Waiting in the Wilderness

Four years ago, April 2015, we were in the final stretch of our time living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After a long year lived far away from our families, which neither my husband nor I had ever done up until that point, it was almost time to pull the boxes we had saved from our move a year ago out of the detached garage of our apartment. To say I was excited was an understatement. I was counting down the literal days to the day when I could “reasonably” start packing for our trip home. In my defense, I think I was probably nesting just as much as I was preparing to head home. I had dreamed and planned my second baby in Wisconsin, but my plans included him being born in Colorado.

It had been a bit of a wilderness season for us out there, beautiful as it was and as many new friends and new adventures as we were privileged to enjoy on those strange shores of lake Michigan. In May of 2014, Willy drove a truck loaded to the gills with all our worldly possessions, and I, who had made my own parents grandparents only eight months before, said goodbye to them at the curbside of the airport, and held my own tiny daughter in my arms on a one-way flight to a place I’d never been.

Wisconsin was a season of waiting in the wilderness. We had been told right from the outset that the assignment would last a year, and though we felt this to be a blessing in so many aspects, it also felt like a curse. It would be hard to choose to get attached to people and to a place that we would certainly be leaving. And in turn, I found that people were hesitant to get attached to me in turn. That waiting place, like most waiting places, was extraordinarily lonely.

May 2015 my husband’s work informed us that they needed us to extended our time in Milwaukee by a month. And though 30 days was far from long in that grand scheme of our time there, that extra month that I had to wait to start packing felt like an eternity.

But there was one fear I held onto while I filled those boxes and taped and labeled them for our longed for journey home. What if they don’t recognize me?

I was 30 weeks pregnant with our second child when we finally made our journey home. I remember the heat of our new rental house on that July day; the stale air of a house that had been sitting empty, to me smelled like the sweet aroma of a longing fulfilled. But it wasn’t the growth of my belly that made me fear the lack of recognition by my family and friends; it was something much deeper than that. I was different now.

The wilderness had changed me.

Recently, we were talking with our small group about waiting on the Lord. We talked about seasons of waiting, what was hard about them, and what they produced in us. One of my good friends mentioned how seasons of waiting, are often seasons of being stripped down to the bare essentials. God whittles away our idols in seasons of waiting, in seasons of wilderness. In those times more than any others, it becomes easy to see what things we are truly waiting for—what we are truly hoping in.

That year was a stretching time. That summer, removed from every support system, like scaffolding, we wondered if we could stand on our own two feet. Now, when I look back on that time, though I still feel the ache of that deep loneliness I experienced there, I also see roots of strong relationship between my husband and I. When the last piece of scaffolding fell, and the last apron string was cut, we held on to each other, and to the God who had brought us to the wilderness for a reason.

As a people pleaser in a season with very few people to please, God revealed to me that my longing to be useful and needed, had the potential underbelly of inflating my ego. My longing for connection, though good, revealed my unbelief in the sufficiency of God and His presence with me in all circumstances. It was there that I battled idols of entertainment, which made my hollow life feel less lonely, but which were steadily whittling away the time which God had purposes and intentions for, if only for a year.

My definition of a full life changed dramatically that year. When we had once had friends for dinner almost every night of the week, for months there was nothing. By the end of our time there, I was overjoyed to have one playdate every other week, and I deeply enjoyed the one night a week when we were privileged to host our neighbor for dinner.

Our waiting changed us. That time created in us a pure desire to not only be apart of community, but to help create it. That time cemented us in our marriage in ways that would not have happened otherwise. That time revealed to me the idols in my heart that desperately needed to be dethroned. And it was there again, and the desk in my living room, that I finally began writing again. The Lord began to stir passions in my heart, many of which I couldn’t yet name.

All this and so much more. And I wouldn’t trade that wilderness for anything; not because it was easy, but because it was just another step on my journey to becoming the woman that God has always planned for me to be. I’ve seen glimpses of her in a window pane sometimes, just a sideways glance, nothing more. She’s beautiful and fearless. She loves fiercely with bold affection. She speaks words of truth and is always ready to hold out a hand in forgiveness and in grace. She knows that her life is not her own, and she’s okay with that. She trusts in the sufficiency of Jesus in the midst of all circumstances, and she helps others do the same.

I want to be her. I want that more than anything.

And if the wilderness has helped me get there? Then I thank God for the wilderness.

Spring is coming

I had a dream last night that my daughter was making paper mache at church. Her hands and face were covered with the sticky white glue/water/flour mixture. For a Mom of a child with severe gluten sensitivity, this was an actual nightmare.

