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Finding God's Goodness in the Barrenness of Life (Part 2 of 2)

Original Air Date 04/15/2016

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Blogger and author Sara Hagerty talks about the struggles she's faced with infertility and with the question "Where is God in the midst of my pain?" She offers hope and encouragement to listeners wrestling with hardship as she reminds us of the Bible's promises that God loves us and cares about all of our needs. (Part 2 of 2)

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Episode Transcript


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John Fuller: Well, maybe like me, you love to have a new app on your smartphone. Here's one you'll love even more, the "Daily Broadcast" app from Focus on the Family. It's a one-stop shop for marriage and parenting advice you can trust at iTunes or on Google Play.

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John: When you face disappointment and pain in life, where do you turn?


Mrs. Sara Hagerty: We just run to our crutches--another shot of caffeine, another escape on the Internet, another "fill in the blank," coffee date with a friend for women. I mean, those things are not bad, but ultimately, that pain can be an invitation where God says, "I want you to just sit alone with Me and tell me about your pain and find out who I am."

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John: That's Sara Hagerty and she's author of the book, Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet. And she'll be sharing more from her perspective and from God's Word about trusting Him in the midst of difficult life circumstances. This is "Focus on the Family." I'm John Fuller and your host is Focus president, Jim Daly.

Jim Daly: John, last time we heard about Sara's early marriage challenges and then struggling for years through infertility and the death of her father, who she was extremely close to. And today we want to talk more with her on how she learned to trust God, even in that pain. And that's probably something each of you will confront at some point. We all face times in our life where we feel that God has forgotten us and it can be difficult to understand why He's allowing bad things to happen. That's the No. 1 question we hear about. If God is go good, why are these bad things happening to me?

Ultimately, when we're in the midst of a challenging season, we have two choices. We can turn toward God or we can turn away from God. Here at Focus on the Family, we want to help you turn toward God. I mean, that is our goal, even when you feel abandoned and that's a fair emotion and God's okay. He can take it. He wants you to be honest in your heart with Him.

But before we talk more with Sara, let me say thank you to all of you who are supporting this ministry financially. Because of you, we're able to meet people at their point of need, whether it's their marriage, their parenting difficulties, whatever is happening in the family. I'll tell you what, John. The family is such a great place for the Lord to show up, because there's pain in families, but there's also God. And that's what excites me about what we do.

John: Well, we hear from so many and it's only possible because you help support this ministry and you can learn how to do that and also hear the first half of our conversation with our guest at


Jim: Sara, let me welcome you back to "Focus on the Family."

Sara: Thank you. I'm honored to be here.

Jim: First let me ask you this. Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet, where did that come from?

Sara: In the middle of some difficult circumstances that seemed to be surmounting, I'm sitting at my kitchen table and was reading through the Proverbs and I came to Proverbs 27:7 and it says, "The satiated soul loathes the honeycomb, but to a hungry soul, every bitter thing is sweet." And up until that point, I felt kind of a fire behind my bitterness, like I have a right to be mad. Things are not working out like I thought they would. My womb is empty. My marriage isn't working out like I thought it would. I married this entrepreneur and I don't know what tomorrow's gonna look like in terms of a paycheck and I saw a little bit of kinda "umph" behind my bitterness.

But I read this verse and had quite literally an "aha moment," where I thought, these circumstances could be forged for something so much deeper. What if this is making me hungry? And this kind of hunger is something that only God can answer. And what if I'm gonna find Him in a way I've never found Him before out of this?

Jim: And it's so good. Last time we talked about the death of your father, his diagnosis and eventually his death of brain cancer. We talked about the heartache of being infertile and being a woman who wanted children. That was a passion that you had. Again, people can place any heartache in that sentence, where they're at today. The question is, I think, how do you refrain from becoming bitter and not go after God the way that our hearts want comfort and peace and—

Sara: Right.

Jim: --ease of life? But God is saying it's not always that way. How do we reconcile that?

