Embracing the gift of waiting, in a world that forgot how

IMG_3415 2
Sweet eyes of wonder, watching the snow come down…

Wait for the LORD; be strong and courageous. Wait for the LORD.

Psalm 27:14

Christmas season as a mama of young children sometimes feels like a deep isometric stretch – a steady work of holding joy and calm, while the muscles of the heart burns with laying our lives down, carrying the load of work for the sake of our family’s jubilation.

Together, we hold the immense privilege and the immense responsibility of being mama.

I feel on my shoulders the honor and the duty to steer through the busyness with grace, while working to create a home of peace, and a steadfast notice of Emmanuel.

This season, I revel in the abundance of joy, the abundance of events, the abundance of distractions, the abundance of blessing, the sheer abundance of the day.  And I’m holding a posture of praise with quivering muscles, while the rush of more, faster, better badgers me.

You too, Mama?

The eyes of our children are full of hopeful expectancy and carefree delight.  The days are sprinkled with countdowns and Advent calendars full of chocolate and burgeoning excitement that sometimes feels more like a tornado in our homes.  But their waiting is what makes Christmas morning so sweet.  Their waiting draws them in, and prepares their hearts for explosive joy on Christmas morning.

The mystery breeds the magic.

And for all of us, Advent is about waiting and preparing, yes for presents, but ultimately for the most extraordinary gift of Christ.  But I can’t help but notice that we aren’t very good at waiting these days.  In the days of high-speed internet, digital pictures (remember when we had to take them to get developed?), Amazon Prime with free one day delivery, and GoogleMaps that can tell us how to avoid the traffic…waiting can feel unfamiliar, and awkward.

I think God’s Word whispers that waiting and faith go hand-in-hand, and I sense a sweetness in resting in the arms of God in the in-between place.

 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.

Hebrews 11: 1-2 NIV

And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Isaiah 25: 9 KJV

I wonder if Advent is meant to invite us in to the mystery that requires us to trust.  I wonder if preparing to receive Christ looks a bit like working the muscle of delighting in God amidst waiting.  The heroes of our faith drew close to the heart of God while waiting for answers to prayers, waiting for promises to be fulfilled, waiting for dreams to come true.  I’m falling in love with a season placed in our calendars that was meant to invite us to wait and prepare to freshly receive the fulfillment of the greatest promise – the promise of a Rescuer, a Savior, a King.

In 2017, busy is a bit more comfortable than slow.  A season to get things done is more familiar than a season meant to be an interlude.  Most of us feel more closely acquainted with work than with rest.

But I sense a beautiful invitation in Advent, to find God in the pause, to let our hearts rest in the wait, to let our wonder and our longing grow, and to let a joyful anticipation for Christ well up in our souls.

I taste the wonder of Christmas when I sing Silent Night, or when I sit by our Christmas tree and watch the flames wink and dance in my fireplace.  I feel that flutter of excitement in my chest, and for a moment, I grasp the magnitude of God With Us, as I simply let my heart pause and accept the discomfort of still.   

In waiting, God invites us to come a little bit closer to his heart, and to be held, not by certainty and predictability, but by his arms of goodness and grace.  

Whatever you might be waiting for this Christmas…a prayer to be answered, a longing to be fulfilled, or simply to be finished with all the To Do’s of the season, may your aching be met by the eyes of God inviting you to be held.

And may your Christmas morning be a sweet fulfillment of your deepest longing…may you feel met by Lover of our Souls, who came to dwell among us, to reconcile us to himself, and to invite us into the intimate nearness with him that we were made to enjoy.

 

Waiting in wonder…

whitney-Simon

Waiting is hard. And I think it’s getting harder these days. I remember being a little nine-year-old girl, bursting with curiosity, and going to a shelf that held our well-loved encyclopedia set. I remember singing my ABC’s to find the book with the right portion of the alphabet, and flipping through the pages to find the tiny paragraph and blurry picture representing the subject about which I wanted to learn. I remember that little teaser of information making way for my imagination, and I remember looking forward to going to the library to find a whole book about the subject of interest. I remember feeling fueled and driven, even empowered, by the waiting…and the wonder.

