People say Advent is all about waiting; what happens when Advent is over and you’re still waiting?

Of course, the Sunday school answer to that question is, “we’re all still waiting!” We’re all still waiting for the return of Jesus to this world to make all things right. We live in that sticky “already but not yet” timeline of the Christian world history. And while I profess to believe that’s true, I recognize that the whole idea feels kind of unreal and is hard to conceptualize.

For example, I don’t know about you, but I can’t even imagine a world without weeping or mourning, so it’s difficult to eagerly anticipate that kind of future (cue MercyMe’s “I can only imagine”). It’s much, much easier to eagerly anticipate something that feels so real you can almost taste it, but it’s just far enough away to keep evading your grasp. You’re waiting for an answer. Longing for something good.

So no, I’m not talking about the big picture and waiting on Jesus to return. Because talking about it like that doesn’t make sense to me right now. I’m talking about the day-to-day stuff in our lives. Waiting for a painful season of your life to be over. Waiting to successfully land a job. Waiting for a potentially scary diagnosis. Waiting to get married. Waiting for a revelation. Waiting to get pregnant. The worst is not knowing whether you’ll even get what you’re waiting for, ever. That kind of waiting makes more sense to me right now.

I’ve heard people who are wiser than me say that it’s a waste to wait your whole life away (actually, I don’t know if that’s how the saying goes, but you get the idea). If you’re always waiting until the next “thing,” whatever it is, what does that mean about the present? Does now not matter? Is now for nothing? Sorry, I know I’m veering dangerously close to motivational speech, but I’m talking to myself as much as I’m talking to anyone else who happens to be reading this. Because I definitely don’t live-every-day-to-the-fullest. Even if I did, I think that’s kind of missing the point. Because living in the present and knowing that today matters doesn’t necessarily make waiting or longing for something any easier. We can’t just ignore that discomfort. It doesn’t really work.

I’ve started to realize that rationalizing the discomfort away doesn’t really work either, but I still try. I acknowledge that some things are just out of my control. I don’t make the world spin. Who am I to get demanding about what I want and when? I start to believe I don’t really have a right to be upset, and if I’m waiting or longing for something that’s mostly out of my control, I know that it “won’t help” to be upset about it. The only problem is—I am upset about it—even if I try to deny it.

So what do you do with this longing, being upset about it, telling yourself all the reasons you shouldn’t be upset, but still being upset anyway, and then, if you’re like me, maybe even being upset with yourself for being upset?

I don’t have the answers, but I do know looking to the past can help, sometimes, if I’m in the right mood… I recall times when the waiting was agonizing—months when I was unemployed, years when dating my now-husband seemed to drag on aimlessly. I had so many questions, hopes, and fears during those times. Having hindsight perspective, I see how things worked out better than I could have planned, and I’m thankful (guess I’m in the right mood). God did not abandon me. There was purpose in the waiting. Looking back, I see that those seasons were periods of intense growth, and I recall how my dear oldest sister has told me before that seasons of growth are often uncomfortable. And well, I’m pretty uncomfortable right now, so I hope that means I’m growing.

Unfortunately, remembering isn’t a cure-all. Remembering doesn’t speed up or take away your current waiting process. And while I hope everyone can remember a time in their life when a season of waiting led to something good, I don’t want to assume that’s the case for all. Either way, remembering can also help us recognize and avoid past patterns of behavior that haven’t been good for us. There’s a lot to learn from our past.

Now that I’ve taken a hefty detour from longing for the future to diving into the past, I hope that brings us back to the present. Whatever I’m waiting for, I hope I can still acknowledge when I’m upset and find some peace and comfort in the discomfort (without getting stuck in the past or wishing my life away.) There’s so much to do and learn and be right now.

Make Room For Your Feelings

The other day, when I noticed I had embarked upon a steady, rapid decline of sinkage into thine depths of despair, I did what I normally never do—a 5 minute meditation. And well, it helped (to my surprise), and I learned a little lesson about the enlightening act of making space for all my bad, icky feelings. Which, I admit, sounds definitely very unfun and possibly counterintuitive, but it was actually quite productive. So I thought I’d share the story.

