When Your Dreams Feel Unseen

When Your Dreams Feel Unseen at www.annswindell.com

Last year, my daughter and I planted a cantaloupe plant in our front garden right before summer got into full swing. I am the epitome of a black thumb, so it was an act both of faith and of craziness, and I wrote about it in the last chapter of my book, Still Waiting.

That chapter is perhaps my favorite chapter of the entire book, and while it’s about this particular cantaloupe plant, it’s also about the ways in which God cares for us and meets with us even when our prayers seem unanswered. It’s a chapter about faith and looking ahead and trusting that often, what we can’t see is making way for something more beautiful than we could have ever imagined.

I’ve had some readers ask me about the cantaloupe plant that I reference in Still Waiting, and I wanted to give you an update, albeit a year later:

Cantaloupe and God's faithfulness at www.annswindell.com

Cantaloupe and God's faithfulness at www.annswindell.com

Yay! That little cantaloupe plant grew and grew–in fact, the vines overtook the whole of our tiny garden and eclipsed anything else in the plot. And finally, as summer turned into fall, my daughter and I celebrated the growth that God did in that tiny seed by eating the literal fruit of his faithfulness.

So, just a reminder for you today, friend: if it feels like your dreams and hopes are in the ground, unseen…God sees you. He knows your heart and he hears your prayers. There is a day coming when you will see the fruit of your faith. I don’t know when that is; only the Lord does! But he is faithful and there will be a day of reaping the spiritual harvest you have prayed for.

If it feels like your dreams and hopes are in the ground, unseen...God sees you. He knows your heart and hears your… Click To Tweet

If you haven’t read Still Waiting yet, can I encourage you to pick up a copy? No matter what season of life you’re in, my prayer is that this book will strengthen you in your own walk with the Lord and remind you that you’re never alone. 

 

Still Waiting by Ann Swindell

 

Waiting and the Gift of Unanswered Prayer

I’m always honored to write for Desiring God;
this is the start of my newest article for them.
You can read the whole of the article here!

The Gift of Unanswered Prayer at www.annswindell.com

I have been praying the same prayer for healing for more than twenty years.

If you’ve been praying for one particular thing over months or years or decades, then you know how exhausting and difficult it can feel to keep returning to God with the same petition.

I was just a child when I developed trichotillomania — a hair-pulling condition — and while it’s not a life-threatening condition, it has been life-altering for me. Imagine not being able to stop pulling out your own hair, even though you hate how it makes you look — and feel. That’s been my daily experience for more than half of my life.

I’ve been asking God to do what no doctor, therapy, or medication can: heal me. I have tried various therapies and supplements, and I continue to seek to walk in healing, but there’s no clear “cure” for trichotillomania. I know that if I’m going to be healed, I will need a gift of grace from God himself. And while I wholeheartedly believe in God’s ability to heal me, I also know that he hasn’t healed me over these last two decades. Not yet.

Therefore, I wait.

Why Waiting Hurts

 If I’m honest, waiting is something I would prefer to avoid on any level, from waiting for a prayer to be answered all the way down to waiting in line at the grocery store. Why? Because waiting elicits the feeling of helplessness — of having to rely on someone else to act on my behalf.


Waiting forces me to come to terms with my own weakness.
It’s what waiting does to all of us: when we can’t work harder to get what we want, or when we can’t manipulate life to turn out the way we want it to, or when we can’t pay enough money or get enough help to achieve what our heart desperately desires, we are left with the truth of our own insufficiency: we are weak.

God is with you in your waiting: he has heard every prayer, listened to every cry, kept track of every sorrow. Click To Tweet

And we aren’t in control. Not even a little bit. We have to rely on someone else — on God — to act on our behalf.

It’s difficult and humbling to come to terms with our own inability to make anything happen. When we have prayed and longed and hoped and begged and done all that we can and still — still — there is no change in our circumstances, we are forced to stop our striving and simply wait, in large part because there is nothing else for us to do. We must stop and pause and look to God to act. And in that waiting, at the end of our proverbial rope, we will become aware of our inability to attain anything of lasting value on our own.

Read the rest of the article here, at Desiring God!

Still Waiting by Ann Swindell

Yes, the World Needs Your Story

The World Needs Your Story www.annswindell.comThis is the start of my newest piece for Darling Magazine.
You can read the whole article here!

For those of us who find ourselves drawn to the written word, the pull toward pen and paper is more than just a hobby. It’s a lifeline. Many of us flourish when there are words flowing from our soul onto the page — we’re able to make sense of things better when we’re writing, and we think our thoughts most clearly when we write them down on paper.

