Sacred Waiting

Sacred Waiting

I wait beside the phone.   I wait for four different medical specialists to call. I wait for more specific diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan. I wait for scans, MRI’s, blood tests, and assessments. I wait for the new prescription to come in. I wait for the current prescriptions to start helping, the side-affects to wear off, and the pain to subside. I wait for my heart rate to come up or go down, or my oxygen saturation to go up. I wait for my fever to go down. I wait. Do I wait in vain? I often wonder.

 

Draw nigh, Draw nigh, Emmanuel

And Ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lowly exile here

Until the Son of God appear…(J. M. Neale, 1851)

 

The people of Israel were always waiting, always hoping. Their hearts were longing, and they held to traditions to remind them of the Savior, the King, for which they were longing. They did not choose to distract, lest they forget their longing. Our church universal is in a similar situation to the people of Israel at the end of the Old Testament. They were in exile, waiting and hoping for the coming Messiah. They didn’t entirely understand how it would work, or how He would come, but they held to what they knew of Him and His work in the past, anticipating and hoping for His future coming. We live in the tension and the glory of the kingdom that is already present on earth through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the deposit of the Holy Spirit, and the longing for the kingdom that is to come, where God rights all wrongs and wipes every tear away from every eye. In the Spirit of the Israelites, we sing in minor key, “Death’s dark shadows put to flight” in one of the most popular advent hymns in the Christian church, this verse coined in Hymns, Ancient and Modern, in 1861.

 

My tendency, and I believe that human tendency, is to try to distract from discomfort and agony when there appears to be no present solution to the problem. When our resources are sapped, and we can do nothing but wait for answers or solutions, we try to ignore the pain and longing. This response sometimes helps us to survive. Chronic illness sets the stage for a lifestyle of waiting. We wait for explanations for confusing symptoms. When diagnoses are provided, we wait for solutions, if there are solutions. If there are no solutions, we suffer through the bad days and wait for days with decreased pain. We long, we desperately long, to feel well enough to function. We wait for a miracle, or we choose to focus elsewhere.

 

Waiting for something limited to this earth—like healing or the right diagnosis for me, often feels frantic and frenzied, filled with fear and anxiety. Waiting on the Lord, the waiting of Advent, is a joyful, hopeful, expectant, pregnant, and holy longing that knows and trusts that its object will ultimately come to fruition. Maybe this is a time where we redirect our energies to this holy anticipation of the Savior, the Kingdom, and His inextinguishable light. Not one of these promises can be rivaled. They cannot be undermined.

 

So this waiting that is found in my illness…maybe it is a sacred space. Maybe it is a thin point in our mortal world of flesh and blood where we can see the Advent kind of waiting more clearly. As I wait for the uncertain, I am reminded of the undeniable promises for which I wait. This waiting hurts, and it rubs me raw. My raw soul longs for a salve that is not always provided in medical answers and physical healing. It longs for the gentle, loving touch of the Savior, the Redeemer, the One who will right all wrongs and ultimately heal all hurts. My raw soul longs for the coming kingdom, and in a world broken and oozing with longing, we sing the minor songs of Advent together: “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel.” We may or may not know what we are really truly waiting for, but we are all waiting. I pray that our waiting may not be in vain, but may be a shadow-glimpse of the true illumination of Advent-waiting.

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An Advent Lament

An Advent Lament

One evening in early December, our half-hearted dinner comes to a close. Few words have been exchanged, and the children have each taken about a half of a bite of mashed potatoes and drummed the table with their silverware for the ten minutes that they have been forced to sit in their seats. Jordan and I sit wearily, lacking the energy to even mutter a few words to one another. I stare desperately at the seven candles lit in the middle of the table, longing for them to speak peace to my tempestuous heart. My heart is an impenetrable fortress and refuses to allow the light in. Jordan asks me why I am staring the candles down, and I sigh and blow them out with extended effort. Their light falls short of my desperate soul’s need for comfort and peace tonight.

The heaviness in my chest and the thickness in my throat lingers. My head aches with the aftermath of the day’s panic attacks and fits of rage. The lingering failure of the day hangs over my spirit like a cloud. And the advent candles failed me. Or I failed them. The emotional and physical pain of this advent is palpable, oppressive, and I struggle to breathe through the smog of my carnality. I feel as though I am crying out to empty heavens, staring into illusory candles, reaching for something that isn’t even there. I know that this is just a feeling, and I know, on an intimate heart level, that God is indeed with us. I just don’t feel Him or hear Him right now.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Come, Lord Jesus. Break through the darkness and brokenness of my multi-faceted infirmities. Break into our family’s heaviness, and lighten our load. Bring illumination to our darkness. In your mercy, bring beauty and grace to the daily lives of my innocent children. This Advent season, I am beyond desperate for your light. I need a pin-prick of hope. I understand that my perceived needs are not always accurate, so I will accept whatever package in which you choose to deliver said hope. I just need something, anything, soon.

