we were sending her back after a year. Though we’ve dreamed with her about the years ahead — when she’d try different birthday cakes, and be able to ride in the front seat — and she’s even found a regular pretend role as a bride dancing with her daddy in the wedding her siblings concocted, the enemy’s words slither through her back-drop.

And, if I step back and view these moments as vignettes, separate from His story, they appear to be exactly what I’d feared about adopting an older child. (Some of you reading, considering older child adoption may feel your heart race as you read my words). But the enemy of lies fed me a lie, even in that fear.

I feared the discomfort which adopting these older children might bring to my recently-achieved placid existence.  Yet, at the same time, I prayed prayers to know Him more. It’s almost laughable now that I didn’t make the correlation: in order for me to grow in my understanding of Him, discomfort is required to produce the shedding of old skin.

Molting is often painful.

We run from the very thing through which God has ordained to align us to Him. We put baby-gates on our lives and padlocks on our hearts in hopes that we can avoid anything which hurts. We sit in the emotional kiddie-pool wearing a life-jacket.

We inhale self-protection, a path to a nice christian life that never knows the love of a fiery God who enraptures His people.

But pain grows us. Discomfort shifts our stalemate. It irritates that which was never meant to sit stable, stagnant. And it stretches us into newness. If we let Him, the pain He allows reveals new angles of His love. It changes us.

He’s reaching, wrapping, enfolding lives which subtly thrash and twist in their seeking to avoid the very discomfort that is the making of us. He’s brushing His flesh against our flesh to awaken remembrance. The scent of that same sweat which fell from the cross resuscitates. The life-nearness to Him is where we thrive.

We were made to be held. 

And the Father who knows better than we do may, first, have to break, before He can reset.

Holy alignment.

***

She broke the winds of the midwestern plains which tore across our yard with her squeals. Her bike racked-up mileage as she spun the circumference of our driveway, over and over and over again. The wind was now at her back and she’d progressed from a premature adult, fending for herself, to the little girl without a care in the world. Submission was safety. Authority — another’s — gave her permission to rest.

Another of mine retells the years of her life outside our home with the same theme: no food, no water, no sleep.

There’s no rest for one who lives fatherless.

What I feared most in bringing these ones into our home — this disruption to what felt “safe”– was the very thing He had ordained to bring forth a further “yes” with our lives to His leadership.

Hardship advances us if we let it. This moment you’re bucking up under, could it be the very irritant He’s allowing to answer your prayer for more?

I’m that little girl, just like her. We’ve both been molting. My defenses aren’t strong enough to resist His loving grip. My ponytail is whipping in the wind as I ride, fearless. And we laugh, me and Nate, at the hunger for Him I can’t quite quench underneath this little life which seems to say there’s no room for anything more than laundry and dishes and kissing ouchies. Eight months post-adoption, four kids in two years, a laundry-pile unending and dust bunnies that keep multiplying … and I am resting in HimHe that good that I can find Him, even here and now in this chaos.

When we stop trudging against His tide and say yes to what He is doing in the pain of stretching, we coalesce to a Leadership meant to make us soar, over and above all these circumstances.

Now to move from conversation to reality …

Do you have a circumstance which just won’t relent? Take a break from praying the singular prayer for it to end (or rest from rebuking the enemy, if you’ve taken this route), and sit on His lap. Ask Him what side of His nature He’s seeking to reveal to you. Open His Word and receive a new perspective on that same old itch and ache.

Moving forward: when you have the urge to cry uncle, to complain, to live in that place of discontent you’ve grown to know well, take captive each of those moments and adore. Our over-arching perspectives are won in the minute-by-minute eye-shifts.

Make a practice of replacing your heart of frustration with words of adoration and start with this moment.  Adoration takes our prayers from one-dimensional, one-sided requests, and makes them fuel for engaging with God as multi-dimensional over the circumstances of our lives.