These days look different. Wonder only sits for a moment, while we wait for Google hits to load, and are flooded with endless information…more than we can process. And so, we take in a few dozen bits of information, and we move on to the next thing. The world seems to spin a little faster these days. I find that this pace makes it difficult to sit, to silence my head and my heart, and to wait to hear that “still small voice” of the Spirit of God. I find it hard to sit in wonder and mystery, when facing something that is truly unknown. This process of waiting feels poignant as I reflect on my recent season of waiting to meet our son, Simon, who arrived on July 9th.  Waiting in the unknown of the day and time labor would begin. Waiting in the mystery of how the birth would go…the pain, the length, how I would cope, whether my body would recover well. Waiting to see what state my other children would be in when I left for the hospital, and when I returned. Waiting to see if my son would be healthy.  Waiting to see what he would look like. Waiting to see how my other children would handle the transition. Waiting in a body that seemed to be screaming for the wait to end. The physical and mental discomfort of those days and weeks felt embarrassingly difficult.

Times of waiting like this, when I have no control, and zero knowing, I find myself frustrated that I can’t search Google for an answer.  As the world seems to spin faster, I find these seasons of waiting to be increasingly trying. But I am also struck by the unique opportunity to sit in the unknown mysteries with a God who promises that His presence alone is enough. The days and weeks approaching my due date held countless contractions and “false alarms.” Early labor stretched over the better part of a month. And so, each day felt strangely shadowed by feeling like a “ticking time bomb.” My patience and my body grew weary, and the last days dragged on. I knew that what I was waiting for was a gift, and tried desperately to sit in the sweetness of waiting to “open” it. And yet, despite my best efforts, most days I just felt weary and frustrated – physically uncomfortable, and emotionally and spiritually emptied out. I would try to sit in God’s presence early each morning, begging for a “fresh word” to help me through the day, and each morning it seemed that my hand remained tightly clenched around a demand that God bring this baby as soon as possible.  Each day felt like another failure – another short-tempered moment with my children. Another day my weary body failed to get the house clean. Another day thinking of almost nothing except whether I might be going into labor. On the morning of July 9th – the day we met Simon – I sat my aching body and soul down with my bible and journal, and I heard the Lord whisper tenderly to my impatient heart…

“Dear One, it’s a great gift that you await. And I’ll give it to you at the perfect time. Think of your children as they await Christmas morning. Don’t miss the sweetness of this longing.”

I sat in the thought for a few moments and was flooded with images of the desperation and longing in the eyes of my children on the days and weeks before Christmas. When they desire from the depths of them for that day to come, and can’t quite understand the waiting.  As their mama, I know that the waiting and the anticipation is what will make the day so sweet. I know that Christmas morning comes in it’s fullness when it has been infused with the preparing and the counting down, the meditating and the leaning in, the wrapping and dwelling in the goodness that’s to come. And I long for them to trust me in the process. As I think of the way they struggle to rest and trust in the waiting, I see the truth of my own heart. And I see that my Father already knows what’s inside of this mysterious gift that I’m waiting to unwrap. On that morning, I finally released my grip and submitted to a Loving Father who already knew my son, and knew what day his birthday was going to be, and who knows all the birthdays of his life. God already knows the hairs on my son’s head and the gifts and desires set in his little spirit. God already knows Simon’s story, and has already planned how it will be woven into the great Story of redemption. As I rested into God’s presence, the waiting transformed from frustration to an opening of my hands to receive a gift that I could not yet unwrap. A great joy and deep peace settled in.  And, wouldn’t you know, in God’s tender kindness, labor started a few short hours later.

I gain insight about my own impatience by watching my children. I see myself in their demands that everything happen right now. I may not be as quick to say it out loud, but my heart can be just as demanding.  There is a longing set deep in all of our hearts. We were meant for a fullness, a satisfaction, a “home” where all is made right, and all is completed and has been made new by our Loving Father. But this side of heaven, we wait.  We long.  Our souls cry out. Let’s be honest, my children’s souls usually cry out for…well, sugar.  Most of their longing is zeroed in on the next treat.  If I tell them they will have a lollipop after lunch, they whine that it’s not RIGHT NOW.  Long drives are filled with endless “Are we there yet’s?”. On the days approaching Christmas, they are fully convinced that it would be better to get their presents today. They long for things and struggle to submit to the process of waiting. I may long for different things, but my struggle and my unwillingness to submit are the same.  Life holds much longing. We long for things to be set right. We long to know who we are and the purpose for things. We long to fully know the truth. We long for no more pain and sadness. We long for the fullness of God’s presence.

