I always wanted to be mother.

I wanted to read What to Expect When You Are Expecting with a round belly. I wanted to muse about preschools, brands of diapers and swaddling techniques with experience with my college girlfriends. I wanted a lifetime ticket into the "mom's club."

During years of "trying to have a child," I longed for my social isolation from my with-child friends to be over.

But our wait was long. Our wait was full of dead-ends and the harsh reality that Kevin and I might not be parents in a traditional way. Our wait included a journey to make peace with the life we had, not the one we wished for (such hard emotional work!)

Life is full of surprises, though. Over a year ago when a baby girl came in our lives with unexpected speed, many might have said about my life "I got what I always wanted."

Or did I? (I really have a hard time with that sentiment).

This is what I know: I love my daughter. I love that infertility is not a daily part of my struggle anymore (victories need to be celebrated!). And, I love I can now shop at Babies R Us without a stomach ache afterwards. I'm a parent. It's a fact.

Though I never read What to Expect When You Are Expecting, I'm a diaper changing pro. I've gotten good at taking a car seat a part when spit-up happens. And I love giving baby girl a bath and lathering her up with the sweetness that is baby lotion at the end of a long day. It's a good life I have in this season. Parenting is more joy (and work) than I ever thought possible.

But, when it comes to being a part of communities of moms, I have to tell you all my rosy dreams of playdates and Mom's Day Out coffee dates just aren't a part of my current reality. 

Parenting circles aren't natural places where I feel like I fit in. Maybe it's because of the years it took me to get here. Maybe it's for other reasons. Here's one story.

Baby girl was 8 months old. She was invited to her first birthday party.  

Though 8 months seemed too soon for the whole "bring a present" and "eat some cake routine" to me, I went along with it. I bought her a present to take the 5-year-old that she met through her babysitter. I packed her bag with baby food and I looked forward to the treat of pizza and cake.

But while there were expected kids party antics of balloons and games, what followed was weird.

I hardly had two feet in the door, no, "Hello." No "What's your's name?" Or even, "What do you do?"

Rather right to: "Does your girl sleep through the night yet?" And when I said, "Yes, she does" the rest of the conversation was a game of 20 questions about this and that behavior of hers.

I quickly made my way to the pizza table trying to escape the questioning but it continued later. This group of parents felt relentless. It was as if children in the room meant having adult conversation was impossible. I wanted adult conversation. 

I took way from the experience that what my soul needed during my waiting for children years is the same thing my soul needs now.

I need friends who see me . . . Who allow me to see them . . . Who help shine light into my becoming and I theirs. 

I don't need a mom's group just because I'm a married woman in my 30s with a child.

I need to be seen and heard.

This was one huge reality check for me to reach this place. It's a little bit embarrassing how much energy I spent longing for what I believed I wanted in community only now to be here and not want it at all.

This is not to say that I'm anti-mom friends. I have some. I'm sure I'll make more as baby girl grows older.

But I can tell you with complete certainty that I need soul friends, not affinity ones. 

The next time I find myself in a season of longing for inclusion in greener pastures of where I'm not yet, I'm going to remember this birthday party.

I'm going to remember what my soul really needs and I'm going to move in that direction.

I'm going to trust that being the parent I want to be means taking care of my spirit.

After all, I want baby girl to grow up and have courage to take care of hers too. It's all that we can really do, anyway.

___________________________

Want to know more about my infertility story? Check out my book and/ or follow these posts.

Want me to speak to your group about infertility, grief or making peace with a life you don't want? Contact me.

Life feels so different around our house these days.

Bottles, diapers, wipes and cute hair bows are everywhere. We are up every morning usually at 3 am.

Though the days feel long, we can't but smile at the face of our daughter who loves music, laughing and naps beside her Daddy on the weekends.

(For those of you who followed  our infertility journey I want you to know that these dear moments with her have been worth ALL the wait. Life is really so sweet with her in it. I'm so glad we kept holding out hope.)

