Waiting for Joy {Book Club}

Today we dive into Those Who Wait: Finding God in Disappointment, Doubt and Delay by Tanya Marlow and discuss Sarah.

If you haven’t gotten the book, it’s not too late! And it’s a perfect Advent book, as you can read one little short section a day. Tanya takes a passage of scripture and combines it with research to write in a first person narrative.

Our reading today begins with Sarai and Abram in Haran. Abram has received his well-known call to leave his country and to be used to bless the world by becoming a great nation through whom God would work. If you are like me, you are familiar with Sarai and Abram’s story. But if you’re also like me, you get a bit lost in how much time passes because the text in the Bible appears so closely together.

So, lovable geek that I am, found a map, printed it off, labeled it with the passages from Those Who Wait, and oriented us a tiny bit in space and time. The video you see below (if on the web) or here (in email) is only two minutes.

Before we jump too much into the content, can I just say I haven’t read a first person narrative like this. I understand that reading is, in part, about personal preferences, so I do not want to step on anyone’s toes. But I have read very little Biblical fiction because it often is not my cup-of-tea. Written a bit too lovey-dovey or cheesy feeling for what I like. However, when I read about the account from Sarai/Sarah’s perspective, I didn’t squirm. Instead I was transported—a sign of good writing.

I also enjoyed reading the research and learning more of the culture and context.

Combining the passage we read and the map above, for the first time I thought of Sarah as a cross-cultural woman. Esther, sure. Daniel, Jospeh, Moses, Ruth, Naomi, yup, the cross-cultural aspects of their lives and calling were clear. Seeing the map and doing the math, I had even more compassion for Sarah.

In “Sarah: The Call” I appreciated seeing Abraham and Sarah as real people who talked to each other. Her husband was called and she was promised what her heart longed for: a baby. “I was thirsty for blessing, my spirit longing to know the Creator more. But I wanted to be sure I could hope for a future for us before we ripped away from our past. Abram kept silent, and I wondered if God was silent on this question, too.”

Day two was called “The fear” and began, “This is not how the story was supposed to go. This much I knew. We had left everything, back in Harran for the promise of amazing land and millions of children, but it had turned into an everlasting journey.”

Anyone else relate? It’s not where I am now, but I have been on journeys that started off laced with promise and then headed in a different direction than I thought. The section called “The Fear” highlighted how much what happens to our bodies—hunger, illness, exhaustion—deeply influence us. And they should! God has embedded us in bodies and expresses over and over in scripture how much he loves the material.

“That horrible, horrible night when I had sobbed in desperation—the Lord had heard me. Perhaps it really was possible that the Lord hears us when no one else does . . . that’s what I thought during the whole journey back: the Lord heard me. The Lord has honored me when my husband had not . . . in that moment, though everyone else had let me down, I knew I mattered to the Almighty.”

On Day 3, Sarah talks about getting her new name. I have now taught the Bible study for this section twice—in my small group and in a Sunday School class. If you looked over it, you know the Bible study goes with Day 4, when Abraham and Sarah were visited by the three men (Genesis 18:1-15). What stood out to me as I discussed this passage in two contexts that though Abraham was the one addressed (i.e. “Why did Sarah laugh?”) it was Sarah’s name used over and over. Not “Abraham, why did your wife laugh?”

Also, who was going to have a son?


Sarah was named as the parent, not Abraham.

I’m awkwardly circling back to Day 3 and “The Longing” where, in part, God gives both Sarah and Abraham a new name. Both of them. Not just Abraham.

Repeatedly in the scripture, Sarah is seen and named.

But twenty-four years is a long time to wait. I can understand why she might have begun to wonder if they had heard God wrong or if God was not as trustworthy as she thought.

Pause for a moment and think about your life in December 1993. In the comments I’d be curious to hear a snap shot of your life 24 years ago. Some of you were children! Some of you had babies who now are ADULTS. Some of us were junior high math teachers with spiral perms and shoulder pads sewed into our work-wear. But for all, we could not have guessed all the past twenty -four years have held.

I loved (on my page 51) the benediction for the Sarahs “choked by cynicism” and the separate one for the Abrahams “who have been hoping long.” Some of us will be more like Sarah in temperament and others like Abraham. Both are valued and included in scripture. Both are seen by God. And in the end, both want the Joy of the Lord.

What would you like to discuss about Sarah, the writing style, or the research? Let’s talk in the comments. And bonus points if you share a picture of yourself in 1993. I’ll try and find one to share!

See you in the comments,


P.S. Next week we will read about “Isaiah: Dealing with Delay, Waiting for Justice and Peace.”