Have you hit a stalemate in your heart’s communion? I’ve grown to believe almost all “lack of connection to Him” rests in a wall we’ve built for ourselves, knowing or not. He doesn’t barricade (His cross tore that down), but the lies we believe and the wounds that forged them – even from years past– they do.

Take some time. Sit with your molekine journal and ask Him to reveal the wound, the heart-pain, which stands between you and Him.  Let Him make you a little girl again, needing a daddy to kiss her ouchie. When He surfaces that wound, the old memory or the lie onto which you’ve somehow latched, ask Him where He was when it happened and for a piece of His Word about it and for His whisper to put in place of that hurt. 

Write it all down, this exchange: the wound, the image of where He was in that still-frame of your past-now-made-live, and His new Word over that old place. You may need to be reminded.

(This may take some time. Old wounds — or, if you are new at this, at least the first ones we begin to identify — die hard.)

But these wounds are holy opportunity. Some of my greatest moments of communing with God have come from taking an old, old hurt which turned into a rancid lie, placing it at His feet, and walking forward with His new Word over that part of my story.

And once we’ve gotten comfortable tilling the soil of those old wounds, when a new hurt comes — a terse word from a friend or a demotion when you expected promotion — it’s easy to take that hurt right up to Him.

He is always regenerating.

Photos compliments of Mandie Joy.

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Sara Hagerty HeadshotSara is a wife to Nate and a mother of five whose arms stretched wide across the ocean to Africa. After almost a decade of Christian life she was introduced to pain and perplexity and, ultimately, intimacy with Jesus. Her book, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet released October 7, 2014 via Zondervan, is an invitation — back to hope, back to healing, back to a place that God is holding for you—a place where the unseen is more real than what the eye can perceive. A place where even the most bitter things become sweet.  She writes regularly at EveryBitterThingIsSweet.com.

When Life Leaves You Flinching

When we first brought her home a few of our normal-to-us family ways made her skittish. Her body stiffened when I hugged her. She sat at the end of the couch when we all piled on for a cuddle. And she retreated behind her eyes at the mention of a “special treat.” A suggested trip to the pool surely meant:it would rain. A surprise right-turn into the ice cream shop and she was already anticipating when the sweetness would be melted and her mouth was empty again.

She braced herself against all that was good, almost as if her insides said, don’t trust this moment. It will turn on you. Every good thing was too good to be true when the sum of her life was just pieced-together circumstance. Seeming happenstance — and often of pain.

“There wasn’t anything I didn’t like!” she replied as I asked her, just days after we met, about her years when dozens of children were the closest thing she had to a family and she lived afraid of the night that had no door to close on the room where she and her peers slept. “Everything was good.

This little girl was forced to redefine “good” around bleak circumstances, just to survive. It was safe for her to call what was bad, good, and to poke holes in what was truly good. Her orphan-heart made the world small so that her small world could finally be contained, controlled.

Rope

Just a few months after she’d been ours, Nate came up behind her and lifted his arms to enfold her and that wee thing — at the site of those arms, slightly raised — she flinched.

His daddy-embrace made her flinch.

That space, safest to any little pixie growing up in a family, wasn’t safe to her. Too good to be true, said that flinch. You can’t trust good or its giver. Because tomorrow it all may die.