As a new parent, you learn very quickly that EVERYONE wants to give you advice and comment on your choices. When we first brought baby girl home, I felt like I heard a broken record of statements like this:

I don't imagine you'll travel much anymore (and so far not true: we've been on 8 flights, going on 9 this week! with her already on 2 train rides!)

I guess you'll just stay at home and keep her all the time now, Elizabeth (and so far not true: in this post I told you recently some of things I've been up to as well as being her caregiver).

Say goodbye to movies and date nights (and so far not true: I think you make time for what's important to you and we've seen movies and gone out to dinner alone since baby girl entered our lives).

In these comments, I felt beat down for even entertaining a life that still felt like mine. 

But my friend Rebekah said it best. She told me early on, "Don't listen to the critics. You and Kevin will find a path that works for you."

And she was so wise!

So what I want to claim about parenthood: each of us make the journey your own. 

I am not going to parent like you. You are not going to parent like me. But, we've ALL each get to find the balance works for us when it comes to feeding, bedtimes, childcare, you name it! And in living like this, we teach our little ones what it's like to be authentic. We teach them how to show up for their lives too.

I sat in my spiritual director's office a couple weeks ago and she asked me, "How is parenthood going?" I told her what was on my mind for that day and then she replied, "It sounds like you are being you."

And to me this is the best compliment anyone could give me.

I believe we don't need to loose our identity or passions for life when we become parents. 

My daughter needs to see me participating the things and visiting the people that bring me joy.

My daughter needs to see me rest.

My daughter needs to see me lean into the support from others-- like babysitters.

This year, I'm so glad that I was able to connect with a new friend via Twitter, Hilary, the founder of a movement for parents called the New Mystique. Over at her website, Hilary writes about re-defining parenthood in this way.

Giving yourself grace.

Making the choices that work for you and your family.

Tuning into your heart as much as you try to tune into the hearts of your kids.

Check out her Community Manifesto to learn more. If you have interest in showing up for your own life as mother, she can be a great guide.

No matter if you have children or not, let us keep encouraging each other to show up for our own lives and to not loose ourselves in caregiving.

Hear me say beloveds: you are worth it! Keep finding YOU no matter who comes in your household.

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img_2631I spent 8 years wondering what it would feel like to be a mother of a particular child.

I thought of it every time I picked up drugs at the pharmacy for one of our IVF procedures.

I thought of every time I signed my name to a background check for our adoption paperwork.

I thought it every time I couldn't manage to avoid the kid clothes aisle at Target.

First of all, would it ever happen? And if it did, then .  . . What would it be like?

What would I name him or her?

Would I look him or her in the eyes for the first time and magically fall in love? Or would bonding take much longer?

After the birth, would I work part-time or full-time or not at all?

Would motherhood morph me into Betty Crocker with spreadsheets for what we ate for dinner every night? Or would I be the mom who ordered groceries online and dragged my kid to restaurants too?

Would I function on little sleep, little free time, and little alone time with grace? Or would I become grump in chief?

8 years is a long time to wonder about questions like these. 8 years can go by so slowly.

In all my waiting, I know I made up lots of stories in my head.  I began to believe that moms are somehow a different breed of people, people who are suddenly look nothing like the women they were before they welcomed children (and so this of course would happen to me and I wasn't sure how I felt about that). I began to look past my friends with kids only seeing them as people who had something that I didn't. I began to bulk all moms into a solitary category thinking there was only one path forward when the word "Mom" gets added to my name (if it did at all).

But now that I am here this place where I go to the pediatrician (like I did today) and the nurse says to me, "Mom, will you place your baby on the scale?" I'm both in shock that this is ME but also in awe that in some ways it's nothing like I ever could have imagined.

For as much work us planners can do in our heads about how something is to feel like when it happens, none of us ever really knows. 

You could read and study the details and look at pictures about what Grand Canyon is like for years and years. But in the end it's all a misguided, isn't it, until you SEE it and EXPERIENCE it for yourself?  The Grand Canyon is an majestic experience, not a thing of textbooks.

Such is true, I believe, of this waiting I've been doing for parenting. 

