Hi friends, last week I had a chance at A Life Overseas to talk with my friend Tanya about her new book. I first met Tanya when I lived in China and we have been friends ever since. I don’t want you to miss out on this interview because it combines so many of my loves: friends, faith, and books. You’ll notice it is geared towards folks serving overseas, but I double dog dare you to find you can’t relate at all to my conversation with Tanya :). If you’re looking for an advent book, wait no further. I love this book so much my small group is going through it and I’m teaching an advent Sunday School class. Without further ado, I bring you one of the loveliest people I know . . .
Tanya Marlow author of Those Who Wait: Finding God In Disappointment, Doubt, And Delay. Years ago Tanya asked me to guest post for her God and Suffering series. (That series, by the way, is a gold mine.) Though we have never met in person, you can see why I’m drawn to Tanya, she do
Tell us a bit about your background. What did you dream your life would be like?
I was a typical good-Christian-girl, wanting to live my life for God and serve God in full-time Christian ministry. As a kid, I thought my calling was in cross-cultural work overseas. (This may have been because it was viewed as the ‘highest calling’ in Christian circles, with maximum holiness points. Although my motives were relatively pure in wanting to serve God, they may have been tinged with little compassion-competitiveness….!)
I didn’t end up overseas, but by my twenties, I was happy. I was living my dream of working fulltime as a Christian minister, lecturing in Biblical Theology, happily married to someone also in Christian ministry.
Then chronic illness struck me, and my life was turned upside down.
How has the whole issue of waiting featured in your life?
In 2010, I gained a baby and a disability. I have Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), an autoimmune condition which affects every cell in my body, like a giant faulty battery. Before, I was active and fit – now I can barely walk around the house, and need to lie in bed 21 hours a day. Before, I was seeing people all the time, speaking and pastoring: now my ministry has morphed into the few words I can tap out from my bed in a week.
There’s no real treatment for ME, and the illness is underfunded and under-researched. There’s a very slim possibility of full recovery, and I could deteriorate further, like so many other bedbound ME patients.
A new Oscar-tipped documentary, Unrest, tells the story of what it’s like to live with ME. Your life becomes an eternal semi-colon, stuck on pause while the world continues around you.
I wait for improvement, I wait for deterioration. I’m stuck in the middle, living in uncertainty.
For seven years, I have grieved my old life. Often I have felt laid aside and rejected, and I’ve railed at God for my new prison.
It’s been hard – excruciatingly hard at times – but I’ve discovered something of God’s hidden kindness in barren places.
Why do you think the issue of waiting is particularly pertinent for people living overseas?
Although I never quite made it to overseas work (and ended up marrying a Church of England vicar in my native Britain), I still have the most respect for those in that sector, and have long been an enthusiastic supporter of those called to serve abroad.
To be in cross-cultural work is to be in-between, always. A life overseas is a continuous state of waiting:
- to feel settled,
- to return home,
- to be able to understand the language instead of feeling stupid,
- to stop crying at night from homesickness,
- to feel like an intelligent person again who has something to offer society,
- for the kids to be happy,
- for fruit to show
- for letters and emails to arrive
- for the money to come through
- for a home and place to belong.
Waiting is hard. To be in a liminal, in-between state for a short time is discomfiting and exhausting. To be in a season of waiting for decades can be soul-crushing.
Because Those Who Wait is honest about the reality and discomfort of waiting, I hope it can be a source of encouragement for those who feel exhausted with living in an in-between state.
Why choose the four heroes that you did? Why not others? What drew you to these four?
I was drawn to the liturgical season of Advent, particularly the lightning of the Advent candles.
The first candle stands for the Patriachs. I chose a ‘matriarch’, Sarah. Through her story, we deal with disappointment and bitterness, waiting for joy and fulfilled promises.
The second candle represents the Prophets, so I chose Isaiah. We rarely think of him as a person, rather than just a prophetic mouthpiece. I wanted to explore the personal cost of his truth-telling, and through that how we with delay and frustration as we wait for justice and peace in our land.
John the Baptist is the next candle. Through his story, we explore our struggle with doubt as we wait to live out our life’s calling.
And Mary, mother of Jesus’ story is the story of all humanity – dealing with disgrace and isolation as we wait for Jesus’ coming.
Advent is a season that celebrates and marks the discomfort of waiting, as we consider how the saints waited for Jesus’ appearance, and how we long for this world to be restored at Jesus’ second coming.
Advent gives us permission to name our deepest longings, and lament that this world is not as it should be. Those Who Wait can be read at any point, but the Advent season really speaks to our waiting journey, and the book is structured in 24 short chapters. Many readers of Those Who Wait are saving their books to savour through Advent.
I wanted to explore these issues through story, like an engaging novel, because it’s through re-entering the story God can speak to our souls in new ways. It’s always good to remember that our revered Christian heroes are actually human – and the Bible is more honest than we are about the struggle of waiting.
Which section did you enjoy writing most?
Like your own children, you’re not supposed to have favourite characters. (But mine’s John the Baptist.)
In any other period of history he would have been revered as THE prophet of God – but he was overshadowed by his cousin, then waited for years in prison before his traumatic death at the hands of Herod.
Where was God in his waiting and suffering? This is the question that drove me. What really surprised me was the kindness of God to John – and to us. Through writing Those Who Wait, I discovered that God is in the waiting with us, groaning with us, being merciful in unexpected ways, if we can only pause to spot it.
What is your hope for this book?
My hope is that churches, organisations and small groups can meet around this book (there are reflective exercises, group questions and even six Bible studies), and that through the journey they will be able to work through their own discomfort, disappointment or doubt that accompany seasons of waiting.
For people long-jaded by the same old sermons and Bible stories, I hope it will reignite a passion for the honesty and dynamism of the Bible..
