When Waiting Hurts

Waiting is hard. I know that. But lately, I’m finding it harder than I had ever imagined. And then there’s the whole hope thing. How do I wait with hope? It’s not something you can live without.

Hoping in an outcome is a sure set-up for failure. I hope for many things – to be free from my illness, to study, work, eat, drink a glass of water without a second thought, have a family, just live life, and more. I am sure you can insert your own things into this list. But hoping doesn’t mean I will get these things. Hoping I’ll drink hot cocoa and build a snowman, and eat Christmas dinner doesn’t mean it will happen.

I miss the magic and childlike wonder of Christmas. These past several years—well, if I’m honest, it has been more than several years—I have felt more like little Cindy Lou in How The Grinch Stole Christmas as she sings, “Where are you, Christmas? Why can’t I find you? Why have you gone away?” It’s like something slipped away while my back was turned, and I can’t find it anymore.

Christmas used to encompass a host of delights –

cookies candy-cane shaped and filling tins of treats chockfull

decorating the house (almost every inch)

making homemade gifts for friends and neighbors

candlelit Advent celebrations

my own Christmas Eve wassail for Mom and Dad

wrapping gifts into works of art

sweet treats and peppermint candy canes

candles aglow and firelight

cards in the mail for friends (well, it happened a few years)

simple surprises

gingerbread and spice

sweet oranges and tangy grapefruit tossed together on Christmas morning

and wonder.

Always wonder.

Yes, Pain. Yes, heartache. But moments colored with wonder, hope, joy, and delight.

But sickness steals. It can rob the joy right out of you and shove you out of the center of delights, leaving you on the sideline, where you are left to peer in while others enjoy what you once did. Or maybe things don’t happen quite as they did before because you were the one who made those things happen. And you couldn’t do it this time. In fact, this isn’t the first year. It’s been this way for a good long while.

It can be the loneliest ache, the emptiest of places. And the hardest part, if you were brutally honest, is that you have no one else to share it with. Just the utter aloneness of it all. Fighting to hide the tears from the faces of those around you. This void refuses to be filled. You’ve tried, and tried, and tried and come up empty again. Sometimes it hurts so much that you just want to be done with the struggle. Done with it all.

But there is One Who sees those tears. Who knows that aching ache. Who knows. And hope slips in. Quiet and unannounced but there all the same. And that’s enough for now. For it to be present. Growing warm in the soul. Because there’s a difference between hoping for something and hoping IN Someone. Hoping in people has always left me in the dark. But this Person is the Perfect One. He simply cannot fail. It is impossible. So, I CAN hope in Him.

Whatever happens or doesn’t happen, changes or doesn’t change, He remains unshakeable, good, and true. He is a safe place to hang my hope. In fact, He is the Only Place to sustain such a hope. And He is close. Closer than I think.

He is Christ IN ME – the hope of glory.

So, things may not change tomorrow. Or next year. Or the year after. I may be waiting, and waiting, and waiting. But living inside me is “the Hope of glory.” The One who is Hope Himself. And that might just be better than the magic and wonder I’ve lost. In fact, it may just be what I need to reawaken what was lost into something far better.

Broken will not be the last word. Glory awaits.

Wheaton College – August 2008 to May 2009

Danielle and Me Heading to Wheaton

Well, here it is! A little glimpse into my year at Wheaton College. I know I promised many of you I’d do this while I was actually at school, but as you can see, it didn’t quite happen as planned. But does anything?

Heading Out
When I last saw some of you in August 2008, I had just finished wrapping up my job as translation coordinator for Gospel Translations. Although it was hard to say goodbye to all my dear friends at Sovereign Grace Ministries, it was clear that God was calling me into a new chapter of my life. That summer, my health issues worsened, and I spent a good portion of the summer undergoing various tests at Johns Hopkins. My parents and I discussed the possibility of postponing school until spring, but God gave me faith to move ahead, and I was able to make the 11 hour drive to Wheaton, knowing I was right where He wanted me. What made it even better was that a friend decided to return to Wheaton that same semester, and we were able to drive out together. On the way there she didn’t have a place to live yet, but by the time we’d arrived she was moving into the same dorm as me.