It's nothing like I ever really imagined. It's both harder and more beautiful than there are really words for (but you know, though I'll try to find some in the future!). And there was no way to prepare for it than to just be present when the moment came and let my intuition and wise voices around me help me find the next steps. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. I've got much learning to do by living it.

Such is true, I think of anything we anticipate or look forward to in life.

Oh, what good energy you and I can waste on putting our mind so much in the future to the point that we can't be all there with the life we actually have NOW.

If I were to go back and tell myself anything-- that self that had to wait 8 years for this moment to come-- it would be to life to the fullest in what was (not what would be).

I would say, "Elizabeth: Live the pain. Find the joy. Cherish the gifts of this time. Trust God to see your desires to be as only God can. Because when you get to "that" moment you've been waiting for 8 years, you'll look back and truly say in the words of the spiritual Wouldn't Take Anything for My Journey Now."

All of this, of course, is easier said than done. Some of the hardest soul work any of us can tackle is being present in the moment, but when we do, I believe, joy is on the other side. For life becomes a gift. All of it-- even the LONG waits.

BreatheI am sitting here in a chair with my computer in my lap. There's at least one clean bottle. My hair is clean. I did eat something for breakfast (though at 11 am). Baby girl smiled for the first time last night.

I'm calling this a winning Friday.

Yet, the kitchen counter isn't clean (the clutter is driving me crazy!). Nor is all of the laundry folded (my favorite household chore). And I think there is a giant milk stain on the carpet upstairs and I need to scrub out (it's starting to smell). This is not to mention that there's more than a dozen thank you notes that are long over due to be written all sprawled out on the kitchen table (I seem to write one every other day). There's a gift we got a double of that I need to return to the store before I can't anymore. And I think I need to pay the electric bill . . .

But, right here right now I am letting that expectation of "to do" go. I want to write something about life as it all feels so very different now in the past two months. How I don't sleep anymore but amazingly I am ok. How much I love holding baby girl in the rocking chair. And how much I am thankful for times when she falls asleep near me.

This moment of reflection I'm having right now may not last for more than 5 minutes. I may not type more than just this one sentence before having to hit save and come back to it another time (in an hour, tomorrow or next week?)

The baby will probably soon cry announcing that's it's time to eat again.

Or, the phone will ring about something I forgot to do.

Or, I'll remember that if I don't make it to the dry cleaners in an hour then . . .

Yet, in all of these new pushes and pulls, this is what I most know. I have to make time for soul. For my soul. My soul can't be all consumed in caring for another human being.

I really love my daughter. This is not a conversation about love.

But it is a conversation about temptation of loosing ourselves in another person and calling it love. It isn't.

And us women can easily go into overdrive when it comes to our children, can't we? I've seen it happen to so many of my friends . . . It really easy to allow the work right in front of us crying the loudest (and in my case literally true) to be what is ALWAYS most important. But it's not. 

To be a good caregiver, at least as I am learning, I can't lose the parts of me that make me, me. I have to ask for help. 

So I must have time to really catch up with friends. To visit friends. To write. To preach. To go on dates with my husband. And to dream about my next project.

The way I do these things, of course I know won't be the same volume or pace as they were before baby girl came into our lives, but I can't let joy of vocation, of friendship  or the future be wrapped up in one other person. It's just not good for her. And it's not good for me either.

And I believe no matter what stage of life you find yourself in-- young children at home or not-- there's a lesson in this for all of us. How are we doing to take care of our souls? How are we going to put what we love at the top of the priority list? How are we saying no to good things so that even greater joys can find us?

Sure, now I'm "her" mother. But I'm also a lot of other things. Pastor. Advocate. Wife and Friend. Thank goodness for the community of support around us right now that gives me time and space to lean into so many of life's gifts. I'm hoping today that you find space for this too.

This daily grind is about wholeness after all, isn't it?

Don't give up hope.

If you've read my book, Birthed, I believe you gleamed from the pages that no matter how many times Kevin and I got beat down in our fertility/ adoption journey, we never gave up hope to be parents. Never.

There were times when we wanted to-- for the pain of our broken hearts was just too much to bear.

