Word of the Week

How am I finding you this morning? Worried? Stressed? Or somewhere in a place of contentment? I know such is crazy time with our to-do lists SO LONG and the suffering around our world at such a terrible place.

In all of this, what I most want to offer you today is peace. Peace: a state of tranquility or quiet.

But how you might wonder?

Well, I know this for sure, peace is a word we frequently use, and because of that it's easy to believe that peace looks like perfection. The right place. The right time. The right people all living together in harmony.

Many of us use this idea of peace as permission as to why we don’t act. When it’s the right time, we say, we will. (And that time never comes).

One of my favorite scriptures about peace comes from the prophetic text of Jeremiah, chapter 29. When the nation of Israel was in a exiled land they were advised to “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Jeremiah's words here dispels this any sort of "wait till the right time" then you'll have peace mentality. Jeremiah wanted his listeners to seek the “peace” of the city where they were, even if it not where they wanted to be.

And by peace, I don’t believe he’s talking about contentment. Or being a doormat to injustice. (For there was so much not well in Jeremiah's purview just as there is ours). Instead Jeremiah encouraging peace from human-to-human connection. Seeing people, loving people right where you are.

Let me add this: several years ago, I found myself living in a city I did not want to live in. I had a horrible attitude about it. I exuded negative energy. And as much as I said with my mouth that I wanted to make peace with my circumstances, there was no way possible for this to happen. I isolated myself. My heart wasn’t open to seeing my neighbors. I wished I could be anywhere but there.

But slowly, I learned this lesson: when you pray for your surroundings to prosper (even if you don't like them) there’s hope for you to prosper in them.

Peace-making is always full of surprises!

How is there peace calling your name this week right where you are?



Can you remember the last time you were getting ready for some event of importance?

Planning a long vacation. Making arrangements for a wedding or a funeral. Studying for a final exam or certification. It could be any moment that captured much of your attention, energy and emotional or financial resources.

And to this situation enter our word of the week: preparation.

Preparation is defined as the action or process of making something ready.

Preparation says everything about the HOW we show up for the life we want to live in the future. Preparation is anchored in hope-- there is something to come. And work is required to live into that hope!

Yet in practicality, preparation can feel like slugging through puzzle pieces in life that just don't make sense, and sometimes we're preparing for things we don't want to do experience but know we will have to go through (death or taxes anyone?).

Yet, here's preparations's gift: our mind, our body, our soul gets something to do in the in-between time. Preparation is the work that keeps the worries at bay because simply worrying gets us nowhere. Preparation is the HOW we add meaning to our daily routines.

But here's what you need to know about preparation, it doesn't come without risk. You could prepare for a new job you never get. You could plan a vacation you never take. You could lean into a new friendship and soon be disappointed. But the work is never in vain.

Yet, regardless of the outcome, preparation helps you know what matters to you most. Preparation helps keep you stay busy when your anxiety might otherwise overtake you. Preparation leads you to new adventures even if you don't get it right the first time.

So here's what I most want to tell you today: If you are longing for something, hoping for something or have an itch that something in your life needs to go in a new direction, start preparing.

Rearrange. Clean out. Redesign. Say no. Say yes. Apply. Take a nap.

You may not be where you want to be quite yet. (Are you really ever?) But you can live life in anticipation like it's coming. Prepare like it is.

Here's one more thing I truly believe: God is always preparing good things around us. The only question is will you do the work to join in?

Until next week-



Are you yearning for something that is not yet? I know I am. How do you feel? Are you hopeful? Anxious? Worried?

To this posture, enter this week's word of the week: wait.

Wait is a verb that means to stay where one is or delay action until a particular time or until something else happens.

Waiting can being some of the most frustrating work we do in life, right? We wait in traffic. We wait for our doctor to call with test results. We come to airports an hour or two early just to WAIT.

So many of us hate waiting, because it feels like wasted time. Can't we just get on with life? Can't we just do what we want?

But from a spiritual perspective, waiting is never wasted time.

Teacher Henri Nouwen offers there's a difference from waiting with an attitude of "just getting on with it" and being fully present in the process. He encourages us to wait with openness to what we might learn in the meantime.

"To wait with openness and trust is an enormously radical attitude toward life. It is choosing to hope that something is happening for you that is far beyond your own imaginings. It is giving up control over your future and letting God define our life. It is living with the conviction that God molds us in love, holds us in tenderness and moves us away from the source of our fear."