Most of all, I pray that readers will encounter God in these pages and find it transformational. May it bring perspective, purpose and empathy for weary hearts, and may God always meet us in the waiting place. This is my prayer.
Tanya, thanks for sharing a bit of your journey as an author and Christian with us.
Over to you, dear reader. What are you waiting for? Which of the four Biblical heroes can you relate to now? Leave a comment and you might win a copy of Tanya’s book. Happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful for you.
Winners will be notified by Sunday.
tanya marlow says
You are the bestest.
tanya marlow says
P.S. even though I commented, I’m okay not having an extra copy of my book :-)
I relate to Mary, she is full of questions but she accepts the calling placed on her life.
Amy Young says
That’s a good/hard place to be!
As I am waiting for doors to open to return overseas and God seems to be taking His time, I think I most relate to Sarah right now. This book sounds like just what I need in this season. 😊
Amy Young says
I can imagine you’d find a lot of parallels!
Oh my goodness! I cried just reading through your interview! I’m not sure I can take reading through the book! But yes, I need to read it. Once again, I need to hear that God is in the waiting.
What am I waiting for? How about feeling like my life has direction and purpose? Okay, that was my emotion speaking. Allowing the truth of the Word to speak, I know that He has a purpose for my life A.C. (After China); He just hasn’t let me know what that is yet.
So yeah, almost three years waiting.
Oh, by the way, Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Amy! :-)
Amy Young says
Oh these big life shifts, they are hard. Trusting with you for His purpose!
Hi Amy and Tanya.
The book sounds great and I can definitely relate to the challenges of waiting, having to trust that God is working things out for His best purposes. I can relate to Sarah, in that I an tempted to try to work things out myself when it is frustrating to wait for His timing. I have to remember that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His ways higher than ours.
I would love to make time to read and discuss this book with you.
Amy Young says
Vivienne, oh it is hard to wait, isn’t it :)! Here’s to reading through these comments and knowing we/you are not alone!
I feel I relate most to Sarah. She had been waiting so long that (like me) she had just given up on the dream and figured it would never happen, even laughing when assured that it would. If I’m being honest, I’ve reached a point that I don’t even want to dream any longer. It hurts less to not expect things and be surprised if they do happen than to dream and be disappointed when (once again) nothing happens. Maybe reading this book will give me a little bit of hope? I have a feeling I might cry through it. I could feel the tears on the surface just reading this interview. =’) God bless! Happy Thanksgiving!!!
Amy Young says
Oh I get this. As I read this part of the book, it hit me, I mean really HIT me, how long Sarah waited. I think it was 24 years! When I think of what my life looked like 24 years ago?!!! OH my. 24 years is a long time.
I went through a very difficult situation with my daughter a couple weeks ago. I could only pray, and listen, and wait. Ugh. This life is so messy. This book sounds so good. I’m happy to look forward to experiencing it alongside advent.
This sounds like a great book with themes that I feel very connected to in my journey. Chronic pain is so hard and at the same time may also be one of life’s best teachers. I’d love to take a deeper look into the lives of these four Bible characters during Advent. Thanks for this interview!
Amy Young says
I enjoy hearing from Tanya too!
I feel like I’ve been waiting forever, but especially waiting (and wading) through the last seven years.
There was the short-term waiting: waiting for my beloved to decide if he would stay or go. Waiting for the traumatic memories to be finished. Waiting to see if I could manage going back to work. Waiting to find out if I was pregnant. Waiting for the miscarriage to happen naturally (or not). Waiting for my family to respond to my decision to stay away for my own safety. Waiting for suicidal thoughts to pass.
There was (and is) the long-term waiting: waiting to reach a point in my journey where I can forgive and reconcile with my family. Waiting for a job that meets my needs and is bearable. Waiting for diagnoses and treatment plans and healing. Waiting through dissociation and alternating personalities and lost time. Waiting for heaven and reunion with my children. Waiting for a way to explain my life that my loved ones can understand. Waiting to reach a point where all the work I’ve been doing to heal (which I consider to be pretty selfish) can be useful to other people–I want to help. I want to give. I’m tired of just barely getting through the day/week/month/whatever.
Out of these 4 heroes, I probably identify most with Mary. The disgrace and the isolation of waiting resonate with me, though I think Mary (at least in how she’s portrayed in the Bible) was much more gracious about waiting than I am. Or, to suggest a hero not in Tanya’s book, Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. I identify with a lot of his words, so I imagine I would probably identify with his waiting, as well.
Thanks for your post, Amy, and thanks for writing and sharing about your book, Tanya. I may be hating my waiting right now, but it’s good to be reminded that I’m not waiting alone.
Amy Young says
Oh Jessa, I always love hearing from you.
Your story is one of waiting — at least as you said, especially the last seven years. I admire you for keeping up the fight (on one hand, what choice do we have?! But still, I admire you).
And will keep praying for you! xxo
Thanks Amy for introducing this book…and thanks Tanya for a great interview. I definitely want to read this book.
Amy Young says
You’d get a lot out of it :)! (at least IMHO)
I feel that often I’m waiting for the next big thing. God, what are you gonna do NEXT to make my life more meaningful, more rich??? And in the quiet, if I’m listening, I find contentment to wait for His answer – whether that’s yes, no, or (more often) wait longer….the best is yet to come…Heaven. So the most I have to wait…is a lifetime. s
Thank you for sharing this. What an encouraging and challenging read. Much love to you BOTH! Mary
Thanks for introducing this book. I like it.
Mark Allman says
Two of my most favorite people in one place!!! I always appreciate what both of you write.
Mark, I smile every time I see your name in a comment, either here or in other people’s blogs :). You are such an encourager!