I Wasn't Prepared for the Ordinary Hard Stuff, or Advent ArrivesIf I can make it through my mother-in-law's death, why does it feel as though I can't make it through my son's temper tantrum?
Amy Julia Becker
Penny dropped her glasses in the gravel outside our house last week, and it took all day to find them. She missed her bus.
William got mad that he needed to get dressed this morning and he whacked me in the arm with his stuffed giraffe.
Last week, Iphoto wouldn't open on my new computer and Excel stopped working on my old computer.
A check bounced.
It's the ordinary hard stuff (or perhaps I should say the ordinary stuff) of life, and I don't feel prepared–emotionally or spiritually–to deal with it.
When Peter's mom was dying of cancer, when the doctors told us Penny had Down syndrome, I knew what to do. I knew we could rely on friends and family to pray for us. I knew we could expect baked chickens and flowers and cards. I knew people would understand if I just couldn't manage to volunteer for the nursery or if I didn't return a phone call or if I skipped out on a social event. And even if other people didn't understand, I was prepared to give grace to myself. God's presence felt tangible, as if Jesus was sitting at our kitchen table, passing out compassion and hope along with the mashed potatoes.
I don't mean to imply that those days were easy or that I would return to them if I could. It was grace in the midst of grief, compassion (which means suffering-with) in the midst of pain, hope in the midst of a storm of doubt. But I could come back, again and again, to the story I believed–the story of a good God creating this world and all of us within it, the story of that world gone wrong, the story of Jesus coming to make it right, the invitation to participate in Jesus' ongoing work to restore goodness and justice and love. I clung to that belief, even as one clinging to the mast in a hurricane as the boat is about to capsize, and somehow I came out, bruised and battered and grateful, on the other side.
Yesterday, we gathered at the dining room table to begin Advent. We talked about how we are getting ready to celebrate Jesus' birth, and Penny read the first description of our Advent mobile: "I am preparing to meet a king! And not just any king, the greatest king of all. This king will have the power over sin and death. And I know this king will come, because God promised it long ago..." Marilee, Penny, and William each affixed stickers from their sticker Advent calendar to a bare manger scene. At this point we've got two stars in the sky and two angels, waiting to tell Mary that Jesus will be her son. We also put ornaments on our Advent tree. (Yes, Advent tree, Advent sticker calendar, Advent mobile...)
And at night I've been singing William the only Advent song I know by heart, O Come O Come Emmanuel, that mournful tune in a minor key, which implores Jesus to come again, to make true once and for all the promise of the kingdom of God, the kingdom where all is just and right and good.
I expect that the cat won't pee on my bed when the kingdom comes in its fullness.
But right now, as I prepare one more time to welcome Jesus into this world, into our home, into our family, I need to learn about expecting God to show up not only when our life is in crisis but also in the every day. I need to learn about contentment in the midst of broken computers and children crying out in the middle of the night and not just broken bodies and broken dreams. And just as I learned to see God in the nighttime vigils when my mother-in-law lay drenched in sweat and murmured thank you as I sang Amazing Grace, just as I learned to receive God's presence in the acts of kindness when Penny was first born, I need to learn to see God, once more, in the midst of dishes and diapers and Penny's reading homework and William's incessant need to watch Bob the Builder.
I started this post with a list of all the things that went wrong over the weekend. I should add that I watched Penny through the door of her ballet class as she stood up straight, obeyed every direction, and danced beautifully. And that Marilee, with her fever, spent most of the day cuddled upon my chest. And that William decided today that he should start helping to make his lunch every day. And that George, the cat, is as affectionate as they come. They give me reasons to complain, to curse. They also give me reasons to laugh, to give thanks, to fall on my knees in wonder.
That's my goal, my hope, my prayer, this Advent season, to expect, every day, to see that babe in the manger, a glimpse of glory.