Before I go any further, I should give a disclaimer that I don’t *actually* practice meditation all that much, and I also don’t typically opt for potentially enriching activities when I’m feeling down. Especially when suggested by another. Which this was. But for whatever reason, on this day, I was receptive to the idea posed by my husband (after I’d done my fair share of moping around the kitchen talking about sadness and quietly, blankly staring off towards nowhere in particular from time to time, accompanied by some heavy sighing…). “You should meditate,” he said, and for whatever reason I replied rather amicably with a simple, “Ok.”

I used the mindfulness/meditation app on my phone, Simple Habit (I have the free version, I use it from time to time, whatever). I clicked into the “ON THE GO” section, debated whether to go with “Tough Day :(” or “SOS!” I selected the latter, and out of the next set of options, I chose “Depressed” (womp womp).

I laid down (because I like to lay down when I meditate sometimes even if I fall asleep so what). The meditation began. It took a few seconds before the voice started. Kind of like when you answer the phone and it’s a robot on the other line, except this robot sounded really, really nice. The voice (a woman, I’ll call her teacher) said in a slow, low, soothing tone, “I’m sorry you’re feeling depressed.” Pause. She just kind of said it like it was. No discernible emotion behind it, no beating around the bush, no flowery words. In the same tone, she continued after the pause with some comments about how being able to recognize that you’re feeling depressed in the first place is a good thing. I gave myself an imaginary pat on the back. Then we took a few deep breaths; in through the nose, out through the mouth. I yawned.

Then the lesson began. The teacher gently instructed me to think of a place where I felt happy and safe (a quiet beach at sunset with a margarita on the rocks), and then guided me to go there in my mind and stay there a bit until I was ready for the next part, which was to identify and name my feelings one by one. “What are they?” she said in her polished accent, “sadness? loneliness? fear?” There was a good pause to be able feel and name those feels. And mine kind of built upon each other. There was sadness (of course), then fear (of my sadness), and then overwhelmingness (of my fear of my sadness). You know, your typical boo-hoo fest.

After all that, the teacher encouraged me to go ahead and open myself up to make room for all those bad feelings I had just named—wait, what? I mean… I knew she couldn’t hear me, so she didn’t know one of the things I was already feeling was overwhelmed, and therefore this proposed activity seemed potentially stressful… like wouldn’t my feelings overwhelm me even more? I’m trying to kick these feelings out, not make more room for them! But, hey—what did I know? So, I did what the woman said. Because, well, she hadn’t led me astray in the whole three minutes prior to that moment, and what did I have to lose anyway?

Slowly, I began to expand that imaginary space within myself where my feelings reside, and as I did, I felt… relief. Relief was finally able to creep in as I made more room. She had been knocking on the door, hanging around outside waiting for there to be space for me to let her in.

I then started to realize I’d developed a bad habit of treating my “bad” feelings very poorly. I’d been inhospitable, to say the least. I regarded the feelings as the invasive army of an oppressor in a land where I was outnumbered and had no rights. I tried to subvert their occupation by appeasing, ignoring, or squashing them. Another tactic was making myself small, so when those bad feelings called for backup and they came knocking on the door, I could say “sorry, no vacancy!” And while I successfully kept more bad feelings from entering, I was somehow creating and sustaining this hostile environment within myself where—although there were fewer bad feelings—the space was very overcrowded. Bad feelings on top of each other makes those feelings more aggressive, and I don’t blame them. They were trapped. Not only was I the person responsible for trapping them, but putting myself on lockdown also meant I was responsible for keeping the good feelings away too.

Contrary to what I previously imagined, I soon realized that making room for my emotions didn’t make those bad emotions bigger—they were the same size. There was just more room to move around them, which made them seem smaller and less significant. More breathing room allowed for those bad feelings to be less hostile. And sure, there was more room for more of the bad feelings, but—there was also more room for the good feelings too. And, to my delight (who was now able to enter my feeling space!), I found that I was somewhat infinite. I could keep expanding as necessary. I was also fluid. I could contract the space if needed. And I was free. I could let the good and bad feelings come and go. Whether their visits were short or long, I could begin to get to know them. Learn from them.

 

 

Climbing Back Out

Recently, as a passenger through some truly beautiful country on my way from Utah back home to California (how is that my home? I’m still in awe), we wove through impressive canyons and saw signs for the grandest one of all. I recalled my own attempt to hike it years ago.