Sara: I think for me, the key was the invitation to get alone with Him and outside of my conventional understanding of what it meant to spend time with God. I was spending time with God in my quiet time in the morning, but that 30 minutes didn't necessarily address the deep bitterness I was feeling at 2 o'clock in the afternoon and 5 o'clock and the 7 p.m. baby shower. I think for me, I saw this invitation of God saying, bleed outside the lines here. Meet with Me after the 7 o'clock baby shower. Cancel your dinner plans with friends and cry over your Bible. Like let Me into those places where you might otherwise run to something else that's just gonna fuel your bitterness.

Jim: Spiritually speaking, do you feel like the Lord is pushing in that direction in our lives?

Sara: Yes.

Jim: Is He moving us there so that we can deal with our stuff?

Sara: Yes.

Jim: As opposed to looking the other way and letting us wallow in our comfort.

Sara: What if there was this whisper all week in the backdrop of our lives saying, "Come away with Me. Come meet with Me." I think it's there. I think He's doing that all the time, giving us these invitations, going your five kids have you up to your eyeballs in chaos (Laughter) and you want to go call a friend and just vent. Come away with Me.

Jim: Are we not hearing it? How come we miss it in the ways that we do?

Sara: I think we might want to say it's the noise of life, but more realistically, I think it's the noise of our internal life.

Jim: We don't what to hear, "Come away with Me."

Sara: And we don't know that He can be so tender in those times that it really makes it worth it to want to get away with Him.

Jim: So, you and your husband, Nate, you've gone through these difficulties. You're not having children and you both want children, so you turn to international adoption. Talk about that story and what happened.

Sara: Well, we'd always had a heart for adoption. We lived on a farm with some friends for just a period of about six months while our house was being built and they had adopted two children. And the first night we were there, both of us had this sense, we're here for more than just a place to stay and we watched, kind of this amalgamation of lives—three biological children and two that had been adopted—and really started to think, this is gonna be us one day. We want to adopt.

But we had no idea then that we'd have struggles with infertility. And so, we naturally thought, we'll just have biologically children and then adopt. And then when we were faced with my diagnosis and we had the choice to kinda go a medical route or potentially adopt, it felt to us very obvious. This is our time. Let's pursue international adoption.

Jim: And in that process, you ended up adopting, but talk about going from wanting children so badly for many years and then all of a sudden, you're an instant mom.

Sara: Instant mom with two children.

Jim: And how old was your first adoption? How old were the kids?

Sara: Our first two children were 3½ and 1½. And so, one day we didn't have children (Laughing) and the next day, we had a family (Laughing), which I supposed is true for everyone, but to have two and two that were talking and not diapers and had personalities. It was a lot at once.

Jim: Was it overwhelming? Or how did you manage it?

Sara: Those first two were not overwhelming to be honest. There was so much inertia behind getting them.

Jim: You had enough energy and drive.

Sara: Yeah, it was the next two that I think (Laughing) [were challenging].

Jim: So, you had these two and then you and Nate decided, let's get two more.

Sara: Well, our adoption of our first two was pretty seam[less]. Getting there was not. The process took much longer than we thought and that was really difficult. But once we actually brought them into our family, the process of bringing them in was pretty seamless. And so, three months later we were thinkin', this is great. And like you kind of do with everything, we're so great. We're great parents. We could do this again. (Laughing) And the Lord used our sweet kind of blindness. We were ready then. We signed up again and two years later we brought home two more from Uganda.

Jim: And that was Uganda the second time. The first time you …

Sara: First time was Ethiopia and the second time was Uganda.

Jim: And how did that challenge you, now to go from two to four?

Sara: Oh, it was a world of difference. Our second two were older. We trumped the birth order, which is really kind of against what people would advise in the adoption world, so they were on paper, 5 and 7. So, they had more years without family. Their wounds were—

Jim: More trauma.

Sara: --more trauma. Their wounds were more obvious. And then it was, you know, then there's six interwoven relationships. And it wasn't just strangers becoming mommy and daddy and you know, son and daughter. It was strangers becoming siblings overnight.

Jim: What did that look like? What's an example of what happened?

