Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

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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.
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We Are Better Together

Lindsey Smallwood

I had just left the psych ward.

Dramatic, but true. Years of practicing a secret eating disorder had left me broken in body and spirit. Finally a health crisis prompted a friend to take me to the doctor. Now, after eight weeks in the hospital painting my feelings in art therapy and checking boxes on a nutrition chart, I was discharged with no place to go.

I wanted to return to the university where I was halfway through my junior year, but I’d missed too much of the semester to return to campus. Family counseling during my hospitalization had not gone well and I wasn’t ready to do the necessary making of amends to go home. Living with friends while trying to take care of my mental health seemed awkward.

Then I got an invitation from my 78-year-old grandmother. I was welcome to come and live with her; in fact, she said she’d be glad for the company. She’d never liked living alone.

Grateful for a place to land, I packed the contents of my Austin dorm room and drove to Grams’ house in rural Colorado. She welcomed me like I was home for the holidays, with joy and delight at my arrival, rather than judgment about my appearance or questions concerning how I’d spent the last two months. From the minute I stepped through her door, there was a sense of abundant grace.

We settled into a rhythm as roommates, reading the paper over Grape Nuts each morning and watching Law & Order reruns after dinner. I sold jeans at a retail store in the mall while Grams worked puzzles with friends and tended to the house. Though I hadn’t been to any church in a long time, Grams and I attended Sunday services together, a starting place for my reconnection with God. This growing faith, along with the work I was doing in therapy, gave me hope that I would actually be able to heal.

Over meals prepared according to my medically prescribed nutritional plan, I began to tell Grams parts of my story, glimpses into the loneliness, self-loathing, and shame that had marked most of my adolescence. My revelations were met with sympathy and stories from her own life. Until then I’d always seen her as a sweet Jesus-loving old lady who made great blueberry muffins and loved to play cards. I’d never considered her as a woman with aches and dreams and longings. But as we talked each night over steamed vegetables and bland portions of protein, our real selves began to show and I discovered that not only did I love this tiny woman who had taken me in, I really liked her too.

About a month after I arrived, Grams needed unexpected foot surgery. Following the operation, she was unable to walk or drive her car for some time. I was happy to help run errands and take her to doctor’s appointments. I also ended up attending Bible study with her since that felt better than just chauffeuring her there. Sitting in that sweet circle of women, I began to open myself up to faith again, finding that the God I had known in childhood was still there, despite my long and intentional ignorance of His existence.

One evening, as I prepared dinner in the kitchen, Grams called from her chair in the living room where she had her broken foot elevated on the ottoman.

“You know,” she said. “I think God knew I would need you here while I was healing. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

Hot tears filled my eyes as I put down the paring knife. I walked to her chair.

“Grams,” I said, taking her hand. “I think God knew I would need you while I was healing. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

She smiled. “He gave us each other.”

Yes, He did.

My plan for my life had been binging in secret and purging in shame. God’s plan was stories shared over meals at a table set for two. For years I had chosen secrets and self-harm but in the face of Grams’ gracious love, I could tell the truth and begin to hope for the future. What had initially seemed like a place of last resort became an oasis of hope. Grams taught me how to love myself by holding my stories with tenderness. God loved me through her compassionate care.

That’s what He does. God takes ordinary old ladies and makes them instruments of His mercy. God takes confused bulimics on the mend and uses them to bring life to the lonely.

God gives us each other to walk everything out over meals and errands and television reruns.

Even when broken in body and spirit, we are better together.

Though more comfortable when hiding, we are better together.

If far from home in an unexpected place, we are better together.

Always, always, we are better together.

This post originally appeared at SheLoves Magazine.