If I were to be truthful about what makes me afraid in waiting, it's this: nothing good is going to come in the end.

Maybe I'll get to the front of the line and someone will say, "Sorry we're closed for today."

Or "Sorry you didn't get the opportunity."

Or "No, I really don't have time to work with you on that project."

You know the stuff of life that hurts. Really hurts.

But when we wait with openness and we LET GO of the control we'd like to have over our circumstances--- THIS is when life gets really interesting.

Open-handed waiting prepares our souls for the paths more beautiful than we might have imagined when we first started waiting in the first place!

Hear me say this: waiting mindfully isn't easy to do or even what many of us would choose to do, but if this is the season of life you find yourself in, know you're not alone in your wait. So many of us wait with you in spirit.

Be of good courage. Something good is coming.



P.S. If you are looking for a good waiting song, my friend, Amanda sent me this recently that I found encouraging. And this new song from Walker Burroughs "Made to Be" I have had on repeat all weekend. Check them out!

How often do you not sleep well because you've got something on your mind?

I am known to work out whatever is going on in my life at night. Research tells me that I'm not alone. All of our minds are funny like that. They must churn. They must seek answers. They must find resolution even if we miss our bedtimes.

But to this problem, enter the word of the week: unresolved.

Unresolved defined as what is not settled or brought to resolution.

A couple of years ago a dear friend sent me a card a quote from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke on the front saying this:

"I beg you . . . to pay attention with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions as if they were locked room or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."

I treasure these words so because it reminds me that unresolved feelings, experiences or ambitions are just a part of the journey.

In fact, unresolved pieces in our lives are gifts, not problems to solve. What?!? How is that possible?

Consider this: maybe you didn't get to have that conversation when you wanted it but your longing for honesty will bring you to the truth at just the right time.

Maybe your doctor gave you bad news this week, but your desire to be well can lead you to healing that is deeper than you might imagine.

Maybe an unexpected situation was not how you wanted to spend some of your precious time this week, but your desire to present with others will offer you clarity about what is important to you.

So, here's my suggestion from worrier to another: make a list. Make a list of all of your unresolved things. And then, lean into Rilke's advice.

Sit with the questions. (I.e. don't start trying to fix). And see what happens.

And I believe "gradually, without even noticing it, you'll live your way into the answer." Maybe not right away. But in due time all will be well. God is with you, my friend, so there is always peace to be found.



I always wanted to be mother.

I wanted to read What to Expect When You Are Expecting with a round belly. I wanted to muse about preschools, brands of diapers and swaddling techniques with experience with my college girlfriends. I wanted a lifetime ticket into the "mom's club."

During years of "trying to have a child," I longed for my social isolation from my with-child friends to be over.

But our wait was long. Our wait was full of dead-ends and the harsh reality that Kevin and I might not be parents in a traditional way. Our wait included a journey to make peace with the life we had, not the one we wished for (such hard emotional work!)

Life is full of surprises, though. Over a year ago when a baby girl came in our lives with unexpected speed, many might have said about my life "I got what I always wanted."

Or did I? (I really have a hard time with that sentiment).

This is what I know: I love my daughter. I love that infertility is not a daily part of my struggle anymore (victories need to be celebrated!). And, I love I can now shop at Babies R Us without a stomach ache afterwards. I'm a parent. It's a fact.

Though I never read What to Expect When You Are Expecting, I'm a diaper changing pro. I've gotten good at taking a car seat a part when spit-up happens. And I love giving baby girl a bath and lathering her up with the sweetness that is baby lotion at the end of a long day. It's a good life I have in this season. Parenting is more joy (and work) than I ever thought possible.

But, when it comes to being a part of communities of moms, I have to tell you all my rosy dreams of playdates and Mom's Day Out coffee dates just aren't a part of my current reality. 

Parenting circles aren't natural places where I feel like I fit in. Maybe it's because of the years it took me to get here. Maybe it's for other reasons. Here's one story.

Baby girl was 8 months old. She was invited to her first birthday party.  

Though 8 months seemed too soon for the whole "bring a present" and "eat some cake routine" to me, I went along with it. I bought her a present to take the 5-year-old that she met through her babysitter. I packed her bag with baby food and I looked forward to the treat of pizza and cake.