My Room

A Home Away From Home
Originally built in 1895, Williston Hall has more charm than most dorms. It was home to both Ruth Graham and Elisabeth Elliot during their college days. I lived in a single on the third floor (yes, it was the first time I’ve ever had my own room!), and although it wasn’t ever home, it quickly became a special place to me. It’s funny the little things I miss now – the glittering icicles that adorned my window ledge outside, having windowsills where flower pots could rest, my view of Blanchard Hall’s bell tower out the window, running up and down seven flights of stairs to use the kitchen each morning (well maybe I don’t miss that one as much), time in the prayer room on the floor just above me, quiet times in the sunlit stairwells, study breaks in friend’s rooms, the smell of our RA’s homemade bread on “bread nights.” Yes, it was also a dorm complete with hall bathroom and modular furniture, but it was a special place, too.

Williston Hall

Fall Semester
Academics is definitely one of the top five words that would describe Wheaton College. After five and half years in the workplace, it was an adjustment to become a college student again, but I had to learn quickly or fail. My fall semester’s 12 credits consisted of Latin 101, British Literature (Early to 17th Century), and Old Testament Archeology. It might sound like a manageable plate, but believe me, it kept me hopping! If you’re a Wheaton student, you likely lean a tad (well, maybe more than a tad) towards the perfectionist, driven, overachiever side and could be prone to spend your Saturdays in the library with the rest of your fellow students. As an “older” student, I thought this wouldn’t be an issue for me, but God quickly showed me how much I needed balance. It seemed I was always studying, maybe not for that “A” but just to pass the class! God graciously taught me how to approach this issue through conversations with friends wiser than me which led to my committing one day a week as a day of rest from homework. What a gift (and a necessary one) I found that to be! The faculty at Wheaton are simply the best. They make you work hard, but they truly care about you as an individual and desire to see you growing both intellectually and spiritually. My favorite fall semester class was Brit Lit with Dr. Alan Jacobs. That may have to wait for a separate blog post, though.

Blanchard Hall Just Before Christmas

Winter Break
Throughout the fall, my health continued to be a struggle, but God gave me understanding and grace from my professors, and I returned home for Christmas, immensely grateful to have made it through that semester, aware that it was only His grace that brought me that far. Over break, my family and I wrestled with the question of whether I was healthy enough to go back, but come mid-January, I was back in the depths of a frigid Chicago winter. Let me just say that I’ve never been so cold in my life! Williston was always cozy and warm, and thankfully, it was centrally located and quite close to most of my classes. My sisters, Tiffany and Laura, came for back-to-back visits which was a wonderful treat. I took each of them into the city, and although they are big-city lovers, the cold was a bit more than they had anticipated.

Tiffany and Me

Spring Semester
Spring semester meant memorizing more Latin verbs and declensions than I could keep up with, along with hours of writing, editing, and rewriting poetry, creative non-fiction, and fiction, and another semester of British Literature with the distinguished Dr. Leland Ryken, an icon at Wheaton. Creative Writing was my favorite course, but it also stretched me immensely. I don’t think I would have passed Latin 102 without the wonderful help of Julia, a grad student who ran tutoring sessions each week and spent extra time helping me, becoming a dear friend in the process. And in my humble opinion, spring semester should be called “winter semester.” Spring doesn’t make it’s entrance until finals week.

Laura and me on the steps of Williston (the temperature was actually in the teens outside – we just wanted to wear our new t-shirts)

Health, Church, & Friends
God blessed me with dear friends at Wheaton that served as a source of constant supply, encouragement, and reminders of what was true regardless of how I felt. I spent most of the school year attending College Church, just a short walk from my dorm. Though quite different from what I’ve grown up with, one thing was not different – the church was deeply committed to preaching the Gospel, and I learned a great deal from the pastors and friends of that church. Most mornings it was still a fight to get out of bed, head to class, and find the strength to keep going, but God met me there. I was so blessed by the girls on my hall and the other two floors below mine (as well as other friends from other places on campus) who would come by to study, talk, or pray with me. In my most difficult moments, they were there to bring comfort and truth. If that’s you, and you’re reading this, my friend, thank you. That semester proved to be the most difficult on many fronts, but God carried me through both the unexpected and the daily struggles. My professors graciously allowed me to take incompletes and finish coursework from home over the summer. After saying goodbye to dear friends who were graduating, I returned home.

Jen, Me, and Marie

Grateful
Thank you for praying for me and for every phone call, email, note, and text of encouragement. It meant so much, and God sustained me with your faithful care and prayers. They were answered, and how grateful I am to have had your support in prayer.

And Amazed
As I sit here writing this report, I can only marvel at His goodness. He truly is faithful to His promises. There were many moments when I thought I would have to quit, but He always supplied grace for that moment and each moment that followed. New grace and hope always waited around the next corner to be given just when I most needed it. I know I learned so much more than Latin, literature, Old Testament and how to write better. I learned that Christ is sufficient all things, and his Church is much bigger than I ever dreamed. What an incredible thing it is to have Him as our Shepherd.


