FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Finding Beauty in the Boundaries: Sara Hagerty

with Sara Hagerty | May 2, 2024
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Do you ever feel like it's just... too much? Laundry piles up, bills keep coming, and your schedules overflow. Well, Sara Hagerty gets it. Once struggling with infertility, adoption, and yeah, now she's raising seven kids! She encourages us on finding purpose in the unexpected twists of life, even with our limited time.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed? Sara Hagerty, who’s been through infertility, adoption, and raising seven kids, encourages you to find purpose in life’s twists.

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Finding Beauty in the Boundaries: Sara Hagerty

With Sara Hagerty
May 02, 2024
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Sara: It’s okay on a day where I’m tripping over the boots, I can’t find another sock, the kid’s having a meltdown, and I’m going, “Lord, it is really hard to mother seven kids.” He doesn’t see me as having a tantrum; He actually just wants to be with me in that moment. We grieve it [that moment]; and in the grieving, I think then, there is a resurrection. There’s a time and a place where God says, “Well, that was the dream for your life, but I actually have different dreams, and they’re better.”

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at This is FamilyLife Today.

Dave: Here’s what I’m thinking about today. This thought just came to me: “If we had seven kids, would we have survived?” Seven kids! [Laughter]

Ann: Yes, I think we’d survive. I don’t know if we’d still be married. [Laughter]

Dave: That’s what I wondered! [Laughter] The laughter you’re hearing is the woman who has seven kids, Sara.

Sara: And I’m still married! [Laughter]

Ann: Yay! [Laughter]

Dave: You’re still married.

Ann: That’s why we have you on.

Sara: And I love him! Yes, that’s right.

Ann: You love him.

Dave: Sara Hagerty is with us. How many years married?

Sara: Twenty-two; almost twenty-three. You know those years. They test all. [Laughter]

Dave: It took a while, right?

Sara: It did. [Laughter]

Dave: Tell us your family story.

Sara: Well, we had many years of infertility after being married. We just assumed, like everybody else, [that[ you get married; and then, when you want to have kids, you have kids. But that wasn’t in the story for us.

We had wanted to adopt, but we thought we’d have biological children first and then, adopt. But after many, many, many years of infertility, we started the adoption process. We walked through the adoption process, still asking the Lord to give us biological children. We adopted two from Ethiopia and then—we actually, in Ethiopia, as we were touring the orphanage, there was an older girl, who just looked at me with these eyes, like, “Take me home.” She was giving us a tour of the orphanage when we were there to pick up our semi-younger children.

Ann: How old was she?

Sara: She was probably nine or ten. She had these eyes, like, “I’m not going home with anybody. Will you take me home?” We came home from Ethiopia after adopting our first two, and I said to my husband, “We have to go back for her.”

It wasn’t actually her that we ended up adopting, but we adopted two more children who were older. Her face is just burned in my brain. There was little hope for her to be adopted, and I just thought of those older children. We went back to Uganda, two years later, and adopted two more.

Ann: But then

Sara: —several years after that, it was Valentine’s Day that I discovered I was pregnant, and thought, “What in the world?” Everything just changed.

Ann: Valentine’s Day. What did you feel?

Sara: I think it felt surreal. I had dreamed about it for so long, and then, it was finally there. I thought, “God, You met me when I didn’t have this.” There’s something about that, when the miracle we’re waiting on comes, and we look back and say, “When I didn’t have that, God was so near.” It was so personal to me. I wrote letters to my closest friends, telling them I was pregnant. I couldn’t even tell them. I couldn’t even say the words—it felt that private and near: “I can’t believe all these years you’ve walked alongside me. I’m just going to put a letter in the mailbox, because I don’t think I could actually verbally tell you, ‘God came through this way…’”

Dave: It was that close to the soul, it sounds like.

Sara: Absolutely. I think we all face this. Now, even in this season, I have these questions of God. I’m on my floor, begging God, “Will You move in this way?” All of us have that some way or another.

