Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

Hoping

There's Nothing To Do But Wait

Best of...Lindsey Smallwood

On the ways joy makes strange company with grief and other realities of Advent this year...

I miscarried six weeks ago.

I keep thinking that I’m over it, that I’m okay. What right have I to grieve when I have two tiny boys at home to cuddle and read to and tuck into bed? There are longing-to-be-mamas and those who’ve had to bury the children they’ve nursed and held in their arms. Surely my loss is insignificant in comparison.

But then I see my sweet friend across the room, her belly swollen with new life and hot tears begin to fall down my cheeks. The hurt is not over, grief still hovers close. It aches during insurance commercials and bubbles up when I hear the baby crying next door.

There is nothing to do but wait—for healing, for another chance, for the mercy of passing time.

Now Christmas comes, the story I’ve loved since childhood, of far-off kings and unexplainable stars, of angels and shepherds and unlikely hotel rooms. The story of hopes finally fulfilled, promises made true. All of it centered around pregnancy and birth and a baby. I’m not sure I can hear it so readily this year. For as angels fill the sky and prayers are answered in Bethlehem, my own prayers end in questions.

There is nothing to do but wait.

I hate the powerlessness of hope. Waiting to find out what comes next is uncomfortable, unsettling, hard. And yet as I listen again to the long cherished story of Advent, I remember that those who wait are always in good company. Elizabeth had longed to become a mother for most of her lifetime. Anna had prayed for years for God’s kingdom to come to Jerusalem. Even Mary, with her angel visits and promises from God, had to watch and wait, year after year, as her miracle baby grew into the dying Messiah.

The stories we tend to tell are the ones with action, climax, conclusions. But life—real, faith-building, character-shaping, soul-growing life—happens in the waiting, where it’s hard and lonely and unclear.

Advent reminds us that our waiting is not in vain. God is working behind the scenes to make the world right. He’s answering prayers and fulfilling promises in strange and surprising ways. Because only God could bring kings and shepherds to the same stable. Only God could grow new life in a virgin’s womb.

I don’t know what comes next, how the prayers I’m praying now will be answered. But I know that the same God who hung the star in Bethlehem has plans for me, for hope and for a future. So I sit to hear the good story of Christmas once again. The joy throughout makes for strange company in my grief. I listen anyway, treasuring its mysteries, longing for Jesus’ Advent in my own story.

But, for now, there is nothing to do but wait.

 

This post originally appeared at SheLoves Magazine.
Find it by clicking here

Opening the Thin Envelope

Lindsey Smallwood

It is such a pleasure to write with my friends over at Middle Places. If you haven't taken the time to read some of the other bloggers there, I encourage you to poke around. This months theme of being (re)Routed has lead to some really great writing. I'm sharing a story about dreams and rejection today - and praying you find hope to take your own brave steps. 

No one wants to get the thin envelope.

You've been there. Checking the mailbox everyday, hoping and dreaming and planning for the future, and then it comes, addressed to you. The return address is right, it's the school you want to get into or the company you hope to work for. But the slim profile betrays the news hidden inside.

"We regret to inform you..."

Rejection. Hopes deferred. Dreams stopped in their tracks. Usually softened by language about the talented applicant pool or hopes that you will reapply in the future. But the disappointing view of a longed-for possibly closing it's doors is never easy to take in.

In my final year as an undergraduate, I applied to a national teaching program. Honestly, I was not sure what I wanted to do. I clerked at a law firm as a part time job during college and considered law school. I found community in a campus ministry after I returned to campus from treatment for an eating disorder and thought about working in ministry as a full time job. One of my classes required community service hours tutoring at an elementary school and I'd enjoyed working with kids, which lead to my application to the teaching program.

It wasn’t just paperwork, I prepared a lesson plan and taught it to the interview panel. I answered questions based on case studies. I sat before a group of current teachers and responded to their queries about my experiences and motivations. I left the interview day tired and confident; going through the process left me sure that I would be a great teacher and optimistic that I would be selected.

Until the thin envelope came.

“Dear Lindsey, We regret to inform you…”

For a few days, I felt deep disappointment. I knew my application hadn’t been lost in a pile; they had really looked at me, asked me personal questions and watched me teach, and had decided I didn’t make the cut. I wasn’t sure what to do next.

My pastor encouraged me to consider ministry again, reminding me of how my gifts of teaching and connecting with people could be useful in that setting. I prayed for an open door, and, finding one, decided to pursue vocational church work. That opportunity lead to another and then another and for six years I worked in full time ministry.

As that season drew to a close and I was trying to decide what to do next, I felt drawn again to classroom teaching. But, having already applied and been rejected many years before, I was afraid to pursue that dream again. The door had closed. It seemed foolish to bring that hope back to life.

Heeding the counsel of some close friends and family, I decided to face the possibility of rejection and go through the process again. The pre-tests, the lesson plan, the group interview – I did it all. And six weeks later, to my surprise and delight, a big fat manila envelope filled my mailbox, welcoming me to the program and outlining my next steps.

My dream of teaching wasn’t lost when I was rejected from that program in college. It was rerouted. I just didn’t know it at the time. But in order to find the way back to my dream, I had to take a risk.

Most things worth doing are scary. Our dreams are worth risking rejection and failure. If you’re in the middle of a reroute in your own life, I challenge you to think about what brave steps you might need to take to find your way back to a dream long dreamt. Remember sweet friends, this is still just the middle of our stories.

Daring to Speak Your Dream

Lindsey Smallwood

This month I met four new friends.

We first connected in a blogging group online and since we all live locally, we made a date to gather in person for support and encouragement.

After exchanging pleasantries and picking each other’s brains about style and formatting techniques, we dove a little deeper.