There were times when for our mental health it would have been easier if we let the dream die.

There were times when we had to re-imagine what parenthood looked like for us.

But (and it's a huge but) we never could give up the hope that one day we'd meet a person that was meant to be in our family. Our family was not complete just the two of us. We had more love to give.

In this longing, sometimes Kevin held the hope banner for the two of us-- for I was just too exhausted. Other times, I held it for him when he was just so frustrated he didn't know what to do. But never, could either one of us say we weren't meant to be parents.  So we kept going. The next step. The next step. And the next.  For 8 years.

IMG_8362I ran across this quote this week and I couldn't help but savor it.

I've known my whole life I was meant to be a mother. And ever since I met Kevin, I knew he'd be the best father.

Yet so many times, if you are anything like me, when faced with a hard patch of life, you second guess your longings, your desires.

You say because something is hard then "It wasn't meant to be."  You stop trying to proactively live your dreams when the cost is great. You blame God for not giving you what you think we deserve. And you stop living.

All of this is normal because life can be oh, so brutal, my friends. It can kick us down in the deepest pits that we think we're never going to crawl out of! It can take from us all our strength, making us believe that we're simply finished. It can totally snatch away all of our comforts. It can.

But, hope-- it outlasts the worst of nights.

It buries itself deep in our hearts and won't let us go. It encourages us with teachers-- teachers that appear when we least expect. And it looks us in the eyes and says clearly: "Oh my dear, your longings aren't stupid. Believe!"

Hope is life's great calling, I believe.

I'm so thankful that when we were ready to give up last summer . . . to say that what we had was good enough . . . to say that we had so many blessings to count . . . why ask for more?

Encouraging voices showed up and told us to keep dreaming, keep longing and keep doing the work.

And we did it. We kept holding space in our lives and our home for a child. A child, young or older, a child of any nationality and or race, a child from anywhere really, that was meant to be in our family.

And this is the big news I have to tell you today: almost a month ago, a little girl from the US found us.

It will be a couple of months before everything is 100% final but all the most important steps have been completed. I am a mother of a daughter who lives in our house all day, every day, now.

A dear friend of mine in Kenya once told me along the journey this proverb: "When things are hard, don't worry. It means things will be easy soon."

So know this: when the time came for this girl to join our home, I was in awe of the speed in which it happened. All we had to do was hold on for the ride. Grace surprised us with its pace.

And when we knew it was official . . . that this great thing was really happening . . . Kevin and I felt so much joy (and still do). So much joy that we held each other tight and felt so much pride that we overcame what could have broken us. (It really could have!)

As for you, my friends, don't give up hope whatever your dreams are! Listen to your longings. Keep praying. Keep working. Keep believing and listening to those voices that say "You can."

One day everything will be known. It will.

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[If you missed Beth's post on a "Love That Groans" check it out here.]

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;

And the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,

And all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Isaiah 55: 12

But the angel of the LORD said to them, ‘Do not be afraid;

I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Luke 2:10

Though coming from different points in the Biblical story, both of these passages have a common theme -- joy will come.  For the people of Israel in captivity, joy would come at some point.  For the shepherds on that hillside that night stunned by a “Heavenly Host,” great joy would come to all people. For the disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem after Jesus had ascended, praying and very likely living in fear and obeying Jesus’ command to not leave Jerusalem but to “wait for the gift my Father promised,” joy was to come later.   The operative word for me in all of these passages is “will”.  Joy will come!

But what about joy in the midst of the pain of waiting? Waiting doesn’t seem to solicit an inner attitude of joy, at least not naturally, especially during those difficult seasons of our lives, including the season of waiting for children.

It is so easy to become obsessed by what we want and for it to dominate most of our brain power.  Easily, we “tune out” the rest of the world and “tune in” only to ourselves.  Our obsession with what we want can turn into a road toward despair, and joy becomes illusive.

