I’m still here! Really, I am—although I accept that my April “return to blogging” after my three-month hiatus was underwhelming, to say the least.
The past several weeks at This Odd House have been full of end-of-semester teaching responsibilities, end-of-school-year kiddo activities, several speaking engagements, and book editing. Then, in the midst of all the crazy, we’ve also been watching our Old McHenry House seemingly fall down around our ears. An upstairs toilet overflowed for seven hours straight, flooding my kitchen and the basement, damaging floors and ceilings and walls on all three levels. Then our old furnace sprang a leak, shut down completely, and now needs to be replaced. Then Daryl broke multiple windows with his new-found love of baseball. Then we discovered that a pipe must have frozen and cracked when the basement flooded yet again. And so on. You get the idea.
It’s been one of those seasons where I’ve been living in the urgent—putting out fires, scrambling to stay one step ahead—printing off notes just in time to run out the door to a speaking event, stitching Daryl’s costume together in the car on our way to his concert, ordering groceries to be delivered by Peapod at 10 p.m. so I have something on hand to make lunches the next day.
Things are not as they should be.
And yet, the past weeks have also been full of many wonderful moments. For example, last weekend Peter and I spoke to a group of young married couples at a retreat on Gull Lake in Michigan. A peaceful spot. A day with glorious sunshine. And a sandy beach where the kids got to splash in the lake all afternoon.
We spoke on The Life of the Mind from Acts 17, The Life of the Heart from John 11, and Faith in Action from Deuteronomy 6. As application and illustration, we incorporated several of the points from our upcoming book (20 Things I’d Tell My Twentysomething Self).
Ironically, point 7 in the book is “Learn to Rest.” And in one Q&A session, a retreat participant asked us to share how we have managed to do just that. Her comment was something like this: “Rest sounds lovely…but unattainable.” Thankfully, I wasn’t standing up front at the time because I probably would have simply responded with a glazed-over, albeit empathetic nod. Thankfully, my much-wiser husband was fielding questions on his own just then because he actually had something helpful to say. Thankfully, he was able to point them—and me!—to Philippians chapter 4.
He started by challenging our definition of rest. It doesn’t necessarily mean lounging on the sofa with the remote and a bag of pretzels and an ice cold drink. It doesn’t have to mean sleeping until noon or lying on a white sand beach, listening to the waves. It doesn’t even always mean a lack of activity.
What it does mean is peace. In the Greek, eiréné. Wholeness. Contentment. A tranquil state of the soul. Which won’t necessarily come with the click of a button or a flight to Jamaica or a tick on a to-do list. But will only come with a refocus of the mind and heart on whatsoever things are true and right and excellent and worthy of praise.
Then Peter led us through the following prayer of surrender. Of all the things we shared last weekend, several people said that this was the most helpful counsel of all. So I offer it to you. Pray through these points during your morning commute or while you’re washing the breakfast dishes in the kitchen sink. Pray through them while the kids are screaming and fighting and tracking sand through the house. Pray through them in the doctor’s office or the mechanic’s waiting room or the break room at work. And may the God of peace be with you.
Think of any area of your life where you feel a sense of hopelessness and failure. In the safety of God’s presence, let yourself feel those things. Breathe deeply. Accept the presence of this emotion, rather than fighting it. Then—carefully and completely—lay it at the foot of the cross.
Then, with the same care and intentionality, pray through each of the following items as well—in this order…
Think of any area of your life where you feel a sense of loss and sadness. Lay your grief at the foot of the cross.
Think of any area of your life where you feel a sense of fear and anxiety. Lay those concerns at the foot of the cross.
Think of any area of your life where you feel a sense of longing or lust. Lay those desires at the foot of the cross.
Think of any area of your life where you feel a sense of anger or jealousy. Lay those feelings at the foot of the cross.
Think of any area of your life where you feel a sense of stubbornness or judgment. Lay your pride at the foot of the cross
Think of any area of your life where you feel a sense of adventure and strength. Lay your courage at the foot of the cross.
Think of any area of your life where you are experiencing harmony and compassion. Lay your joy at the foot of the cross.
Think of any area of your life where you are experiencing wholeness and contentment. Receive the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, and then lay it too at the foot of the cross.
On Saturday I had the privilege of speaking to the wonderful women of New Life Community Church in Portage Park. I shared a part of my story from “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down.” Then I recounted the story of Mary and Martha from John chapter 11–the story of what must have been both the worst and the best week of their lives.
I’ve written about John 11 here and here. It’s a favorite passage of mine. And the first point that I highlight from this narrative any time I get to talk about it is this: “Jesus hears, but He does not hurry.”
And—bam!—there it is. That theme of waiting yet again.
If you visited This Odd House last fall, you know that we spent considerable time looking around the waiting room. Several of my friends wrote about their experiences and what God showed them there. And I shared a few waiting-related pieces of my own.
But on Saturday afternoon, during a follow-up Q&A, one of the women asked a question that I don’t think we have thoroughly answered yet. She wanted to know: What does “waiting well” look like? Practically speaking, what should I do?
So I thought it might be good to return to our conversation on waiting this week to address that how-to piece. Here are a few of my ideas, a few things that have helped me. Please, feel free to share your own below.