For those of us drawn to the written word, writing is more than a hobby--it's a lifeline. #amwriting Click To Tweet

As unique as the personal writing experience is for each of us, research is starting to reveal a universal reality that many of us have inherently known for a long time: writing about our lives is healing. Several studies point to the fact that when we honestly write about our own lives, working through our questions and challenges on the page, we can experience emotional breakthrough. That’s because when we take time to write about what’s bothering us, the act of writing enables us to see our lives in a new way and release past burdens. Writing can help us reframe our experiences and see ourselves as active participants in our lives, rather than as victims or observers.

Additional research has found that people who take time to intentionally write about their emotional state “were able to create the distance between the thinker and the thought, the feeler and the feeling, that allowed them to gain a new perspective, unhook, and move forward.” When we write about what’s happening internally, it enables us to parse experience from emotion — and then decide how to change.

Writing is a powerful tool.

If you’ve never taken the time to write your story down, maybe this is the nudge that you need. While writing about our journey and the emotions that we’ve experienced may feel initially overwhelming, the work that it can do in our hearts and our minds might actually change the course of our lives. It can help us to really see how we’ve been living and what it might look like to flip the script in our current story.

Read the rest of the article here, at Darling Magazine!

And if you want to write your story, check out my online writing course, Writing with Grace: Memoir. Registration is open until October 6th, and I’m offering a discount to blog readers: save 10% with the code: MEMOIR10. I can’t wait to join you there!

Image via Maddie Greer

Writing for Christ’s Glory

Writing for Christ's glory.

Image via Deeply Rooted Magazine

This is the start of my newest article for Deeply Rooted Magazine.
Read the full article here!

For those of us who are word lovers, who enjoy the feeling of pens in our hands and keys clacking under our fingertips, writing often feels like second nature, like coming home. We love the ways that words help us make sense of our lives and help us encounter God.

This, I believe, is a good and holy thing.

After all, God spoke the universe into existence with a word. The first five verses of the book of John remind us of the beautiful and timeless declaration that Jesus is, himself, the Word—and so we see that who God is and how he is are bound up in the power of words.

To be those who love and use words is a high and sacred calling—and not one that we can take lightly. This is because words hold great power; they name us, shape us, and ultimately point us (and our readers) to the Truth of Christ or to lies and death.

Words hold great power; they name us, shape us, and point us to truth--or lies. Click To Tweet

But how do we seek to be women who are writing for Christ’s glory? While there’s no one definitive answer, my own journey as a writer has shown me several ways that we can focus our hearts and our words on Jesus in this work of writing.

First, I believe that writing for Christ’s glory means that we lay down our right to renown. In the world’s eyes, a writer garners praise for her byline, for her status, for her fame. But to write in the Kingdom may mean something else entirely. It means that our heart’s aim is not to secure our own fame, but the fame of our King. If we have opportunities to write that further his Kingdom and his work in the world, then we can pursue those without concern for our own name.

Read the rest of the article here, at Deeply Rooted!

And if you’re a writer, head over to Writing with Grace to learn about the six week writing course that I teach. Registration is open now, but only for a little while longer!

Mardi Gras, Lent, and Jesus

What does Mardi Gras Have to do with Jesus www.annswindell.com

Lent begins this week; it is a season, for Christians, of reflection, of repentance, of remembering the cost of the cross for Christ. It is a season of acknowledging, again, our need for a savior who can rescue us from our untamable sin. 

Lent is a season of acknowledging our need for a savior to rescue us from our untamable sin. Click To Tweet

And tomorrow is Fat Tuesday—more commonly known in its French translation as Mardi Gras. Americans, at least, tend to associate Mardi Gras with parades, with green, yellow, and purple beads, with masks and music and drunkenness. The holiday’s mecca is New Orleans.

But the irony of Mardi Gras—and also the reason it exists—is that it falls on the eve of Lent. Because Lent has historically been a time of fasting and repentance, Mardi Gras is the last day of excess before a season of restriction. Are you giving up chocolate for Lent? Then scarf down not just a piece, but an entire chocolate cake on Fat Tuesday. Are you giving up red meat? Then gorge yourself on hamburgers and steaks before the clock strikes midnight. For when the clock strikes twelve, Lent begins, and we find ourselves like Cinderellas, back in our rags. Our party clothes are gone and it is time to mourn.

This is not really how it works, of course. Mardi Gras revelers party all night, well past the midnight chimes and into Ash Wednesday. But as people of faith, Ash Wednesday is  a day that marks us—figuratively and, in some traditions, literally—for a period of weeks that is meant to change us. Lent: the quiet and repentant season of the Church that seeks to usher in the celebration of Easter. Lent seeks to hush our ravenous appetite for ease and excess and, instead, remind us that the way of Christ is neither of those things. The way of Christ is the way down—down from heaven, down to the dust of the earth and the pain of a cross. It is the way of truth.

