My Blog: Waiting

I have occasion to stand as a witness before, after, and when people die. The first time this happened, in my residency year two years ago, I was in the medical intensive care unit where I still spend most of my time as a chaplain.

I sat with a sister as her brother died. He was a scientist, believed nothing about the supernatural, and sitting with his sister was undoubtedly a holy moment to me. We talked together, mostly her talking and me listening. She laughed as she told stories.

Explaining that she had never imagined being a sister in this way, I heard her walk through the upset of thinking it’d be the other way around, that he would be the one who watched her breathe her last breaths. She was faithful to him in those last moments. “I won’t ask you to pray,” she had said earlier that morning. “But will you come back and wait with me?” Waiting is what I did.

Advent Post #25

“Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months…” (Luke 1:56)

I love that Mary lingered with Elizabeth. She did what most of us don’t know how to do or don’t take the time to do. Mary and Elizabeth practiced a spiritual discipline in their waiting together. There was probably moments of personal solitude, likely times of conversation and eating and exercising, walking from here to there.

But they were together and they were waiting. For Elizabeth’s delivery. And to get closer to Mary’s. They were waiting to see God bring what God said would come.

I imagine that could have been a time of great turmoil and great anticipation. Any time God is at the quiet work of forming the unseen, it’s both thrilling and unbearable. You know God’s working, you sense it, but you can’t see the full product. You can only wonder if that work will look this way or that, if the fruit of God’s toil will “sleep through the night” or if you yourself will be calm or frenzied when it finally comes.

Will I be equipped? Will I fail? Can I support him through it? What good will I be to her when she needs me? How will we make it?

I don’t think we have those answers when we first want them. The answers to our questions almost never come at our desired speed. We want God to act more quickly than God does. We want to know more than we do. We want answers when all we’re faced with are more questions.

What’s the consolation? What sustains us through the quiet darknesses of the nights before. The night before Christmas. The night before a surgery. The night before a meeting. The night before a move. What helps us manage?

I think the answer is in Luke’s description. Mary and Elizabeth stayed together. So simple. They were together, befriending one another through the unseen things. They were present to one another while they waited for whatever God would do. They monitored one another’s progress, one another’s souls, one another’s care.

Perhaps the presence of others is all it boils down to at moments like those these women lived through. After all, time doesn’t move any faster. One teacher showed me that five minutes is the same whether or not you’re looking at the clock, even if it feels differently. What helps? Another person. Mary staying with Elizabeth. My friend falling into a chair in my office. The text that was a reminder that I really wasn’t alone. The prayer someone had been praying when I couldn’t reach God myself. All examples of someone staying with someone else.

May this Christmas be an opportunity for you to be present to others, and may you never feel alone. May you feel, in a good way, surrounded by grace, mercy, and all the other gifts that make life life.

Thurman on Stages to Maturity

The immediate reaction of the child is clear and precise: varying forms of protest from the sustained whisper to the roaring scream (these two words are used together quite advisedly).  Sometimes it is a battle of nerves between the baby and the mother.

At this point the baby is having his initial encounter with spiritual discipline.  A pattern of life has been interrupted.  In the presence of an expanding time interval between wish and fulfillment the child is forced to make adjustment, to make room in the tight circle of his life for something new, different, and therefore threatening.  The baby begins to learn how to wait, how to postpone fulfillment.  He thus finds his way into community within the family circle.

…If the response of the parents or others continues to be available on demand, the conscious or unconscious intent being to keep the time interval at zero between wish and fulfillment, the baby begins to get a false conditioning about the world and his place in it.  For if he grows up expecting and regarding as his due that to wish is to have his wish fulfilled, then he is apt to become a permanent cripple.  There are many adults who for various reasons have escaped this essential discipline of their spirit.  True, in terms of physical and intellectual development they have continued to grow.  Their bodies and minds have moved through all the intervening stages to maturity, but they have remained essentially babies in what they expect of life.  They have a distorted conception of their own lives in particular and of life in general.

First Drafts

A first draft is a funny thing.  A stack of questions waiting to be answered.  Seven thousand, one hundred twenty lines to be reviewed with patience you don’t have.  Words to be heard aloud, doubted like a thief walking through your favorite room, turned over in the mind, changed for something tighter, or left alone like that one lavender flower growing in a field of green.

All the judgment sits in that pile of paper.  You see it differently when it’s paper.  As a file it’s just like anything else on that tap tap tap laptop.  It’s something in a screen.  It’s real but still less real.  When it’s printed, it zips across your all-in-one and each scrimp of the printer is a question and a hope and a prayer about you taking every letter to the next level.  The articles, verbs, and characters join together into a choir, one you love and hate.  They sing to you as the printer forms their melody in the faint, terrible background.  You’re enchanted and afraid of their music.