Sara: It was probably what you can imagine. I mean, it would be like taking four children who had no connectedness to one another and all of a sudden saying, you're gonna eat together. You're gonna sleep together and you're gonna play together. There was a lot of friction.

Jim: Yeah.

Sara: With our second two in particular, their wounds were more obvious. Our oldest had no concept of family. She didn't know what it was like. I mean, she'd been raised in an orphanage and so, we were teaching her, you know, a daddy, this is what a daddy does. He hugs his daughter. Here's what a hug looks like.

Jim: Wow. Just void of all of that kind of—

Sara: Void of all—

Jim: --love.

Sara: --yes.

Jim: What did that show you in terms of your relationship with God? It was—

Sara: Oh, my goodness.

Jim: --you know, taking in these orphans, teaching them what it means to be in a family. There's so much metaphor there for our spiritual journey.

Sara: There really is.I think of a time my daughter actually just a week after we brought them home, our second two, we were at the beach and I look. I'm counting heads and all of a sudden, I look and one head is missing, which you don't want to have at the ocean.

Jim: Right.

Sara: And I look and my oldest is running away from me down the beach. I'm calling her name and she's not responding and she's clutching onto kind of her shoulder and her neck. And I finally reach her and I catch up to her and it becomes clear that she'd been stung by a jelly fish. And I said to her, "Lily, you know, why didn't you tell me?" And I'm right here and I'm hugging her and in that moment, it was as it the Lord was whispering to me, this is a picture of your heart, Sara. We run in pain.

Jim: Wow.

Sara: And so, our children have been this … I mean, you know, I think this is the story with a lot of adoptions. We think we're gonna go rescue these children, you know, and provide them with such security and the Lord's going, "I'm gonna teach you a whole lot about your worth and heart, as you watch this life become a daughter and a son."

Jim: And here you have adopted four kids and then the Lord (Laughing) says, okay, Sara and Nate, I'm gonna bless you with your—

Sara: Yes.

Jim: --biological child.

Sara: Yes.

Jim: I mean, when you became pregnant, what in the world were you thinkin'? And—

Sara: We had been—

Jim: --how old were you at that point?

Sara: --well, I was 36 and we had been married for 12 years. I mean, in some respects, we had continued to pray, God, open my womb. I mean, and that in and of itself is just a very precarious place to stay, knowing God can heal, but He also for some reason has chosen not to and staying in a place of hope.

Jim: Had it been a forgotten dream?

Sara: No, I—

Jim: So you still held onto it--

Sara: --I held onto it.

Jim: --even though it didn't look likely.

Sara: I remember one year, actually several years before this, I was certain that I was pregnant and had in my mind sort of contrived what the unveil would be. I was gonna write my husband a note and let him know on Christmas Eve that I was pregnant. I was keeping it from him, because I thought it was gonna be this wonderful secret that I get to unveil to him, only to find out that I wasn't.

And I told a friend, I mean, I had really held on for probably two, two and a half weeks, thinking I was and I told a friend, "I'm so foolish. I can't believe I did this to myself again." And she said to me, "Sara, this is beautiful before God. You held onto hope." You know, I think of the Roman centurion in Matthew 8. He comes and says, "Would You hear my servant?" And Jesus is prepared to go and he says, "But You don't need to come. I know You're a man in authority. You could say 'Be healed' and my servant could be healed." And Jesus marveled at his faith. And my friend said to me, you have faith.

Jim: Yeah.

Sara: This was beautiful to God.

Jim: Now in some cases we want to recognize that woman who's now maybe 42—

Sara: Exactly.

Jim: --and it hasn't happened and it may not happen. That also happens.

Sara: Oh, it does and I think that's what I held onto in those years. If I am 80 and my womb is still empty, I want to be one who makes God marvel with my hope and my belief in Him to do the impossible."

Jim: That's an interesting point, because how does a person again, no matter what the circumstance—infertility or whatever it might be—how do you trust God even if the end of your life it never happened the way you wanted it to happen? How do you go to your grave saying, "Lord, I love You; I trust You." I may even feel a little sorrow that I didn't get to experience this or that, but you trust in Him.

Sara: Yeah.