Look around. When we are in the waiting room, we tend to fix our eyes on the exit sign. We keep listening for our name to be called, so we can get out of there and move on to what really matters. We long so much for a future ideal that we forget to value and fully engage with our present reality—the floor right beneath our feet. But we can’t live in the future—or the past, for that matter. We can only live today. This moment. So we would do well—even as we wait—to open our eyes to what is right in front of us. We would do well to love the people just across the room, to appreciate the view such-as-it-is, and to give ourselves fully to whatever God has given us to do right now.
Get ready. The waiting room is often a place of preparation. It need not be a stagnant space. In fact, it can be the sight of great growth. A greenhouse of sorts—if you’ll pardon the mixing of the metaphors. It can be an opportunity to deepen our roots before we are called upon to spread our limbs and produce new fruit. Or maybe it’s more like a weight room—a place to build up our muscle mass before the big game. Regardless of which image holds appeal, we must make full use of the time. We must train thoroughly. That might mean going to to school. Taking a class. Reading good books. Sharpening our skills. Cultivating our character. Finding a mentor. Gaining experience. Volunteering our time. Refining our relational skills. Meeting with a counselor. Building a network. Assembling resources. Setting some goals. Making a plan and following through and practicing prayer. So when the time comes, when we are called to the next thing, we are all ready to go.
Find the fun. Life in the waiting room can be drab and difficult. The walls are grey. The chairs, uncomfortable. The magazines are outdated, and who actually reads Golf Digest anyhow? But we’ve heard that “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.” And though it sounds cliché, we find that it rings true. So rather than resigning ourselves to the sadness and discouragement, rather than assuming we will only be happy when we bust out of this place, we can seek joy right in the midst. While Peter and I were waiting many years to be parents, we found fun in regular weekend getaways to nearby B&Bs. We hosted frequent dinner parties and took spontaneous movie dates and trained for a marathon because we had the time and the energy, and we knew that both would likely one day wane.
Foster hope. It’s easy for hope to fade when the wait drags on—when we hear everyone else’s name called but ours, when we begin to wonder if the receptionist even remembers that we’re sitting out here, playing Panda Pop on our phone. Truthfully, some of us eventually find that it’s easier not to hope at all, so we stuff our dreams into the bottom of our bag and try to forget that they exist at all. Maybe that’s because the object of our “hope” is our own desires. We hope in this sense: “I hope I get what I want.” And truthfully, this sort of hope is fragile. This sort of hope will surge and recede with every shift of the wind. There are no guarantees. Yet, still, we ought to believe. We ought to hope. It’s the object of our hope that ought to change. Our hope must be placed in something certain and sure. That is, God Himself. His character. His presence. His glory. And our eternal destiny as His children.
Draw close. When we feel stuck in the waiting room—and the days turn into months and the months turn into years—we may imagine that God is off somewhere behind closed doors, giving all of His time and attention to someone else. However, He not only created the waiting room, He inhabits it. It is actually the location of some of His most profound work. Jerome Daily calls our times of waiting an “Invitation to Intimacy.” So let’s accept that invitation. Let’s answer that call. Let’s climb up next to Him, lean in, and listen carefully for whatever He wants to whisper in our ear.
Originally posted on This Odd House:
12I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things
or that I have already reached perfection.
But I press on to possess that perfection
for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.
Good Friday at This Odd House started out “pretty good.”
The kids were home from school, and the LOML was home from work. We all cuddled in the big bed for a bit. I squeezed in a short run on the treadmill. The LOML Skyped his mum in England. Then around 9 a.m. he kicked me out of the house—in the best possible way. Told me to walk down to the Hidden Pearl, our new fabulous neighborhood coffee shop, to write. I protested for a moment. Amelia (2), true to form, had just sneaked a yogurt and smeared it all over the sofa. But the LOML offered to clean it up and insisted…
View original 1,104 more words
“Greenleaf’s Bull” by Jeffery Dale Starr.
Boy, have I missed writing at This Odd House these past many weeks. Ironically, I’ve done more writing than ever since I last posted here in January. To be exact, I’ve written–in collaboration with my beloved coauthor and husband–53,537 words of what is currently called 20 Things We Would Have Told Our 20-Something Selves. We turned the manuscript into the publisher last week. We just heard this morning that the acquisitions editor is happy with it. (Phew!) And if all goes according to plan, the book will be released in October.
It was quite a process, writing that book. I’ll share more about that journey–what God did in and around us–in a future post. But for now I am just eager to say, “Hi! I’m still here.” And “How are you?”
For me, this is the most meaningful week of the year. Holy Week. I’m sure many of you will agree.
A part of me wishes that I could just stop every else in my life this week and spend all of my time meditating on what Christ did for us on the cross. But another part of me recognizes–as I go to work and do laundry and grocery shop and try to parent two littles while I have laryngitis (a simultaneously frustrating and futile and amusing exercise)–that this is exactly the cock-eyed and crazy world He came to save.
So we do what we can this week to allow the truth of His death and resurrection penetrate our hard hearts and our loony lives.
Several years ago I spent Holy Week memorizing a dramatic monologue that I had been asked to deliver to my church on Easter morning. The monologue was of Mary Magdalene, meeting her risen Lord at the tomb. As I spent that entire week absorbed in her story, I connected with my own redemption in a way more real and raw. I lived it through her.
This week I find myself absorbed in a very different, but similarly centering, story. Flannery O’Connor’s “Greenleaf.” It’s one of my personal favorites. I wrote about why in this blog post several months ago: “(Pregnancy. Miscarriage.) Epiphany.”
