When Waiting Wears You Down and Out

This is my newest piece for Proverbs 31 Ministries.
You can read the full article here!

When Waiting Wears You Down at annswindell.com

 

I sat on the bed and unclenched my hands, trying to pray. From my perspective, the past season had gone painfully wrong.

My work was overwhelming, with deadlines that came too fast and too often. My womb had filled with life and then emptied twice in a handful of months, as we suffered two miscarriages back-to-back. Our daughter visited the ER for a sickness that lingered and broke up our sleep like shattered chalk, and I was wrestling with a physical condition that wore me down every day.

Then, unexpectedly, we found ourselves moving a week before Christmas, which meant a broken lease and high fines, as well as transitioning to a city where friendships would have to be built afresh.

Externally, I was busier than I’d ever been, but on the inside, my soul was barely limping along.

The more I tried to fix things, the more they fell apart. But God meets us in our struggle... Click To Tweet

So I did what I always do — I tried to figure out how to fix everything. Maybe if I rearranged my work calendar, or if we saw a specialist or made more money or could get my daughter healthy — maybe then, things would get better. Easier. More hopeful.

But the more I tried to figure things out, the more overwhelmed I became. I started crying out to the Lord, asking the unanswerable question of why: Why were things so hard? Why was there such loss? Why did I feel so stuck?

Read the rest of the article here, at Proverbs 31 Ministries!

 

Still Waiting by Ann Swindell

 

Aching for Home

THE ACHE

This past summer, our family moved to a new city, and into a new life. And in the midst of the transitions and changes that the last year has brought our way, I have thought about the feeling, the idea, and the desire for home.

Two years ago during Holy Week, I reflected on that same thing–that ache for home that so many of us feel. And in light of Easter, and I wanted to share those thoughts with you again here in this space:

I love traveling; Michael and I love traveling together, exploring new places, and learning about the world. But when it comes down to it, I am a homebody at heart, and I love having consistency in my life.  In fact, one of the sweetest things about traveling, for this homebody, is the longing that develops in me when I am away from home. There is a familiar ache that bubbles up, whether I am in Wisconsin, Florida, or England—the ache for a place where I know the corners of the rooms, the ache for a place where the walls and bed and blankets are familiar, loved, home.

Easter is about Jesus making a way for us to be able to enter the eternal Home that we were created… Click To Tweet

My mother and I traveled to Grand Rapids for a conference, and while we were there, my mother drove us past her childhood home, her elementary school, and her family’s church.  My grandpa was a Methodist minister, and so she moved several times as a child, but it was in this city that she started going to school, and her memories of Grand Rapids are vivid. I loved seeing bits of her life through these buildings—the house where she lived, the steps she climbed on her first day of kindergarten, the steeple of the church where my grandfather preached. And although those places were not mine, I felt that old ache flutter again.

C.S. Lewis has written about this ache. In “The Weight of Glory,” he writes,

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

“News from a country we have never yet visited.”

Home.

Easter, which we are looking toward, is about many things. But in one sense, it is about home. It is about Jesus making a way for us to be able to enter the eternal Home that we were created for. It is that country we keep hearing news from—that ache that bubbles up, that longing that draws us to beauty and goodness and light. The desire for wholeness, and freedom, and perfection—the ache for heaven. Jesus is the only one who could become the doorway for us to that Home. His body, broken and torn on the cross, became the doorway that allows us to enter in and walk into right relationship with God. And through the doorframe of that empty tomb–his resurrection–we get to enter into that heavenly home with him, forever.

He crossed the threshold from death to life and held the door open for us, too.

Jesus crossed the threshold from death to life and held the door open for us, too. #Christianity Click To Tweet

Home. It is what we long for, ache for, desire. This Easter, we can remember afresh that because of the great cost Christ paid for us on the cross, and because of the great miracle of his resurrection, we have an answer to all of the aching and longing that we find in our own hearts.

We can remember that we have found our truest home—in Him.

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.

Embracing Change: The Pearl of Joy

Embracing Change at www.annswindell.com

This is the start of my newest article for (in)courage.
You can read the entire article here!

This last year was a whirlwind of change for me. Our family uprooted from the city we had lived in for over a decade—the city where my husband and I fell in love, the city where we found our first jobs, the city where we figured out life as newlyweds, the city where we navigated serious sickness and struggle, the city where our daughter was born. We had a home there, and not just a physical one. Our community, our church, our jobs—we had a place that we knew, and people who knew us. We were settled.

And then, God.

God opened a new door for us, one that we knew we were meant walk through. My husband had the opportunity to go to graduate school, and that meant moving to a new state, finding a new home, and starting a new life where we hardly knew anyone. It meant, essentially, change.

For me, change has always felt gut-wrenching, difficult, gear-grinding tight. I have never loved change; I have usually avoided it.  

But this past year felt like a gift unwrapped for me, given by my heavenly father. Because I found, for the first time in my life, that I was not terrified of the unknown. What I experienced this past year, as I prayed for help to accept and embrace the changes we were facing, was grace.

Read the rest of the article over at (in)courage!

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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