A Story of Waiting

Twenty minutes on ice.
Twenty minutes on my feet.
Then back to the couch and the ice pack —  and that was how I made it through the early days of mothering.  Degenerative disc disease and pregnancy make for some painful and complicated logistics when they converge, but, oddly, it’s not the pain I remember most. What I remember most clearly is the frustration of being limited and the discipline of resting that was required for healing.  The real suffering seemed to be in the waiting.

Anyone with a chronic condition of any type is familiar with the rhythms of hope and despair that go with waiting.  Ann Swindell was diagnosed at the age of eleven with trichotillomania, defined by the American Journal of Psychiatry as a “poorly understood disorder characterized by repetitive hair pulling that leads to noticeable hair loss, distress, and social or functional impairment.”  It is inexplicable and incurable, and it remains part of Ann’s life as she writes Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want.

Ann lays her own story and struggle alongside the biblical account of the Bleeding Woman in Mark 5.  Remember the story?  After waiting — and bleeding, and consulting experts and spending all her net worth on cures that fell flat — for twelve years, this woman came to Jesus, depleted and out of options.  She was miraculously healed, and this is where her story and Ann’s diverge.  Nonetheless, Ann feels a special kinship with the Bleeding Woman simply because of the shared brokenness of waiting and of clinging to hope.

Waiting Is Part of the Groaning

Paul’s soaring words about hope and redemption in Romans 8 do not bypass the truth that all of creation deals with brokenness in some way — and, therefore, we wait.  And while we wait because of this general and widespread brokenness, it is also true that we are broken because we are waiting.  Underneath all the good that was happening in her growing up years and into young adulthood, Ann struggled with the shame and desperation that centered around a pair of hands that would not stop pulling out eyelashes and eyebrows — in spite of resolutions and wearing gloves and goggles and wrapping tape around her fingers.

There’s a misconception in the 21st century church that we can be “#strong” by ourselves, that all weakness is evil, and that healing is God’s will in every situation.  It’s a pretty insupportable position in light of Paul’s words in II Corinthians 12:9:

 “And [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

When Waiting Is All You Can Do

From experience, Ann offers principles that allow believers to experience the freedom of waiting well:

  1.  Lay down the false notion that you can fix yourself.  Waiting well requires a surrender of the illusion of control and self-sufficiency.
  2. Do not “create your identity around what you don’t have.”  Even though it is tempting to fixate on lack, whether it is infertility or singleness or a chronic condition, the believer’s true identity is tied up in Christ who names and claims and loves. Until Ann stopped thinking of herself as damaged goods, she could not share her burden and receive the compassion of others.
  3. Relinquish what God has withheld.  I was so happy to find Elisabeth Elliot’s wisdom shared in the pages of Still Waiting:  “. . . the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end, but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able honestly to pray what He taught His disciples to pray:  Thy will be done.” (96)
  4. Allow a soft heart to protect you from bitterness.  Making the choice to be offended by God’s sovereign will “puts us in the judgment seat over God.” (105) Ann found that the understanding and kindness of others and the Truth she found in Scripture were key to accepting the will of God in assigning to her this particular trial, this particular chronic condition, this particular set of challenges and temptations to despair.
  5. Scorn shame.  As Jesus took the cross, he silenced shame once and for all.  By confiding in a few safe people and by embracing the strong truth of Romans 8:1, Ann began to live in light of God’s love and acceptance even in the midst of the daily struggle.

Standing with Those Who Wait

Whenever authors share a unique journey of living with and overcoming obstacles, readers come away with insights that make us more sensitive to the pain of others as well as helpful ways of responding.  One of the chief sources of pain in managing a chronic condition is loneliness.  That would have been particularly true of the Bleeding Woman in Scripture, but it is clear from her actions that, somehow, she had managed to keep a shred of hope alive that kept her thinking, “If I can just get close to Jesus . . .”  Encouragement to draw near to God will make it easier for those who are waiting to let Him worry about the outcome.  Our unconditional acceptance and friendship may be the very thing that makes the presence of God palpable to those who wait.

Those of us who live a following life are characterized by waiting.  Although healed spiritually, every believer waits in hope for the gift of full restoration.  We serve an “on time God” — not an “on demand God” and our waiting is best managed through a focused attention on the next step of obedience in the present.  As we come alongside those who are dealing with a painful and open-ended season of waiting, may we find grace to understand that our waiting cultivates longing for all that God has in store for us.  In the meantime,  it’s o.k. to keep on asking God for the healing our hearts long for — as we remind one another that God is trustworthy, even when the answer we receive is, “Wait.”

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This book was provided by Tyndale Momentum, the nonfiction imprint of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Along with reading Still Waiting, I enjoyed getting to know Ann through listening to a couple of podcasts in which she was interviewed by the host.  

On Living a Redeemed Life, Holly Barrett and Ann chatted about her background and writing career.  It was a delightful visit!

In Melanie Dale’s podcast, Lighten Up, the conversation centered around Ann’s struggles with trichotillomania and her advice for writers in developing a unique voice.

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Pausing in the In-Between

It was a day like any other day in the life-long ministry of Zacharias the priest.  With Elisabeth’s goodbye kiss still warm on his cheek, he went about his business, reporting for duty in his scheduled commitment to serve in the Temple.