Cherish Rose

~~~

We’ve spent twelve years of our married life sleeping through the night. Now I find myself awake at three a.m. with a corner of the room illuminated by our very first bedroom night light, watching the rise and fall of this bundled babe’s chest … and tempted with my own flinch.

I got on a plane with ten bags packed for ten months-plus and nothing else but a prayer to get my girls from Africa. I fought fear while flying over the ocean’s gap between my daughters and me. I disrupted the birth order, twice, and turned an informed-eye on the statistics. I fought fear over what “they” say is a good and right way to grow a family. I fought fear over what may never be when something like a hundred months passed of that silly little test saying “negative.” Yet, here I am checking that four-week old chest to make sure it’s still rising and falling at three a.m.

I’m not all that different from her, bracing myself against the next big hit, wondering when life’s circumstances might turn on me. I’m not all that different from that orphan who subtly believes that a small, controlled life is where it’s at. I could bring myself to tears just envisioning all the “what if’s” that could be waiting around the corner of my life.

House

I’m still flinching.

While the fight against fear is good and right, this time around He’s more overtly nudging me from defense to offense: find My love. Because this God-Man that shatters our flesh-formed understandings of love gives us a love of His own that can’t share a room with fear.

They can’t mix.

The logical end of all my thinking is revealed for what it truly is when I fear — when I flinch. This bracing myself that’s become habit — even when the exquisite, holy-other hand of the Father interrupts my flesh-spun world — tells the truth about what I believe. Fear comes when I believe that the best of this life rests in an event or a life-position. Fear comes when the end of all things, to me, is something I could physically touch. Fear comes when the intangibles are small and what’s right in front of me is the best I believe I can get.

Fear grows, wild, where loves does not.

Old Vines MJ

Love — the love of this God-Man — friends, it’s chasing me.

Road Mountains Cherish

And it’s so much more than what even my short twenty years of pursuing Him has yet revealed it to be.

It’s good. It’s always good. Even the worst outcome has His tender hands cupped around it. If I let Him, I can feel the coarseness of the God-made-man fingerprints against my uncertainty. His love has smiling eyes and a “c’mon little girl, you and I will climb that peak together” expression. It’s fiercely loyal; He doesn’t turn when I do. He has a name for me that no one else knows. When my knees buckle and I weep at what looks to be the world falling down around me, He whispers to me: I am near.

If I peer through this crazy-miraculous blessing of an infant that my broken-body formed and cracked open to birth and see the kind eyes of Father on the other side, who has positioned my whole life as a pursuit of knowing and living out of His love, I won’t fear. I can’t be both near enough to smell His skin and living in fear of the next time life will knock me down. 

When I move from knowing about His perfect love to feeling hot-tears on my face as I recount that early morning brush I had with the God-Man who said my name in the dark, I stop flinching when life works right, and I don’t re-learn to flinch when life’s circumstances are “bad.”

Have you felt His skin against yours? 

Maybe today is the day to stop fighting back the fear, to close the door to your closet and ask Him to smell the scent of His skin.

Bright Light

(Can you just imagine a Church across the earth who didn’t flinch, but instead — in even the very-worst circumstances — expected His goodness, because they had a behind-closed-doors experiences with Him as good? We might just make an imprint on that world around us that lives ever-flinching.)

Looking for a practical application? Consider the habit of adoration. There’s a group of us over here, daily declaring against our stale-old opinions of Him who He really is, according to His Word. And for more on adoration:

Adoration Explained

Why I Adore

Showing Up

Bridge

For Your Continued Pursuit (search out these words I say, above, for yourself): John 20:11-18 | 1 John 4:18 | 1 John 4:8 | Romans 8:37-39 | Revelation 21:5 | John 1:14 | 1 Corinthians 13:4-10 | Isaiah 41:10 | Revelation 2:17 | Song of Songs 2:10 | Romans 2:4 | Psalm 27:13

First, third, fourth, sixth and seventh photos compliments of Mandie Joy. Second and fifth photos compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.

