The Wholehearted Hero: Sara Gilmore from Wander and Wondering

I met Sara a few years ago through a mutual friend and was impressed by her honestly from the start. She's one of those people who can just put language to what you're feeling or where you're at. I've been following her blog for a while and have been so encouraged and challenged from afar. I hope you enjoy getting to know Sara a bit through her interview! 

1. Tell us how you ended up in Salt Lake City. What prompted you and your husband to decide to plant a church halfway across the country and how long have you been there? 

Oh man… the short answer is “Jesus prompted us.” Haha. We left Jonesboro, Arkansas in 2012 with our best friends who are now our lead pastors at Antioch SLC, knowing we were called to church plant but not knowing where we were going to do that. We moved to Waco ,TX for a season for some training. As we went through the discipleship training school in Waco, we had a pretty supernatural experience in the spring of 2013 where God spoke “Utah” to all four of us separately in the same week — when we were all in different states. As we’d been praying through cities, we had narrowed it down to New York, LA, Vancouver & Salt Lake City. I wanted to go ANYWHERE but Utah. But God challenged me one day saying, “You are made to go where it seems impossible. I made you to be a forerunner.” Also there’s that whole when you marry someone you marry their calling thing — so I was going to be planting a church in Utah as Noland’s wife regardless of whether I’d felt the call. I’m really thankful God knows that the independent lady boss in me needed to feel called and not like I was just following, so He called me as an individual as well as a wife to Noland. 

2. I've been following your blog for a few years now and have been heart-broken, challenged, and then overjoyed watching your journey with infertility from afar and the joy of welcoming your newest addition. Can you briefly let us into this journey? 

I was pretty quiet about our infertility struggle in my writing for the first two years — maybe sort of naming the emotions of it, but not the actual details of the journey. It felt vulnerable and scary. I was still wrestling through a lot of disappointment with God, and I think not in a healthy place to share that wrestle yet. And then after our first devastating loss in 2015, something in me shifted. I couldn’t be quiet about it anymore. It was like this story of pain and suffering was burning inside of me and if I didn’t let it out, it might kill me. That was when I wrote this post about the loss of our son. I think what I’ve learned these last couple of years, as someone with a platform to say something and as a church leader, it’s that people need to see leaders be broken. We have so many highlight reels in our culture — everything is shared with the perfect Instagram filter, or in 140 characters or less — and people are really hurting and really suffering around us, and I think people with a voice need to use it to be more honest and raw more often.

I’ve learned that really great storytellers are really great stewards of pain — and there is not a single person on planet earth who can’t relate to pain, longing and loss.

Those are the stories that move hearts and set captives free. People need permission to be broken and still be OK with God. I think we’ve created a culture that encourages the lie that we have to be a certain degree of “together” to be right with God. I’ve found Him the most intimately by being completely undone.

3. What would you say to someone silently suffering, wondering if now is the time to open up, even if (or maybe especially if) it's messy? 

Everybody’s story and situation is different. Some peoples brokenness would expose another person’s brokenness if shared, and you want to be sure and honor people. (Thinking about things like divorce and abuse.) But I think vulnerability begets vulnerability, and Lord knows our world needs more of that. Broken hearts are usually the most empathetic — and we need some more empathy in this moment in our nation, too. If you don’t feel like you can share from a healthy place of brokenness that builds people up instead of tearing them down, then it might not be time. But if you feel like you have revelation from your brokenness that someone else needs, then gosh, share away. Jesus was wounded for us. I think sometimes we get the privilege of a tiny glimpse of that when we get to allow our wounds to heal others.

4. One thing I admire about you and your husband is your commitment to make it to the other side, no matter how hard it gets. Can you tell us about your relationship with disappointment and/or grief? And where did you find the strength to believing for the future of your family? 

I hate to lose. Seriously, I am the fiercest competitor I know. Doesn’t matter if it’s a NCAA soccer match or a game of checkers. If a winner can be declared at the end, I am going to be that winner. I think in some ways that was the way I looked at our journey. And to some degree, God really had to humble me along the way, because I couldn’t do anything to make myself win this race. Noland is opposite me in this way. He’s patient and steadfast and faithful. I am a little more “storm the gates of hell” in the way I intercede for our life; he’s more “Lord, your will be done.” Both are right, and that’s why we are a great team. We lost 2 babies in 15 months — that takes a toll on you. We cried a lot. We had more hard days than good days in 2015 and 2016. But we were honest in our grief and disappointment, and God really met us there. I thought a lot about Jacob’s wrestle with God during those years. It says he walked with a limp forever after that, but he also walked away with a new name. It was after that moment that God begins to call him Israel. I think sometimes our wrestles with God are the things that end up marking us and renaming us forever. But there is a cost — we limp for them. I guess the wisdom I would give is stay in the fight. It’s not for us to decide when our fight is over. If you’re still in the fight, then there’s grace for the fight.

5. When you originally posted about your choice to adopt, I remember seeing something about the funds being raised in a matter of hours. I was shocked to see God provide for this little miracle so quickly! What was that experience like? 

Oh man. That was a really fun day! We had been at LifeGroup the night before, and our group prayed for us before we left that night. One girl said to me, “Hey tomorrow is September 7. There is something about the number 7, it’s significant in scripture — it’s the Biblical number of completion and it’s the day that God rested because His work was done. I just feel like tomorrow you guys get to rest in the completion of what God has promised for your family.” And sure enough, on September 7, the $15,000 we set out to raise in 30 days was raised in 7 hours. It was incredible. It felt like the beginning of the completion of something God started so many years ago. Like running a marathon and rounding into the last mile.

6. What would you say to a friend who is close to someone going through something hard? And how would you encourage them to step in and engage? 