The moment where He doesn’t come through like we think—I say that with air quotes—in some ways, in my mind, is maybe just as holy as the moment when He does. But we have tangible evidence when He does come through. And that feels holy-other.

Ann: He always comes through, you’re right—

Sara: —but not in the way that we think.

Ann: Exactly.

Dave: Talk about that. How is it holy when he doesn’t? Because that’s the struggle.

Sara: That’s really the topic of this book. We fix our eyes on the things we can’t have. We just do. It’s human nature: it’s subtle; it’s in the back of our mind. With seven kids, I’m walking out the door—and I’m old—and I’m walking out the door with my little kids.

Dave: You’re not—

Ann: You are not old.

Dave: You are not old. [Laughter]

Sara: Well, I’m old to have little children.

Dave: It’s all relative.

Sara: You’re right; you’re right.

Dave: Okay, you’re older to have—

Sara: —to have young children!

Dave: Yes, yes.

Sara: I’m walking out the door with them, tripping over boots; we can’t find socks. We want to go on this walk, where I’m going to get to experience nature and wonder with them. Another boot is lost in the woods somewhere, and some kid’s crying. And I’m like, “I’m too old for this. How are we doing this again?” [Laughter] Right?

Dave: Yes.

Sara: I’m up to my eyeballs in kids. I can, in my mind’s eye, see: how ironic that, all these years after my infertility, I say, “When am I going to come up for air?” I keep my eyes over the fence line; meaning, the fence around my yard: “When am I going to get a break? When are these limitations going to lift?”

And yet, I think there’s something that God has for us who are waiting in the waiting. There’s something God has for us, who are limited—whether physically, or in our marriage, or with children, or without children, or taking care of a sick parent, or taking care of a sick kid that isn’t: “Let’s grit your teeth until this is over.” [Whispering] "I actually have words and whispers for you right now, when it’s not lifting.”

Ann: You’re traveling; you’re speaking; you’re around women. What do you think some of the main ones are? You named a lot of those.

Sara: I think there’s a lot of ache in marriages—

Ann: —Me, too.

Sara: —a lot of ache in: “He’s not who I thought he was,” or “This isn’t coming together like I thought,” or “We’re not connecting emotionally.”

Ann: —and, “My kids—”

Dave: —notice it is all women saying, “He is not who I thought he was.”

Sara: Well, she asked “women,” so—

Ann: —yes.

Dave: I’m kidding.

Sara: I think men are probably saying the same thing!

Ann: I want to ask you what the men are—

Sara: —I’m not having those conversations with men. [Laughter]

Ann: Yes; I think your health, kids who have walked away.

Sara: Kids. Yes, the older you get, watching your kids go through the teenage years and beyond; and if they’re not walking with the Lord. I think health is a big thing.

Ann: Me, too.

Sara: That’s actually a startling thing, because I think people in my generation, we watched our parents struggle when they got into the older years; but now, we’re seeing friends in their 30s, and even 20s and 40s, struggling with health issues that are chronic. That’s a big thing.

Ann: And you’ve had a chronic condition.

Sara: You know, after I wrote this book, I actually was diagnosed with Lyme Disease. It was so interesting to go back and reread through the book, and really wonder, “Is the message that I wrote in here going to hold true for this?”

Ann: And “Is it for me?” Like you said—

Sara: —“for me.”

Ann: You’re really living it.

Sara: Yes, I’m living it.

Dave: You’re in it.

Sara: I’m in it, and I read it and felt like, “You know what, Lord? What You’re telling me:”—I think of one phrase I write about in the book—“’slower still.’”

Dave: Yes, I love that.

Sara: A phrase that just comes up in my mind—one of my best friends tells it to me often—is: “Jesus’ pace was”—something like, what?—"three miles an hour or something.” Yet, we live in this world of optimization and finding hacks. We just move way faster than we even realize we’re moving, and yet, I think there’s something of a whisper from God in our limitations, saying, “Hey, if you slow down, and are less productive than you think you need to be; less accomplished than you think you need to be; noticing more gaps in your life than you want to have, you might actually find that My presence is very near in the ‘slower still.’”