God is With Us

God is With Us

It is the first week of Advent, a Tuesday. My body seems to be falling apart, and no one has any concrete answers. A few speculations, but it just feels like they are trying to placate me with something. I start with anger, rage. I want to lash out, punish someone. I know it is irrational . But it makes illogical sense somehow in my emotion-driven brain. I will punish my body.

But I can’t. That’s not an option anymore. I have charges to keep and ground to maintain. Hard-won ground that I cannot afford to lose. My loved ones cannot afford to suffer the consequences of my illogical temper tantrum. Nevertheless, I lash out at my body for two days. I give myself two days to have my starvation strike.

As my indulgence draws to a close, I crumple, resigned to my state of debilitation, and sink into an even more terrifying stage of lethargic apathy. Knowing that this can’t continue, I reach out feebly only to be met with helpless concern from those who love me. What can they do? They can’t heal me. Body or mind. I reach out again via text, but I know that such efforts are fruitless. I need a miracle.

The world sits, waiting, wounds wide open, festering, infected. We are desperate, grasping for something, anything, but we open empty hands. I sit, broken, holding a sleeping baby, weeping weak and bitter tears into his innocence. Too much. Life is too much. The physical pain. The emotional pain. I am crippled by the agony and have no answers. I simply cannot maintain the status quo anymore. My tears evidence my release. I let go.

In my other hand, I hold my phone, a life-line of sorts. A devotional appears on my email. It promises hope. It is hope week of Advent. Fancy that. The irony is not at all comical at this point in my pain. It is just heart-piercing. A dagger. I know that in my agony, I represent something larger, a deeper, more acute world-wide agony.  All is not right, and I am not alone in my despair.  We are collectively wailing and weeping, longing, but not daring to hope for a miracle.  We just can’t hold it together anymore.  If nothing else, Advent carries with it a sense of release, exhale, and deeper surrender.  Sometimes, that comes coupled with despair.

I’ve read this devotional before. She wrote it last year during Advent. The author will wait for the unlikely, in search of a miracle, just a glimpse.  The Morpho butterfly will land wide open blue, impossibly, on her shoulder for a solid 25 minutes, and she will rejoice, reassured by the presence of God.  It stands as a symbol of hope.  I scoff.  I feel a solidarity with the cynical world, who scoffs with me.   God doesn’t do that for me.  He hates me.  Or worse yet, He just doesn’t even care.

A wide open weep stumbles out of my mouth.  Tears splash the muslin baby blanket, wrapping my innocent child. No hope.  No butterflies. No real help is available from doctors, from friends, from family, or even, maybe especially, from God.  He’s silent.  I pause, as the world pauses now, in the prolonged silence of death.  We hold our breath.  A bit longer.

Nothing….

A baby’s belly-laugh breaks the sickening silence.  His sleep-enshrouded mirth opens a pin-prick of light in the midst of a pitch-black death-night.  In the midst of my broken sob, I see my child, still in slumber, laughing out loud at something.  Maybe it’s a dream, maybe he is responding to my body’s heaves. Nevertheless, he laughs a laugh that only a baby could muster in the midst of his deepest sleep.  His laugh rises like music notes to meet my song of lament, and our emotions unite.  Tears still flowing, I join in his laughter-song.  I join my son, and joy invades, takes residence in my sorrow.  This baby, oblivious to the depths of my pain, has become the means of grace through which hope takes flight. My tears still flow freely, and they mingle with tears of joy, of hope.

Out of the depths of my longing hopelessness, I look down to see a sleeping child laugh.  My child, who represents hope, joy, and renewed life. All is not lost I am not forgotten. We are not forgotten.  God is with us.  He has manifested Himself in a tiny baby boy.

Holy Ground

Holy Ground

A sacred space of Holiness dwells in these few days before Christmas. I feel like I am walking on holy ground, like I should never wear shoes the week before Christmas. 

I am so cautious about the space in my life in these days of acute longing and hope. I want to inhale more deeply, lingering in the hold for a few seconds longer before I exhale. 

We read a lot about making space for Christ in Christmas. But I see Him everywhere. He’s here. Absolutely, undeniably here. I just don’t want to miss Him. And if I don’t take time, I might miss a glimpse of the beauty of the One, the One  who wore flesh so that we could be with Him.