ENTER. IN. Don’t shy away. Don’t give them silver linings — they don’t help. Don’t ever start a sentence with “At least…” Those statements don’t help people who are grieving. I think for me the friends that made the biggest difference in our journey were the ones who were willing to be with us in it without fixing it. The ones who showed up at my house to just sit with me. The ones who called me and just let me cry over the phone, not saying a word because there are no words for that kind of pain, but being there anyway. Showing up is the best thing you can do for friends in that kind of pain.

7. How did you and your husband prepare for the adoption once you were matched with a baby girl? When she finally came, was it like how you expected? Why or why not? 

It was bananas. We were matched on November 6 and she was born on December 1 (8 days early). We prepared a room as best as we knew how to, and made sure we had the bare necessities. But it was pretty much straight up shambles during those weeks. Oh my gosh, when she finally came — it was magic. I wrote about that night on my blog. I’m honestly not really sure what I expected, but I have a feeling even if I’d had expectations, it still would have been better. You just can’t prepare for that kind of longing fulfilled, or for the beauty of watching a human life enter the world. It was messy, of course. Adoption just is. But I wouldn’t change a single thing, mess and all.

8. Right now, what's the best thing about being a mom? Hardest part? 

My favorite thing is that my little girl knows I’m her mom. I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as attachment and bonding, so it was really sweet when she really quickly knew she was mine. I love that my arms are the safest place in the world to her. The hardest part… is probably the lack of sleep. Two months of not sleeping an entire night makes you a little wacky. I told Noland two days ago, “Dude. I think pretty soon you’re going to have to send me away somewhere and just come visit me on the weekends.” Haha. You just feel a little crazy. Thankful her sleep at night is getting longer and longer.

9. Has your faith shifted or been affected by watching the fulfillment of the promise you'd believed for? How so? Is there anything you do differently now? 

YES. I just told a friend over the weekend that I feel like this space has been freed up in my heart. Like so much real estate in my heart was being taken up by this fight for breakthrough in family, and now I have space to fight for something else — which feels timely for how much intercession America clearly needs right now, but that’s another discussion. :) And at the same time, arms full of Ellie Joy doesn’t take away all the pain of missing her siblings in Heaven. That will always hurt. But I do feel alive in ways I haven’t in years. I feel like I’m waking up again, and it’s changed every aspect of my faith. It’s changed the way I relate to God. It’s changed the way I relate to others. However, there is nothing like becoming a mom to make you realize you aren’t as sanctified as you thought you were, so a lot of my prayer life right now looks like, “Lord help me, I haven’t slept since November and this baby is screaming and I hate everyone.” I think I’m still figuring out what prayer, ministry and relationships look like right now. I pray in the wee hours of the night while I feed a baby. I show up as best as I can for ministry on the little sleep I’m getting. I miss my friends and am trying to figure out what friendship looks like in this season. It’s just all changing — which has been a great opportunity to re-evaluate and ask God what and who needs to be getting my time and attention in this season.

10. I always ask my guests about what sort of rhythms they put in place in their lives. It seems to me, those who are wholehearted aren't just simply floating through life, but walk with intention and purpose. What are some daily, weekly or even monthly rhythms you put in place to help facilitate the process and journey you've been on so far? 

My favorite rhythm that I’ve learned to never, ever, ever sacrifice is SABBATH. I help pastor a 18 month old church, I lead a 5 month old discipleship school, and I have a 2 month old baby. I love resting in this season. I think it’s important to remember to play and remember to celebrate when you’re walking through hard or heavy things. I go through seasons of doing this better than others, but I try to keep a journal of things I’m grateful for/things worth celebrating. I’ve learned gratitude and celebration are major ingredients to staying whole. I’m not the best at systems (artist problems) so I don’t have a whole lot of practicals here. I just know that when my heart is whole, the rest of my life falls in line — and my heart is the most whole when it knows how to celebrate, even in trial seasons.

11. What does living wholeheartedly mean to you? And how have your views on this sort of lifestyle evolved over time? 

I think to me it means being honest with your WHOLE heart. If you hurt, hurt. If you’re winning, celebrate. If you’re losing, be frustrated. If you’re tired, take a break — stop striving, you won’t bless anyone if you’re running on empty. This is not an excuse to stop trying or to not be excellent at the things you’re called to. But it is an invitation to be weak sometimes. Ask for help. Take the things you shouldn’t have said yes to off your plate. It took 4 years of utter brokenness for me to learn that my pride was in the way a lot of the time. Be weak! It is such a great way to grow in intimacy — with God and with others.

12. Is there anyone or anything that's been inspiring you to live wholeheartedly recently? 

Things that are inspiring me right now… Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way. My dear friend Ellie Holcomb’s new record, Red Sea Road. I recently read The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr and I think it’s making me a more honest storyteller. I feel really inspired by my church community lately. They are a really beautiful group of people who wholeheartedly want to know more of God. My husband inspires me. He’s writing some really great worship music right now, and I think it’s going to bless the Church like crazy.

Sara is fifty percent storyteller, fifty percent church planter and one hundred percent committed to finding a gluten-free donut that actually tastes like the real thing. She is a self proclaimed thrill seeker and adrenaline junkie, which explains the transition she’s recently made with her worship pastor husband, to plant a church in Salt Lake City, Utah. People and their stories are what make her heart beat, and nothing makes her feel more alive than radical life transformation that comes only from relationship with Jesus. She suffers from a severe case of wanderlust, and her husband would describe her as, “The only person I’ve ever known who can feel trapped inside of a whole city.” Often lost in a daydream, Sara’s favorite place to retreat to is inside of her imagination with the Creator of creativity. Find her at WONDERANDWANDERING.COM.