Jim: I mean, that's what you're saying, right?

Sara: Well, and I think for me, it was I fell in love with God when my circumstances were not working. My greatest story in God is when nothing was working externally for me and so, I felt like at the end of my life, if I went to my grave with a barren womb and continued to pray that He would open it, I could say the greatest story of my life was that God came to me when I had nothing. I mean, and I had a lot. Really, let's be honest, but I mean, when I didn't have the dreams that I thought I wanted, God wooed me. He allured me. That was the story over my life.

John: Well, we're hearing some very candid insights into the life that Sara Hagerty has had to this point and Sara, there's obviously more in the coming years that you'll be capture, perhaps in a future book. But her journey is expressed in the book, Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet: Tasting the Goodness of God in All Things. And we've got that book and a CD or a download for you at

And we mentioned it last time, but if you need to talk to a counselor, if you're up against circumstances that are bitter, but you can't find God in the midst of those, if you don't have that assurance, that hope that Sara is expressing right now, call us. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY.

Jim: Sara, I want to get practical, as well. I mean, there are people that are hearing you and they are embracing what you're saying in terms of wanting to draw closer to God, even though their circumstances have been difficult. They're wanting to not have this sense of bitterness.

Sara: Yeah.

Jim: But let's give them some handles. do you do that when you're not feeling it? And I would add, when you look at it, our culture and even within the church, we're not good at developing an attitude of being content regardless of our circumstances. I mean, look around. Everything's tellin' us, don't be happy with the home you're in. Don't be happy with the car you're driving. Don't be happy with the spouse you have. Don't be happy, because discontent takes care of our pockets.

Sara: Wow, yeah.

Jim: You're buying things and I think we are developing more of that attitude and as Christians, we have got to be disciplined to say, "That's the world speaking to us. We've gotta have a different attitude, a godly attitude. Talk about how we can kind of leave those worldly things and thoughts behind and embrace God in this area of our attitude and our trust in Him.

Sara: That's a great question. I think one of the first things is really acknowledging, like having a real honest conversation with God and with ourselves that says, you know what, "There are areas where I really don't believe Your Word. Come and help my unbelief."

Jim: Just be honest.

Sara: Just be honest. I think that there's a lot of hurdles to us really getting real with God in the areas of vulnerability. It is uncomfortable to be vulnerable before God. And so, we put a lot of things in place that prevent us from really doing that and we say all the right words and sometimes you just gotta have that honest conversation and go, "I'm reading this Word, God and I don't believe it. I'm weak. Help my unbelief."

And in some ways, I think it sets the stage that, you know what, this dialogue between the Lord and I isn't, I come telling him all the things I know, but I come really weak and going, I am so broken. You've got to make something out of this brokenness, God if I'm gonna walk out of this bedroom today and be able to do life. I think vulnerability is sort of a key to intimacy with God.

Jim: And I think in so many ways, when He's allowing us to go through difficult circumstances, he's trying to create that vulnerability.

Sara: Yes.

Jim: That's the irony of it.

Sara: Yes.

Jim: He's helping us to see where we are vulnerable and then sometimes we don't react the right way and then we don't get the lesson.

Sara: 'Cause it's uncomfortable. I mean, we all would love to climb out of our mess. Who wants to be a messy?

Jim: [It's] so true.

Sara: Let's clean it up. (Laughing)

Jim: In fact, one thing that you mention in your book that caught my attention—many things did, but this one did especially, 'cause again, you can apply it in every way—but you talked about taking one word or one phrase from the Bible and just thinking about it throughout the way, maybe throughout a week, I don't know. But I've tried to practice that. Thinkin of the humility of God—

Sara: Yes.

Jim: --is one that when I get trapped on that thought, I marvel at that. He's the Creator of the Universe and one of His core characteristics is humility? I mean, wow!

Sara: Yeah.

Jim: That's counterintuitive.

Sara: Yeah.

Jim: You're the most powerful entity in the universe—

Sara: And you're humble.

Jim: --and you're humble. That makes me feel bad in a good way—

Sara: Yeah.