In the story, the protagonist Mrs. May works tirelessly to protect and control her farm, her family, her entire world. And she is irritated to no end with a bull that repeatedly invades her property. The bull is a type of Christ, pictured in the opening scene standing outside her window with a crown of thorns caught in his horns. Throughout the story, the bull persistently penetrates the fences and the hedges that Mrs. May throws up to keep him out. But he will not be thwarted.
At the story’s climax, Mrs. May commands her hired hand, Mr. Greenleaf, to join her in the pasture where he must shoot the bull. But instead–as Mrs. May sits on the front fender of her vehicle, waiting for Mr. Greenleaf to do the deed–the bull charges at Mrs. May.
In O’Connor’s own words: “She stared at the violent black streak bounding toward her as if she had no sense of distance, as if she could not decide at once what his intention was, and the bull had buried his head in her lap, like a wild tormented lover, before her expression changed. One of his horns sank until it pierced her heart and the other curved around her side and held her in an unbreakable grip. She continued to stare straight ahead but the entire scene in front of her had changed–the tree line was a dark wound in a world that was nothing but sky–and she had the look of a person whose sight has been suddenly restored but who finds the light unbearable.”
That is our Lord. Patient, persistent, and penetrating. He pursues us to the most painful places because He knows that is where we are most ready to meet Him face to face. He simultaneously pierces our heart and cradles us close.
That is also why Holy Week matters so much. Because the cross is the ultimate evidence of this.
This week I’m working with several of my students to prepare a readers’ theater performance of “Greenleaf.” We’ll be presenting to our student body in our chapel service on April 15, and I pray that God speaks to them through it in the same way He spoke to me. I pray He uses the story to pierce their hearts as He used it to pierce mine.
If you haven’t read the story, try to get your hands on a copy this weekend.
Alternatively, in 2011 I performed an oral interpretation of cuttings from the story, after which Peter preached on the life of Jacob. You can find an MP3 of the whole presentation here.
Have a blessed Easter weekend!
2014 was my first full year of blogging. A year of finding my feet and figuring it out. And I still have a long way to go.
I still write long. I still write slow. And I’m still far from regular. I still haven’t managed to fit blogging into the weekly routine of my life. And if you’ve been following along these past few weeks, you know that I am probably going to be posting even less frequently here between now and the end of March as I attempt to write my first book with the help of my husband (20 Things We Would Have Told Our 20-Something Selves, Moody Publishers, to be released October 2015).
Too, this inaugural blogging year has been every bit the proverbial roller coaster of a ride. There have been times when I have wondered what I’ve gotten myself into. Why anyone would care to read my wonky words. Why I feel compelled to post some of my deepest and darkest struggles for all the world to see.
But–inevitably–when the ground is rushing toward me and I entertain the thought of leaping from the car at the first level straight–just then–I hear from one of you. In a comment or an e-mail or a Facebook message or even a conversation, you tell me a part of your story and you encourage me with some of the most soul-feeding words any writer could hope to hear.
“You said what I have always wanted to.”
Or “I needed to hear that today.”
Or simply “Me too.”
And I am reminded that I am not the point. That the point is you. And that the point is Him.
So thank you for visiting This Odd House. For opening yourself up to the conversation. For encouraging me to keep going. And for sharing what God is doing in your lives as well.
Finally, while we’re reflecting a bit on 2014, I thought I would add one more thing. Over the past few days, several bloggers I follow have shared their “Top Posts of 2014.” And it got me curious. I keep myself relatively in the dark on most of the This Odd House stats. But I thought it might be interesting to see what has resonated most.
So here they are. The top This Odd House posts of 2014…
1. 20 Things I Might Have Told My 20-Something Self. The starting place for our book project. On the surface it’s a simple little list-y piece. Yet I’m excited to still learn more about each of the 20 Things as we research and write the full-blown manuscript.
2. So You Want to Get Married. Proof that everyone likes a little love story. This is ours.
3. Tested by Fire. Here I share some of our journey through infertility. It’s a topic that too often remains in the shadows. And I’m happy to play a small role in bringing it into the light.
4. And the Walls Came Tumbling Down. Probably the hardest post to publish. The description of one my spiritually darkest times. But in response to this post, I received some of the most powerfully authentic e-mails from some of you who have struggled or are struggling in a similar way with the problem of pain.
5. Waiting for Navy’s Lips. A compelling story by my friend Alicia Reisinger on the birth of her daughter Navy and the Reisingers’ surprising introduction to the world of parenting and cleft repair.
So, thank you again for hanging out here. Happy New Year! And here’s to all it will undoubtedly hold!
I’m ashamed to admit that, for many years, I felt unable to fully enter into the Christmas spirit until the very last minute. As a college professor, the first few weeks of December have long been filled with advising students and administering exams and grading. Giant stacks of grading.
And because of my penchant for crossing one thing off my list before moving onto the next, each year I would force myself to plow through the mountains of papers before I could even think about buying any presents.
But with the arrival of our kids a few years ago, things at This Odd House have changed.
We now put our tree up as soon as it’s acceptable. We fill the Advent train with chocolate and rush to it each morning—before breakfast—counting the days. We buy some presents when we see them on clearance and tuck them in the closet until the appointed time. We have made a few of the crafts in the Truth in the Tinsel book multiple times. And this year we added a little “Jesse Tree” and portions of Ann Voskampf’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift to the mix.
Yes, we Worralls have embraced the Advent season. Not perfectly or consistently, by any means. We miss some days and rush through others. But certainly with a new sense of anticipation and preparation, we are waiting for Christmas. Waiting for Him to come.
