Book Review: Those Who Wait by Tanya Marlow

images

I picked up this book based on the review of another blogger. When I ordered the book I was impatiently and anxiously awaiting my dissertation results – waiting isn’t something I’m very good at. Although by the time I started the book I had received my results, I still found myself in a sort of limbo. I had spent the last three years of my life working towards this big goal of getting my Masters, and when it was all over I felt a little bit lost. I’m still figuring out what I want to do next – I kind of have an idea but I’m not really sure how to get there – so I am still waiting on God, His timing and his answers to my questions. All of which to say, this book came at exactly the right time for me.

I started reading in the middle of November, and was soon overtaken by the season of Advent, which was perfect as Advent is all about waiting. Although you can read this book at any time of year, it is set out for daily reading through the Advent season, and has an appendix at the end for group study.

The book retells the stories of four Bible characters from their own perspective. These are based around the four Advent candles (one version of this) – the first section is Sarah (wife of Abraham) representing the Patriarchs; the second is Isaiah, for the prophets; the third is John the Baptist and the fourth Mary. Each section is broken down into five chapters, and at the end of each the biblical reference is given to provide the context for the story. There are also questions for reflection. The final (sixth) chapter of each section gives more questions and also a couple of creative reflection activities. There are also prayers and Benedictions, and suggestions for music to listen to, to help you reflect further on the story. Some of these activities are included in the Group Study guide in the final appendix. The first appendix also gives theological and historical context in which Marlow explains some of the narrative choices she has made.

I really needed and loved this book. Marlow’s prose is beautiful, and really brought the characters to life in a new way for me. I loved Sarah’s story, mainly because I spent a good part of the summer reflecting on her story from Hagar’s perspective and it was helpful for me to be reminded of how much of a victim Sarah is as well (Abraham was not a great husband, really. It’s also good to be reminded of just how flawed our biblical heroes really were, and how greatly God used them in spite of their serious flaws. Gives me hope!) But I think my favourite section was Isaiah’s story, as I have rarely thought of Isaiah the person. There are so many memorable and powerful prophecies in the book of Isaiah that I have never really thought about how it would have felt for Isaiah as an ordinary man, to speak these amazing words from God but yet not see their fulfilment. I found the prayers and creative reflections to be useful tools for working through some of my own issues. I only flicked through the group study section, but will be recommending the book to my homegroup for next Advent.

I said at the start that I am not very good at waiting. This book highlights that waiting is not easy and it is often painful, but that it is worth it and that God is in it – He is working even when we can’t see it. I highly recommend it to anyone who is waiting on God to fulfil His promises, whether large or small. I certainly will reread it many times as I think it is a lesson I will need to keep learning.

One song was going through my head much of the time I was reading this book, as it ties in so closely with the theme. It has become one of my favourites of the last year. I hope it speaks to you too.

Advertisements

New Year’s Resolutions Part Two – Wellbeing Goals

I think I’ve said this a few times, but 2017 was a pretty intense year for me. (I won’t go into all the details again, I promise…) So when I started thinking about what word I wanted to pick as my defining word for 2018, one kept coming to mind:

Breathe.

The other day when I was sorting through some boxes in my flat, I came across a picture I painted a few years ago. I am by no means a great artist, but from time to time I dabble in art worship, and this particular picture I had painted in response to a time of reflection on Psalm 23. One particular verse had stood out for me, verse three, which in the Message translation reads:

True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction

Elsewhere in the Bible, several of the authors talk about the Christian life being a race,* and I love this image, this idea of God allowing us to pause and take a moment to rest, to breathe, before picking up and carrying on.

You let me catch my breath - Psalm 23

So this year for me is about hitting pause, and going back to basics. I have spent the last three years working steadily towards the goal of finishing my Masters, without much thought for what came next. I have been working in public sector administration to fund my studies, which is enjoyable enough but not something I believe I am called to long term. I have some ideas of what I would like to do, and what I believe God is calling me to, but I need for now to not rush into the next thing. I need to take some time just to be with God. To remember how to read the Bible for relationship and not just for study. To rediscover my talents for musical and poetical worship. To find joy in having the time to volunteer for things again. I need to catch my breath.

And sometimes I need to be reminded not to worry about my future. For a long time the background of my laptop has been a quote from Winnie the Pooh, the great fountain of wisdom. It says: ‘Rivers know this: there is no hurry, we shall get there someday’. I cannot tell you how comforting I still find that every time I open my laptop. It reminds me that it’s okay not to have it all figured out yet. I sometimes feel like I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way and I’m missing out on God’s Big Purpose for my life. But with God, nothing is wasted. He has put me where I am for a reason (which I am still discovering) and will lead me on to the next thing in the right time. Until then I will keep my eyes and ears open for what He is calling me to, pushing at doors to see which ones will open, and trusting in His promises.

So this year is about resting and trusting, and focusing on my spiritual and mental health, but also my physical health. Basically I’m looking to take better care of myself.

The truth of the matter is, last year during the height of dissertation season I got into some pretty bad eating and exercising habits – the former I did too much of and the latter nowhere near enough. The result being that I put back on a fair amount of the weight that I’d lost in the previous few years. So I am aiming to shed that weight again (roughly 1st.) through eating more healthily and exercising more. I have started planning ahead my meals a bit better and finding healthier alternatives to favourite snacks. I’ll be going back to dance classes again and I really do intend to either use the gym at work (I get a bit bored at the gym but the work one is free to staff members) or take up swimming again as there is a pool really near me.

This morning at Church we had our covenant service, where we celebrate all the great things God has done through our community in the past year and commit to serving Him together in the next. Our youth minister reminded us that resolutions are easier to keep in community, where we can encourage one another. This resonated with me as I thought about my New Year’s resolutions and the fact that I have shared them fairly publicly on this blog. I hope that it will help me to stick to them as now other people know and can hold me accountable. And if you would like to share yours in the comments please do so that we can work towards them together.

On which note I feel I should share that I have not done very well at my writing goal this week, today being the only day that I have managed to write for an extended period… BUT on Monday I went to a second hand bookstore and didn’t buy a single thing, which is a huge win for me!

Going back to rivers, often when I think about that Winnie the Pooh quote, a certain song comes to mind which I find soothing to my soul. I’d like to share it with you. (You can read the lyrics here).

 

* e.g. Hebrews 12v2; Acts 20v24; 2 Timothy 4v7

SaveSave