Jim: --you know, that where I poke my pride out, that I need to think about who God is, so that I can get right with Him.

Sara: Yeah.

Jim: That's what you're talkin' about right there.—

Sara: Yes.

Jim: --that kind of reflection. What are some of the things that grab you?

Sara: Well, I call it "Habit of Adoration" For me it is actually like putting God's Word in my mouth and taking it outside of my morning quiet time. So, for example, Psalm 139:1 says, "God, You have searched me and You know me." So, I can read that at 6:30 a.m. and it doesn't feel like I really need it, but you know, at 7 a.m. when all the kids wake up and I'm going, I've got a college degree and I'm doing your laundry again and I'm washing your dishes again and he just threw up on me. You know, to say up the stairs carrying laundry, "God, You searched me and You know me and You know this moment and You see me right now."

And I set the laundry down and back down the stairs. "You're searching me out even now. I feel hidden behind all these children, but You're still searching." And just having that dialogue with His Word throughout the day. I put that card in front of the sink, right where I'm doing dishes, going, these kids they just see the external; God, You know my heart. Or my life is hidden, but You know me right now.

John: Sara, as you're describing that, I'm thinking that's a wonderful spiritual discipline and—

Sara: Yes.

John: --a very simple thing that we can do. How is it different than 10 or 15 years ago when you did spiritual disciplines, when you showed and did the dutiful Christian thing?

Sara: That's a great question. I think the difference is, I have a huge awareness right now of how weak I am. Then I was running and pushing and striving and it was all unto getting God's favor. Now it's … I have a real deep understanding that He's crazy about me. He loves me and He loves me even when I mess up with my kids. And so, that dialogue with Him, it doesn't feel like I'm doing it to earn His favor. I woke up in the morning and He already was delighted to see my eyes open. So, I'm going to Him instead like the dad who's like, "I really love you. Just sit on my lap." Versus before it was, me as the daughter going, "Could I please just have a minute on Your lap? Well, what more could I do to get on Your lap?"

Jim: Yeah, how can I please You?

Sara: Yes.

Jim: How much harder can I work?

Sara: Yeah.

Jim: Sara, let me ask you this. So, particularly so many women, you just touched on this, but I want to pull this out, because again, I think like my wife. She has a college degree, like I said last time, in biochemistry. And she's raising these two boys, I mean, full time, workin' in the home full time. And there are many, many women who have chosen what I would say is a very noble—

Sara: Yes.

Jim: --task, which is to raise the next generation.

Sara: Yes.

Jim: And again, our culture screams, you're stupid for doin' that. You're buyin' this religious dogma, this bill of goods, but interestingly enough, a lot of women who may not have religious connection, a faith connection, are also choosing this, because they know something in their heart's tellin' them—

Sara: Yeah.

Jim: --this is good. It is right. Speak to that woman, who is maybe torn, feelin' like I'm giving my life away for something that I'm not feeling any kind of return.

Sara: Uh-hm.

Jim: It's not satisfying me.

Sara: Yes.

Jim: Talk to her. Speak to her about the choices that she's making and is it good to lay down your life—

Sara: Yes.

Jim: --for another?

Sara: I think often in my home when I'm with my kids, of Jesus calling us to take up our cross and die daily. And I think when I'm all dressed and here for an interview and away from the house, I can feel pretty slick and together. It can feed the part of me that feels like I have my life under control. And I think children are uniquely messy and there's something so beautiful about the Lord bringing us back to that kind of laying down, that is really the inception of His life in us.

[I] at times want and I home school, so I'm with my children, you know, all during the day and at times I want to think, oh, but their mess is too much for me. And yet, the Lord goes, "This is where I meet you. I find you in mess." So, in some ways, I think it is, there's a dance with the Lord to be had in the hidden moments of motherhood, where He's going, "I see you right now. I see that you have three other things you want to do and you're holding that child on your lap and reading a book. I see that you'd really rather get dressed up and take a shower, but this child is having a meltdown and you're tending to her heart and I love it." I feel like we get an invitation into the dialogue of God's heart towards us in the hidden ways in motherhood that when we're being seen, we don't always get to have.

