Advent is upon us. Advent, for those unfamiliar with the term means “coming” and is used to describe the time between now and Christmas. It is the time in which we wait and prepare to remember the coming of Christ that happened so long ago and longingly anticipate His return. I began to really pay attention to Advent a number of years ago now and admit that with each passing year this season has become more and more challenging for me. Though deeply rooted in me is a desire to give gifts, I struggle with the consumerism of the season. I hate how busy the month of December becomes. Most of all though, a very large spotlight appears over the darkness of both my own heart and the state of the world. It feels as though I cannot wait for things to be made right.
I’m having to learn the art of waiting. Not the fidgety, exasperated kind of waiting, but the kind that is patient and still. I’m having to choose to buy less, slow down the pace and allow myself to be changed. Very slowly, the layers of guilt, shame, loneliness and ill-desire are being stripped away from my heart. My eyes become even more alerted to the terrible pain and suffering of this world: of men and women and children caught in the sex trade and of those who control them; of bombs being detonated over cities, villages and towns; of polluted water that cannot quench the thirst of those around it, of the awful disparity between those who are rich and those who are poor. As my eyes open, so does the desire to do what I can: pray, love well, build community, look for glimpses of hope, weep with those who are weeping and receive the care and love of others toward me.
Years ago I found myself completely overwhelmed the week before Christmas. My husband was having a terrible Multiple Sclerosis attack, my mother was trying to recover from brain surgery in hospital, my daughter was small and needing me and all of a sudden we HAD NO WATER. I turned on the tap one morning and nothing came out. Nothing came out for over a week. The worst part really was that nobody seemed to be able to help- the City of Toronto told us to call a plumber while the plumber told us to call the City. Finally somebody from the City told me candidly that we needed to have a pipe replaced from the sidewalk to the house, an issue requiring getting on a waiting list (a list we’d actually been on for years) and that until our name came up we were out of luck. I got off the phone, locked myself in the bathroom and lost it.
It wasn’t pretty. Through the flood of tears I finally said, “God, there is absolutely nothing I can do. You HAVE to do something”. I was wailing so hard that I almost missed the ring of the doorbell. Standing outside my door was a lanky worker from the city. He said, “I found your problem. Stuck my shovel in the snowbank by the sidewalk and water flooded out. I’ve got a crew on the way”. Friends, I felt like I met Jesus in the form of a water guy.
This Advent I am waiting for the water guy to show up. I want to cut through the various obligations of Christmas and be reminded that I need to remember He is, in fact, coming.
I’ve acknowledged before that I can be a real klutz. Over the last couple of weeks this has been glaringly obvious: I have bruises on my knees to prove it.
One night I had Cate and Grace (one of Cate’s best friends) in tow. While exiting a grocery store we were greeted by a man asking for money. We chatted a bit and then I gave him a dollar. I actually don’t often give out money, but for some reason this time I did. As we walked away I tripped on…something…and I quite spectacularly fell, nearly on my face. The plastic bag of food I was carrying tore open and spilled everywhere. Cate and Grace ran to help, quickly followed by my new friend- the man outside the store. This man helped me up, ran inside to get me a reusable bag to replace the plastic one now in shreds, gathered the scattered food and made sure I was okay.
In the flurry of activity the loonie that I had just placed in this man’s hat went flying. Once things settled the four of us got to the work of finding it. What a scene. The two girls were on their hands and knees, I was looking under the Christmas greenery leaned against the building, he was combing the sidewalk. We never found it. And I didn’t have another one in my pocket.
I felt terrible. He however did not. He said, “that’s okay. Somebody who needs it even more will find it. I’m sorry you hurt yourself. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to help. God bless”. Then he walked me to my car.
This incident, along with the giant bruise on my left knee, keeps reminding me that it is better to give than receive. All too often so many of my friends who experience the exclusion that comes from living in poverty are denied the gift of giving. This story is not about me giving somebody some money. No, it is about somebody helping me.
It didn’t take me too long to find the chains that You just freed me from.
This line from a song I love plays on repeat in my head every time I see my friend Sally. Sally has been an alcoholic for a very, very long time. The alcohol serves to numb the pain of knowing her former husband molested their children. Sally wants to discover a different way. Most days the way she knows comes easiest. And I get it. It breaks my heart and I long for her to find freedom from it, but I get it.
I get it because I too find my own chains over and over again.
So what should Sally do? What should I do?
I believe we need to acknowledge how heavy the burden is, fall on our knees and ask the One who created us to do a new work in our hearts. I think we need to find a community where we can come as we are; where we can acknowledge the things that we do wrong; where we can be challenged and held accountable for our actions; where we can be gently held when we mess up AGAIN. Because we all will.
I have held Sally’s hair back as she vomited on the floor. I have noticed the empty bottles of rubbing alcohol stashed in her bag and sometimes confiscated the full ones. I have helped guide her staggering body to the waiting ambulance because maybe this time the help will be accepted.
Sally has sat with me, holding my hand as I wept, overwhelmed and exhausted. She has cautioned me to not “work so hard”. When I am feeling particularly unloveable, Sally always seems to be the one who shows up to tell me I am loved.
One day Sally arrived at PNC, wasted and wired, saying she had been prepared all day to take her own life. I sat in stunned silence as she handed me the pile of pills she had stored up, saying, “I’ve decided this isn’t the answer. I’m giving you my pills. I know I am loved”.
It is in those moments that the chains are loosened. I have kept the pills as a reminder.
I got so used to having them on I didn’t know how to live in freedom. This can’t be, no it can’t be what You intended for me. Glory come down.