Dear Julia, You will find that this isn’t my typical birthday letter. There will be plenty of years that need recapping, activities that need highlighting, milestones that need documenting, but this year, before pulling the curtain a little farther back on the glorious story of how God brought you to us, I want to give you more depth of the storyline. I want you to know more of what God was doing with me and FOR me before the curtain was even slightly parted and before He allowed the whole scene to burst forth before our eyes. The following paragraphs are too sacred to me to go without sharing at some point. Before my mind begins to enter the post-40 fog, I want you to know just how the Lord encouraged me so personally, so clearly, so kindly as I waited for you, my first born, my sweet love.
I had been praying with a dear group of ladies for a couple of years before you came, and they prayed fervently for me and for you, the one who we had yet to meet. Janina, Aunt Nini, as you call her, gave me a timeless devotional book, Streams in the Desert. I have many wonderful devotionals, some I have purchased and some given to me by very special people, but never this one. I feel the Lord led Janina to give this one to me, for you and for my time of waiting on you. The treasure I gained while waiting on you was a season of wholehearted seeking the Lord. I was expectant. I was eager. When I sat down to be with Him, to read, to pray, to be still, I was desperate to hear from Him. I craved His encouragement and could go for days on a simple reassurance. In true Yahweh fashion, He gave me so much more.
In October 2001, we were “matched” with a young woman named Sara. Saying “yes” to her is a story all its own but Jeff and I felt strongly God had spoken “Sara” to our hearts and for us to walk ahead trusting Him. A verse that I clung to from the time I was diagnosed “infertile” was Romans 4:20-21, “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised.” I felt confident the Lord would give me a child, but, of course, I didn’t know when. We had three short months to wait for you, but also three eternal months to wonder if Sara would really place you with us. I also felt strongly that He was calling me to trust Him and trust His goodness and so I decided early on in this six year journey to you that I didn’t want to miss Him. I could write pages and pages and one day, I will, just for you, but today, let me start with January 2002, one of the happiest months of my life.
(Everything in quotations, bold and italicized comes straight from the Streams in the Desert entry for that day.)
At this point, calls from Sara were getting less and less frequent and of course, this made your Daddy and me nervous. Was she thinking about changing her mind? It was a constant choice to place our faith in the Lord who had been faithful to us year after year. So for every second of every day, we made a conscious decision to trust Him that if you were, indeed, our daughter, He would bring you to us.
Here are some excerpts from my reading for that day:
“You may tell Him you are waiting, still believing and therefore praising Him for the answer. There is nothing that so fully solidifies faith as being so sure of the answer that you can thank God for it. Prayers that empty us of faith deny both God’s promises from His Word and the ‘Yes’ that He whispered to our hearts.”
“Faith is not a sense, nor sight, nor reason, but simply taking God at His Word.”
He wanted me to focus on His trustworthiness rather than my situation. I was completely out of control and not hearing from her highlighted that. He wanted me to “own” Romans 4:20-21--to be strengthened in my faith and not waver in unbelief.
“Remind God of His exclusive responsibility: ‘There is no one like You to help.’ (2 Chronicles 14:11)”
He reminded me that He was, indeed, in control and I, in turn, reminded Him that giving us children was His responsibility. I was wishing that He would let me know it was definitely through Sara that He would do it.
“God does not open paths for us before we come to them, or provide help before help is needed. He does not remove obstacles out of our way before we reach them. Yet when we are at our point of need, God’s hand is outstretched.”
Still no phone calls or emails from Sara. In my limited vision, the path was NOT clear. I had to believe when the time came, His hand would be outstretched....... with gracious gift of you or the precious gift of His comfort in our grief.
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Philippians 4:11
I would have been much more content if I could just have heard from her. I prayed for her and I prayed for you, hoping that I would get to hold you soon.
“I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing.” Ezekiel 34:26
“You, O Lord, can transform my thorn (my infertility, at the time) into a flower. And I do want my thorn transformed into a flower.”
“I will only triumph in You once I have learned the radiance of the rain. The fruitful life seeks rain as well as sunshine.”
I had to wonder, was I seeking Him only because I desired you or did I want a more fruitful life just as much?
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
I wanted Him to reveal His glory, but truthfully, I wanted it to include you.... to bring you to our home, into our family and to the sunny nursery your Daddy and I had created together.
Oh how I wanted to call her! I hadn’t heard from her and, of course, it made me wonder the worst.
“Beloved, whenever you are in doubt as to which way to turn, submit your judgment absolutely to the Spirit of God, asking Him to shut every door but the right one. Say to Him, “Blessed Spirit, I give you entire responsibility of closing every road and stopping every step that is not of God. Let me hear Your voice behind me whenever I ‘turn aside to the right or to the left’ [Deut. 5:32].”
