just waiting…

Last year at this time of year I wrote about Advent for Atheists. This Advent I find I’m ruminating on much the same theme and so, here I go…

For Christians, Advent is meant to be a time of preparation, of hope, peace and joy. We are most specifically preparing ourselves for Christmas or perhaps more accurately we are retelling the story of Christ, preparing ourselves once again for the “coming” of Christ into our midst. It is a sacramental time, a waiting place.

We have a specific “waiting” in mind but this doesn’t mean that all people, everywhere, regardless of faith claim are not also waiting for something. It makes me think of one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books, “Oh the places you’ll go!” I love this one for one section in particular, the part in the book in which the fine Dr details “The Waiting Place.”

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

My kids and I sit and stare at this page all the time. We try to guess what each of these people are doing while they wait, we wonder who is waiting for what. My favorite is the guy in the yellow hood. He’s quite the mystery, that one.

I happen to think the waiting place has a lot to offer us. The nice and yet the tough thing about Advent is that we wait whether we want to or not. We don’t really have a choice in it. Advent is simply an awareness that we are, in fact, waiting. The calendar moves the way it’s going to move. The thing that speeds it up is the busyness we choose. We find things to fill up that time, to make it pass without pain. I’m coming to the conclusion lately that having it pass without pain doesn’t serve me quite as well as I thought it might.

I’m realizing now that medicating the waiting time only leads me to feeling let down, disappointed and angry when all is said and done. I end up with moments of reflection later that start less often with “wasn’t it great when….” and more with”I wish I had…”  and that is what I’m working to avoid. Perhaps that’s a good way for us all, Christian or otherwise, to move through seasons of waiting whether they hold religious overtones or not. Perhaps all waiting has a sacred bent to it, an opportunity to practice something important while we wait, something embracing the mystery and the mundane all at the same time. Dr Suess would say that “Everyone is just waiting” but that guy in the yellow hood….he knows there’s more to it than that. I’m with him.

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the waiting place…listen and pray

I got the call at six o’clock in the morning
hearing that voice tell me all I had to know
I knew it then
there’s no one he would turn to
all I could do was listen and pray
because he didn’t ask
and I couldn’t offer
I’m breaking this habit that could hurt us both more
I’ll cradle my guilt in this broken vessel
and I’ll work it out
in the waiting place.

I’m not sure when it first became clear that my younger brother had a problem with his drinking. I suppose it was when he began making a series of very poor judgments. We did the usual thing with whispering to one another, using code to speak about it. None of us wanted to say that we thought he was an alcoholic. None of us wanted to think that he was not in control.

At one point I remember sitting in my apartment worrying about what would come next. He’d already lost his marriage and had gotten into tangles with the law. He was falling further and further down and being 300 miles away I felt unable to help.

The six o’clock in the morning call was the one I dreaded but thankfully have not received. It was the one I anticipated over and over though for many years. I suppose it’s the call we all dread while in relationship with someone who struggles with chemical addiction.

My brother has come a long way since this was written. He has stabilized and picked up the pieces. It’s only God’s grace that keeps us all here…and the realization that sometimes all I can do is listen and pray.

And in the end we hope it is enough.

the waiting place…never satisfied

Got a letter back
in February that was all
never thought that I would be so startled
in my life
I felt my mind just wandering in the desert
opened the door and now
I’m never satisfied

’cause I never asked
and he couldn’t answer
made up a story I knew that I could live with
I’ll cradle my hurt in this broken appointment
and settle in the waiting place

My dad served in Viet nam. He saw a lot of action. He lost a lot of friends. He came back broken and we didn’t understand it for a long long time. We knew he was broken, we just didn’t have a name for it back then. We know now that he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He was distant, not present to us. It made life very difficult for us as a family and was one of the things that led to my parent’s divorce. Of course it is much more complicated than that, I know…and yet, it was a shaping force in our lives, in our family.

When I became an adult I pined about not having a father who was more involved in my life. I would have taken any attention from my dad, I craved his interest so much. The first Christmas I was married my dad didn’t call or write. I had never gone through an entire major holiday not having heard from him so this pissed me off, frankly. I jumped to the conclusion that he just did not care about me and I wrote him a letter. It was a long letter but the gist said basically that we should stop pretending that we were father and daughter because that was not happening. I told him I was dropping all expectations for that kind of relationship.

While away on business that February I got a phonecall that my dad had just had a heart attack. We had not spoken yet about my letter to him. My first thought was that I had GIVEN my dad a heart attack. I was wracked with guilt even though he was recovering well.

When I got home I found a letter he had written in response to mine, only a few days before his heart attack. He explained about Christmas, about his decision to run away from home. He decided to drive to Florida and just leave behind all the pain and hurt he’d caused with our family. He was stopped on by a state trooper however on his way, the interstate had been closed because of a snowstorm. God sent him back home.

He poured out his heart in that letter. He apologized. He told me how much he loved me. I cried like crazy and I offered up forgiveness.

This opened a door and now I’m never satisfied…I keep pursuing him and he’s still human, he still is working it out but our relationship now, 12 years after writing this song is stronger and always developing. I’m thankful for this.