If you’ve been around this space at all during the past few months, you’ll know that we’ve been talking a lot about waiting. I’ve found it so helpful to hear your experiences of the phenomena and to record a few of my own. I’ve also surveyed some of Scripture and been sort of stunned by the prevalence of waiting in its pages.
And the more I’ve seen and heard, the more it’s been confirmed to me that waiting is so very central to the human experience. That God ordained this to be. That year after year He weaves waiting into the very fabric of our lives. That waiting causes us to slow down and refocus and number the days. That it is meant to be a time of preparation and anticipation. And that we learn things while we wait that we would never otherwise know.
Many people in God’s Word spent a surprisingly long time in the waiting room. Abraham (25 years). Joseph (13 and more). Moses (40 years, then 40 years again). Hannah (5-15 years). To name just a few.
And, as you know, God also waited to send His Son (100s, no, 1000s of years).
This year, though, my favorite Biblical passage on waiting has been John chapter 11. Perhaps an unusual one to reflect on during Christmas week. But it so clearly communicates the mind of God on waiting that I just have to share.
It’s the famous story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Give it a read again if you get the chance. You probably already know the climax of story, where Jesus called into the cave and the dead man walked out.
But there is a lot of important story before that point.
In the opening verses of the chapter, we learn that Lazarus was ill and that his sisters sent for Jesus, saying, “The one You love is sick.” Then in verses 4 and 6, John makes it clear that Jesus received the message. I love that John tells us twice. That he makes sure we know. “Jesus heard.”
He always hears.
But He doesn’t always hurry. And He certainly didn’t in this case.
For two whole crucial days, the passage tells us, Jesus stayed put. He didn’t rush to the scene. He let Lazarus die. And Mary and Martha and the other mourners grieved and wailed and wondered why He did not come.
In part, we know—from our vantage point—that Jesus wanted to make sure that Lazarus was, in fact, dead and that the people knew him to be. The Jews of the time believed that the soul of a dead person remained in the vicinity of the body, hoping to reenter it for three days. But once decomposition set in, the soul departed. In part, then, Jesus waited so that the dramatic resurrection He had planned could not be misconstrued as a simple resuscitation.
Jesus’ goal with this impending miracle was the glory of God. We know this because He said so. He told His disciples. Twice. “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God.” And He repeated this truth a third time at the tomb.
Then, too—though the glory of God could certainly be an end in itself—Jesus clearly states that there is an additional purpose. God’s glory would be on full display so that the people would believe. He repeated that point as well. In verses 15 and 25. And in verse 42, He prefaces the main event with a public prayer. “Thank you, Father, for hearing me. I say this on account of the people…that they may believe.”
Then He shouts into the dark tomb and calls forth life.
And many believe.
But we have to back up for one more minute. There is another detail in this story that we dare not miss. And that is His love. Mary and Martha knew that Jesus loved their brother. Remember? Their message was simply to Jesus was “the one You love is sick.” But John wants to make sure we know that Jesus didn’t just love Lazarus. He loved the two sisters as well. Verse 5 spells it out. “Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Then in verse 36, the Jews also notice the love. It was hard to miss.
And there we have it. The John 11 formula.
One Divine Delay + Jesus’ Lavish Love = A Display of God’s Glory, which leads to Belief.
At Christmastime 2011 Peter and I were weary with waiting. And like Mary and Martha in the moment, I didn’t understand why Jesus seemed so slow. “Lord, if you had been here…we wouldn’t be in this mess. How can you stand silently by while we suffer so?”
I wrote recently about Daryl’s journey. How he came to us unexpectedly in 2009—after years of infertility and failed adoptions. How his case wound through the foster courts at a sometime snail’s pace. How we had six or seven case workers. Multiple continuances. And plenty of confusion and frustration and fear.
I also wrote a few weeks ago about our wait for Amelia. How we started the China adoption process in 2006 and were told that it would take eighteen months. How the wait grew to over six years. And how we wondered if she would ever come.
But then, in January of 2012, we finally saw her face. We received our referral and her picture, and we began to watch unfold what He had been planning all along.
In February we received our US embassy appointment. That all-important date. The final step in our six-year China adoption journey. The day we would receive Amelia’s American passport and be able to bring her home. The date we were given: March 26, 2012.
Days later we traveled by train to a courtroom in Chicago to petition for Daryl’s adoption as well. Peter and I and Daryl and Grandma Viv stood in a silent line while our attorney presented the papers. The judge reviewed the case and asked a few questions. Then he wrote his recommendation and said, “You don’t have to be here, but the court will finalize your adoption on March 26, 2012.”
Peter and Mum may have missed it. That divine detail. That God-sized exclamation point at the end of our long, run-on sentence.
But I turned to them right there in the courtroom, with jaw dropped and eyes wide and mind blown, and said, “That’s our embassy appointment date in China. That’s the same exact day that we will be finalizing everything with Amelia.” And their jaws dropped and their eyes went wide and their minds were blown as well with the glory of God.
And it strengthened our belief.
We will do some waiting today. Even as I write, Daryl is waiting for Daddy and our house guest to wake up. Amelia is waiting for her Christmas red toenails to dry. And waiting is hard—no matter your age or circumstances.
Later we will wait for the cookies to bake, for our friends to arrive, for the presents to be opened. We will continue to prepare and to anticipate. We will look for His arrival and His glory and His lavish love. And we will undoubtedly learn things that we would never have known otherwise.
