Word of the Week

 Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;

He rises to show you compassion,

for the Lord is a God of justice.

Blessed are all who wait for Him! Isaiah 30:18

I am a woman in her 60’s -- a wife, mom, grandmother of five and a friend, among the other “hats and titles that everyone wears.”  Only one of my five grandchildren came easily.  Whereas I never had the struggle of personal infertility, I have prayed, longed for, and groaned with others who did.  Because I was divinely designed with an innate desire to move toward others who are hurting, many times I have found myself in the place of listening to others and interceding for them, trying to read beneath their words when it was too painful for them to talk about their struggles.  In essence, it was a “love that groaned” for them even when they did not know it.  Sometimes, their refusal to talk about their struggle felt like rejection of me, but I learned I needed to give that up and wait -- waiting, loving, praying, and taking my eyes off of the rejection I felt and concentrating on how painful their waiting was.

“Waiting is oh, so hard!” said a young friend of mine.  This mom, now a mother of four adopted children said to me, “With waiting, a baby easily becomes your idol.  The appointments, daily shots consume your thoughts and conversations, and it can be a very isolating time unless you have someone else traveling the same road.  Even then, it is painful when one conceives and the other does not.  When we did IVF, it was very private.  I was surprised when I saw acquaintances in the waiting room and was not sure whether or not I could talk to them about it.”  This mom went through a necessary season of “groaning” before she could see the larger perspective of what was to happen with her life.

Her joy came when God clearly spoke to her about birth moms.  She says, “I had never truly considered their perspective, and God gave me a certainty that adoption was the path for us to follow.”

Larger perspectives don’t come easily.  For me, it means that I have to be honest about my human frailty that can become myopic -- centered only on my own difficulties.   It is a wonderful act of God’s grace when God carries us beyond that place of groaning to a wider perspective that sees the greater need that is around us.  This mom ‘s world changed when she began to consider the plight of the birth moms from whom she would receive her adopted children.

I do believe that “good things (can) come to those who wait.” After all, we have a God who “when the time had fully come, sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, that we might receive the full right of sons.” (Galatians 4: 4, 5, NIV)

Waiting often entails groaning because it hurts to wait for that which seems to be so right, so ripe, and so ready for NOW.  But history shows us that God’s timing is perfect, and if I wrap my mind around the scope of humanity and the scope of God’s love, then I am released from my inner clamoring to a place where love can be birthed in me through faith in a God much greater than I can grasp.

I can only imagine how disillusioned, despairing, and confused the people of Israel were when they were captured by the Assyrians and later on the Babylonians and were taken to lands far away from home, longing and groaning for their Messiah to deliver them, how they must have cried, “When, O LORD, when will He come?”

And I can only imagine the pathos of God seeing Israel in excruciating struggle through all of their years of waiting, watching them take the matter into their own hands, creating lifeless idols, seeking out alliances with ungodly nations, trying to make life work.  Did God groan?  I think so, because God loves us.

Does God hurt when I demand His timing to change for my life when I forge ahead?  Probably.

But when I can grasp, even just a little, His great mercy and love in waiting to send Jesus when He did, then I will understand that in “repentance and rest is my salvation; in quietness and trust is my strength.” (Isaiah 30:15, NIV).

Let us pray:

Oh God, thank You that I can come to You in my pain and be honest about it.  Please, oh Lord, help me to know that there is a larger perspective even when it is not apparent to me.  And especially, Lord, help me to trust, even when I think You are silent. Amen.

BethDotsonBeth Dotson resides with her husband Danny of 42 years in Signal Mountain, TN.  She is Presbyterian and is presently working in a ministry that serves HIV clients. She loves her family dearly, has five grandchildren, plays in the outdoors in all kinds of capacities with her husband and their black lab, Zeke. Her desire for her advent is that we would wake up to its wonder and how that wonder translates into the miracle of the mundane in our lives.

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
Isaiah 64:1-5

 I imagined life would look drastically different today. Today (give or take a couple of weeks) was to be the day I would become a mother. I anticipated relating to Mary during the beginning of Advent—after all, I, too, would be “great with child.” Instead my arms and uterus are empty. My daughter, Avelyn Grace, died after 11 weeks in the womb.

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down . . .