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  1. Nicole Walters December 11, 2017

    Love the video. It really helped me picture Sarah’s journey. Oh my, in 93 I was in 7th grade, not a believer (clueless actually). I can’t imagine the wait. I had a hard time waiting 9 months to get to a certain destination, traveling through the unknown to where we are in South Asia. I really loved being inside the story of Sarah in that way and seeing her anew. The new name really struck me, that God honored her in that way. I am holding onto a Local name that means “beloved” right now, asking God to show me how truly loved I am by Him when I don’t believe it.

    1. Amy Young December 15, 2017

      Thanks Nicole, making the video helped me too :). And I just made one for Isaiah :)! I liked that both Sarah and Abraham were given new names. So much love sprinkled throughout the Bible. And so much reality on how hard it is to wait.

  2. Cassidy December 11, 2017

    I love the writing style. When reading the intros and initial parts I don’t think I fully grasped the writing style, I was so pleasantly surprised when starting the chapters about Sarah. She finally felt so real, so vulnerable and so easily understood. I felt like I was reading her heart the whole time. I loved going back into the Bible and reading it now through this new lens, feeling as though I had a deeper connection to this woman, as though we had been through something together. It was an always needed reminder of how the Lord crafted the Bible to reach us all, no matter when, or where. Sarah’s troubles and feelings are just as relevant in today’s society as they were then.

    I felt especially convicted by the new perspective of how the Lord truly cares for Sarah. I know that this is something that I know in my mind, but sometimes my heart forgets or I feel lonely or far from the Lord. Knowing that He loves us all the same, makes it such a humbling experience to deeper interpret His love and tender heart towards Sarah. This shows me the love He has for me, even if sometimes I may let that slip from my perspective. This story changed how I think about Sarah. I see her strength, loyalty, and vulnerability more than I saw before. I loved the perspective.

    1. Amy Young December 15, 2017

      “I see her strength, loyalty, and vulnerability more than I saw before. I loved the perspective.” Me too! Thanks for highlight that!

  3. Esther December 12, 2017

    In December 1993, I was 1 year and 3 months old, and about to welcome my younger brother to the world. Attached is the only photo I have access to that is close to December (October 1993). I don’t remember anything about that time but I know I already loved animals! 😛

    1. Michele December 12, 2017


  4. Lindsey Brewer December 12, 2017

    I really connected with this section! I saw myself in Sarah so much- the cynicism as the years went on, the pleading for an end to the waiting. I think the part that almost made me cry was when she is questioning if God’s plan includes HER. Abraham is the only one God talks to and everything Sarah hears is second-hand. She wonders if the promise is not for her, but only for her husband. I have felt those exact feelings, just not been able to word them as well as the author! These years on the field have been so hard for me personally but my husband’s ministry is thriving and doing so well. There have been low points where I questioned if God only cared about the ministry part of our lives and not the personal hardships I was facing. He only seemed to pour out blessings on that part of our lives. It’s so hard to feel unseen by God at times. I loved the interaction Sarah had with the 3 angels- and your points in the blog that it is Sarah’s name used in the conversation.
    In 1993 I was a senior in high school!

    1. Kaylee December 12, 2017

      Lindsey, I can empathize. The words out of my mouth yesterday with a visiting sister-in-law were almost exactly what you wrote here. “These years on the field have been so hard for me personally but my husband’s ministry is thriving and doing so well.” And so, because he and his ministry thrive, I continue on. I’m praying for you right now.

    2. Amy Young December 15, 2017

      Lindsey, thank you for this honest insight into your life. Feeling unseen and maybe not as wanted as a spouse or teammate by God is hard. Achingly hard. And even when you love them so much and are happy to see them thrive, that does not remove the ache. Sometimes, it actually alienates even move. I know that Kaylee and I are not the only ones encouraged by your thoughts.

  5. Kaylee December 12, 2017

    I agree with you, Amy, that biblical fiction like this isn’t really up my alley but the author did a great job and I was transported into the story. I love how it made me look deeper at the Word as well. Abraham and Sarah have been on my radar since our second year on the field when things started getting tough. I have often thought of her and her cross-cultural story and been encouraged by her faith and her humanity. Sarah is mentioned both in Hebrews 11 and again in 1 Peter 3: “5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” God has used these two verses specifically to encourage me down a hard road. She was obedient and God honored her for that. He never forgot her. Yes, she had to wait but in the end came great blessing.

    And we’ve got to see the shoulder pads and spiral perm!!! 🙂 I was 8 years old in 1993. I’ve since lost the Dorothy Hamill haircut, Babydoll dresses and Keds white canvas shoes.

    1. Amy Young December 15, 2017

      Hey Kaylee 🙂 . . . the picture below doesn’t show my hair or shoulder pads the best! I’ll keep hunting for a picture :).

      I had forgotten that Sarah was mentioned in both Hebrews and i Peter! Thanks for reminding us. And I also agree that this section of the book made me look at scripture more closely. I’d be reading and wondering, “Hey, is this really in the bible?” While the fleshing it out with comments and thoughts is an interpretation, I was surprised (at times) to see scenes or details that ARE in the bible and I had missed.

      Prayers for you and others who are having a different (harder?) experience on the field than your spouse. Like Sarah, may God richly bless you. Thanks for sharing Kaylee!!!

  6. Michele December 12, 2017

    Okay, I’m admitting it was the biblical fiction thing that made me decide not to join this month’s book club… But now you all are making me want to jump in! Whether or not I do, this is a very insightful blog. I’ve never really thought about the significance given to Sarah by the angel. And while I have thought about the wait for their promise, the video and thinking about 1993 certainly give it a lot more perspective! I was four months into my very first overseas assignment- teaching two sweet TCKs in a very remote part of Kenya. It was the furthest thing from my dreams when I’d gotten my teaching certificate a year before, but it was probably about that point that I was thinking I could easily do that for the rest of my life. It turned into one more year in another part of Kenya… and then I ended up in SE Asia for ten years teaching English, followed by a move to South Asia. I am SO FAR from anything I had ever thought of 24 years ago, and I have no idea how much longer I’ll be in my current host country or what’s next!

    1. Amy Young December 15, 2017

      Michele, whether you end up reading the book or not, keep commenting :)! We love hearing from you!

  7. Vivienne December 13, 2017

    Hi Amy and everyone,
    Thank you for choosing this book, it is helpful for me at this stage in my life. I also appreciate the writing style. It is refreshing to see the story through the perspective of Sarah, as a woman.
    In 1993 I had just started university and life was exciting and full of promise and adventure. At that point I felt a call of God on my life, but I could not have imagined being where I am right now. Looking back, I see God’s direction, guidance and protection, yet some things are not how I would have envisioned when I was younger. Like Sarah, I can sense some cynicism creeping in and with that a loss of joy. I suppose I imagined making a greater impact in the world and often fail to see God in the small everyday things. Problems and inequalities in the world can seem insurmountable when we concentrate on our abilities and resources. God had promised that through Abraham and Sarah all the nations would be blessed (Gen 12:3) and yet this seemed impossible. As Sarah and Abraham learnt, God accomplishes his purposes in his way and time, not ours (Isa 55:8). We are called to trust and be open to Him, rather than strive to work out things out in our way. It is a challenge to “find God in the waiting” when things don’t work out as we expect. I also resonated with the statement in the introduction: “To be in a long-term state of limbo, not knowing the outcome or length of time waiting, is utterly, shatteringly exhausting.” As a family, we have been seeking God’s will for future direction. It is hard and unsettling and a challenge to keep trusting God, when we would like to have the answers here and now.
    I look forward to reading and discussing the other chapters.

    1. Amy Young December 15, 2017

      Vivienne, I always enjoy hearing from you! Though a few years older than you, I can relate to—I’ll call it bubbly joy of anticipation for a life of service. While, like you, I didn’t think it would be all rainbows and ponies, I overestimated the impact and underestimated the journey. I am not in an overly active stage of limbo, but a few years ago I was for over two years. It is hard. I’m thinking of you and your family today!

  8. Amy Young December 15, 2017

    This was taken the summer of 1993 — my second summer to teach in China. I was in Hunan province and so hot (second summer in a row to SWEAT) and happy. Loud prints were the rage then, so though I look a bit, um, loud, I blended in :). And the hair, and the baby face, oh my. 24 years is a long time ago :).

    It so fun hearing what different stagers of life we all were!

    1. Michele December 15, 2017

      I LOVE IT! We must be pretty close in age because that is just way too familiar a look and we were both starting out around the same time!

  9. Amy Young December 15, 2017

    Okay, because you asked for it, I dug through old photos. I couldn’t find any from 1993 that clearly showed the perm or the shoulder pads. So, the pic on the left if circa 1991. I’m in my dorm, getting ready to head off to a job fair, looking like a middle-line backer. Shoulder pads and white dress shoes, some looks are best left in the past! The picture on the right is from 1992. I am in Anhui province and falling in love with China, teaching, and myself in that context. I can remember how very much I loved my perms :).

    1. Kaylee December 15, 2017

      The perm could be resurrected. 😉 I like your curly hair but I’m going to agree with you on the shoulder pads and the double breasted suit. Love visiting your past with you! 😀

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