Joy was illusive for my daughter when she and her husband were trying to have children and nothing was working.  She wanted a clear-cut answer from God on what direction to take, and even found herself saying to the Lord, “If I’m not meant to have kids at all, please take this desire away from me.”  She didn’t know how to let go of her desire because of its strength within her.  She found moments of joy in the classroom where she taught elementary children but was very troubled with God’s apparent silence in what they should do.

I have a beautiful calligraphic design on a plague that hangs in my living room.  At first site, it looks like a pretty design, but with a lingering look the design reveals the word-“JOY”.  Sometimes we have to look for joy in our most vulnerable moments.  It is an intentional choice, a choice that says nothing has the right to steal my joy, and that my want for something better can actually rob me of what is right there in front of my face that will bring me that illusive joy for which I am looking.  Psalm 34:7 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  We forget the first part of that verse -- to delight in the Lord and concentrate on what God will give to us, and in doing so, we forget what is most important -- to find joy in the LORD.

Finally, my daughter and son-in-law reached a point where they said, “Let’s just try this idea of IVF,” not knowing whether it was right or wrong. The decision brought relief.  A form of joy came in making the decision and trusting that, right or wrong, God would be reveled in the process.  In essence, joy came when trust came, and trust involves a letting go and trusting that God will reveal Jesus to us.  There is great joy in pursuing God with no other agenda other than to know Jesus.

Jesus had so much confidence in the Father’s love for Him that Hebrews 12: 2 says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”   It’s the ONLY way I know to have joy in the midst of waiting -- to fix our eyes where they belong, to trust and delight in Jesus, to remain in Jesus’ love, and to not miss what He has for us in that day.  Joy is Jesus’ gift to us, and it is His command to learn contentment in any and every situation.

Let us pray:

I have to admit, LORD, I have to learn contentment in any and every situation, especially when I do not know which way to turn and there is only confusion.  I want my desire for You to be stronger than my desire for what I want.  So here and now, help me to surrender to You, and to desire You before all other things.  Your Son surrendered Himself to Your will and Your way; help me to do the same.

BethDotsonBeth Dotson resides with her husband Danny of 42 years in Signal Mountain, TN.  She is Presbyterian and is presently working in a ministry that serves HIV clients. She loves her family dearly, has five grandchildren, and plays in the outdoors in all kinds of capacities with her husband and their black lab, Zeke. Her desire for her advent is that we would wake up to its wonder and how that wonder translates into the miracle of the mundane in our lives. 

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” II Corinthians 4:1

I have been in labor for almost five years.

There have been ultrasounds.

There has been blood work.

There has been pain: both physical and emotional.

I feel called to motherhood. It’s as strong as the calling I felt to enter the pastorate ten years ago. It’s as strong as the calling that I felt to marry over six years ago.  But, I am still a childless mother. My bio below lists no children in our immediate family.

When I first began the journey toward motherhood, I was naïve.

After being married a year, I thought we’d start trying to have kids and then nine months later pop out a beautiful baby. I saw so many of my friends become mothers so easily. My mind and body felt strong. I saw no groaning up ahead. Why would childbirth not happen easily for me?

I had no idea the process of waiting for a baby can extend Advent after Advent, year after year.

I had no idea that labor pains sometimes can feel like the awkwardness of attending a party and being asked by a stranger “Why don’t you have children?” It’s finding your way to a polite response, though what you really want to say is “bug off.”

I had no idea that labor pains can feel like a dear friend telling you she’s pregnant with her third. It’s finding a way to say with a smile and a hug, “Congratulations!” You are happy for her, but . . .

I had no idea that I’d have to invite doctors and lawyers and friends into the process—a process that should have been all about love between my husband and me but instead became a process that included contracts, test tubes, and diagrams of the fertilization process between an egg and a sperm.

Through this painful waiting, I’ve asked God a few questions:

Where are you God when what seemed so sure fell through again?

Where are you God when I had to preach about a teenaged girl having a baby again?

Where are you when my college girlfriends gather to talk about their babies, and I have nothing to offer again?

Throughout this journey of motherhood I’ve always had a choice.

I’ve had a choice to believe that God has clothed me in the scarlet letter of infertility (and God hasn’t).