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Sara Hagerty HeadshotSara is a wife to Nate and a mother of five whose arms stretched wide across the ocean to Africa. After almost a decade of Christian life she was introduced to pain and perplexity and, ultimately, intimacy with Jesus. Her book, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet released October 7, 2014 via Zondervan, is an invitation — back to hope, back to healing, back to a place that God is holding for you—a place where the unseen is more real than what the eye can perceive. A place where even the most bitter things become sweet.  She writes regularly at EveryBitterThingIsSweet.com.

Every Bitter Thing is Sweet

Hey you, adoptive mama, adoptive daddy –

This one is for you, today.

And it’s for your little guy …or your little girl.

He sees them.

And He sees you.

{This might just be the four minutes you need to be able to breathe Him in, again.}

Every Bitter Thing is Sweet was released via Zondervan this week. Looks like it might be the read you need? Find out more here.

IMG_6662

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Sara Hagerty HeadshotSara is a wife to Nate and a mother of five whose arms stretched wide across the ocean to Africa. After almost a decade of Christian life she was introduced to pain and perplexity and, ultimately, intimacy with Jesus. Her book, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet released October 7, 2014 via Zondervan, is an invitation — back to hope, back to healing, back to a place that God is holding for you—a place where the unseen is more real than what the eye can perceive. A place where even the most bitter things become sweet.  She writes regularly at EveryBitterThingIsSweet.com.

But God {Summer Rewind}

So much of what’s communicated about the world of adoption can feel so fatalistic. Both the outside observer and the mom who is in the thick of it can share the same bleak perspective. One perceives trouble and the other lives it, daily. Anecdotes about the neighbor’s son who, post-adoption, traumatized his siblings, share equal weight with a mother’s desperate prayer requests for her child, whose countenance has iced-over since they brought her home. Rewind 10 years and any sort of bump in the pathway to the “normal” life intimidated me. My secret goal was to maintain an equilibrium in every way.

good marriage, steady friendships, growing impact on the world, faithful-but-not-interrupted walk with God. None of these, in and of themselves, are wrong, of course. But, they couldn’t exist alongside my prayers for a unique intimacy with God. He let me share, however little, in His sufferings. Little did I know that what was in front of me would prepare me to administer healing to my daughter and walk alongside my son in his grief. My hiccups found me a Father, and they are teaching me to be a mother. Though I met with Jesus in the back-alley of life and found true safety outside of my “normal” life, I still carried those same expectations for normalcy over my children, who came to me through an anything-but-normal means. Residual fear of straying from the norm carried through to our first months and even year of absorbing Eden and Caleb into our fold. “Happy children” was my goal. The problem, unfortunately, being that I also prayed even before the first time I laid eyes on them, that they would know Him as Daddy. I’ve asked, almost daily, that they would know in their innermost being how high, wide, deep and long is His love. While happy is surely the fruit of a child who knows their Father loves them, there are years where that truth may have been called into question, for my little former-orphans. And, they cannot be erased. And, grief has surfaced in our home. The pain behind her eyes is unavoidable at times. Her grasps for the promise of security exposed behind weak attempts to disguise them. Is our love as temporal as the one she first knew? If the womb’s bond was broken by poverty, who can she trust?

The foundational fissures of a child, once abandoned, cannot be easily caulked. Even the early years are subject to a forever imprint. But God. Yes, but God. The same words I heard years ago about all those areas of “normal” being stretched thin, are the words I hear now. I found a flicker of light in the night, then, that set my whole heart on a different course. One breath of His changed everything. I was not made to simply endure, forever living by the scars I’d incurred along the way. I was made to conquer. To win. And the prize was the internal shifting of my heart that would never be taken away from me. I would never be the same again. My walk through the valley of the shadow of death marked my twenties and early thirties. My daughter found it at three and four. But, her scars will be her testimony. And, the imprint, a remainder mark of the sweet kiss of Jesus. I feel the ripples of loss in my home. When fear fills her eyes and insecurity leaks out, I inhale the abandonment too. She clasps her hands around my neck with a hold that craves promise, while expecting that one day this, too, will end. Her joy and zeal, overshadowed as of late, by tentativeness. By itself, it is bleak. It is fatalistic. There is reason to accept our children will be forever broken. “But God” echoes from my insides. I want to shout it in my home and let the hope of those words linger like a candle’s fragrance in winter over our responses to this vessel not-yet-fully-healed. She gets to find Him. Early. The darkness ignored by many but undeniable to her, begs a light. My little girl will see the goodness of God in the land of the living. And because I’d faulted in my marriage, my friendships, my impact, my ambitions, her road to Him is actually exciting for me. I know not just what is on the other side, but the Man she gets to meet along the way. And His grip around her tiny fingers offers her early admittance to safety. 