Waiting requires much from us. Doing it well is not a passive exercise. It requires a choice of submission. It requires a relinquishing of understanding and control. It requires a quieting trust. The joy that grows and swells in anxious anticipation can be lost if we fight the process. The child who sneaks through the house to find hidden presents steals from their own delight and wonder when they awake Christmas morning. And the mama who demands of God that her baby comes today misses the sweetness of longing for him, and the experience of allowing her heart to grow in preparation. As we lean into a Father with all understanding, and rest in His knowing all things, we get to receive more of the waiting with joy….like holding a beautifully wrapped gift.

Now that this tangible wait is over and my little Simon has arrived (praise God!), I am noticing that actually much of parenting requires me to wait in unknowns. It requires of my spirit a submission to mystery.  Because despite what I would like to think, there is a lot that I just don’t know.  We don’t know what kind of adults our children will be.  We don’t know which of our habits or words as parents will wound them. At Simon’s first doctor’s appointments, as they ask questions, I feel like saying “You know we just met, right?”  I don’t really know that much about him.   We are learning about our children every day – a great exploration of uncharted territory.  No one on earth knows them better than us, and yet, in the first years of their lives, they are entirely new people to us, who we do not know or understand. No one except the Lord our God has any idea what my children will be like next year, or twenty years after that. No one except the Lord knows what circumstances they will face, and what effect each of my parenting decisions will have on their hearts. I am trailblazing at every moment, in every new developmental stage, as my children change and grow and surprise even themselves. In order to find rest for our souls, amidst all of the unknowns, we have to submit to the process, and to the only One who knows. There is a God who is writing the stories of my children, and yours, and He is weaving the threads of their lives. Today, as I am inclined to look critically on a daughter’s refusal to wear the cute clothes I bought her because she prefers to wear only “interesting” clothes, like tie-dye T-shirts, I feel a truth settle in my spirit that God looks on her and sees a beautiful confidence and creativity that needs my permission to fly. He sees an artist daughter, made in His image, who reflects His own heart for creating beauty. And I get excited that I get a front row seat as she steps into her callings.  As I breathe through another moment of son’s defiance, trying not to lose my patience to an unrelenting steel will, I realize this too is a process of waiting, and trusting and believing in who God is making this child.  With this lens, I see a powerful leader who will fight with fierce passion for what he believes is right.  I can get lost in a journey of fear that we won’t get the behavior “under control.” Or I can be led by God on a road of faithful exploration, believing and discovering God’s good plans for my children, and shepherding them in those good plans. Fear abounds and I lose my cool in moments when I fight for control, and I feel my children are “winning.” But in the moments when I choose to trust that God is writing my their stories, fear falls away, and my heart swells with love and compassion and grace, and patience.   In these moments of submission, I see myself in their tantrums, and I am not a failing authority, but a partner, with equal need for a Savior, who can offer them the grace of the gospel that is offered to me.  I no longer need to carry the burden of getting my children under control. I walk with the freedom that they, like me, will always need Jesus. And so we can practice together the daily redemptive process of seeing our sin, receiving God’s forgiveness, and resting in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  And life as their mama becomes an adventure of discovering hidden treasure in my children, that the world has never known!

Through each of the long days of these “little years,” I can lean into a God who already knows who my children will be, and how each of the pieces fits. It all feels like mystery to me, who can’t control a single moment of their lives. But my children’s futures are not an uncertain mystery to God. I don’t need to fear that I won’t “raise them right,” and therefore the people they become will be a disappointment. I don’t need to fight to control them and make them who I think they should be. Though I must continue to set boundaries and discipline my children, I can do it with freedom and peace…and wonder.

My children are a gift. And in many ways, they are not yet unwrapped. There is much becoming to look forward to.  And if it’s not up to me to mold the gift inside the box, I can look ahead at the coming seasons and let the waiting and the unknowns excite me, rather than terrify me. As I play my part as mama, I can let God be Creator, Refiner, Redeemer…I can joyfully, hopefully, expectantly unwrap the gift of who my children are becoming, in quiet trust that the mystery revealed will be beautiful.

Oh, the wonder!