But while there were expected kids party antics of balloons and games, what followed was weird.

I hardly had two feet in the door, no, "Hello." No "What's your's name?" Or even, "What do you do?"

Rather right to: "Does your girl sleep through the night yet?" And when I said, "Yes, she does" the rest of the conversation was a game of 20 questions about this and that behavior of hers.

I quickly made my way to the pizza table trying to escape the questioning but it continued later. This group of parents felt relentless. It was as if children in the room meant having adult conversation was impossible. I wanted adult conversation. 

I took way from the experience that what my soul needed during my waiting for children years is the same thing my soul needs now.

I need friends who see me . . . Who allow me to see them . . . Who help shine light into my becoming and I theirs. 

I don't need a mom's group just because I'm a married woman in my 30s with a child.

I need to be seen and heard.

This was one huge reality check for me to reach this place. It's a little bit embarrassing how much energy I spent longing for what I believed I wanted in community only now to be here and not want it at all.

This is not to say that I'm anti-mom friends. I have some. I'm sure I'll make more as baby girl grows older.

But I can tell you with complete certainty that I need soul friends, not affinity ones. 

The next time I find myself in a season of longing for inclusion in greener pastures of where I'm not yet, I'm going to remember this birthday party.

I'm going to remember what my soul really needs and I'm going to move in that direction.

I'm going to trust that being the parent I want to be means taking care of my spirit.

After all, I want baby girl to grow up and have courage to take care of hers too. It's all that we can really do, anyway.


Want to know more about my infertility story? Check out my book and/ or follow these posts.

Want me to speak to your group about infertility, grief or making peace with a life you don't want? Contact me.

34Here we are: Advent week #2. Lighting the candle of peace each day.

Though it's the time of year that we sing "Let there be peace on earth."

Though it's the time of the year when we hear Amy Grant singing about her wish for "No more lives torn apart. And wars would never start."

Though it's the time of year when we  long for and idealize moments of family harmony with everyone being under the same roof.

I'm not sure this is exactly what Advent's peace is all about.

I've been preaching this Advent over at Springfield Christian Church in Springfield, Virginia and I have been struck by the Isaiah lectionary readings that . . .

Peace is often nothing like we expect. 

Consider this: there are places we expect to see beautiful growing things, aren’t there? A greenhouse, a tropical vacation spot, Disney World.

But then there places we wouldn’t expect to find anything new or life-giving.

Such would be the tale of the house that Kevin and I lived in for 5 years before selling the property (thanks be to Jesus) over a year ago.

In a historic neighborhood, large oak trees filled every corner of the street. Sure, these trees were trees were lovely to gaze upon in the spring time, but when it came to this time of year, the trees rained leaves and leaves and leaves.

I’d be raking, blowing and blowing leaves some more often up until nights before the prediction of the first snow.

No matter how hard we worked to remove our yard of them, they never seemed to go away. We always seemed to keep some from fall to fall no matter if we wanted to our not.osu-leaves

We’d ask for input from some great landscapers only to hear each one of them say, “Well, have fun growing moss.”

Of course, we could have cut some of the trees down to solve our problem, but the neighborhood had some rules about that and who had 10,000 of dollars lying around just for “tree removal?”

So . . . with our “throw our hands up in frustration” approach to our yard, I never tried growing anything even though I love flowers and the idea of fresh tomatoes.

I affectionately referred to our yard the Hagan wasteland.

However, I remember one March walking outside in the crisp of the morning in shock.

Before my eyes stood tulips breaking forth from the rocky ground.

I wanted to shout, “How in the world did my desolate yard grow something so beautiful?’

Because let’s review: we did not till the soil. We had not planted any seeds. We didn’t even remove all the leaves from the flower bed months before.

Yet these were gorgeous pink, white and yellow tulips. I couldn’t stop staring at their loveliness.

If you’ve ever had a surprise in your backyard or somewhere you’ve visited, then you’re in the perfect emotional spot to hear this word from Isaiah 11:1:

Isaiah offers this prophetic word, “A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of its roots.”

It’s equally unthinkable vision of the future both for the time and place over which it was spoken and the image it presents.

Think about what a dramatic metaphor this is? A branch growing of a stump. There’s nothing more dead than a stump, isn’t there?