I’ve had a choice to believe that this wait is punishment for some un-confessed wrongdoing (I don’t believe it is).

I’ve had a choice to believe that I will never welcome children into our family (I still believe we will).

At this juncture of the journey I choose to believe that the desires of my heart will come to fulfillment, somehow, someway. As I continue to wait, I’ve been given the opportunity to experience God’s love at a deeper level than I ever could have imagined. Friends blessed me with deep expressions of kindness that have healed parts of me that I didn’t know were so broken. My husband and I have leaped into the certainty of “No matter what, we are going to get through this together.” And my faith has come to the other side of knowing for sure that even as this season of waiting labors on, my waiting is not in vain. God’s kingdom is coming though it is not already here.

Like Paul told the believers in Corinth, “we have this great ministry, we don’t lose heart,” God has reminded me of this time and time again. And it has been love that has carried me through this labor—love of what my heart has seen, though my eyes have not. In God’s kingdom, we groan together and wait.

Let us pray:

ElizabethHagan

God, Advent can be such a hard time for those of us who are in the middle of waiting for what is to come. Help us to find your love for us even in the midst of the pains of labor that endure for the night. We pray together for your light to come. Amen.

Elizabeth is an ordained minister in the Baptist tradition, a freelance writer and a social media consultant who divides her time between Arlington, VA and Oklahoma City, OK with her husband Kevin. She blogs regularly at “Preacher on the Plaza” (this site). This Advent Elizabeth is hoping for the gift of being present in the moment.

Yesterday I preached on I Samuel 15:34-16:13, and though I thought I would be writing a sermon about God's unlikely choices this ended up being a sermon about grief. Surprised me for sure! I just couldn't seem to get the "How long will you grief for Saul?" verse out of my mind as I prepared. So, I just went with it and here's a portion of it:

When is the last time you truly grieved over something? I mean a good long cry, a into the night cry, into the next day cry that you thought that you never would get over?

 I remember the spring when my grandmother died. Gran, who had played a central role in my upbringing and joy in my childhood, died as when I was in my second semester of seminary. Gran was more than just a grandmother via biological connections, she was a friend, a confidant, someone in whom I talked my problems over with regularly. She made me feel special always in a way that others did not. When she died, the loss stung deep. It ached. It made me feel like there was no reason in the morning to get out of bed-- though trust me, there was plenty of papers calling my name to write! But, I couldn't seem to get over it as much as I tried.

 Anne Lamott in her book Operating Instructions writes about the first year of her son's life the experience of getting used to motherhood but at the same time grieving the death of one of her closest friends saying, "And I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.”

Sometimes as much as we want to get over the loss of someone or something, we simply can't. Our grief grips us and becoming the central story of our lives to the pint in which we simply can't even comprehend seeing past our own circumstances.

 Grief, as many of you know, especially those of you who have studied it in workshops and other seminars, is not always about loss via death. Grief over the loss of careers, aspirations or relationship which used to be close but are no longer can paralyze us as deeply as any physical death can. To wake up one morning and find that what you thought was your life work is destroyed by the rejection of others, to come to terms with your best friend no longer is speaking to you, or be let in on a truth about our family after years of secrecy, we can feel smacked in the face. Grief seeks to holding us down for as long as possible. Grief, if we don't find a way to move through it can destroy our lives.

 In our Old Testament lesson for this morning, we meet the prophet Samuel again.

 Called out as the great prophet of Israel, called out as young boy to be the saving grace leader of a nation in deep decline, called out as the one who would be God's spokesperson to a people desperate to hear a good word-- Samuel  was on top of the world. Things were going great! Samuel was the hope of the nation, after all.  Yet, in this state of extreme responsibility, I can imagine that Samuel  felt  he needed to make just the right choices at just the right time so to ensure that the nation of Israel had a future. And for a while, it seemed Samuel tasted the sweet fruit of his good, seemingly God led choices.

 So, what happens when all goes badly? What happens when the king HE anoints behaves badly and needs to be removed from office?