Our family took a trip “out west.” To east coasters like us, west was pretty much anything west of the Mississippi. We knew the eastern seaboard like a good ol’friend, traveling it frequently in our adventures. The west was unknown. So for us, the west meant Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona. We stood in Four Corners. We gazed with marvel at Yellowstone. We were bored rather than gored by the bison. My favorite by far was the wildflower peaks of Yosemite.

The Grand Canyon? Unimpressed.

It was a big hole. Admittedly a REALLY big hole, but other than that? Eh.

At least that’s what 16 year old me thought. So keep in mind, we traveled in a large SUV with a third row for three weeks with a SIX YEAR OLD. Nina was six. I haven’t asked her about the Grand Canyon frankly.

Nin? Big hole, amma right?

Our adventurous dad decided that he and I should hike it. Here’s where it gets interesting. To “hike” the Grand Canyon, you descend and then must ascend. You walk these donkey paths and switchbacks, while donkeys pass you, bearing their savvy tourists who swing around those corners praying today isn’t the day that Puddin misses her step.

Canyon hiking is so counter-intuitive and opposite of hiking mountains where you expend all this extra energy in the beginning and get to skip/slide your ace back down the mountain. It was just a half of the length down and back up. I can do half. You can do half. We all can do only half. Right?

16 year old me said, sure – why not?

So we checked our maps and packed our packs with sun valley granola bars, the most dry awful sustenance known to man. We must have had limited options. That morning, as we sat in the hotel restaurant, my dad pointed out the “hiker’s breakfast.” It consisted of a ridiculous amount of food. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, toast, fruit, hashbrowns – more carbs than one person should EVER eat – let alone a 5’nothing 16 year old obsessed about the size of her thighs. (Can we take a moment and say that I dream of those thighs here at 37 after 3 kids and a lifetime of good good food?)

I scoffed at that man, sure of my own prowess, ordering some measly breakfast more befitting my standards of acceptable teen breakfast food. Wise? Nope. My poor dad. It’s just one of a million moments in which I’ve played the expert to his expertise. Admittedly, he’s the one I learned this sure sass from, so you’re welcome, sir.

I was all good hiking down that canyon. Like so so good. Avoided all that donkey crap. Negotiated those donkeys plodding. Rolled my eyes behind my glasses at those tourists. Feeling so confident. Until we got to our halfway point.

Hikers know it’s good to just keep a steady pace and keep moving. If you stop too often, you lose all that momentum and confidence and muscle repetition thing. I sat on some rock colored reddish orange like every other rock in that very big hole and told my dad I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t climb out. I stated it like a manifesto – like a boss.

Like many other moments in my life, my dad rose to the occasion with sarcasm. He’s a good man lacking in the finer points of compassion and empathy.

“Well, how do you plan on getting out of here then?” he asked incredulous. “We don’t have a donkey. It’s gonna get dark. I’m NOT CARRYING YOU OUT OF THIS CANYON!”

It was very encouraging.

I got up. I hiked my butt out of that canyon. We got home before dark. My little sisters were waiting up there. What did they do all day? I dunno. Swim in a pool? Go shopping? Great job girls. Know what I did today? I HIKED THE FREAKING GRAND CANYON. Well, half of it.

This story is such an epic one in our family’s history, but as I retold it on that drive from Utah, I realized it’s also MY story. It’s how I approach life. I move in with gusto and confidence. I feel every inch the expert of whatever I’m moving out into, whether it’s teaching, leading, or building. However, about halfway through, I want out. I want someone else to get me out. I’m tired. I’m stuck. I don’t believe that I’m capable of the climb. I’ve hiked into the canyon, and there ain’t no way I’m getting out without help.

Praise God for my helpers. The people in my life who look me in the face and say, nope, I’m not carrying you out. You climb. You put one step in front of the other girl and keep moving.

Praise God that he’s walked alongside me when I’ve not had people – you know those lonely moments where you’ve climbed into canyons of your own making. They aren’t good spaces of beauty but dark holes filled with the steps of your bad choices. God’s there too.

 

 

 

So this was her idea

By her I mean Nina – the little one. While I’m on the up side of my 30s, she’s not there yet.

“Let’s start a blog,”she said.

“About what?” I asked.

“Being sisters and living on different coasts – separated by 10 years.”

“OK,” I said.

So here I am internet world. I am NOT a millennial. I am NOT cool. I live OUTSIDE of L.A. I am a mom – oh and a pastor’s wife. Let’s see where this goes.

(I love that this post will most likely annoy her. Bahahaha.)