For we know, right that a stump the remains in the ground of a tree that has been cut down. It might have been great at one time but is no more. And it’s an unsightly part of any yard or forest patch, isn’t it? So much so that when we do have trees removed from our yards we often ask for the stump to be dug out as well. What good is a stump in the middle of a patch of earth?

Stumps tell stories of death—and who wants to be reminded of that?

I had a neighbor once who told me of her difficulties selling her house because the giant stump in the middle of the yard was perceived as an eye sore. So much so that her real estate agent came and made her plant a flower bed over the top of the stump. And it worked—days later with the disguise in place she finally got an offer.

Yet, Isaiah says this unthinkable word about a stump that has nothing to do with ignoring it or covering it up. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of its roots.”

But here’s the heart of Isaiah’s message. Death was not the end of the story:  “A branch shall grow out of [the stump’s] roots.”

2638c73644664c2562588eacaaeda804As I was sitting with this text last week, the image that came to mind for me was of a stump with a Charlie Brown like Christmas tree growing out of the top—small, fragile branches with a few leaves on each stem. Can you see it too? Shockingly brilliant in its existence.

Contextually this image is helping us see that God had a plan to reconcile not only Israel, but all of humanity.  A branch would soon be growing out of a dead stump. This plan would also be shockingly brilliant in its existence too.

And in a couple of weeks, we’ll all start talking about  “For unto us a child is born and unto us a Son is given.”

We'll talk about a movement of God that was birthed in a sleepy little town, in disdained tiny stable and attended by some unknown shepherds.

We'll talk about some swaddling clothes.

But we’re not there yet—

I think in the waiting God wants to expand our imagination of what peace looks like. 

Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners tells the story about a trip he took to South Africa in 1987. Nelson Mandela was still in prison. Segregated everything was alive and well.

During his trip, he said, "I met a 14-year-old boy who was, like many, organizing in elementary and high schools [toward social change]. I asked him if he was optimistic for the future and he said, 'Yes.' [Then] I asked him if he thought there would be a new, free South Africa someday, and he stated to me matter-of-factly, 'I shall see to it personally.' ...There is simply no other alternative than for each person to see to it personally."

Though we all know in 1994 this boy’s vision became a reality, you can imagine how crazy he sounded in 1987? Reconciliation in South Africa in his lifetime? Release of Nelson Mandela? He had to be kidding, right?

And I believe, the vision of this South African boy is what Isaiah 11 is begging us to see—a world where peace actually happens.

One of my professors from seminary Dr. Portier-Young puts the message of the text like this, “This is the promise, the glorious, abundant resting place where the root of Jesse stands. This is the vision of security. The shoot will grow tall and become a visible sign for the nations. Not a battle standard, but a standard of peace.”

Or simply put- God’s reconciliation work looks as wonderful and as laughable as this. Peace looks like this. New life coming from what is really dead.

So do you have something dead in your life? Then open your heart up to expectation. This is where the peace is going to come.

img_2631I spent 8 years wondering what it would feel like to be a mother of a particular child.

I thought of it every time I picked up drugs at the pharmacy for one of our IVF procedures.

I thought of every time I signed my name to a background check for our adoption paperwork.

I thought it every time I couldn't manage to avoid the kid clothes aisle at Target.

First of all, would it ever happen? And if it did, then .  . . What would it be like?

What would I name him or her?

Would I look him or her in the eyes for the first time and magically fall in love? Or would bonding take much longer?

After the birth, would I work part-time or full-time or not at all?

Would motherhood morph me into Betty Crocker with spreadsheets for what we ate for dinner every night? Or would I be the mom who ordered groceries online and dragged my kid to restaurants too?

Would I function on little sleep, little free time, and little alone time with grace? Or would I become grump in chief?

8 years is a long time to wonder about questions like these. 8 years can go by so slowly.

In all my waiting, I know I made up lots of stories in my head.  I began to believe that moms are somehow a different breed of people, people who are suddenly look nothing like the women they were before they welcomed children (and so this of course would happen to me and I wasn't sure how I felt about that). I began to look past my friends with kids only seeing them as people who had something that I didn't. I began to bulk all moms into a solitary category thinking there was only one path forward when the word "Mom" gets added to my name (if it did at all).

But now that I am here this place where I go to the pediatrician (like I did today) and the nurse says to me, "Mom, will you place your baby on the scale?" I'm both in shock that this is ME but also in awe that in some ways it's nothing like I ever could have imagined.