Oh, He’s with us. He is Emmanuel. Here. Now. In one sense, I don’t want to blink in case I miss a glimpse, and in another sense, I know that he will meet me with my eyes closed. 

The longing is profound this year. It grows more agonizing every Advent. Strangely enough, the joy also runs deeper, closer to my core.  The streams of longing and joy seem to run together, digging, wearing down a path of Advent in my soul.  My soul is weary, aching, and broken. And it rejoices with the thrill of hope. I am now capable of weeping in simultaneous agony and joyous rapture without splitting in half.  I had no inkling that a soul could bear the dichotomy of joy and grief in the same instant. 

This is holy ground that we are walking. It is no-shoes territory.  And I am becoming more fully alive with each day that I make a little bit more room in my heart for this enigmatic Christ-child. 

Peace

Peace. We pray for peace. We light the peace candle on this, the second Sunday of Advent. We ask for peace on earth. I ask for peace of heart and mind. I may be selfish that I can’t see beyond my weary war-stricken brain to a weary world, but it is where I am. The opposite of peace? For a long time, I have considered peace’s antonym to be division, which seems to be the definition of my internal state. I cannot even go through a train of thought without having an all-out brawl with myself, or one of my selves. This is the state of my parts. Many seem to hate each other. Peace? Not yet. But we aren’t really yet to the idea of peace on earth either. We still have wars and countless conflicts, and the world keeps turning, and we still have Christmas. We still hold onto hope. We hold onto the promises of Christmas. Peace. The second Sunday, followed by joy. JOY. Peace for me is unity, and not a political type of unity. Honestly, if I could achieve an internal unity, I would be in the running for the happiest person on the planet award. Shalom. It means among other things, completion. Wholeness. I long for wholeness. I long for my brain to come untangled and stop pulling against itself, the different threads and chains and ribbons to be woven and braided into something beautiful. For now, it seems like an endless chaos of interminable confusion. For me, the peace that I pray for this Christmas is internal. I need clarity, parts working together. I need my mind to no longer be a war zone but a sanctuary, a cathedral. Lord Jesus, come with PEACE. Shalom.

Come, Lord Jesus

It is interesting how the Advent season seems to amplify the pain and brokenness in the world. Folks drink cider, put up colored lights and trees, sing songs, and go to church. Businesses are shut down.
Christmas Day.
Christ-worship Day.
Children are molested. People are murdered. Homeless ignored. It is bone-cold and dark. Evil is profoundly present. In fact, in light of the “glow” of Christmas, the darkness appears that much darker. To me, one of the greatest tragedies and let-downs of Christmas is the increased awareness of the agony and ache that remains–that all of this feels like it shouldn’t be present, not on this supposedly special day. Not on Christmas. Not on Jesus’ birthday celebration. That name, Jesus, that name that is supposed to dispel the darkness, doesn’t yet seem to be powerful enough even on His own celebratory day. What a sham! What a travesty! What a slap in the face!
Magical? Hell, no. It always seemed more cursed than magical. On a night in mid-December a few years ago, I had my second of three attempts at my life. On the second week of Advent. Of the coming. Advent couldn’t save me from my destructiveness, could it? My world remained hell on earth through the Christmas season. I was still sentenced to suffer. I particularly did not get a day off on Christmas. Not when you are in treatment centers, psych wards, hospital rooms, the prison of your corroding consciousness.
No, evil and its consequences don’t honor “Holy-days.” They actually just rub salt in the wound just that much deeper. They hold themselves up to reinforce just how screwed up I am. I can’t even embrace joy and celebrate for 24 hours, let alone 24 days of Advent.
Hell on earth doesn’t honor “Holy-days.” Abuse doesn’t honor them. In fact, it seems to lord itself over them.
And all the more, we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Weeping, we cry it. With all of our desperate hearts, we wail it until our voices crack and we crumble. “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel.”
That name.
Lord Jesus.
Emmanuel.
Prince of Peace.
Wonderful Counselor.
Be those things. FOR ONCE. FOR ONE DAY. Is that too much to ask? ADVENT.

And yet….
Maybe this is why we have Advent: To make us yearn that much harder. Let His kingdom come. To make us hope, that there will be a day of PEACE.

The beginning of Advent: December 1

My life is a rainbow, the ending of a thunderstorm, illuminated as a prism. It is pain and joy, intermingled. It is the Advent of Christ. It is profound agony shaken it its core by the deep resonance of grace. Constantly. It is a hollowed-out soul flooded with the raging waters of redemption. It is longing and gratitude walking hand-in-hand. It is, indeed, a lifeless stump, sprouting a tender shoot. My life is always December, bone-chilling cold, dead, and filled with ice-boiling anticipation. Advent is my life.