It’s been seven weeks since her last flare up. It’s been a long hard season, but it feels like maybe we are getting towards the end of it…? I’m always afraid to say that. Like maybe I’ll be jinxing it somehow. Maybe I am just waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

But part of me is almost ready to dare to hope. To hope that maybe this season of intense hardship is ending. Maybe we have done a better job keeping her safe. Maybe we are finally figuring some things out. Maybe there isn’t another shoe hanging above our heads, but just the same shoe at our feet: that she has severe issues with gluten. And maybe it’s celiac and maybe it’s not.

We were told by the pediatric gastroenterologist that we will not be able to get a celiac diagnosis, even if we did a scope, because she has been on the gluten free diet for so long already. 

“Even though she’s still been having flare ups?” I said.

“You could make a case for it,” she said, “but I don’t think it would show up definitively, no.”

She said the only way to get a celiac diagnosis would be to feed her gluten for six weeks straight and then do a scope. 

You can probably guess what my answer to that was. 

Heck NO.

I am not so obsessed with answers that I will purposely hurt my child to get them. 

I am not so obsessed with control that I will break the well earned trust that she has built into me, that what I cook for her, to the best of my knowledge and ability, will not make her sick.

I do not need answers that badly. 

It helps that she’s doing better. Right now, that feels like answer enough. 

She still has tummy aches from time to time, a few every week. I try to keep on top of her enzyme as best I can. I make sure to follow rigorous hand washing when we go anywhere and I wipe down a table before she sits there.

I don’t take her down the aisles with bulk bins and I warn her not to touch the open baskets of bread at the grocery store. I don’t take her to Willy’s hockey games anymore; that was the tragic scene that we are fairly certain caused her last flare up. Gold fish cracker crumbs littered the bleachers, and who knows what other specks that could not be seen. It was probably just a few too many small exposures in one day.

No matter how we covered her hands with her sleeves, I laid out a blanket for her to sit on, she washed hands repeatedly during and after our time there as well as changed her clothes the moment we got home. I thought I had thought of everything. But then next day when she woke up sick, I remembered the dog licking her face. I hadn’t accounted for that. Most dog food contains gluten of course, and I would never let a person who just ate a slice of bread lick her face.

So we try to be careful of that now too. 

It could be easy to start feeling sorry for myself, but when I think back to that season of intense suffering that has only appeared to end a few weeks ago, I remember to give thanks for the little girl with the strength to be sassy to me about how “unfair” it is that she can’t eat/touch/do XYZ. 

It’s understandable she’s upset. But the fact that she calls it unfair and doesn’t automatically shy from that thing in fear, just goes to show how the Lord is healing and protecting her little psyche as well as her body. She is forgetting how bad it all is, and I am okay with that.

Maybe that’s what this in-between season is all about. Learning to be okay. Learning to live with the unresolved. The lack of answers. The lack of certainty about whether or not what we are doing is working, or if it’s something else all together. Time may reveal some of these. But either way; God is with us in the middle places just as he was with us in the darkest nights.

My youngest child has always been a good sleeper, but these past few weeks he’s taken to waking multiple times at night again like he did when he was a newborn. I could bemoan this fact, or I could thank God that he’s doing this now and not while I was dealing with a daughter in flare up in the middle of the night.

A friend has needed temporary childcare help with her sweet 2 year old daughter, and though adding a fourth kid, five and under, does make some things (like a trip to the grocery store) a little more interesting, it’s also just so amazing to me that God has orchestrated this timing. If this had happened a few months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to help.

Another friend’s daughter has been in the hospital for the past four weeks; they just finally moved her out of the ICU. And the thought in my mind and heart is that I’m so glad I can offer my help in some small way. Watching your daughter suffer is no easy task, I know it in new ways now that I hope help me to be a compassionate companion.

And you Dear Reader, I am working hard for you; like I’ve never worked before. If you would like to be one of the first to receive my (almost finished) FREE DOWNLOAD: Scattered: A seven day journey to planting seeds of hope in the soil of suffering, just click here to sign up, and as soon as it’s finished I’ll deliver it to your inbox.

In Colorado we are transitioning—from winter to spring. And it comes slowly here, where we often still get snow even through the month of May. But the crocuses are opening in the morning light. The tulips and the daffodils are emerging from the front beds that I neglected to clear of leaves last fall. The chorus of birdsong now greets me and my morning cup of coffee. And the clearest sign; the delicious light that lingers over me as I prepare supper in the evenings.

Though I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of winter’s chill, this time does feel like a change in the air. Like the spring that we hoped for might be just around the corner, after all.

It’s almost time to plant some seeds.

Advent: the waiting

Anticipation is half the joy. At least, when you know the thing that is coming is really really good. 

It was a week before Christmas last year that I learned I was expecting our third child. This child was something we had been hoping for and anticipating; even as the thought of going through all it takes to get a child here, and especially all it took to get our second child here, was more than a little terrifying. 