For as much work us planners can do in our heads about how something is to feel like when it happens, none of us ever really knows. 

You could read and study the details and look at pictures about what Grand Canyon is like for years and years. But in the end it's all a misguided, isn't it, until you SEE it and EXPERIENCE it for yourself?  The Grand Canyon is an majestic experience, not a thing of textbooks.

Such is true, I believe, of this waiting I've been doing for parenting. 

It's nothing like I ever really imagined. It's both harder and more beautiful than there are really words for (but you know, though I'll try to find some in the future!). And there was no way to prepare for it than to just be present when the moment came and let my intuition and wise voices around me help me find the next steps. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. I've got much learning to do by living it.

Such is true, I think of anything we anticipate or look forward to in life.

Oh, what good energy you and I can waste on putting our mind so much in the future to the point that we can't be all there with the life we actually have NOW.

If I were to go back and tell myself anything-- that self that had to wait 8 years for this moment to come-- it would be to life to the fullest in what was (not what would be).

I would say, "Elizabeth: Live the pain. Find the joy. Cherish the gifts of this time. Trust God to see your desires to be as only God can. Because when you get to "that" moment you've been waiting for 8 years, you'll look back and truly say in the words of the spiritual Wouldn't Take Anything for My Journey Now."

All of this, of course, is easier said than done. Some of the hardest soul work any of us can tackle is being present in the moment, but when we do, I believe, joy is on the other side. For life becomes a gift. All of it-- even the LONG waits.

[If you missed Beth's post on a "Love That Groans" check it out here.]

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;

And the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,

And all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Isaiah 55: 12

But the angel of the LORD said to them, ‘Do not be afraid;

I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Luke 2:10

Though coming from different points in the Biblical story, both of these passages have a common theme -- joy will come.  For the people of Israel in captivity, joy would come at some point.  For the shepherds on that hillside that night stunned by a “Heavenly Host,” great joy would come to all people. For the disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem after Jesus had ascended, praying and very likely living in fear and obeying Jesus’ command to not leave Jerusalem but to “wait for the gift my Father promised,” joy was to come later.   The operative word for me in all of these passages is “will”.  Joy will come!

But what about joy in the midst of the pain of waiting? Waiting doesn’t seem to solicit an inner attitude of joy, at least not naturally, especially during those difficult seasons of our lives, including the season of waiting for children.

It is so easy to become obsessed by what we want and for it to dominate most of our brain power.  Easily, we “tune out” the rest of the world and “tune in” only to ourselves.  Our obsession with what we want can turn into a road toward despair, and joy becomes illusive.

Joy was illusive for my daughter when she and her husband were trying to have children and nothing was working.  She wanted a clear-cut answer from God on what direction to take, and even found herself saying to the Lord, “If I’m not meant to have kids at all, please take this desire away from me.”  She didn’t know how to let go of her desire because of its strength within her.  She found moments of joy in the classroom where she taught elementary children but was very troubled with God’s apparent silence in what they should do.

I have a beautiful calligraphic design on a plague that hangs in my living room.  At first site, it looks like a pretty design, but with a lingering look the design reveals the word-“JOY”.  Sometimes we have to look for joy in our most vulnerable moments.  It is an intentional choice, a choice that says nothing has the right to steal my joy, and that my want for something better can actually rob me of what is right there in front of my face that will bring me that illusive joy for which I am looking.  Psalm 34:7 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  We forget the first part of that verse -- to delight in the Lord and concentrate on what God will give to us, and in doing so, we forget what is most important -- to find joy in the LORD.

Finally, my daughter and son-in-law reached a point where they said, “Let’s just try this idea of IVF,” not knowing whether it was right or wrong. The decision brought relief.  A form of joy came in making the decision and trusting that, right or wrong, God would be reveled in the process.  In essence, joy came when trust came, and trust involves a letting go and trusting that God will reveal Jesus to us.  There is great joy in pursuing God with no other agenda other than to know Jesus.

Jesus had so much confidence in the Father’s love for Him that Hebrews 12: 2 says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”   It’s the ONLY way I know to have joy in the midst of waiting -- to fix our eyes where they belong, to trust and delight in Jesus, to remain in Jesus’ love, and to not miss what He has for us in that day.  Joy is Jesus’ gift to us, and it is His command to learn contentment in any and every situation.

