With my heart beating hard in Africa, the words of Sara Hagerty, who has Africa running through the chambers of her heart, speak to the deep places… Sarah was full of expectation in her twenties. She expected her walk with God to mean upward and outward growth. She didn’t know she’d find Him when life stopped working for her. Sara found an answer to her hunger for “more” of God when she was alone in the night, as she cradled her longing for babies who did not come, as she kissed the faces of children from Africa, who had lived years without a mommy’s touch. And she found Him in the everyday mundane. I really needed these words — A grace to welcome Sara to the farm’s front porch today…
Ihad just wrapped myself around her little frame, settling her in for her afternoon rest, when she pulled her head back and asked, almost wistfully, “Mommy, is Jesus beautiful?”
She didn’t know what day it was for me when she asked.
She didn’t know her question needed to be my question too and that it might be the umbilical cord that bound me to her, this child that my body didn’t birth.
It was my dad’s birthday, a day harder for me than even the anniversary of his death. The day of his death had only recently been marked on my calendar, but for my whole life, December 16 had been for celebrating my dad.
I remember the year I had money from a first job and used it to give my dad a colored-patch sweater, when sweaters like that were still in style. And, years earlier, when I’d saved pennies to buy him something from the school library seasonal store, where gifts cost five and ten cents.
The picture I framed of the Swiss Alps, the one I took from their base, is one I now own. I gave it to my dad on his birthday the year after I traveled Europe. He’d been more excited for me to go on that trip than I was.
His favorite gift was the pecan pie I made him for his birthday when my finances were tight.
“You have a zest for life, Sara,” my dad used to tell me, when I’d only just outgrown pigtails. I had no idea, then, what I might need to walk through to more deeply know zest and the God-man who gave it to me.
When I woke this morning, his birthday, I had stumbled out of bed to meet my running buddy for our weekly run. I didn’t tell her what day it was. The grief felt easier swallowed than spoken.
The town was lit up for Christmas, but I felt the ache inside. Preoccupied and already trapped in clumsy skin, I tripped and skidded across the pavement. In the dark.
Figures, I thought, nursing my pain. Figures on a day like today, I’d also take a spill. My grief wasn’t just that I’d lost my dad but that so much of what I’d prayed and hoped for my broken, barren body still felt lost. Out there, somewhere. Even physical pain triggered a reminder of the years of loss.
I inhaled those stale thoughts all day until Eden’s voice interrupted my inner dialogue.
Is Jesus beautiful?
With my little girl’s query, it was as if God said to me, I see you, Sara, here in your loss. Today. I see your brokenness.
“Is Jesus beautiful?” I asked, repeating the question for my own benefit.
“Oh, Eden. Yes. Jesus is so beautiful. Sometimes, when you look into His eyes, in your mind, you feel like you could look for hours. He’s so safe and so full of life and so loving. God made Jesus’ beauty to be almost overwhelming.”
“Ask Him for yourself,” I said. “Ask God to show you what Jesus looks like. I’ll bet you’ll see His beauty.”
Oh this child, with an orphaned past that could leave her skeptical of God’s beauty, asking her mama this question without awareness of the years ahead of her when she’d have to face her life-grief.
She stared up at me with eyes that were hungry. I’d seen this hunger in her before.
The answer to her question might be the very thing that carries her through her own life’s pain.
It might be her entry into a life of finding Him as the Healer of her once-broken, once-bitter story.
It was – it is – mine.
I’m not sure I’d have ever asked to see His beauty if my life didn’t break.
I brushed up against His beauty on the day my dad died, His arms enfolding me as only a daddy’s arms can. His beauty interrupted the fog and allured me when the money had run out and when I slept like a stranger beside the one I’d married. He tenderly cupped and held my tears when I logged years, not months, in the grave of barrenness.
He was beautiful to me when I was empty.
Every single one of our life-aches, large and small, has a response from a God who put on skin so that we might know His scent and feel His calloused hands and live in a nearness to this beauty that would forever keep us coming back to sit at His feet.
Pain is an opportunity. An invitation.
It can allure us out of the sterile way we so often approach Him and away from our false view of a plastic God.
Pain invites us to see. Him.
The Beautiful One.
“Yes, Eden. Yes. Jesus is beautiful.”
Do you have four minutes to breathe? Or, rather, do you need four minutes to breathe in this beauty? It may just be the glimpse of Him you’ve been craving.
Sara 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.
Our mutual heart sister with Africa in her veins, Katie Davis, writes that Sara’s story, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet is about, “about a God who rescued one woman from barrenness and carried her to a land of abundance, dripping with milk and honey and all things His goodness.”
Sara’s book, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet, 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 thing is sweet.