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Sara Hagerty

Sara Hagerty

Sara is a wife to Nate and a mother of five whose birth canal bridged the expanse between the United States and Africa. After almost a decade of Christian life she was introduced to pain and perplexity and, ultimately, intimacy with Jesus. God met her and moved her when life stopped working. And out of the overflow of this perplexity, came her writing.You can read more of her writing at Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet.

Taking Her From the Streets

[Continuing from Wednesday’s post …]

Moments of insecurity reveal my street-raised daughter to have a bark louder than her bite. As we learn Him, He teaches us about her and it’s here that we’re finding her gentleness.

Months ago, we started praying into her the opposite of what we were perceiving from her behavior. We weren’t looking to directly oppose what we saw, but as we asked Him for understanding into her heart, we realized that much of the whirlwind around her was borne from inertia. She had a dormant beauty that never had reason to surface.

And I’ve had too many years taking gulps of worst-case scenario expectations, lived-out. This time, I would try His perspective, first. We prayed it, said it, spoke it over her, and to her. And to ourselves. He was bringing forth beauty, refinement, gentleness. All the things one might say she wasn’t is what we believed He was saying she is.

And His Word speaks a better way.

One particular morning, Eden crawled into my lap and confessed yet another grievance. Hope was “hurting her heart.” It was not a surprise; I’d witnessed some of what she was referencing.

We talked it out. God was clearly using this to develop compassion in Eden’s heart for the broken. As we wrapped up our conversation I said, “Let’s pray and ask God how He sees Hope. Let’s ask Him to give us His eyes for her.”

We prayed, waited, listened.

Eden broke the silence: “Elegant. The word ‘elegant’ came to me, Mommy.” Though tucked away in a book we’d read months ago, it’s not a part of our everyday vocabulary. He spoke through the mouth of a six year-old babe to confirm the course we’d charted in prayer. He was making Hope new and even telling her siblings about it. Beauty initiated by Him, before our naked eyes could see it.

And He is doing it, friends. Under our roof is a greenhouse. It’s messy at times, this workroom of ours, but I can’t ignore the growth. Dirt giving birth to life. New shoots are everywhere and before long it’ll be spring.

I’ve heard from many of you whose stories take on a different shape, but the plight is the same. We share the scars of motherhood, both  for children who have been adopted, and those home-grown. You’ve cultivated the dirt and are waiting for spring. You have a Hope in your home and your heart sits, tentative about how to respond. As you wait on her — that “her” for you — might I humbly share some of His counsel to me:

Talk about her beauty, even behind closed-doors. Make it a part of your vernacular. “I can’t say that,” Nate replied to my bleak assessment of the situation, one day. He saw the end, where I was taking stock of the beginning. Nate has been the gatekeeper of our language. I need this.

What we declare — out of fear — in private becomes much easier to believe in her presence. To be her advocate, even closed-door conversations need to come back to the beauty He is bringing forth. To be her advocate, our understanding of her future must be rooted in the promises of His Word. There is no true advocacy apart from Him.

And the power of life and death lies in the tongue. (Proverbs 18:21)

Pray up and in. Adoration was the tool He gave me, early, for this task. To tear down the walls of lies around her heart and life (maybe even spoken over her before her birth) you must first erect Truth in your own life. Battling this blind, is not knowing who He is over your life and your family.

The only perspective that will stand, is His perspective.

Pray His Word back to Him, say His Word back to Him, paste it over your life. And as it takes root in your heart, which it will — because it’s alive — you’ll find it easier to pray it into her.