The way of Christ is the way down—down from heaven, down to the earth & the pain of a cross. Click To Tweet

I am not in a liturgical church tradition now, although I have been in the past. But still, my soul pauses on the edge of Lent. I want to learn the way of Christ more fully, and I want to join him on that journey to the cross. It is not an easy journey; it has never been an easy one. But through his humility and his sacrifice, Jesus showed us the path to the deepest joy: the path of obedience to the Father, the creator and lover of our souls.

If words like obedience and repentance and reflection and sin make us want to turn away–if the thought of sobering ourselves and acknowledging our deep neediness for salvation is challenging–then that is exactly why we need the season of Lent the most. We need to be reminded of our humanity, of our brokenness, of the places in our hearts and minds and bodies that still cling to darkness.

We need Jesus. We need him desperately, because we need to be saved from the darkness that still lingers inside of us. 

We need Jesus because we need to be saved from the darkness that still lingers inside of us. Click To Tweet

And so, let us invite Christ into our lives afresh this Lent. Let us stand on the cusp of these days before Easter and remember why we are so desperate for Easter in the first place: we need new life. We don’t need another holiday or another reason to dress up. We need healing. We need wholeness. We need saving. We need Him. 

Lent rightly reminds us of our need and our neediness.

But Lent also reminds us that our brokenness and need did not keep God away; no, not at all. In fact, it drew him close–so close that he became one of us to save all of us.

That’s the good news of the Gospel, whispered like a secret during the days and weeks of Lent: yes, we are broken and breaking, yes we are full of neediness and hurt. But yes! Christ has come for us, and yes, he has pulled us out of the miry pit. Yes, Christ has paid the price for our lives, and yes–he will come again.

Praise Him.

Five Ways to Keep Jesus Central this Holiday Season

Life doesn’t stop in any season, especially during the busy Christmas season full of t0-do lists, parties, shopping, and, (hopefully!) worship opportunities. So how can we still try to focus our hearts in a deeper way on the presence of God in our lives, especially during Advent? How can we attend to how he is moving and how we are (or are not) responding to his love?

5 Ways to Stay Close to Jesus in the Holiday Season. www.annswindell.com

Here are some simple steps that I’ve found are helpful to stay close to Jesus in the busy days of Advent:

1. Start with Scripture. It sounds simple, but it can also be very hard to read the Word regularly. I have found, for me, that when I start my day in the Bible, my heart and mind are better prepared to respond to God’s presence throughout the rest of the day. Aligning my mind and heart with his Word in the morning is like tying up my shoelaces before going out the door—it’s much easier to keep from slipping as I walk through the day.  If this isn’t a normal part of your life, that’s ok! Start by reading just a few verses at a time, and ask God to speak to your heart with his truth.

2. Pray as you go. It is important to have regular time set aside to pray, but as in any relationship, ongoing communication is important. I often pray in shorter bursts while I’m driving, or while I’m walking across campus to my classroom, or while I’m picking up toys in the house. I had a professor in college who prayed for a particular person each time he turned on a light switch, and I love that idea of partnering normal, daily actions with intentional prayer. Prayer doesn’t need to be fancy or long—just honest communication with God. 

3. Pause when you feel overwhelmed. This is an important one for me. There are often multiple times every day where I can feel overwhelmed, anxious, or concerned—usually about things that are outside of my control. If I take time to pause and turn to God when these moments come, rather than letting fear or anxiety overtake me, I find that he has never left my side, and He is always offering me his peace, which is bigger than any fear (Phil. 4:6-7). The time it takes me to pause and pray is always shorter than the time it takes me to be worried about something for another five minutes—or five days!

4. Listen to Truth. In our home and in our cars, Michael and I play music that reminds us of God’s presence in our lives. Music seeps into my mind more easily (and mindlessly) than most things, so if I find myself humming a tune unintentionally, it helps my soul if it’s a song that reminds me of who God is and how he loves me. If you don’t love listening to music, find a radio station or audio book that declares the truth of who God is and listen to it in your car or while you’re working out.

5. Place reminders of God’s love and presence in your home. I am a visual learner, and it helps my heart when I have visual reminders of God’s heart in my house, my office, and even in my car! You can go the fancy route and buy (or paint) a representation of a Scripture and hang it up in your kitchen or bedroom, or you can write a favorite verse on a sticky note and put it by the radio dial in your car. Choose a Scripture verse that is meaningful to you and let it remind you of God’s particular love for you and attention to your life.

How do you keep your heart close to Christ during Advent? I’d love for you to share your insights!

This post is a holiday version of a previously published blog post on my site.

Similar post: What Does It Mean to Have a Close Relationship With God