She sits on a chair in a waiting room, the doctor talking to her about options. Treatments that might work. Things that could be causing the sickness that weighs on her son’s weak body. I watch her, and I want to be all that she is.
Persistent. Devoted. A fighter.
But I don’t know that I’m brave enough to be.
The lines of her face seem deeper these days, from reading research in the lamplight. I could almost run my hands in them and remember specific days and moments where I stood there, helpless. Not knowing what to say or what to do.
And hating myself for wanting to run away from the pain that felt so heavy and unbearable.
Her hands are more worn from cooking meals. Her eyes more tired from the weight that she bears. Her heart heavy from the prayers she feels have gone unanswered.
But what else do you do when your son has been in bed for nearly a year and it feels like no one understands what you feel or what you’re going through? What do you do when you don’t know what else to do?
I turn away when she starts to cry. Because I know that my heart is strung so tight these days that if I watch her, an entire year of worry and pain and desperate cries, buried beneath a smile, might burst out of my exhausted eyes and melt me onto the tile floor.
And I have to keep smiling. Because if I don’t, it feels like I’ve given up hope.
I bend over, deep in the back of my closet, my head in-between my knees. The hems of hanging dresses graze the tips of my shoulders as they rise and fall against the backdrop of darkness and silence.
The panic attacks have come nearly every day for months. They’ve come so often that I’ve almost become to believe that they are what defines me—that I’ll never be able to feel like myself again. That I’ll never feel true peace and rest—that there must be something wrong with me.
Breathe, I tell myself.
My chest inhales and exhales slowly. I wait, praying that in a few hours, the feeling of fear and anxiety and panic will pass. Some days it does. Others, I wear it like a heavy cloak. My feet drag and my hands work but my heart feels wrung dry.
December comes, and it lays down flat—bare—against the aggregate of my parent’s back porch. Days of relentless rain has caused water to seep into the tree trunk, the damp smell of Frasier fur floats in the air. It’s yet to turn cool, and the mixture of damp air and humidity makes it all feel stagnant. Even the earth waits for a change. And the tree—it lays there—waiting to be put up—waiting for it to be made beautiful.
I know it’s only December 3, but it doesn’t feel like the beginning of the Christmas season.
For a week now, I’ve grumbled about everything around me. I’ve grumbled that we haven’t been able to decorate my parent’s home for Christmas. I’ve grumbled that the weather won’t turn cold. I’ve grumbled that reality doesn’t meet my expectations.
I keep waiting around for some jolly emotion to sweep over me. I keep waiting for this sudden desire to decorate and shop and go to holiday parties. I’ve even watched half a dozen cheesy [but also pretty wonderful] Hallmark Christmas movies in an attempt to get myself in a cheerful mood.
But what I haven’t done, is sat and waited on Jesus.
Honestly, it’s been a hard and heavy year. And I’m tired. And all I really want to do is cuddle up on the couch with the people I love most and stare into the fire and eat a whole bunch of cake and probably cry for a couple of hours.
I know in my head that I have so much to be thankful for, [and some days I’m better at living that out than others] but my heart is dissatisfied and sad and angry and truly worn.
Because I’ve been trying to bear it all by myself. Trying to bear things that only HE can.
And for the first time in 9 months, I think I’m recognizing that I don’t have to smile through the pain or confusion or disappointment. And that it’s okay to say that I feel pretty disappointed in how things have gone.
Pretty disappointed [and perhaps even angry] that my brother is so sick. Pretty disappointed and discouraged that for months I’ve struggled with panic attacks. Panic attacks that make me feel weak and embarrassed and ashamed.
And what I’m realizing is that there’s a difference between choosing joy and Jesus and simply putting on a happy face to everyone around you.
Because after a while, even a smile becomes too heavy to hold up if you’re holding it up if you aren’t also a little bit honest.
And as I stared out my window this morning, it began to dawn on me that this waiting—this desperate hope for something NEW is exactly what Christmas is.
I heard the whisper. We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance, character. And character, hope.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
And isn’t hope what we all need? Hope that anchors who we are in something so much greater? Grace that covers our doubts and misgivings and ungrateful hearts?
During Advent there is hope in actively waiting—desperately waiting—for the change that comes with the birth of the beloved Christ child.
Hope in the fact that God came down for the lowly. The tired. The weak.
And though you or I may not feel the way we think we ought as we prepare for Christmas, in our weakness and exhaustion, we are exactly where we need to be to me met by Jesus.
The sun peaks in through a window and illuminates an old text I hold in my hand.
“God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous.
And that is the wonder of wonders, that God loves the lowly…
God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them.
God is near to the lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and the broken.” (Bonhoeffer)
This Christmas season, I am the lowly. I am the weak. The broken.
Maybe you are too.
And Jesus still meets me.
There is beauty in anguished waiting. There is beauty and holiness in falling on your knees before the King. There is beauty in the tired state of my heart.
I can’t always change the circumstances, but I can change the posture of my heart. I can let go of what I wish to be and I can relish the place where Jesus comes and meets me—down on the ground at our lowest point. He comes. He sits. He offers to take from me what I long to hold on to.