But still those two pink lines showed up exactly one week before Christmas, and as the waiting to celebrate the holiday and the significance of God incarnate ended, a new waiting began.

It brings fresh to mind the way we wait in the dark. So often. For someone or something. Sometimes we aren’t even sure which. Our lives can feel like a fog more often than not; but we have this secret hope, and this light on each and every step, and we take them. Even though we aren’t at all sure where it will take us, that hope carries us. 

The hope of Advent is ultimately the hope we all carry; the hope for a Savior. Every human heart, whether believing in Jesus as Lord or not, hopes for a future. For the fulfillment of longing; for the arrival of joy. It’s pregnant within us, and no matter how jaded and discouraged we get sometimes, I rarely dies. If it does, that’s when you know you are in real trouble. A human heart cannot live without hope. At least not here.

We have been studying 1 Corinthians with the Women’s Bible Study at church, an just a few weeks ago we talked about how there won’t be hope in Heaven. Because all our deepest longings will have been fulfilled, we won’t need hope. There won’t be faith either, because our faith will be sight. You don’t need faith to believe in something when it’s right there, in flesh and blood, staring you in the face. 

Strange as it may sound, I think it took a little faith to know that Isaiah was going to be such a good gift. It seems foolish I know, for all children are a gift and I believe this to be true. But I didn’t know it enough. I knew it because I believed it, but now I have seen his eyes sparkle in good humor. I have smelled the sweetness of his breath. I have heard the iridescent sound of his laughter. I have kissed his face until he shrieked for joy, and I myself felt my heart full to absolute bursting with it. 

The waiting takes faith. The anticipation of the coming is joyful, but we rarely know enough of what the coming will look like to anticipate it properly. I couldn’t have known what a precious gift Isaiah would be, without knowing him. I couldn’t have known how redemptive and healing his birth would be, until I experienced the very real presence of the Lord during that laboring time, and he continued to lavish gift upon merciful gift, to me. We carry our hopes and our dreams, but we try not to let them carry us away, because we don’t want to be disappointed. And in a broken world, where God’s ways are so much higher and wiser than our own, I think it wise to hold our own plans loosely. But we need to learn this perspective; that we cannot even begin to fathom the joy that is to come.

Did Mary even know? As she carried this child and this promise for nine months in her womb. As she was given confirmations and signs from Elizabeth and Joseph. As the Lord prepared the way for his son to come into the world, in the most unusual way. 

I have seen birth in the hay before. Just this past April, my goat Carmela kidded in the straw of our loafing shed. It had been warm the day before, but that particular day it was windy and cold. The fresh straw smelled clean, but even still i couldn’t get her to lay down in the cleanest spot. And she just kept pawing the ground to make a space for her babies, but all she was actually doing was making things dirtier. I myself was 20 weeks pregnant, and I kept thinking how much I admired her zen…chewing her cud between pushes and contractions. But I did not at all envy her job of giving birth in the straw. Even with all the spare towels I could muster the whole scene was a gory mess when all was said and done. 

I’m sure this scene would not have been the one that Mary pictured for herself when she imagined giving birth to the son of God, even if she was a poor girl from Nazareth. Even a poor girl from Nazareth could have done better than a filthy stall. 

But that was how he came.

When the waiting was over, the way Jesus came was stranger and more wonderful than anyone could have imagined. He came in the lowest of ways, because he is the King of the lowly. And if a King stoops low, we all ought to stoop low.

It was the incarnation of the upside-down Kingdom of God. The world wasn’t expecting a Messiah to show up. The Israelites were expecting a Messiah, but they didn’t recognize him in the way he came or the way he carried himself. 

Jesus, never in a hurry. Never in a rush. Jesus slow and steady. Jesus eating with sinners. Jesus, the King of the Universe, and of the lowliest of sparrows. Jesus dying a torturous death in our place. We couldn’t have imagined how wonderful he was, until we were staring him straight in the face.

We still can’t can we? 

But just like my precious son Isaiah, the longer that we spend time with Jesus, the more we see what an incredible blessing he is. He doesn’t just save us, he heals us. He sees us. He knows us. And he leaves no stone unturned in the pursuit of redeeming every last broken piece of our hearts. This is the ultimate gift of the with-ness of Jesus. Of Immanuel. 

We still don’t get it. Not really.  But someday, we will.

Someday we’ll understand fully, but for now we wait. We hold onto hope; onto faith. And just like you might stare at the ultrasound picture and imagined what it will be like,  you can stare into the scriptures and catch angles of him. Glimmers of him. The more you look, the more you make out the shape of him. 

So let the anticipation build, let it be pregnant within us. Let it mold us and make us, even as it unmakes us all together. Someday, we will see him face to face. But in the advent of his second coming, as in the advent celebration of his first coming, we wait.  

{Featured Photo c/o Anton Darius on Unsplash}