While things have been a bit quiet here at thisoddhouse.org for the past few weeks, they have been far from quiet at This Odd House in McHenry.
In the midst of some sicknesses and the end-of-semester stress, we have also been celebrating the season in several special ways.
We put up our tree. And while it isn’t as wonky as last year, it’s still endearingly off-kilter.
Daryl sang a solo in his school’s Christmas program, and we couldn’t have been more proud. Amelia and Grandma have been crafting their hearts out, making all sorts of ornaments for our Jesse tree. (Pictures to come.)
I enjoyed speaking at the beautiful Getting Real Ministries’ annual Christmas Brunch.
Two days later, I had too much fun speaking with my good friend Gloria at the also-lovely Women of Grace’s Christmas Tea. And yes, I wore the same sweater to both events. It’s festive, but in a not-so-literal sort of way.
And that evening a bunch of my favorite women and I went into the city for MBI’s Candlelight Carols. I have the (daunting) task of writing the dramatic script for the program each year. But then my gifted friend, Lindsay Branson, directs a cast of equally-gifted students, and together they make it into much more than I could have imagined. All of our Moody music groups also bring their talents to bear. And it is a wonderful way to worship the coming King.
Love Our Carols Cast!
And—in the midst of all that—Peter and I have also been doing something that we’ve never, ever done before…
Negotiating a book deal with Moody Publishers!
We found out today that the paperwork is finally in the mail, so it seems official enough for me to officially tell you that Peter Worrall and I are writing a book! And for Christmas we’re getting the contract.
It’s not the This Odd House book that I set out to write eighteen months ago. (We’re still waiting and working on that.)
But this is the book that God clearly wants us to write right now. Over and over that has been confirmed.
It’s currently titled 20 Things We Would Have Told Our 20-Something Selves, based on the blog post/Relevant Magazine article I wrote with a similar name last spring. And it’s scheduled to be released in October 2015.
We are excited and up to our eyeballs in notes and research and ambitious ideas. We vacillate from naive optimism to periodic panic attacks. We enjoy working together, but we’ve never tackled anything of this magnitude. Prayers much appreciated!
I’ll be back here next week to share a piece on Advent that I’ve been writing in my mind for months. It seems like a fitting way to wrap up our series on waiting.
After that, I’ll have to take an official break from blogging for a bit and crawl into my cave in answer to this newest call.
“Time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels;
Our official wait for our daughter Amelia began on an island. The island of Great Chebeague, off the coast of Maine.
In the summer of 2006 we mailed our thick dossier to China. Then, just a few days later, we packed my parents—weary and wary—into their big ol’ Buick, strapped our bikes onto our Mini Cooper, and caravanned south from Chicago, through Indiana on Interstate 65. We cut across Kentucky, drove down into Tennessee, and eventually dropped Mom and Dad at my brother’s house in Knoxville for a three-week stay. The next morning Peter and I took a sharp left and headed northeast.
We needed this vacation. Badly.
We had barely begun to heal from infertility and our first two miscarriages and a few adoption disappointments. We had been sharing a home with my parents for almost a year, helping my mom through surgery and chemo and radiation. Making sure my dad was fed and bathed and cared for as best we could while Mom was sick. Peter had just finished his second master’s degree. And we were spent.
Certainly, we wanted to finally move ahead with our new adoption dream. Wanted to turn the page and look ahead and begin again. But somehow we felt stuck. We were each—still—bound up so tightly in our individual fear and anxiety and exhaustion and pain that like two mummies, side-by-side in our coffin of a car, we began that trip.
We were only thirty minutes from my brother’s house when we stopped for brunch at a little French-inspired café. And we lingered, trying to let the reality of our three-week respite soak in just a bit. Trying to peer through the tangled bandages that had for so long covered our eyes. Trying to see one another again. Trying to remember how to breathe.
Then—for the next few days we took our time—traveling up through the Appalachians and over to the coast. Meandering through the mountains. Riding often in silence with the windows down. Sometimes singing along to some CD. Occasionally venturing into cautious conversation. And with each twisty mile, God began to tug away at our canvas coverings. Little by little, we began to leave behind some of our layers of linen and come back to life.
Three long and leisurely days later, we finally pulled into Portland, Maine. For a few hours, we poked around the Old Port section of town until it was time to take our suitcases and our bikes and board the Casco Bay ferry for the island of Great Chebeague.
Almost two hundred islands pepper the Casco Bay off the coast of Portland, though only a handful of them are inhabited. Stretching almost five miles long and one-and-a-half miles wide, Great Chebeague is the largest. And with 360 year-round residents, she is also the most populated. She boasts one main road that rounds her perimeter, one museum, one elementary school house, one little library, one church, one basic market, one clam shack, one 9-hole golf course, and one grand hotel—The Chebeague Island Inn.
I discovered the island and the inn on the internet a couple of months before our trip.
One evening in May Peter and I had discussed again how and where to spend our time away. He wanted cheap and rustic and spontaneous; I wanted quaint and comfortable and relatively calculated. And after a particularly difficult disagreement, we had resorted to our too-often-practiced pattern for dealing with conflict: Peter retreated and went to bed while I took control and got the thing done. I stayed up very late, plotting and planning a vacation that I hoped would satisfy us both, and I surprised Peter the next morning with an apology and a folder full of printouts. Google maps. Campsites. Theater tickets. Random, “spontaneous” things to do all along the way. Hotel reservations. And—to seal the deal—some pictures of Chebeague. Thankfully, he was game.