“What is your dream for your blog?” someone asked.

We went around the table, the answers varied and interesting. One woman hopes to eventually turn her blog about fixing up old furniture into a shop in her neighborhood selling rehabbed antiques. Another told about her desire to use her online writing as a way to support a family missions project.

As I listened to these women I hardly knew talk about their dreams, I noticed the way their eyes danced and their faces became expressive. These closely held desires had lived long in their hearts and sharing them with us was fanning their hopes back into flame. Instead of getting stuck in the details of how to format a blog post, we were remembering why we had chosen to write in the first place. It was a powerful moment that helped me realize I need to remember my hopes more often.

Maybe today we all need to take a step back and answer this question:

What are your dreams for your life?

So much of our everyday life is details. Getting to an appointment on time. Making sure the bills are paid. Meeting deadlines at work. Preparing dinner for our families.

But there desires there, tucked away, waiting to be given room to grow. Hopes that need tending so they might flourish.

Taking time to remember these yearnings gives us space to dream anew, to evaluate whether we are moving in the direction of the life we long for, and to invite others to encourage us as we pursue the desires God has breathed in our hearts.

It can be scary, saying our dreams out loud. There’s risk involved, opening ourselves up to criticism and the possibility of failure. But there’s also the opportunity to receive support on the journey as we advance toward the future we envision for our jobs, our families, and ourselves.

Here’s more good news: God is already at work and his dreams for us are bigger than we can even conceive. After speaking them to my new friends that morning, I thanked God for the dreams He's placed in my heart and giving myself space to see how I can take steps from hoping to doing. 

Will you join me? 

"Now glory be to God,

who by his mighty power

at work within us

is able to do far more than

 we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—

infinitely beyond our highest prayers,

desires, thoughts, or hopes."

Ephesians 3:20 (Living Bible)

When Hoping is Hard...

Lindsey Smallwood

Writing today at Middle Places about falling in love and finding it wasn't all I was looking for...

I was single for most of my twenties.

I was hopeful about finding Mr. Right but it seemed like a long shot because I was a campus pastor. Most of the men in my life were college undergraduates or married colleagues in ministry, neither of which were appropriate pools for mate selection.

After reading a book about looking for love, I ambitiously tried to put myself out there, wanting to expand my circle of potential love interests.

I took an open-to-the-community class at Stanford University where I worked. I met a lot of men, median age 72.

I signed up for knitting lessons at the community center. I met 5 middle aged women and a cat.

I started regularly going to a nearby café by myself without my phone or a book, hoping to strike up a conversation. But since everyone else did have a friend, phone or book, love didn’t find me there either. I did meet one interesting guy, but halfway through our conversation I realized he wanted me to invest in his time-share. Sigh.

I told my friends I’d be open to blind dates. After 2 blind dates, I told my friends I was not open to blind dates. Can I get an amen?

And then it just happened one day, at the wedding of mutual friends. I was officiating the service and Chris was a groomsman. At the reception he told me he liked my sermon and then asked me to dance.

I know. What a pickup line.

He called three days after the wedding and the next weekend, we had our first date.

If there’d been a checklist – and let’s be honest, there was sort of a checklist – he ticked every box.

Handsome? Check.
Shares my faith? Check.
Fun to talk to? Check.
Hobbies include things other than video games and paintball? Check.

Seriously, a dreamboat.

We started dating and I knew I was falling hard for this Physics grad student.

But here’s what I didn’t expect: that the hoping would get harder.

I wanted to find love, a partner, someone to share my life with. I’d been praying quiet prayers for years, crying with friends over coffee, struggling with jealousy when wedding invitations came in the mail.

I’d been hoping.

Suddenly that hope had a face and a name and a personality. I didn’t want just any partner, I wanted this one.

Yet I knew our relationship was new and needed some time to grow and develop before we made commitments.

Oh, the hoping was hard.

Sitting in my little apartment, knitting the heck out yet another scarf, willing him to call on the phone. Laying in bed at night, wondering what he was doing, what he was thinking, if I was crazy to feel things this strongly.

To hope is to wait in want. And in an age where Amazon can send coffee and paper towels to your doorstep and you can stream an entire movie on the phone in your pocket, we are not used to either wanting or waiting.

Here’s the thing though: we are hope people. We have to be, because even in an on-demand world, nothing is for certain. We can dream and plan and work and try all we want, but there are a lot of things outside of our control.

Will this job be offered?
Will that relationship stand the test of time?
Will our family get to add another baby?

Most of the time, we have to wait in our wanting.

Hope isn’t like love. Love does. It’s an action. It’s self-sacrifice and giving and hard work. Personally, I like it because it gives me something to do.

But hope is. It just is. It sits there, usually quietly, waiting in want. Not knowing.

As my relationship with Chris grew and we both began to see that it was developing into something serious, the urgent hoping that things would work out was slowly, gently replaced by a trust in our ability to grow together, to communicate, to work through challenges. I no longer felt panicked that this dream might die right in front of me.

My hope that Chris would be “the one” was realized. But a whole new set of hopes emerged after we decided to get married – hopes for a long life together, for good health, for a family.

Romans 12:12 (ESV) invites us to “be joyful in hope.” Real talk: it’s not easy. If my poorly knitted scarves could talk, they would tell you that joy is not my default emotion in the waiting.

But we are hope people. And since we know that we are going to spend a lot of our life hoping, this is a gracious invitation to find the beauty in the waiting and experience joy even in the unknown. I’ve seen it myself these last few years, losing hope in the face of miscarriage and finding it again in the strength of community.

Hoping is hard. But there can be joy in hard things.

Here’s to finding yours.