Let us pray:

I have to admit, LORD, I have to learn contentment in any and every situation, especially when I do not know which way to turn and there is only confusion.  I want my desire for You to be stronger than my desire for what I want.  So here and now, help me to surrender to You, and to desire You before all other things.  Your Son surrendered Himself to Your will and Your way; help me to do the same.

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, and 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. 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

I have personally experienced Advent waiting and Advent rejoicing in a direct and obvious way. My first pregnancy occurred my last year of seminary, as I awaited a call, graduation and the birth of a healthy, wanted baby in February. My second pregnancy also extended through the Advent season, though it ended earlier, December 27, also with a healthy baby. My third time around, the baby came in late November, right on time. Advent that year involved less literal and spiritual waiting in favor of more mundane concerns---waiting for the baby to learn to breastfeed, waiting for him to sleep longer than three hours at a time.

It would be easy to write about the joy of those three events, and I do not minimize their beauty in the slightest. But I've seen too much, witnessed too much, in ten years of ministry, to leave it there.

I have been knocked over by the pain of caring for people whose IVF has failed.


I have seen the shell-shocked look of parents, still reeling from a miscarriage, trying to keep their heads down and survive The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

And I have walked with a family in the church I serve who lost not one, but two sons to the same devastating illness. Both boys had received bone marrow transplants at a hospital in Minnesota to try to halt the disease's progression. Neither boy lived to see his 9th birthday.

It seems strange to talk about their stories in a devotional about joy. But joy is a strange visitor.

Yes, sometimes she bursts into the house unbidden. She charms everyone at the party, kicking up her heels, leaving a trail of flushed faces and smiles in her wake. You couldn't evict her if you tried, assuming you'd want to, and who would want to? She is the largest force in the universe.

Other times, joy passes through as quick as a flash---a scent of home, a snort of laughter, a shimmer of the transcendent. By the time you notice her, almost lock eyes with her, she's gone again, and the worry and waiting are back.

The family's story is theirs to tell, but as one who walked alongside them, the joy I saw was the second kind. It was a flash of dove wing, inexplicable and brief, amid the wringing of hands and wordless prayers. There was the day post-transplant when the marrow count started to grow, the visit from members of the Minnesota Vikings NFL team, a conversation about "normal things" during an afternoon off from the hospital.

I've always been struck, and mystified, by the double meaning in Paul's words. Apparently the Greek word for "rejoice" is the same as "farewell." I've never quite known what to do with that… except that maybe there's a bit of letting go at work in our pursuit of joy. This family has a quote on their wall that's attributed to Joseph Campbell: “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” We cannot kidnap joy and hold her against her will. But we can look for her, and live in a posture of expectant trust that she will show up.

As I write this, the family has completed the paperwork and home study to adopt a boy from the Ukraine. And so our congregation waits with them again. But it is a feisty kind of waiting, a vigilant and hopeful waiting. Joy will burst in and stay a spell. Or she will shine momentarily and be gone, only to return at another moment. But she will come. We are certain of this.

Let us pray:

God of Joy, give me an expectant and ready heart to receive you, however and whenever you arrive. Amen.

MaryAnnDanaThe Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana is a mother of three, the pastor of Idylwood Presbyterian Church in Falls Church, VA, and the author of Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family's Experiment with Holy Time through Chalice Press. She is a frequent speaker and conference leader and is co-chair of NEXT Church, a movement that seeks to call forth and nurture vibrant and creative ministry in the PC(USA). This Advent is an active one, as she is hoping for her second book to come to birth, as well as her first marathon in January.

 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.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to this present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Romans 8:22-25

Learning to wait for a baby means learning how to groan…and waiting for a baby savior is no different. This Advent, as we wait with Mary for her child to come to term, I find myself wondering why groaning must be a part of the holiday season?

Why ruin a perfectly good Advent with talk of groaning?

For one thing, bringing babies into the world is hard work. We all associate labor with groaning, but mothers don’t just groan during labor. The nine months of pregnancy offered more opportunity than I wanted to practice the work of moaning and groaning. Between low back pain, sciatic nerves, constipation, and “fatigued stomach muscles,” I learned to groan like a champ -- and my pregnancies were “uncomplicated”!