The island itself certainly intrigued me. The ocean—on all sides. The solitude. The slow, slow pace.
But it was the inn that really captured my imagination. A Greek Revival hotel built in the 1920s, the Chebeague Island Inn was completely restored in 2004. And with her freshly whitewashed rooms (free from telephones or TVs), her stone fireplace, her broad porch, and her views of the sea, she seemed like the perfect place to purge our souls of some of our past pain. The perfect place to reconcile my heart to God’s. The perfect place to reclaim hope and rekindle our dreams. Of family and parenthood and the imminent arrival of our baby girl. Eighteen months, we had been told.
When we awoke on our first Chebeague morning, the sheer curtains were dancing in a cool island breeze and a heavy blanket of fog hid the sea from view. When we went down to the inn’s dining room for breakfast, we were surprised to find that—because I had made our reservations for the less-expensive middle of the week—we had the place largely to ourselves.
As we enjoyed our egg soufflé and perfectly presented fruit, and as we peered over the broad lawn through the milky air, Peter looked over at me and asked me how I was.
“Grateful,” I said. I had been up early that morning, journaling these prayers while Peter still slept, so I shared. “I’m grateful that we made it through this far. That our marriage is intact. I’m grateful for God’s grace. For the healing that has already begun. And I’m desperate to follow Him forward and see what He has for us next.”
After breakfast we decided to take our bikes and explore. So with map in hand, we peddled down North Road to the southern tip of the island and a place called Indian Point. The beach was deserted that morning, and the tide was out—which meant that a long, wide sandbar lay exposed—seemingly leading straight off the edge of the earth.
According to the map, at low tide, that sandbar connected Great Chebeague with her uninhabited tiny sister island, Little Chebeague. A tempting adventure. And in spite of the fact that we didn’t know the exact rhythm of the sea and didn’t know how far we had to go and didn’t know how much time we had to get there and couldn’t see our destination—we decided to take the risk and make the cross. And little by little, as we moved out away from shore, we were able to catch a glimpse of her through the fog. Fuzzy at first, but becoming clearer with each step. Little Chebeague.
We moved much more quickly on the walk back to Indian Point, the water creeping up the sand on either side. The salty air filling our lungs. I was thanking God for His goodness and for the gift of this trip, and I was praying—for continued healing for Peter and me, for our daughter who was not even born, for the courage and patience to continue to wait—when through the haze I noticed a family on the beach. The only other people we had seen all morning, apart from the staff at the inn. But there they were. A mother and a father and their little Chinese daughter.
She toddled around, that precious little girl, in her rolled up jeans and tiny bare feet, picking up stones and tossing them down. Squishing the sand and squealing with joy. Her mother followed her all around, all smiles and laughter, rescuing pebbles from tiny teeth. And her father captured it all with his camera. “Smile, baby,” he called over and over. “Smile!”
Peter saw them too, of course. And we looked at each other—dumbfounded and amazed. And that familiar pang of longing—which had for years sunk to my gut in the form of grief—now filled my chest with something fresh. Anticipation. And hope. What were the odds? That in this remote place, at this exact moment, we would receive such a clear vision of what could be. Of what was to come. A flash of light to spur us on. We sat on a driftwood log for a few minutes and tried to (subtly) take it all in.
At the end of our island week, we stood on the ferry’s deck for most of the ride back to the mainland, wanting to soak in every last bit of the Casco Bay. But it was another foggy day, and it was difficult to see. Eventually, though, our captain directed our attention a mile or so down the coast to the Portland Head Lighthouse. And sure enough, even before we could see the lighthouse herself, her beam was visible through the mist—rotating, pulsating, warning ships of the rocky coast, and guiding them home.
I didn’t know—when we left the island of Great Chebeague that day—that rather than eighteen-months, it would be six years before I would see that face.
Nor did I know how God would grow us through all of those things. How He would prepare me to love my daughter in ways I wouldn’t have known to love before.
I didn’t know that waiting sometimes feels like a fog. Other times the black of night. But that sometimes, just when we need it the most, a light breaks through to lead us on.
Darkness. Darkness. Darkness. Flash.
I didn’t know how much I would need that light or how many different sources God would use over the years. A timely sermon. Or a song on the radio. An adoption support group. A well-written blog. A life-giving conversation. And even an authentic Chinese New Year celebration with a family from church.
I didn’t know when we left Great Chebeague that God often works on island time. That what feels like a waiting room to us may seem like something else entirely to Him. Perhaps He sees a classroom or an operating room or a deeply sacred space. Perhaps where we see sterile walls and stiff sofas and endlessly ticking clocks, He may see a wide porch and wicker chairs and the perfect chance to chat.
“Waiting is an invitation to intimacy” –Jerome Daley
Peter came home from a doctoral class last night, and I read him the beginnings of this post.
“It’s the difference between Kairos and Chronos,” he said. “We talked about it today in class. They are two different Greek words for time.”
Chronos is what we think of as time. It’s the ticking clock. The ripping off of the calendar page. The need to rush to the next event.
But Kairos is something completely other. And Kairos is how God works. In due season. In the perfectly opportune moment. At the divinely-appointed time.
Guest Post by Andie Roeder Moody
Today I’m thrilled to share this piece by another friend and former student, Andie Roeder Moody. I fell in love with Andie’s heart and her writing when she joined my Creative Nonfiction class a few years ago.