He, along with Jeff, did not give me permission to call her. He wanted me to trust. He had already closed a door in September. A young girl had chosen us to be the parents of her unborn child. After much celebration, He closed the door. Honestly, it felt more like a slam. I really wanted Him to keep the door open to you.
“Reckon it nothing but joy.... whenever you find yourself hedged in by the various trials, be assured that the testing of your faith leads to power of endurance.” James 1:2-3
“Onto the pages of every trial there are narrow shafts of light that shine. Thorns will not prick you until you lean against them, and not one will touch you without God knowing. The words that hurt you, the letter that caused you pain, the cruelty of your closest friend, your financial need--- they are all known to Him. He sympathizes as no one else can and watches to see if through it all, you will DARE to trust Him completely.”
Julia, this encouraged me so as I had felt some of these “thorns”-- people with good intentions, and some not so good-- and He was teaching me that He was the One upon Whom to lay all my sadness and hurt. No one needed to know I had been hurt. He heard the careless words, the ignorant words. He knew.
I was earnestly looking for those “narrow shafts of light” that mostly came through His Word.
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.” 2 Corinthians 2:14
My desire was to be a sweet “fragrance” as I waited for you. I could not, but He could.
“This is the blessed life--- not anxious to see far down the road nor overly concerned about the next step, not eager to choose the path nor weighted down with the heavy responsibilities of the future, but quietly following the Shepherd, one step at a time.”
This was the hardest for me, Julia, but I had to rest in Him, my Shepherd, and not waste my days pining away for you and fretting if I would ever get to meet you. I could daydream for hours about you, what it would feel like to hold you, to kiss your tiny nose, what you would look like, how you would look in all the clothes I had stored up for you, what your cry would sound like, would I be able to tell what you needed....
One step at a time.....
“You must rest, O soul, to receive your heart’s desire. Slow the beating of your heart over concerns for your personal care. Place the storm of your individual troubles on God’s altar of everyday trials, and the same night, the Lord will appear to you. His rainbow will extend across the subsiding flood, and in your stillness, you will hear the everlasting music.”
I can assure you that this night I went to bed looking for the beautiful rainbow and straining to hear the “everlasting music”.
“God’s voice demands the silence of the soul.”
Even at only 9 days until the due date of your much anticipated arrival, I didn’t know that the waiting was only going to get harder as I felt my time with Him would get more and more quiet. Sara was quiet. I was quiet. He was quiet.
Over the next few days, the entries were full of meaning, but had a lot to do with sorrow. They were hard to read. I didn’t know if He was preparing me for a “no” or encouraging me that I would find great joy in the sorrows I had experienced.
“Sorrows come to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.”
I wondered if He hadn’t finished stretching or if He was about to fill the chasm of sorrow I felt with His abundant and glorious JOY. I had no way of knowing, but what I did know, Julia, is that by this time, my heart ached for you. I missed you terribly. I began to get anxious about what I would do with these strong emotions I felt for you if for some reason I wasn’t able to wrap them around you.
Entries went on to say things like, “Sorrow, under the power of divine grace, performs various ministries in our lives. Sorrow reveals unknown depths of the soul, and unknown capacities for suffering and service. Sorrow is God’s tool to plow the depths of the soul, that it may yield richer harvests.”
I didn’t know how to respond. I was tired of sorrow. I felt “unknown depths” had been tilled plenty. I was quiet. He was quiet.
“He withdrew to a solitary place.” Matthew 14:13
So did I. I had to. I was going nuts. I didn’t have permission to call. She didn’t call. It had been more than a month since we had spoken with her. We were two days away from your planned birth and all was quiet. Remember, I was waiting on that “everlasting music”. Here is what I read:
“There is no music during a musical rest, but the rest is part of the making of the music. In the melody of our life, the music is separated here and there by rests. During those rests, we foolishly believe we have come to the end of the song. God sends us times of forced leisure by allowing sickness, disappointed plans, and frustrated efforts. He brings a sudden pause in the choral hymn of our lives, and we lament that our voice must be silent. He counts the break with unwavering precision and plays His next note with CONFIDENCE as if no pause were ever there.
God does not write the music of our lives without a plan. Our part is to learn the tune and not be discouraged during the rests. They are not to be slurred over or omitted, nor used to destroy the melody or to change the key. With our eyes on Him, our next note will be FULL AND CLEAR. The rest is part of the making of the music.”
Desperately wanting the “rest” to be over and to hear the “full and clear” note coming next, I grabbed my Bible and intentionally turned to a verse that would spell out exactly what I wanted to hear, “He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord.” Psalm 113:9. I needed something plain and clear.
As I stared at the page of my big Bible that I have had for years, my gaze slid across to the left side of the page and my eyes locked here, “He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is secure, he will have no fear.” Psalm 112:7-8 My heart SANG. My girl, THAT is everlasting music. I took it. It was mine and it was beautiful. In that moment I knew I would hold you, that you would be mine. He was calling me to walk in that confidence, that steadfastness, over the next few days.
“Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?” Psalm 10:1
That was all the reading I needed to do. He had come so close to me through His word. The “narrow shafts of light” for which I had been looking had become a beam of light from the Psalms! For the first time in months, I skipped the reading.
That afternoon, the note came full and clear in the form of the phone ringing. It was Sara. She was having contractions early and was headed to the hospital in Bossier City, Louisiana and wanted to know how quickly we could get there. Quickly. We were in the car within the hour with everything we would need and wouldn’t need for the indefinite stay in Lousiana.
The Day. I got up to read, looking for the encouragement I needed and the encouragement to which I had grown accustomed.
“When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf!” Genesis 8:9-11
“God knows exactly when to withhold or to grant us any visible sign of encouragement. How wonderful it is when we will trust Him in either case! Yet it is better when all visible evidence that He is remembering is withheld. He wants us to realize that His Word-- His promise of remembering us-- is more real and dependable than any evidence our senses my reveal. It is good when He sends the visible evidence, but we appreciate it even more after we have trusted Him without it. And those who are the most inclined to trust God without any evidence except His Word always receive the greatest amount of visible evidence of His love.
God has a fixed time and an ordained purpose, and He who controls the limits of our lives also determines the time of our deliverance.”
The sheer joy of meeting you and holding your tiny body for the first time is beyond words. My heart was so full, celebrating the “visible evidence of His love”. I had no words. Then to see your Daddy hold you.....oh my. Nothing could have prepared me for that. He was
unashamedly head over heels in love with you and bought chocolates to give to ANYone he met-- the gas station attendant, the lady at the drive thru, the maids at the hotel.
We had 2 days to wait before everything was official, before Sara made her final decision. I was celebrating you, but with half my heart tied behind my back. The few hours that we were away from you were anguishing. Every waking moment, my mind was on you, but it was on Sara too. What was she thinking now that she had met you? Now that she had held you. I fell asleep remembering the everlasting music, praying that you were really mine and asking the Lord to renew my confidence.
Julia, when I say that God is good I mean it from my very core. I have no idea all the plans He has for our family, but my prayer is that we would believe this simple truth. God is good. No matter what.
Here is what He had for me on the longest day of my life, “Your rod and your staff will comfort me.” Psalm 23:4, “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5
And the one that put me on my knees, “He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” Psalm 112:7 -- the FULL and CLEAR note He had given me three days before. He plainly and boldly gave me the confidence I desperately needed to walk into that hospital and BE your Mother--before it was official. So I did. It was one of the best days of my life. I was completely unaffected by my circumstances which I had absolutely NO control over. Other people were in charge of you but the Lord had played music for me. I had never before and have never since felt so “carried” by Him. He kept me focused and steadfast leaving no room for fear. Jeff and I both knew it and have a hard time putting the experience with His Spirit into words.
We fell asleep excited and knew the next night, we’d be watching you sleep- still one of my favorite things to do.
“I have begun to deliver...............Now begin to conquer and possess.” Deuteronomy 2:31
“The Bible has a great deal to say about waiting for God, and the teaching cannot be too strongly emphasized. We so easily become
impatient with God’s delays. We cannot wait for the fruit to ripen, but insist on picking it while it is still green. We cannot wait for the answers to our prayers, although it may take many years for the things we pray for to be prepared for us.
There are times when it takes strength to sit still, but there are also times when we are to move forward with a confident step. [When the Israelites were commanded to “go forth” across the Red Sea,] no longer was it their duty to wait, but to rise up from bended knees and “go forward” with heroic faith.
“Go forward” with bold confidence and take what is yours. “I have begun to deliver.....Now begin to conquer and possess.”
This day was sacred. I had been “delivered” from my infertility and given permission to “possess” what God had been preparing for me all this time. It was a day of emotions that I never could have anticipated. Watching a young girl leave the hospital with empty arms while my arms were full of you. Finally getting to celebrate you with my whole heart. Putting you into our car for the first time because you were ours to take. Being able to hold you, the gift God had for us all this time. Touching the cheek of answered prayers. We were amazed. We were in awe. We are so in love with you.
Your God that You made your Savior three years ago now, is a big God. He does things in bold and beautiful ways. I hope from this story you see He’s just plain sweet too. I can’t wait to see Him plant dreams in your heart, to talk with you about what He’s showing you and do all He’ll allow me to help you see those dreams come true.
I had no idea what He had up His big ol’ sleeve for our family but every day, every month, every year was worth the wait. I’d do it again a million times if it meant knowing you in the end.
Happy Birthday, Julia Karis Sanders. I love you the whole world.
Goodbye Seven, Hello Eight!