His Word will be her reality if you just open the door. Morning, noon, and night. It’s waiting. He’s ready-available to re-write your understanding.

Ask Him how He sees her. All day long you will be tempted to be the thermometer on her life. Her behavior has calcified how she sees herself and the enemy is hot on your trail to make you believe the same. In your pain, do not indulge your fear. Much of what you “feel” may actually be in direct opposition to what His Word says is true.

There is no better time than now to sit cross-legged in front of your fireplace, with moleskin journal in hand and a perspective ready to be molded, and ask Him the question that will unlock her heart: Father, how do you see her? Be prepared to take note … with your life.

Tell her who she is and set up memorials around when she walks it out. Behind ten of Hope’s missteps is one heart-move towards beauty. We celebrate the one. When it comes, we acknowledge it, that night we recall it, the next morning we lift it up as the first step in a pattern that will come. “Hope, remember how you cleared Caleb’s plate for him yesterday? That was awesome! Are you ready to do that again today? Let’s ask Jesus to show you more opportunities to love your siblings well today.”

It’s likely she lives covered under a blanket of shame — she’s been telling herself or hearing others remind her what a problem she is. You get to be Jesus’ eyes and search below the dirt for early signs of growth.

Don’t be afraid to respond to and discipline for the ten. ”He disciplines those He loves.” (Hebrews 12:6). Teaching this kind of love — His kind of love — is not pretending there isn’t a chasm of sin to cross or fantasizing a person into reality. Love stares deep into dark and through dark to find beauty. She needs to know you know her dark, and that it will not stand, in order to trust you when you tell her you see beauty. Isn’t that so with us and the Lord?

She needs to know and expect your loving-but-firm response to her sin, as she’s desperate for another’s guardrails on her life. Kids long for guardrails — unchanging guardrails, the same ones yesterday as there will be tomorrow. Children were never intended by Him to control their surroundings.

Be consistently consistent, it’s her safety.

Treat her like the daughter she is, not the orphan she was is the motto in our home.

When her behavior makes you want to retreat, take that as your cue to engage. Restoration love isn’t threatened by sin, it’s activated. When you take a step towards pouring out what you don’t have, He pours in. Give her the love your flesh can’t conjure. Give her the love that requires His overshadowing. He will surprise you, I promise.

Press in. These days are not her days to grow if they aren’t, first, your days to grow. It isn’t “when you get through this” that you’ll find Him. Now is your greatest opportunity to thrive.

These incidents are not accidents and the heart-pain they reveal in you is bigger than your circumstances. As He heals her orphan heart, He is healing yours too. Both are on His radar.

Slow down. Pour out to Him; He can handle your chest-heaving cries. And receive. He has gold for you in this season. And that gold is a greater depth of communion with Him.

And, finally, tell the story. His story. His final word is never doubt, despair or destruction. The testimony of Jesus is being written on your watch. Speak it out as such. When you get the look of pity from a friend who doesn’t quite understand your pain, tell her you are blessed, because you are.

Mamas, these are not your worst days, these days are fodder for a work that will leave you forever changed.

Perspective is everything.

And we get to turn in our frail human constructs of God for His. This is the best of times.

 

Second photo compliments of Lucy O’ Photo.

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Sara Hagerty

Sara Hagerty

Sara is a wife to Nate and a mother of four (and one on the way) whose birth canal bridged the expanse between the United States and Africa. After almost a decade of Christian life she was introduced to pain and perplexity and, ultimately, intimacy with Jesus. God met her and moved her when life stopped working. And out of the overflow of this perplexity, came her writing.You can read more of her writing at Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet.

Losing the Streets

The slum streets were her childhood playground.

Her lungs took their first swallow of earth’s air in the poor African’s version of a waiting room, while her mama held her place in line for a “free-clinic” bed — one that she never saw. Hope was welcomed by this world into the dirt, and it would indoctrinate her first five years of life.

And from what I can tell, she did street life well.

The skill set required to scavenge for food and beg (simply to get by) is quite different, even, than the one needed to slide into the masses of an orphanage food line. To move from streets to shanty-like slums and back again, over and over, makes one resourceful. Vigilant. Prudent.