So, being diagnosed with Lyme Disease was like: “Okay, I’m going to practice this. When I’m in bed, or I have to go to bed early, or I’m fatigued and I can’t do it:”—we’re going on a family vacation; and mom’s upstairs in bed—do I really believe that God likes me? Do I really believe that He has something for my day? Or do I need to grit my teeth through this fatigue and wait until it’s over, so I can really be present in my day?

Ann: That’s really—I mean, we all face that—

Sara: —everywhere.

Ann: —even that question: “God, do You like me? If You love me,”—we have all of our “whys?” “Why have You not healed me still?” “Why are my kids still disobeying, and they’ve walked away?” “Why is my marriage still--?”

I like your sentence of: “Will you love Me still, and follow Me, if this never happens?”

Sara: “If it never happens?”

Ann: That’s so convicting.

Sara: It is! I think we all would say, “Yes!” in a heartbeat; but lived, we, maybe, wouldn’t. Really deep down, I’m thinking, “What if You took it all away, God?” You say that; and it’s like, “Go, go, go!” But then, all of us are living small versions of having the Lord delay an answer, or having something we desperately want be elusive to us.

Ann: But you’re right: we have a choice in those moments, when we’re so desperate—when we can’t get out of bed; when we have no answers, we have that choice of: “I can’t do it apart from You, Jesus.”

Sara: Which is a beautiful thing.

Ann: It’s beautiful.

Sara: That, really, is the gift in our limitations. We have bought a lie, and fed ourselves a lie, that we’re going to conquer it all. And in many ways, that’s why so many of us are tired. We are bone tired because we’ve been trying to change the world and conquer it all.

Ann: I’m tired.

Sara: Yes; me, too! [Laughter]

Dave: That makes three of us.

Sara: Right!

Dave: Part of me wants to ask—even hearing that term, “slower still”—when I read it in your book, it made me stop for a second; and then, I rushed past it. No, I’m kidding! It made me stop because I thought, “I don’t like it; I want it.”

You open the book with the fence analogy. I’m thinking, “I like fences to keep people out of my life, but I don’t like fences to keep me in; I want to jump over them; I want to crawl [over].” You talk about, at the beginning, the skid marks on your shins as you’re crawling over the limitations of your life.

Sara: Absolutely.

Dave: How do we get to the place“—you’re there; you’ve walked through that—of when you feel limited, when God’s not letting you jump over that fence or whatever—it could be physical; it could be just there are not advancements going on in your life, or career, or whatever. The DNA of me, and some of us, the American way—we celebrate it. And as an athlete—you’re a runner—

Sara: —yes.

Dave: —you don’t slow down; you just push through it—

Sara: —push through.

Dave: —push through that quitting point.

Sara: Absolutely.

Dave: “Don’t quit.” If there’s a fence—I’m a football coach—“Run through it; don’t drop the ball.”

Sara: Yes.

Dave: But there are times, like you’re saying, it’s: “No, slower still. It’s a limitation. God wants you right where you are. Rest in that.” How do you do it if you don’t want to do it?”

Sara: Such a good question. I think, in many ways, God is already doing it for so many of us with our circumstances. We’re resenting them, or wishing they would change; and He’s already bringing us there by the circumstances that feel so limiting.

As a runner, I think, “If I ran a race…”; right? There was a local race in Charlottesville, Virginia, I had placed in; this was many years ago, when I could actually place in a race. [Laughter] I wanted to win it the next year, so I got a trainer. I trained to win it. All summer long, in 75-degree heat in the mornings, which was pretty cool for the summer—

Dave: —I know this story; this is fascinating.