It was a day like no other day when the honor of entering the most holy place fell to Zacharias, and his aging eyes found the burning incense eclipsed by angel light. Startling and strange, the heavenly messenger’s words hooked unbelief, earning Zacharias a nine-month sentence of mute pondering.  God’s four-hundred year silence was broken, leaving an elderly couple blinking and gasping at this new way of understanding the word impossible.

“Well stricken in years” is the delicate, traditional rendering, a state that would have made for a challenging pregnancy in any era — even if you are carrying the forerunner of the Messiah.  Like a spavined barn with tar paper siding, Elisabeth’s olden frame would have been covered with skin already stretched and sagging, but with joy she bore the bone-on-bone pain of an aging back and a heavy load.

Did she understand that her glorious passage from barren to fruitful was more a rending of history than a miracle of gynecology?

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It was a December day like any other.  There was dog hair that needed to be vacuumed.  There were lessons that needed to be prepared.  There were emails unanswered and dishes unwashed.  By my calculation, Advent season includes the routine preparation of at least seventy-five meals on top of all the other holiday baking and decorating.

What does it take to transform those December days?

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Join me at SheLoves Magazine today and ponder with me the challenge of staying present to the wonder of the Word made flesh.

May God’s present-day proclamation land with power on your believing heart this season:
God is with us.
Nothing shall be impossible.

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captureCounting down the days until the beginning of the book discussion group on C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces. Watch for a reading schedule on January 5!

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Wisdom for Waiting: Ten Lessons from the Life of Joseph

It’s become a cliché, really.
“Wait on God.”
In the glib heart, it’s an all purpose non-answer.  It’s what we say when we don’t know what to say.

In Waiting on God:  What to Do When God Does Nothing, Wayne Stiles opens the lens of Scripture to take in the Old Testament life of Joseph and de-formulizes that formulaic phraseBecause Joseph spent so much of his life waiting for God to do something, Wayne helps us to see that “we apply sovereignty by waiting on God,” and that every single fruit of the Spirit can be linked in some way to waiting.  He offers much practical wisdom in every chapter, but I plucked ten fruitful principles for my own heart to remember when I’m waiting for God to act:

  1. Mind the gaps!  What we don’t see in biblical narrative is the large gaps of time between the great moments.  Biblical lives were not non-stop action any more than ours are, and it is during these God-orchestrated gaps that we do our waiting . . . and wondering.  For better insight into Joseph’s life, be sure to follow Joseph’s story found in Genesis 37-50, and available with just a click at Biblegateway.com (#bgbg2).
  2. If you’ve spent a lifetime in a family that puts the “fun” in dysfunctional, it takes more than promises to keep from repeating their failures.  God is at work in this kind of challenging commitment to change.  He rescued Joseph from resorting to unhealthy patterns, and He will meet us in our waiting times to bring about changes that will move our hearts away from generational sin.  (Genesis 37:19,20)
  3. The hunger that gnaws at your heart during times of waiting will not be satisfied by a quick fix.  Don’t short-circuit God’s good plan by settling for Satan’s short-cut.  (Genesis 39:9)
  4. Judah, Joseph’s brother,  left home and used sex as a sedative for a disappointing life.  Joseph’s denial of Potiphar’s wife was a decision NOT to gratify himself, but, instead, to wait.  Like Joseph, we may have to wait (long and hard) for a glimpse of God’s reasoning behind His assignment of waiting,  (Genesis 39:20, 21).
  5. The pit of waiting is God’s stop-light where we build character for what lies ahead.  Deep rootedness is a higher priority than present-day productivity.  (Psalm 105:18,19)
  6. Obscure faithfulness in our daily walk with God is not a path to immediate maturity or success.  Joseph may have felt forgotten for two years, but he did not forget God.  While Joseph’s abilities were on the shelf, God was preparing him for later success.  (Luke 16:10)
  7. While we think of waiting as the problem, God intends the time of waiting to REVEAL the problem.  God used time to create space for forgiveness among the sons of Jacob and also to open their father Jacob’s own heart.  (Genesis 43:14)  Wayne Stiles challenges his readers to “consider the joy you would have if you surrendered the life you want and embraced the life God is waiting to give you.”
  8. God devotes three chapters to the twenty-four hour waiting period before Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers.  It was the climax of a twenty-two year wait for reconciliation.  In his father Jacob’s case, he did not even realize that he had been waiting — the blessing of seeing his son alive again was completely unexpected!  (Ephesians 3:20)
  9. Joseph was quick to give God credit for the plot-line of his life:
    “God will interpret your dream, Pharaoh.”
    “God meant your evil for good, brothers.”
    Recognizing God at work made it possible for Joseph to forgive whole-heartedly.  Reconciliation followed even after all the lost years.
  10. By the time Jacob passed away, the long view had proved him joyously wrong in his lament that “all things are against me!”   Hopelessness has no place in our lives, even in the midst of agony like Jacob experienced.  When his sons buried him, these Old Testament saints died “without receiving the promises.”  We, too, live with continual hope of promises that we have yet to see.

And so we wait.  The Christian life is one of obedience which requires an eternal perspective during the moments when it appears that God is inactive.  Joseph’s story is our story, but it is also true that his hope is our hope.  As we wait individually, in whatever tiny narrative is unfolding on the home front, we wait for the fulfillment of Jesus’ words:  “Surely, I am coming quickly.”
To this, we reply from our deepest heart:  “Amen.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”
And while we wait?  “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”


This book was provided by BakerBooks, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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