Jim: In addition to that, I mean, to kind of put the shoe on the other foot, there are many, many godly women who are working—

Sara: Yes.

Jim: --outside the home.

Sara: Yes.

Jim: And I know many of them and I have board members who fit that profile and I want to be mindful of them, that they're—

Sara: Well, and—

Jim: --doing a good thing, too.

Sara: --exactly and—

Jim: And they're—

Sara: --I do both.

Jim: --making it work.

Sara: I mean, in some ways—

Jim: Right.

Sara: --I'm wearing both shoes, so I understand and I think, my husband and I have been talking recently, even with the book having come out and just opportunities for interviews like this, there is still God whispering in those moments. You know, I suppose the big banner is, He wants to have a dialogue with us that happens when no one is looking. And whether you're a public profile or whether you have a job that is actually getting you accolades or whether you're at home in your sweat pants, those are all opportunities for Him to go, I see you right now.

Jim: Yeah.

Sara: And I have words to speak over you. Even the woman who has, you know, a boss who's giving her great reviews, still needs to come alive under that private conversation with God, where He goes, "And I see the things that even your boss doesn't see."

Jim: Right and I know it can be controversial, but I can remember this ministry, even Dr. Dobson talking about, it's important for a parent to be home, especially with those young children. So, even if a mom is working outside the home and dad can be home, I know some people that you're gonna write us or e-mail us, that's it's a good thing. Have a parent at the home, especially when your kids are young. And if it ends up being dad, that's okay. It can work that way, too.

Jim: This has been so good. Sara, I love your heart. I mean, I just—

Sara: Thank you.

Jim: --I can hear it. I can feel it and I believe all of our listeners can, as well and you have gone through some difficult things, but what I admire so much is how you have modeled how to stay close to God, how to draw even closer to Him in circumstances that push many people away. And that is a wonderful example that we need more of in our culture right now. So, thank you. Thanks for bein' with us.

Sara: Thank you for having me.


John: Well, what a powerful story that Sara has shared about God's goodness in her life, even in the midst of some really challenging circumstances. And it may be that what she shared has resonated with you and if so, you'll want to get a copy of her book, Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet. It really is a deeply reflective and ultimately, optimistic book about God and how He sees you and how He wants to draw you near to Him in the midst of your pain. You'll find a copy of Sara's book and a CD or instant download of this two-part conversation at

And over the last couple of days, we've touched on a lot of those life-challenging topics--marital difficulty, infertility, the death of a loved one, the ups and downs of parenting and adoption. And if you're going through any of that right now and you need to talk to somebody, please know that we have caring Christian counselors here on staff. And they'll be happy to discuss where you're at, to pray with you and then to point you to a local counselor with whom you can have an ongoing counseling relationship.
Now we get a lot of calls after programs like this, so we might have to take your name and number, but we will call you back and that's a complimentary call, by the way, 800-A-FAMILY.

Now Jim mentioned at the top of the program that we need your help to continue this worldwide effort to reach folks at their point of need. And no donation is too small. God's people giving generously have made Focus on the Family's ministry possible for the past 39 years. And we'd encourage your donation today. Join our support team. And when you do, we'll say thanks by sending a copy of Sara's book, Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet, as our way of saying thanks for your generous donation of any amount.

And our program was provided by Focus on the Family. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, hoping you have a great weekend, encouraging you to attend church and be part of a local body of believers. And then join us on Monday, when you'll hear how a follower of mass murderer Charles Manson experienced salvation in a prison cell.


Dennis Rice: I began to feel as though there was a green slime all over me and I began to cry out to God. I said, "God! You've got to take this feeling away from me. I can't stand it!"

End of Excerpt

John: A powerful presentation from Dennis Rice on Monday's "Focus on the Family."

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Sara Hagerty

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Sara Hagerty is a blogger who writes about motherhood, marriage, adoption and faith. She is also author of the book Every Bitter Thing is Sweet: Tasting the Goodness of God in All Things. Sara and her husband, Nate, have five children. Learn more about Sara by visiting her blog,