And … nervous. Afraid.

Nearly six years there, in that life, and now just over six months home, Hope shows the wear-and-tear a child her age is much too young to have received. No government aid could touch the heart-wounds which come from a child fending and fearing during the years she was meant to be furrowing.

Sara Feb 12

My sweet little girl has a heart that longs to live childlike-free, but which is trapped behind years of inertia. At times, she moves like a freight-train — unstopping, always racing, never able to rest. She didn’t stop then, so why now? Rest was danger; how could it, overnight, turn into safety? She barrels through life and, at times, people.

It’s what she has always done. It was her survival.

But tucked away behind 10 of her missteps is one move in the right direction, one sprig of beauty.

And I’m the mama He’s called to search it out.

One of the greatest dangers of adoption is believing for your child what your child already believes about themselves. It’s subtle. And easy, when the sum total of all their behaviors in a given day seems to point in one direction.

But we weren’t called to be the thermometer in the life of a child who has years of seeing themselves in only one light. We are here to tell them who they really are and, in light of who He is, that they are royalty.

Sarah Feb 12 2

They just don’t know it yet. They haven’t been told.

She scooted over on the couch: “Eden can sit here!”

She seemed to be offering her sister an olive branch, by way of the hotly-coveted seat next to Lily for read-aloud time. But, as Eden began to move, Hope’s intentions became clear to me (but not to the others). Instead of forfeiting her own seat next to Lily, she was finagling a way to squeeze, now, two bottoms in one spot. She stepped forward for a moment to re-adjust, so I took the initiative for her.

“Hope! Look at that,” I said, as I surreptitiously scooted her body to the other side of the couch. “You gave your sister the seat you wanted most. Sweetheart, that was beautiful.”

Her face flashed remorse, for a second, before she tried on the new mantle I’d foisted on her. All of a sudden, her countenance changed. She adjusted her shoulders and her eyes sparkled. “Yes, Mommy, Eden can have it. I want her to have it.”

My little girl danced and pranced her way through the rest of that night, light-footed, light-hearted. It was as if she started to believe she might be something other than the tempestuous little girl she’s painted herself to be.

The next morning, I woke to find a different child in my home. She scampered downstairs to get waters for her siblings, without them knowing. She shared her colored pencils without being asked and snuggled closer and longer to all of us. “Mommy, I want to bless you,” she said, as I caught her carrying my running clothes from the floor where I’d left them to my hamper.

And this is how it goes. This is how He is winning her back. The age-old strategy of delight is the Father’s best-kept secret. He kneels, toes pressed against the ground, staring into dirt, and His fingers so tenderly search for that one shoot that says life is here. He wades through years of lies calcified against my heart to find His own Truths buried within, and He calls them forth. I call myself “messy” and He says beauty in the making.

And when I learn from Him, I can do it with her.

Perspective is everything.

No child born of God is forever lost. No doctor’s diagnosis or psychologist’s analysis is the final verdict.

The Father looks on my daughter not with eyes of hopelessness and fear. He stares into her deep and calls forth Himself, planted in her from before the day she met the streets. What the enemy calls misfit, He reclaims as heiress.

And as her now-mother, my role is to carry this torch over her life. I live advocacy in my flesh and in my spirit. My prayers and my words form the bridge of partnership between His promises and her reality. I partner. She is being made new and it’s my job to speak it loud and to believe it in my quiet.

It’s His job to impart it.

And mine to receive.

With all that I am and all that I have, to receive. And this is motherhood.

The streets — or the diagnoses, the fears, the setbacks and mistakes — these do not have to stand. We get to stand in their place.

* Photos courtesy of Mandie Joy

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Sara Hagerty

Sara Hagerty

Sara is a wife to Nate and a mother of four (and one on the way) whose birth canal bridged the expanse between the United States and Africa. After almost a decade of Christian life she was introduced to pain and perplexity and, ultimately, intimacy with Jesus. God met her and moved her when life stopped working. And out of the overflow of this perplexity, came her writing.You can read more of her writing at Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet.