On Waiting: When You Have Small Questions with Large Consequences

by | Apr 4, 2016 | Encouragement, waiting

rblexhamgardens2Over the dressing table, I look out my round bedroom window and assess the lay of the land down below. Do I wear a coat, jacket, or a sweater on the walk to church this morning? Small questions loom with large consequences if I discern from a pedestrian wrong.

Eye level with a million tiny buds clinging to stark tree branches, I notice several have burst open overnight, forming papery white cups fluttering with exhales of wind. At trunk level, a young woman walks into a fan of sunlight while holding an ironing board through the sling of her arm and next to her hip, as if she is carrying a surf board to a concrete beach. A halo of golden strands sway as she walks down the pavement. She is wearing a light jacket.

A man passes by in a zipped puffy coat. A girl saunters across the street in short sleeves, a plaid shirt tied around her waist. We are welcoming spring but she is fickle, not easily pinned down.

From my phone, I open the weather app, convert 9oC to 48oF. Sunshine with late showers predicted. No wool socks or boots required. Flats, bare ankles, and a trench coat over layers should keep me warm enough, I assess.

In the seaside village where we last lived before London, this temperature would be translated as quite cold. Perspective, I’m finding, is subjective.

I pad downstairs into the kitchen and read digital numbers on the microwave 09:38. Converting begins at 13:00, my mind can rest for a few more hours.

Empty glass bottles on the kitchen counter usually contain filtered water but they’ve remained empty for the entire week. Cold water from the tap is like spring but hot water is instantaneously trustworthy. I flip the tea kettle on and wait until the rev becomes a continuous purr.

I walk to church alone, past rows of white facades, bay windows, and painted doors thinking about my daughter and the ocean that separates us. She will work on Easter instead of sitting beside us in a new dress. My children’s pastel baskets and fake green grass are packed in a box stored in a concrete room lit by a fluorescent light bulb in South Carolina.




“I am fashioning her into a beautiful pearl, but all you can see from your vantage point is the shell of the oyster,” a friend encourages me with inspired words a few days earlier. After we bow our heads, close our eyes, and wait for God to speak on my daughter’s behalf.

Pearls are created by accident; did you know that?

An irritant causing discomfort in the shell of an oyster engages a defense mechanism for protection and comfort in the way of secretions, a smooth hard crystalline substance called nacre. Nacre, I find out from the Google, is layer upon layer of millions of microscopic crystals, each aligned so perfectly that light passing along the axis of one is reflected and refracted by the other. A tapestry of light and color the mind of man cannot reproduce.

The process of creating a pearl isn’t quick, it takes a few years.

Waiting is often like the process of an oyster creating a pearl. What begins as an irritant becomes a cocoon of Light, so beautiful you cannot begin to assign value to the pain and discomfort you endured when you look back.


By the time I reach the steps of the church, I am perspiring so I peel off my trench coat. Greeted by hugs and kisses on both cheeks, cards placed in my palms, I hold up one finger and rush to the front row. Drape coat and purse over a chair next to the one holding H’s sermon notes when I am taken off guard by what I see.

A vagrant pearl lies on the floor in front of my chair. Possibly a broken necklace? I pick it up, roll it between two fingers and push it gently down to the bottom of my coat pocket.

“As it always is with leaving home, it is the details that displace us,” writes Anthony Doerr in Four Seasons in Rome. The details, when I pay attention to them, remind me of the nearness of God when I feel He is far off.

Small questions loom with large consequences if I discern the mind of God wrong; if I assume waiting requires me to act instead of receiving God’s great love.

Have you ever translated a waiting period as God’s great kindness revealing His deep love?


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  1. SunSteepedDays

    I believe I might be in one right now. A beautiful reminder for me in your words this morning — that God’s kindness is as glorious as spring, but so much steadier.

    • Shelly Miller

      It’s not if we’ll have a waiting season, it’s when. Glad to know these words resonated with you Amy.

  2. DeanneMoore

    I love the lesson of the pearl because even in the waiting something beautiful is happening. I am only seeing this after what has turned into years of what I know began as waiting. I’m not sure I’m not waiting still, but there is a shift I know has happened even though I will admit I don’t “know” the reality of the shift every minute of every day. I am like the spring weather, fickle. Still, the pain of waiting isn’t as great and there is a depth, a layering of lessons built over time, the light refracted creating a depth I’m guessing couldn’t have happened any other way. Thankful for you, my friend, this day and for your gift of words. They always speak to my life in the depths. You are a gift to the world.

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m not sure any of us are really 100% confident in knowing the reality of shifts. In this life there will be trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world. Those words buoy me on most days. Glad to see you here. Always.

  3. Celeste allyn

    Irritant. That is the word I have definitely given to thus whole house thing but you have put it in a more positive even productive light.
    I apologise if it sounds like in always venting.
    I was reading over at Grace Table about suffering. I am humbled when I read anything from today’s writer. My “stuff” in no shape or form comes close to comparison but her words as well as your own made me think that I do not suffer well. I complain instead. I have also taken my eyes off Jesus and placed them on myself.
    I am grateful for this community of writers I follow. When my head and heart feel stuck, you all help me to see another direction, something I have missed. Very much like the pearl.

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m thankful for the community too Celeste. God is good. Praying for you.

  4. Leah

    Great Post Shelly.
    It makes me think that God understands our reactions and response if indeed, our waiting is an irritant. Maybe I should get over not having to respond perfectly in hard seasons. In other words, it is okay to not be doing well.

  5. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Ah . . . the lesson of the pearl formed in waiting, or the butterfly in the chrysalis, or the lily underground. I know these lessons well, Shelly, and have lived long in the waiting. But I have always found that God is there, and that He sends sweet reminders of His presence in pearls and butterflies and kind notes and sweet smiles. He works in so many ways with so many tangible reminders, like that pearl He presented to you, to show us that He is right there transforming irritations to iridescence, from trials to treasures. It’s interesting that you should write about pearls, because as I declutter files, I found an old article I had written in Sheridan’s younger years called Pearl in the Making and also a half-started poem about a beautiful woman I’d met in England in 2013. It’s called The Pearl Maker, and your post inspires me to finish it. This lovely lady sold her gorgeous hand-made pearl jewelry outside a tearoom we visited. She had suffered many physical difficulties and tragedies in life, and yet she chose to make pearls, quite literally, despite the irritants of difficulties. Sheridan bought one of her necklaces, and I wish I had. But I have the memory of the purest pearl she gave me: a treasure of seeing how Christ can overcome tragedy in a person’s life. She was a Christian. Thank you so much for sharing, Shelly.
    Love you so much.

  6. Pam

    Love that he left that pearl exactly at your feet, Shelly! No accidents in Him, for certain… neither the pearl He is forming … 🙂

  7. Jody Ohlsen Collins

    It is an achy, helpless feeling when we are far from our kids and cannot be there to help. Praise Him for those ‘happenstance’ details that God shows how He cares and knows us so intimately, even when He seems far off, tending to someone else while we’re waiting. As our friend Jennifer Lee has said, they’re all ‘God incidences’ designed to remind us He sees us.
    Loved this pearl story.

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