Here she offers some lovely thoughts and some powerful Biblical truths about how we best navigate change and how we wait well for the changes that we wish would come.
In my childhood home hung a beige stone plaque with loopy, cut-out letters. To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1). I’m no Hebrew scholar, but I’m partial to this lovely King James iteration, etched in my memory as it traced my childish lips a thousand and one times, while I was washing dishes or eating dinner or filling up the dog’s bowl.
During a recent season of lonely and difficult change, I stumbled upon a print of these exact words at a Hobby Lobby in rural Illinois. It’s not exactly my style—black foam with gold lettering. But I absolutely purchased the thing (with a 40% off coupon, of course. How do they stay in business?) and hung it my apartment. I’ve found myself clinging to these words with newfound need.
Pete Seeger must have been touched by this verse, as he wrote a melody to accompany it. The song is Ecclesiastes 3 nearly verbatim, with the addition of a soft echo: turn, turn, turn.
To everything (Turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (Turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose under heaven
(Here’s a cute video of Judy Collins and him singing it together.)
We’re passing through that part of the year when everything becomes outrageously beautiful. As the leaves change and the wind grows sharp and the days get shorter, we tune into the fact that God is turning everything, always. If the seasons are a symphony, fall is the movement God plays so loudly that none can miss it. Or perhaps it’s not even the volume that gets us, but the soft and striking harmonies he creates with color and texture. Turn, turn, turn.
Fall, to me, is often about making peace with change. Chicago spends the summer in perpetual celebration (it’s all beaches and block parties and festivals around here). Come autumn, we start to settle (it’s all cozy socks and staying in and homemade soup). In this stillness we give thanks that summer was, and we relish that fall is, and we try, at least, to accept that winter will be. Turn, turn, turn.
Submitting to this change is ultimately submitting to the (unchanged) Changer, who was and is and always will be, unto the ages of ages.
Kelli asked me to write on the concept of waiting. We’re all waiting for a future something. I’m waiting for the time when we live close to our families again, or when we’re ready to have babies, or when we can afford a second car. Maybe you’re waiting to finally get married, or get a better job, or conceive, or pay off debts, or grant someone forgiveness. Or maybe—like some of the women who have written in this series—you are waiting for something heavy, heartbreaking, and altogether good.
Waiting is a human thing, which means it’s equal parts holy and harry. Every oddity of life on this earth has something to teach us about redemption (which, come to find out, is more about living into our humanity than fleeing it). There’s certainly a future orientation to this life. Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. But anticipation becomes malignant when it eclipses today. As Christians we know our times are in God’s hand, which means we can quit frittering and worrying and always looking forward.
As we await the fulfillment of dreams, as we endure change—or the lack thereof—we must accept that God has ordained a season for everything, even the broken and beautiful pieces of today. Christ is before all things, and in him all things hold together. It’s certainly his will that we might have life, and life to the fullest, today. A friend put it this way: “We focus so much on fulfilling our own dreams that we forget we’re all living God’s.”
Making peace with the present then, is nothing more than giving thanks. It’s nothing more than simple, decided gratitude. It’s nothing more than submission, surrender to God’s sovereignty: past, present, and future. Gratitude in the here and now—present-tense living—may be the greatest worship we can offer God.
Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. This is a command Jesus both spoke and was made to obey. I think of him as he awaited the darkest moment of his life—of history, really—and the moment of redemption (resurrection, glory, ascension, reunion with the Father). Turn, turn, turn. He sat down with his disciples, he broke bread, and he gave thanks.
So I ask myself, I ask you: What are you waiting for? Even if it’s a good thing, even if it’s a part of God’s will for your future, is it eclipsing your today? Do you pray only for your will and your wishes, or do you give thanks for God’s will already made manifest?
In verses, in plaques, in Pete Seeger songs. In prayer, in dreams, in the words of Jesus, in autumn leaves, may you find peace in the turning by giving thanks.
Guest Post by Alicia Reisinger
Today I am honored to share this piece from my friend and former student, Alicia Reisinger. When I decided to try a guest blog series, Alicia was one of the first people I invited to contribute because she is a gifted communicator. Alicia knows story. She also knows what it is to wait.
And actually, over the course of this series, I’ve come to believe—as Alicia will tell you too—that we all wait. In one way or another. At some point in our life. It’s a part of the human experience.
What touches me about Alicia’s story though, about her time in the waiting room, is that she waits—not for her own benefit—but for her precious newborn Navy to be made whole. It’s one thing to wait on our own behalf, isn’t it? For our own answers or achievements or next stage of life. It’s one thing to wait for our own pain to end.
It’s an entirely different beast when you sit and wait and can but hold your helpless babe.
What also speaks to me about Alicia’s journey is the everlasting imprint that waiting makes on our soul.
Here’s her story in her own words…
I sit in a cheery room filled with beautiful women. Moms. Specifically young moms. The place smells roasty, and the air is filled with the murmur of conversation. I’ve grown to love these women and rely on them in a way that is new to me. I’ve never had a lot of female friends. One or two very special women have always been a part of my life, but not loads of beautiful, talented, courageous women. No. I’ve never had that. But there is an unexplainable comfort in their long hugs and even longer conversations.
But this morning I have forgotten how much I love this place.
I’ve forgotten because somehow I’m reminded of my pain. And I’ve started my routine judgment. To be honest, I am waiting. I wait for people to disappoint me. I wait for people to hurt me. For the bad to come. I wait. And when it happens, a part of me is satisfied. “I knew that was coming. You don’t win, because I was waiting for you to break. I win.”