 And it is at this juncture, we find him in a place of deep grief.  All is not well in his world.  Samuel blames himself. He pouts. He cries. And, see Saul's failures as a reflection of himself.  How can he ever again show his face in public after Saul has flopped big time? Grief was his primary story.

 And God has a word with him about it saying in 16:1: "How long will you grief over Saul?"

 Or, "How long, Samuel will grief be your story?"

 It is not that grieving is wrong or an inappropriate emotion, but that for every period of grief, (especially the more pity party kinds)-- there comes a time when it must end. For as spiritually cleansing and healthy as grief is, it's an emotion has a time and season. For, if one stays in a grieving process too long, past its time-- it can actually be destructive. For Samuel, God says, it is time to move on.

Grief over what could, should, would have been and all the feelings of personal failure internalized held Samuel captive, we learn. In particular for Samuel, his grief held him captive to only what he could see, hear, and feel in the present moment. Grief stole his vision for life and the people he was entrusted to lead.

Thus, the Lord is saying to him, "You are not perfect. All is not perfect in this land.  I know this. But one thing still holds true: I still love these people. I still love you. And, there is work to be done in the future!" And this is the post-grief task one that our text narrates for us, God says: "I have rejected [Saul] from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons."

Though Saul has been a disappointment of a king and leader and Samuel wants to keep believing that it was all his fault, such feelings just aren't helpful. In fact, God is asking him to dust his sandals off from the dirt in which he's sat and go be a part of the next great thing that God was going to do in the nation: anoint the next king.

And, it's important to note here that it would have been easy for Samuel, as he went to find the next leader, to fall into the trap that is naturally a part of being in an aggrieved state: the syndrome of "must do anything to fix the pain right now."

 You've met these people if you aren't one right now: the "hurry up and get this over with" folks. Pain and its effects are despised so much that  these people will do anything not to feel the pain of disappointment, rejection or loss.  Things like:  drinking too much wine  when they get home from work, staying at the gym too long and skipping meals, or even drowning each night away in mindless tv-- just avoiding the grief through a distraction.

 Or, the approach of getting to work too rapidly, taking the lead alone to solve the grief right away. Type A things like signing up for every single class or seminar known to man about a particular issue-- trying to become the expert of one's own problems. Things like making lists after lists after lists of what can be done-- trying to logically organize their way through your problems. Or even, the simple act of refusing to rest through grief-- doing, doing and more doing.

 In all of this, I believe that God knew that Samuel could be in this exact place as well-- trying to avoid or solve the problem too quickly. Samuel is given exactly, then what grief needs to keep moving-- clarity. Samuel is told exactly what to do, exactly what to say, and exactly who to listen to when he arrives at the hometown of Jesse.  The end of verse three gives us what is most important as a word from the LORD: "You shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you."

 Specifically Samuel was told in verse 7 not to make a quick judgment just to get the process of selecting the next leader done as quickly as possible. Saying, to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance but the LORD looks on the heart." 

God saying, "Don't just go Samuel to who you think meets the criteria that others will approve of. Instead, listen to me. I can show you who has the heart for the work of king. Don't make this process about you. Listen."

Or simply stated, Samuel could have rushed through the line of brothers among Jesse's sons-- very easily he could have solved his failure complex quickly-- but if he did, then, he'd be missing out on an opportunity to hear God's leading.

And, thus, this is the surprise-- in Samuel's grief, in his pain, God was about to do a new thing, a new thing in the life of Israel where healing would come from the unlikely choice of youngest son David as the next king as Samuel kept listening. This was all he was asked to do.

I can remember some of the most powerful words said over me (that I obviously still remember to this day) at my ordination service. During the laying on of hands a deacon of the ordaining church came up to me and said, "Listen to God. You've gotten to this point in your life through listening and you will do great things if you keep listening."

Isn't God funny like this sometimes? We make it so difficult when all we are asked to do is to put one foot in front of the other and listen as we go.  Of course this doesn't take away the pain or the loss, but we do have direction for what is next. And this can be grief's greatest surprise . . .

How else have you been surprised by grief in your life? I'd love to know!