“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”

“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” The lyrics of this well-loved carol are heard across the airwaves and in busy shopping malls again and again this time of year, bringing nostalgia, but also serving as a poignant reminder that all is not as we would wish. Maybe that’s why the song was never a particular favorite of mine. Buried within is an implicit sadness – not everyone can be home for Christmas, though we all want to be. The reasons that may keep us from coming home are many: war, disease, poverty, loss, relational strife, and you fill in the blank. You may even be physically present in the place you’ve always called home, but it’s just not home anymore. Someone dear is no longer there, leaving an aching void; disease and advancing years have left their mark on those you love; or the pain of relational and emotional turmoil is only too real. Maybe you’ve never even had a place to call home. And if you are blessed with the Christmas you label “perfect” my guess is that your heart is still hungry, still waiting for something it can’t quite put into words but knows is missing.

For me, Christmas has always brought with it this indescribable longing – a longing for something just beyond my reach. Something still missing. In years past, I thought I’d find it in “the perfect Christmas,” like the ones you see in a Currier and Ives painting. You know, where the house with the big front porch and is all decked out for Christmas, the softly lighted windows welcoming in the family with the Christmas tree that they just cut down from the wooded winter wonderland outside? And in the distance, friends enjoy a snowy sleigh ride, while boys and girls happily skate on a frozen lake. I may not have known it at the time, but in the midst of my long lists of cookies to bake, decorations to hang, gifts to make, and family traditions to celebrate I was striving for this illusive conception of Christmas as I envisioned it to be. Though I knew moments of joy, my expectations always met with disappointment, and my heart was never satisfied. As G.K. Chesterton once said, “For men are homesick in their homes, / And strangers under the sun, / And they lay on their heads in a foreign land / Whenever the day is done.”

This year, I heard those familiar lyrics as for the first time, and they became to me bittersweet. Bitter, because reality reminds me that this world is incredibly broken and painful. Sweet, because that ache for what is not yet is but a foreshadowing of what one day will be. This emptiness and longing shows me I am not yet complete. It points me to the day when I will at last come Home. Every taste of security, peace, and joy I have had here has been but a foretaste of what was coming. And every pain, ache, and unfulfilled longing was meant to point me to the time when each one will be forever swallowed up in joy. And this time, it won’t be just for Christmas but forever.

Why do I have this hope? Because of a Child. A Child in a manger who was God in human form. Because that Child would obey perfectly, never doing any wrong. And because that Child would grow into a man who would willingly allow Himself to be nailed to a tree, suffering unimaginable horrors, that I might be made clean. His life for mine. And that same God, who came to us on Christmas Day, returned to Heaven where He promised to “prepare a place” for me. Because Christmas is real, I will one day come Home for good. He left his home that I might come Home. And what’s even more amazing, is that I’m not given entrance into this Home because of something good I’ve done but only because of the good that He has done on my behalf. Rather than being shut out and receiving the separation I deserve, I have been assured a welcome into an eternal Home. This is my hope, and the hope of anyone who trusts in Christ.

So, this Christmas, I choose to remember I’m still traveling Homeward. One day, I’ll arrive at the doorstep and step over the threshold into the fulfillment of every longing, and the old ache will finally be healed for good. And, this time, it won’t be “only in my dreams.”

All is Well – A Christmas Meditation

All is well, all is well; Angels and men rejoice

For tonight darkness fell into the dawn of love’s light.

Sing Al-le, Sing Alleluia.

 

All is well, all is well; Let there be peace on earth.

Christ is come; go and tell that he is in the manger.

Sing Al-le, Sing Alleluia.

 

All is well, all is well; Lift up your voice and sing.

Born is now Emmanuel; Born is our Lord and Savior.

Sing Alleluia. Sing Alleluia.

All is well.

 

– Wayne Kirkpatrick (All is Well)

 

The words of this hauntingly beautiful song have echoed in my head ever since I first heard them, just four weeks ago. Yet the soaring melody and peace-filled lyrics were not enough to warm the cold places of my heart, places reluctant to be convinced of the joy this song was declaring. I could think of plenty of reasons why all was not well. In just the past week, two of my siblings had been to the ER, one twice, while another sibling’s seizure disorder seemed only to worsen by the day. I was facing health challenges of my own, and these situations were only the tip of the iceberg. Why should I sing “all is well” when things clearly were anything but? Yet surely I was overlooking something.

“Born is now Emmanuel. Born is our Lord, Our Savior.” How much those words meant. Here lay the encapsulation of all I had been missing.