After Avelyn, I was sent to a doctor who recommended a blood test. I tested positive for two strains of MTHFR, a blood mutation that can cause clots, blocking the way for nutrition to get to a developing child. I began a regimen of extra vitamins and baby aspirin. Assured that I was now armed against the dangers of MTHFR, we welcomed a second pregnancy. Seven weeks later, we had a scare. Our child was measuring a week behind with a heartbeat of 110 (slow for a developing child). The doctor was cautiously optimistic, suggesting that maybe our dates were wrong and the heart was newly developing. I’d come back in two weeks (the soonest the receptionist was able to schedule me), and we’d track what was happening.

Waiting. We often view Advent as an exciting time. We picture children barely able to contain their joy as they anticipate family and presents. Their joy becomes symbolic of our own hope as we wait for the coming Savior.

My wait was neither hopeful nor joyful. When a friend asked how I was doing, I responded the only way I knew how—that I was in hell. Was I carrying life or death? I went through the motions—taking my cocktail of pills, monitoring what I ate, attempting physical activity despite first trimester exhaustion—all the things that a woman is supposed to do while pregnant; but I knew that none of these actions could protect my child.

A week later, I called the doctor’s office, begging for an earlier appointment. I couldn’t go another week not knowing. I was asked to come in that day. The ultrasound confirmed what I already knew in my heart: our baby—Benjamin Charles—had not grown, and he no longer had a heartbeat.

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down . . .

As I’ve reflected on Advent, I’ve realized that those long generations waiting on the coming Messiah were not overjoyed in their anticipation—they were desperate. From those at the time of Isaiah, uprooted from home in the Babylonian exile, to those contemporaries of Mary, living under the rule of Rome, the people of God were reaching to grasp hope out of their extreme need.

Today I find myself empty. I find myself begging God to tear open the heavens again . . . surely then our pain would be healed. Surely then life would make sense. Surely then God would right all that seems so desperately wrong.

This year waiting during Advent means clinging to the hope of Immanuel—God with us. If God is with us, then God is here holding me, comforting me. God is breaking through the heavens to reach me, to reach all of us.

Let us pray:

O God who breaks through the heavens, let us see you even in grief. Strengthen our grip on hope when it threatens to fail. Be ever with us, Immanuel. Amen.

JenniferHarrisDaultJennifer Harris Dault and her husband, Allyn, live in downtown St. Louis, MO with their two cats, Sassy and Cleo. She is a member and occasional minister at St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship. She works among the Methodists as a church administrator and serves as a freelance writer, editor, and supply preacher. You can find her online at http://jenniferharrisdault.com This Advent, Jennifer hopes on behalf of those who cannot

 “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” Psalm 8:10

As a midwife, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing love at it’s most primal, it’s most raw.  Midwives talk of a woman wandering off to “labor land,” where her neocortex is quiet and her animal body is in charge.  So often we relegate love to the realm of emotions and ideas: feelings, thoughts, a list of qualities we like or don’t like in a person.  But there is deep power in the non-verbal, embodied-ness of love: the way your lover smells, the comfort of his touch, your breathing synchronized in sleep.  It’s this embodied, animal love that we see in birth.  Yes, there are thoughts of meeting baby, this new person swimming into the world.  There are words of affection and mantras of courage, but mostly, it’s a body sort of love.  It’s an excruciating, exhilarating, wide-open labor of love.

The sounds and smells of labor are unique, earthy, grounded, and guttural.  There is sweat, blood, vomit, humid warmth from the tub, and the scent of lavender wafts in the air.  There is also timelessness: the sun rises and falls, we cover the clock, and the moments are marked by waves of intensity, surges of overwhelming body-love.

Transition, the final stretch of cervical dilatation before pushing, is one of the most powerful bits of labor.  It’s the moment when a woman, out loud or deep in her secret thoughts, will declare, once and for all, that she cannot, will not, do this any longer.  She will throw in the towel or die, because she has reached the brink of impossible and beyond, and it seems the magnitude of her own body’s power will crush her.  To this I whisper, “Yes, good, now you are close.”  While the laboring woman fears drowning in her own intensity, I see the final signpost preceding the finish line.  This all-spent, everything-you’ve-got labor of love not only asks her for all she has, but also reveals her unbelievable capacity for courage, power, and strength.  She dives deep into reserves she never knew she had, and resurfaces as a mother, ready for the daily diving deep into self-sacrificial, redemptive, instinctual love.