Sara: —it’s wild! It’s 75-degree heat [for training]. It’s race day. I know the years’ times from years past—this is not a race that’s making it on anybody’s radar; it’s just a local race—but I know the times of the winners from the years past. I have my splits on my hand; I know what I need to do to win the race.

That race morning, it’s 85 degrees—which for a runner, that 10-degree difference is not nothing—

Ann: —oh, that’s a lot.

Sara: —I hadn’t trained in 85 degrees; we just had an unusually cool summer.

As we’re lining up at the starting line, I notice—and there’s some chatter—that there’s some actual Olympic trial-ers who were at that race, who never ran it before. I should have known: “I’m not going to win this race,” right? [Laughter] But I didn’t believe it!

Here I am—the gun goes off—and I’m looking at my hand, determined for my splits. This heat is slowing me down, but I’m zeroed in on: “I am going to get my splits!” “My splits” meaning the time for each mile.

Ann: Right, right.

Sara: “I’m going to win this race.” Not really thinking, “These women are like so far beyond me:” still trying to keep up with them. My body is giving me all the warning signs to slow down, and I ignore them all, such that I have a heat stroke.

Ann: No!

Sara: Psychologically, people who have heat strokes are typically people who push past their limits. They just cannot read what their body’s telling them.

It became this picture to me of what we do in our lives—your tiredness, your migraines, your stomach aches, your panic attacks—they are telling you a story. Sometimes, that’s even God reaching into your body—could be all the time; I don’t know—God is reaching into your body and speaking to you that message of “slower still.”

I think there’s a mercy—I hear that, too, and I think, “How in the world am I going to slow down with seven kids?”

Ann: That’s what I was going to say: the moms listening [will say], “I can’t slow down!”

Sara: “There’s no way!”

Ann: Right! You feel that.

Sara: Right! But then—

Dave: By the way, the dads feel the same way. [Laughter] You ladies over here; we do the same thing.

Sara: My husband feels that, too.

Ann: Yes, that’s right.

Sara: So, could it be that the circumstances that we keep trying to push past the fence line, and  we keep trying to hurdle, are actually God’s way of saying, “Slower still?” Could it be His way of saying, “I want you to slow down?” Because when we slow, man, there is access to wonder in God; we hear whispers more than we scroll our phone.

Ann: I like the whispers—that God’s whispering to us—and we can actually hear Him—

Sara: —because the noise is quiet.

Ann: — as He whispers.

Sara: Yes; you’re in bed, sick for a day; could it be that God’s even allowing—I don’t want to get into the theology of sickness—but could it be that God allows that?

Ann: Right. One of my best friend’s oldest son was diagnosed with cancer when he was nine. Their world just stopped! Talk about [a] slow down. They’re both working—the husband and wife are both working—they have four kids. This is their oldest.

Sara: [Whispering]What a heartache!

Ann: She said, “The only place I could go every single night, when he was in the hospital, is I would go into the bathroom of the hospital room and I would lie on the floor and cry out to God, “I can’t do this! I can’t do this! I can’t do this!” She said: “His presence wrapped me in a way”—she said—“I was still in it, but I had this comfort in the midst of it.” She said, “All I wanted to do was get out of the situation, begging God to heal him.” It wasn’t looking good, but she’s begging God, “Get me out of this place.”

Miraculously, this little boy was healed after time; but now, when I talk to her, she says, “Ann, I miss that place of desperation.” She says, “I’m so busy now, flying all over the place; but I was meeting God, face to face, when I couldn’t stand on my own two feet.”

Sara: [Whispering] Wow.

Ann: That’s kind of what you’re talking about.

Sara: That’s ultimately—I mean, those are the stories we need to hear, because deep down inside the reason we’re killing ourselves is we want a sense of belonging and being known and being seen. But there’s another way to get that which isn’t achievement, and productivity, and having all our goals met, and our kids all well-behaved—not that those things are bad—

Ann: —yes—

Sara: —but there is something really powerful in the dream that is thwarted, and God saying, “I just want to hold you.” But we don’t really asked to be held when we’re accomplishing all our dreams.