Today I’m waiting for our speaker to make some move, to give me some reason to hate her, to write her off. As she speaks of God’s grace, of God’s purpose in our lives, of how our trust in God defines our Christian character, I wait. Where is her pain? What darkness has happened to her that gives her any right to tell me what my reaction should be to God? What hard truth has she ever endured?
My mind floats back. Three years back. I was pregnant. Very pregnant. I was hosting a documentary television show and traveling the world to do it. My husband, Jonathan, and I had just bought a beautiful home on a lake. I had even temporarily deferred my “waiting” to fully embrace our magical life. One night driving through cornfields, heading home with Jon, I looked over at him and asked aloud, “Could our lives be any more spectacular?”
Before going into labor, I pictured how we would announce our new baby girl to the world. As a television producer, I had the media release all planned. We would release a picture right away. Then a series of our favorites. Then a short blog about how beautiful the birth was, and how happy we all were, this new little Reisinger family, most likely peppered with hilarious jokes.
And then the night came. And we took a lot of pictures. But we didn’t post them. Not one. In fact, we fell silent on social media for about a week.
When our beautiful little girl emerged into the world, our life turned upside down in ways we had imagined, but also in ways we hadn’t. Navy was born at 10:59 p.m. on Monday, August 8, with an extreme unilateral cleft lip and palate.
I remember the moment when the nurses handed my baby girl to me, crying her lungs out; she snuggled down close to my heart and fell fast asleep. Snoring her little cleft baby snore that I would grow to adore. And, of course, I was in love.
That night Navy was admitted to the NICU, and Jon and I were alone in our little hospital room—both of us restless, scared, and a little bit heartbroken.
I whispered into the dark. “Jon, are you awake?” And of course he was. And together we cried until the early morning.
Most families in America know about the cleft before birth. Navy slyly hid it from us in every ultrasound. We were not prepared. I was clueless about raising a cleft child. That’s partly why I froze. I was convinced it was my fault. Something I had done in my pregnancy that would now plague my daughter for the rest of her life. I thought I had already failed my first duty as a new mother. I was scared to death of the reaction people would have to this tiny little face, so unique and unexpected. And selfishly, I was terrified of how people would react to me, for doing this to her.
On the second night of her life a new waiting game started for me. Subconsciously, something inside of me shifted. And it’s never really been the same.
That night was night one of waiting for Navy’s lips.
For four months we worked to stretch her lips and nose and to force the cleft palate gap closer, to give the plastic surgeon more flesh to work with. It was a painful process for everyone. A painful wait. Four months of tears. Of long frightening nights, coaxing Navy to eat. Of medical bills, hospital visits, tests, scans, judgy old women, and loneliness.
During those four months, our documentary television show lost its funding. Our show was cancelled. Between doctor visits, doctor bills, and a tiny little girl in so much pain, sleep was rare. We started to lose pieces of our marriage. It was breaking. We were breaking. Twelve days before Navy’s surgery to receive her new lips, both Jon and I lost our jobs. Our health insurance. Our imagined stability. And I think, the last shred of hope we had left in our souls for that season. We were unable to recover from each new wave of disappointment. We were drowning in discouragement, desperately gasping for air before the next wave hit. And I was waiting.
Days later Navy went in for surgery anyhow. And four hours later she was returned. With beautiful perfect pouty little lips just in time for Christmas. [ https://vimeo.com/33614564 ]
That waiting was over. That pain was over and she was whole.
But I was empty.
I wish I could say that in that four month waiting period God taught be many beautiful things, and that I emerged whole and courageous beside my tiny daughter.
I did emerge. And I am still breathing, next to my sweet girl. But I emerged shakier. Less trusting. Harder. Nerves exposed. I gaze now toward the future in an anticipation clouded in grey. Internally I am different, although I imagine that externally very few people are aware of this change.
Cut back to the room full of women. Bored with the speaker and consumed with my own awfulness, I enter her name in Google. Determined to appease my dark heart, knowing that this shiny speaker can tell me nothing. But because the internet is full of information, I learn that she lost her sister when she was a teenager in a terrible drowning. I learn that she nursed her mother in sickness and cared for her until her recent death. She is not without pain. Her pain is deep and new. Clearly she isn’t hiding it. It’s all over her writing. But her face and her body language display a different woman. Oh hey, kettle.
This morning my friend Jill prays in our group. She thanks God for the pain in the lives of those around her, because those who’ve felt incredible pain love differently, more deeply. Jill’s mom is dying, maybe even this week. And Jill is thanking God for pain. She too is in the waiting room, literally.
And it hits me.
Really, we never leave the waiting room, do we? Even when we are fully present in our own situation, we are forever still waiting. What changes is the way we chose to wait.
Our pain and situations are different, but the room, the feeling, the wait, well, we are all in there. As I get a little older, it’s clear to me that none of us are truly without pain. And that is what makes this community, these women that God has brought together, so strong. We stand next to each other and say, my heart aches for your heart because I too have felt pain. I chose to wait with you. This waiting room, well, it’s just life. Every day. And we can chose to wait alone, or we can chose to open the door for a fellow journeyer, and together we can wait. Nerves exposed. Hand in Hand. We wait.
When have you experienced a time of waiting?
How did it change you?
Come back again as we continue to unpack what happens when we spend time In the Waiting Room…