Another reason that learning to wait for babies means learning to groan is that every pregnancy doesn’t make it to term. Even in this scientific age, when we embark on the journey of bringing new life into the world, we embark knowing that we might lose the life we are trying so hard to create. Parents embark on the journey of creating new life knowing that it might end in a groan of loss.

In that first Advent season, Mary didn’t know if Jesus would make it to term. She didn’t have an ultrasound; she couldn’t hear his heartbeat. Mary didn’t know if Jesus would make it through the process of labor. She didn’t know if he would be born whole. She didn’t know if she herself would make it through the delivery alive. For those very real reasons, that first Advent was a season of groaning. That first Advent was a season of awesome wonder and trepidatious hope...because Mary wasn’t sure that Jesus would make it into the world alive.

It is tempting to think that we know better in Advent 2013. It is tempting to think that with our Christmas pageants and live-nativities we are just re-enacting a drama whose end is sure. But the truth is, as we look around us, there are plenty of reasons to fear that Jesus isn’t coming. There are plenty of reasons to groan.

What if December 25 comes, and Jesus doesn’t get born? What if Mary “fails to progress” and Jesus’ entry into the world isn’t smooth? What if Jesus is born…but all of his parts aren’t there?

These questions matter because on December 25, 2013 we have real reason to fear that the Body of Christ will not be whole. The whole Body of Christ will not be swaddled. The whole Body of Christ will not be nursed or held. And if we have not learned to groan about that, our hymns and presents and cinnamon rolls will not reflect what actually happened when Jesus was born into the world.

We don’t already have Jesus…at least, not in his fullness. Waiting with Mary means learning how to groan about the ways in which Jesus has not yet come. Advent is about groaning inwardly as we wait eagerly… hoping for what we do not yet have.

Let us pray:

SarahJobeHoly Spirit, help us learn to groan with you for the ways in which life is not breaking into our world. Teach us how to be grateful for the first fruits while we long for the full redemption of our bodies and your world. Show us how groaning and rejoicing came together in Mary, come together in every mother, come together in you. Amen.

Sarah Jobe is an ordained Baptist minister, prison chaplain, teacher, and mother of two. She lives with her family at the Rutba House, a Christian house of hospitality in Durham, NC. She is the author of Creating with God: The Holy Confusing Blessedness of Pregnancy. As a prison chaplain, she is hoping for the reconciliation of mothers and their children this Advent.

Today I'm still thinking a lot about what it means to wait . . .

My friend Sarah and I were catching up the other day on the phone. We’d hadn’t talked to each other in months so we quickly got down to the essence of what is going on in the ups and downs of our lives (I love these kinds of chats). In catching up I realized that we’re both waiting in different seasons of life for what is not yet and what we don’t know. While it was nice to make this connection that we're in a similar place, it's really not a fun state to be in at all.

For all of us who are waiting for something, we know how this feels.

The frustration of waiting can easily turn to anger, despair and life crippling anxiety.

When we wait, we can feel stuck.

When we wait, we can easily feel forgotten.

When we wait, we can feel like God is not close, but very far away.

A long term season of waiting can often turn us inward to the point that we think we’re the only person on the planet that has every waited for x.

But, we aren’t. We know this of course, but accepting it in our hearts is altogether different matter.

Yet, ultimately, waiting and hoping and not knowing in our waiting is a part of what it means to be human.

Nothing ever happens instantaneously. Often nothing good in our life comes without pain. Suffering through waiting finds us all.

We are not ever as alone as we feel.

Waiting in fact, can be a spiritual discipline that has the power to re-focus us on life-giving practices that sustain.

Waiting can turn our spirits toward other wait-ers—those who we might not otherwise encounter so deeply.

Waiting can humble the hardest places in us, even the place we didn’t think were hard at all.

Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that waiting is hard, hard work. It takes faith—faith like none other to sustain your spirit in a time like this. It takes sticking with yourself, even on the days when you think you can’t make it one more day. It takes trust: that the bigger picture is indeed worth the ride.

To my fellow wait-ers out there—whatever it is you are waiting for—know that you have a friend in me. This is the best gift I can give today.

I’m waiting with you, as I know through your reading of this post, you are waiting with me.

I hear your pain. Your struggle. Your longings. Your cries.

I know that sometimes there’s no other way to put it than to say that waiting sucks.

But, in community may we keep the faith. May we not loose heart. May we hold each other accountable to keep on waiting as the Hebrews writer spoke of faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see."