Ann: We’re too busy running. [Laughter]

Sara: Yes, that’s right!

Dave: We want the feeling of being held without the pain.

Ann: Yes!

Sara: That’s exactly right.

Dave: We just don’t want the pain. When you—and I want to have you talk about the “come,” “die,” “grieve,” “live.”

Sara: Yes, I think we Christians are master pain avoiders. [Laughter] If we’re honest, it’s like we want to do everything.

Ann: I think the world is; everybody is.

Sara: Yes! We just have our own flavor of it, right, as Christians?

Ann: Yes.

Sara: The world is. I think there is an invitation, with our limitations, not only to name them—a lot of times, we react to them;—

Ann: —oh, name them.

Sara: —we resent them. We’re snapping at our spouse and our kids, but really, underneath it all, we’re just frustrated with the things that are limiting us.

Dave: Right.

Sara: But then, I think the other step is we, as pain-avoiders, actually give ourselves permission to grieve them. That can feel really counter and wrong to us. I think we want to skip steps and tell ourselves the good news at the end of it; when in reality, God gave us lanes for our emotions in the Psalms. Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” The exact words Jesus used on the cross. There was a Friday death and a Saturday darkness before Sunday’s resurrection.

There is something powerful to, I think, taking that and applying it to our own lives, saying, “There are things that God is inviting me to die to. If we lose our lives for Him—”

Ann: —yes.

Sara: There are things He’s inviting me to die to—not just to keep clinging to and interceding for: “They’ve got to change! They’ve got to change.”—to maybe just accept they’re not changing.

Ann: Oh, this is so true for marriage, too.

Sara: Absolutely!

Ann: I mean, just living for the day he will change, or come to know Jesus, or lead in the way that we hold for.

Sara: Sending out the crisis prayer text: “Pray for my husband: x, y, z.”

Ann: Yes, yes.

Sara: Some of that—I mean, how many years in—some of those things are never going to change.

Ann: And your question at the beginning: “Will you still love Jesus (God)?”—

Sara: —“if they never do [change].”

Ann: Yes.

Sara: And “Will I still love him?”

Ann: Exactly! That’s a big question.

Sara: “If he’s still doing that thing that drives me crazy? And he knows it; we’ve talked about this 267 times.” [Laughter] And you don’t know: “Oh, shoot! Now, you remember!” [Laughter] “Can I accept: ‘This is the whole package? This is who I married’?”

In a similar way, in my own life, in marriage and also separate from marriage: “Can I accept those things?”—which I think, in some ways, is holy Saturday. “I’m dying to them. Can I grieve them on that day? Can I grieve them for a period of time and say, ‘This is hard.’”

I think, sometimes, we don’t want to do that because we feel like we’re just little kids, throwing tantrums. God knows our heart. It’s okay, on a day where I’m tripping over the boots; I can’t find another sock; the kid’s having a meltdown, and I’m saying, “Lord, it is really hard to mother seven kids.” He doesn’t see me as having a tantrum; He actually just wants to be with me in that moment.

So, we grieve it [that moment]; and in the grieving, I think then, there is a resurrection. There’s a time and a place where God says: “Well, that was the dream for your life; but I actually have different dreams, and they’re better.”

Ann: I was going to say, “…and they’re better.”

Sara: They are better.


Ann: I’m so glad that God didn’t listen to some of the dreams that I had, that I thought would fulfil me, because God’s dreams are way, way better. But in the midst of that, we walk some hard spots—

Sara: —oh, absolutely; yes!

Ann: —with our marriage and with things; but that peace of continually surrendering it and laying it down—that’s not easy.

Sara: And grieving it with Him.

Ann: And grieving it.

Sara: And I even think, in our family, with the challenges with our children, my husband says to me often: “You would not be the Sara you are today without those kids, because they’ve shaped you.”