Lift the language.  Tighten the plot.  Excise the unnecessary.  Describe.  Take your time.  Strengthen the dialogue.  Add this scene.  Delete that.  Say it better.  They sing things like that, and their collective voice takes the tone of a friend.  Their instructions and encouragements collapse the way jazz does, unexpected and delightful.  Go.  See.  Soar.

You wait because you gave yourself a waiting period.  A break.  It’s helpful even if it claims the three ounces of sanity you think you still have.  You hate waiting, at least, for the work of revision.  You remember that conference workshop where the presenter said revision was seeing again, looking again, searching again.  And her broad smile finds you while you wait. She was a white woman, her face plumped like the rest of her body.  She wore red and, though red was a color for fire and heat and summer, you imagined her cool as stood at the podium to speak.  She was joyous as she spoke.  Joy was calming, cool.  Joy was the collection of possessing your words and your characters and your vision for the story.  You thought of her as you waited because her coolness was what you needed while you watched that stack, the pile with 96,504 expectations.  Each word commanding to be the best.

You got tired thinking of those words.  You cherished them.  But they made you a little sick.  You wanted time to pass before you saw them.  Even when you clicked the manuscript open, you couldn’t read.  You saw the blur of that first page and closed it quickly.  The X from Microsoft Word pressed into your mind.  There would be enough time to do what needed to be done.  It just wouldn’t be now.

Waiting, Adopting, Beauty, & Ugliness

Leslie Beckett, a sometimes guest on this blog, talks about waiting in a recent post at Confessions from Momville.  Her blog is partially dedicated to her discussing the family’s transition toward adopting a child.  In the post linked below, Leslie turns us toward some of the feelings attached to waiting, some of the feelings inside the process.

Adoption is a wonderful thing.  It makes sense that whenever people find out we are adopting that they are happy and excited and think it’s terrific.  We are direct recipients of the greatness that it is with Mike and our future child.  However, I have to admit that sometimes I wish people realized that it is so, very complex and not always so beautiful.  I mean, think about it, why does adoption exist in the first place?  Every addition of a child is a transition, but the factors that come with adoption can be hard, tragic, and wounding on all sides.  There have been times when I feel like people hear “It’s a small world” playing in their minds as they gush over adoption and how awesome it is.  I want to stop the music then.

One of the reasons I’m grateful for this post is Leslie’s ability to name the unseen.  She points out what most folks miss, the complexity of adopting.  There’s complexity in waiting too.  And then there’s ugliness.

Toward the end of her post, Leslie says,

Adoption is beautiful.  It allows for so much good.  But it is more than that, too.

I’m grateful that she’s writing about more than beauty as she (and they) step toward adding to the family.  If you want to read Leslie’s entire post or if you want to journey along with her and the Beckett family, click here.

Better Decisions, pt. 4 of 4

Last, but just as valuable as the first, is my fourth piece to better decisions.

Wait

You don’t need to move as quickly as you think you do.  Exercise your smart muscles until good choices become your reflex.  Until that’s been discerned about you, slow down.  Until you’ve made mistakes and carried the scars to show it, pause.  Instead of going at it alone, ask for help.  Nobody says you have to good at making decisions yourself.  You can use people for their wisdom. 

Until somebody you trust tells you that you’re good to go, that you’re growing in wisdom, that you’re getting better, wait.  That means you’ve got to loosen the grip on your pride.  You’ve got to give somebody else the right to tell you what to do.  You’ve got to listen and put someone else’s view close enough to first place for a while, if not in first place altogether.

This pushes you toward others.  This act pulls you away from yourself.  It’s not inherently bad.  It doesn’t mean you can’t be independent.  It isn’t a slap against your brain or your wit or your ingenuity.  It’s a reminder–as smart and witty as you may be–that you are not alone. 

I know people who hate waiting.  But waiting to make a decision doesn’t mean waiting for every other thing.  Do something else while you wait.  Work on some other area.  Pay attention to something else.  It’ll make it easier.  Still, at the end of the day, to wait means to wait.  If the world won’t end without you making the choice, pause long enough to hear wisdom.  To hear it in the form of that tiny still voice.  To hear in the words you read from writings you call sacred.  Eavesdrop of other people’s conversations and see if there’s something in it for you.

That’s enough.  I could add twelve more pieces to this.  But you’d stop reading my blog.  Until I made better decisions about posts.

What would you add to these puzzle pieces?  How have you benefited from waiting to make an important decision?  What has the fruit of waiting been, a better outcome, something unexpected, nothing at all?