I see that God, too, labors and births in and through this world, redeeming and re-creating it bit by bit, moment by moment, day by day.  This is not the kind of creating that snaps the finger, waves the wand, and “Voila!”  This is a slow and steady love, a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, then back-to-the-starting-block sort of love.  The sun rising each morning, the flower opening each day, the child forgiving her sibling, the husband loving his wife, these are the moments of new life, birth and redemption in this world.  These are the wafts of lavender and the warmth of water soothing our groaning souls as we labor through the darkness and pain of this world.   God, the mother, moans through our failures, pushes toward our freedom, labors in love to birth us anew each day.  If we open ourselves wide to this gift of aching love, we are invited in as co-creators with the creator of all.  We stretch, open, dive deep, and find our place in the excruciating and exhilarating labor of redemption.

Let us pray:

God, please give me the courage to open wide and willing, ready to labor with you toward redemption and re-creation, ready to become, by your grace, who you have made me to be. Amen.

SusanSmarttCookSusan currently lives with her dear husband and black lab in Edmond, OK where they attend St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. On any given day you will find Susan nurturing her small midwifery practice, her kitchen, and next year’s garden. Her hope for this advent is to be quiet, to reach deep into the soil of her soul with the tangled roots of her faith, and to find there the living water that nourishes new hope, love, joy, and peace into bloom.

"I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." Psalm 27:13

I’ve waited for the labor pains to push a child out of me four times. My firstborn, a girl, slid into our arms on a frosty February morning. We had no idea that four days later, we would sit across from a cardiologist as he delivered the devastating news that her heart had stopped beating for 30 minutes that morning.

We’ve become intimate with waiting. Waiting by our daughter’s bassinet, barely able to think clearly enough to groan to God, “Please don’t let her die.” We waited for her body to recover enough to undergo surgery; we waited through 12 hours of extremely risky surgery, unsure whether hoping for the best would hurt more than bracing for the worst.  We waited six long weeks before we finally took her home. She had survived, but not without tremendous losses. A brain injury damaged her gross and fine motor skills, leaving her with severe cerebral palsy and seizures.

The next eight years, we loved her the best we could, clinging to hope of seeing good in the land of the living even as we braced ourselves to lose her. We celebrated each tiny accomplishment and tried to enjoy each good moment in the midst of the survival mode we found ourselves in.

Waiting is a mind game. Spiritually, it’s a heart game too. I’ve learned that it takes constant vigilance to keep myself from getting too far ahead. Left unchecked, waiting becomes a chance to concoct elaborate worst-case scenarios so that I can attempt to control the outcome by preparing for every horrible outcome I can imagine.

I’ve lost count of how many times these scenarios left me sobbing and puffy, usually at the wheel or in bed late at night. Eventually, hopefully before I’m utterly distraught, I remember that I’m upset over a what-if, not over truth.

These many years of waiting have taught me a really important thing about what-ifs: What-ifs are not true. When I catch myself thinking things like “What if she dies?” or “What if the surgery fails?” or “What if he’s disabled like his sister?” I am not thinking on what is true. Philippians 4:8 tells us “Finally brothers, whatever is true… think on these things.”

What should I think on instead? A favorite during times of waiting, especially when things look bad, is Psalm 27:13 – “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” In the land of the living – no matter how desperate and dark these days get, I will see goodness in this life.

Life has been very dark for us. Our daughter died early on a Sunday morning in October 2008, just 15 months after our fourth child, a boy, was born with similar heart defects. He is much healthier than she was, but the years between his diagnosis at the 18-week ultrasound and the “all clear for now” from his cardiologist were terrifying, exhausting, and tearful. But all that worst-case scenario thinking I did in my quiet moments did nothing for me when the worst did happen. God’s grace in the form of peace and the love of friends and family flooded in right at the moments when we needed help the most. No amount of anticipating can compare.

Today, we are in a new season of waiting. This advent, the fifth since our daughter died, I find myself longing to see her, but not in the body that trapped her in this life. I look forward to seeing her healed and whole, rejoicing in the presence of God. I continue to resist thinking about the what-ifs, replacing them with God’s truth, as we watch and wait to see how our son will grow and what he will need in the future.

Let us pray:

Father God, thank you for promising that we will see goodness in this life. Help me to find peace and comfort in what is true. Help me to remember that you will be with me in the waiting and even in the worst that could happen. Amen.

Joy BennettJoy lives in Ohio with her husband, three surviving children, a cat, and a dog. She grew up non-denominational, attended a Baptist college, spent several years in ministry in Baptist churches, and now attends a Presbyterian church. She writes regularly about her musings on life and faith at “Joy in the Journey." This advent, Joy hopes to dive more deeply into the liturgy of waiting and thus experience more clearly the joy of Jesus' birth.