Ann: They have shaped you, yes.

Sara: You thought you were going to change the world, and they changed you. [Laughter]

Ann: I say that to every young mom! “Oh, you think you’re going to change them? God’s going to use them to shape you—"

Sara: —that’s so right.

Ann: —“in a magnificent way if you’ll let Him.”

Sara: You’re so right.

Shelby: We’re going to hear more in just a second from Dave, with some encouragement on how to practically apply what we’ve heard today; but first, limitations, to me, have always felt like something I’ve needed to move past or kind of bust through. Very rarely have I considered that “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” and [that] God has put them there for the purpose of allowing me to flourish within them, not always looking for ways to break them down and move beyond them.

I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Sara Hagerty on FamilyLife Today. I’ve loved this conversation. Sara has written a book that is directly related to this conversation. It’s called The Gift of Limitation: Finding Beauty in the Boundaries. Full disclosure: I’m actually reading this book right now. It is a really challenging and very helpful book for someone specifically like me. If you’re like me, you have trouble with the limitations; you have trouble with looking at the fences in your life and longing for something different than what you’re currently experiencing.

It’s a narrative-driven book. Sara shares a lot of stories in it about her own personal experiences, but also, gives great and godly insight on how to appropriately look at your limitations and really be appreciative of how God has ordered your life. You can get your copy right now by going to the show notes at Or you can give us a call at 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

It is officially the month of May as of yesterday—it was May 1st; today is May 2nd. That means that, when you partner with FamilyLife®—when you become a FamilyLife partner, we have had some very generous donors give to the ministry of FamilyLife [so] that, when you give any amount, it is going to be matched, dollar-for-dollar, up to $500,000. That means, if you give a gift of $100, for example, it is actually going to be made into $200. That [also] means, if you become a monthly partner and give $50 a month for a whole year, it’s actually going to be $100 a month. This is a beautiful opportunity to make your donation double and have two times the impact. You can find out more about becoming a monthly partner in the show notes at

Now, when you do give, we’re going to send you, as a “thank you,” a book by Chris and Elizabeth McKinney called Neighborhoods Reimagined. It’s a small way of saying, “thank you” to you for partnering with us in the ministry of FamilyLife and making this ministry possible to help reach more families and marriages. Again, you can find out more by going online to


And if you know anyone who needs to hear conversations like the one you heard today, would you share this episode of FamilyLife Today from wherever you get your podcasts? And while you’re there, it could really help others learn more about the ministry of FamilyLife Today by leaving us a review.

Alright, now, let’s hear more from Dave Wilson about some practical ways to apply exactly what you’ve heard today.

Dave: I think, as we wrap up, I would say, I don’t think I’ve ever named the limitations. I would encourage the listener to take a moment—be still, slower still—get out your phone, or whatever you’re going to use to do it—maybe, a piece of paper—because your phone will probably have a text come in or email—[Laughter]—and your mind will rush off.

But get quiet and say, “What are things I really wanted that aren’t ever going to happen, and that’s okay?” Because that’s almost a courageous thing, because even at this age, there’s still: “Oh, I can still—” It’s like, “No, those dreams aren’t—they weren’t even good dreams.” God put a fence there, and said, “No, it’s better that you don’t have that.” Name that.

Ann: I like the naming it.

Dave: And then, live—live free—in it. I don’t know what that would look like, but that would be a healthy exercise.

Ann: Yes, I like that. I also like the idea of saying to God, “Even if You don’t change the situation, I will love You; I will follow You; I will trust You. I might not feel like it, but I will be obedient and follow You anywhere You take me.” Those are hard things to say.

Sara: [Whispering] Very hard.

Shelby: Now, tomorrow, what’s the point in finding the significance of grieving our limitations and finding purpose in difficult situations? Well, Sara Hagerty is back with Dave and Ann Wilson to talk about just that. We hope you’ll join us tomorrow.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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