All can be well, yes, even in the midst of such things. How? One has come, bringing peace where before it had never been. Hope, once merely a fragile dream, has been transformed. We now hold high a hope that expects the certainty of fulfillment. A love greater than we could ever have anticipated appeared. We are no longer alone in our sorrows. Emmanuel is born – God with us in every moment of fear, every pain, every sigh, every tear, every pang of wrenching grief, every unanswered question.

And not only God but God in human form – made like us – able to walk this earth. Familiar with the pain of life in a broken world; knowing what it is to be far from Home. But was His coming just for this? That we might have someone to empathize with our pain?

No, there was a purpose in His coming far greater than we could have ever dreamed. That stable would lead to a lonely hillside where the Son of God would willingly give Himself up to suffer upon a cross. And as He died, the curse humankind suffered under began to undergo a great reversal. Three days later, the empty tomb would declare the power of death forever broken. Redemption had come! This is why all is well.

This is the hope that leads us on through each moment, whether it be marked by physical pain or the often greater ache of emotional anguish. Pain is real, but for those who have placed their hope in Christ for forgiveness of sins, all is truly well. We have been shown inconceivable mercy and now await that breathtaking day when He will return, making our longed-for redemption a full and final reality as every sorrow is rolled up forever and “All, all is well” echoes across the glorious expanse of the new heavens and new earth.


 

Away, Despair!


Away, Despair! My gracious Lord doth hear:

Though winds and waves assult my keel,

He doth preserve it: He doth steer;

Ev’n when the boat seems most to reel:

Storms are the triumph of His art:

Well may He close His eyes, but not His heart.

(George Herbert, Works, I, 128)

Five Sonnets


You think that we who do not shout and shake
Our fists at God when youth or bravery die
Have colder blood or hearts less apt to ache
Than yours who rail. I know you do. Yet why?
You have what sorrow always longs to find,
Someone to blame, some enemy in chief;
Anger’s the anaesthetic of the mind,
It does men good, it fumes away their grief.
We feel the stroke like you; so far our fate
Is equal. After that, for us begin
Half-hopeless labours, learning not to hate,
And then to want, and then (perhaps) to win
A high, unearthly comfort, angel’s food,
That seems at first mockery to flesh and blood.
There’s repose, a safety (even a taste
Of something like revenge?) in fixed despair
Which we’re forbidden. We have to rise with haste
And start to climb what seems a crazy stair.
Our consolation (for we are consoled,
So much of us, I mean, as may be left
After the dreadful process has unrolled)
For one bereavement makes us more bereft.
It asks for all we have, to the last shred;
Read Dante, who had known its best and worst–
He was bereaved and he was comforted
–No one denies it, comforted–but first
Down to the frozen centre, up the vast
Mountain of pain, from world to world, he passed.

Of this we’re certain; no one who dared knock
At heaven’s door for earthly comfort found
Even a door–only smooth, endless rock,
And save the echo of his cry no sound.
It’s dangerous to listen; you’ll begin
To fancy that those echoes (hope can play
Pitiful tricks) are answers from within;
Far better to turn, grimly sane, away.
Heaven cannot thus, Earth cannot ever, give
The thing we want. We ask what isn’t there
And by our asking water and make live
That very part of love which much despair
And die and go down cold into the earth
Before there’s talk of springtime and re-birth.

Pitch your demands heaven-high and they’ll be met.
Ask for the Morning-Star and take (thrown in)
Your earthly love. Why, yes; but how to set
One’s foot on the first rung, how to begin?
The silence of one voice upon our ears
Beats like the waves; the coloured morning seems
A lying brag; the face we loved appears
Fainter each night, or ghastlier, in our dreams.
‘That long way round which Dante trod was meant
For mighty saints and mystics not for me,’
So Nature cries. Yet if we once assent
To Nature’s voice, we shall be like the bee
That booms against the window-pane for hours
Thinking that way to reach the laden flowers.

‘If we could speak to her,’ my doctor said,
‘And told her, ‘Not that way! All, all in vain
You weary out your wings and bruise your head,’
Might she not answer, buzzing at the pane,
‘Let queens and mystics and religious bees
Talk of such inconceivables as glass;
The blunt lay worker flies at what she sees,
Look there–ahead, ahead,–the flowers, the grass!’
We catch her in a hankerchief (who knows
What rage she feels, what terror, what despair?)
And shake her out–and gaily out she goes
Where quivering flowers stand thick in summer air,
To drink their hearts. But left to her own will
She would have died upon the window-sill.’
~ C. S. Lewis