Sunday, December 11, 2016

LFH--On Advent and Waiting

Letter from Harrisburg
A little faith eases weight of waiting
By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
DEC 11, 2016

We are all waiting for something,” my friend Trish said in the women’s class at church last Sunday.
As Mennonites, we celebrate Christmas with lots of food, music and Scripture, but we don’t observe the Advent calendar as a church tradition.
Trish became intrigued with the custom and decided to teach about it in Sunday school.
Week 1 is about faith and waiting, she told us. Faith keeps you believing with an expectant hope, even through years of silence.
Week 2 is about preparation. We should be actively getting ready for whatever it is we hope for, even if there’s no sign of it yet.
The next weeks focus on joy, love and finally Christ, the promised child arriving after hundreds of years of waiting.
I looked around the circle of women. Trish was right. We were all waiting for something — a diagnosis, word from a loved one, adult children to find their way, a husband to return, babies to sleep through the night, healing in body and soul, financial strains to ease, private hopes to finally be fulfilled and silent suffering to end.
With most of our heartaches, no ending date is given. I’m never sure if not knowing the duration is the worst, or if it’s harder to know you have four more months of vomiting with this pregnancy, three more years of constant slogging until graduation, 10 more years of working with impossible people until retirement.
Eventually, when we think this situation is never going to end, the page finally turns, the light comes on, the dark splinter is pulled and the festering wound can heal at last.
Like most of us, I spent the past year waiting for a list of deep and unspoken matters to resolve, and for smaller and more public things as well — such as a building permit.
It should not have been this complicated. For years, I’ve wanted a cozy and private place to write. Then, suddenly, the components were all there: my husband wasn’t quite as busy; we own a bit of property across the road, along the creek; we had a 70-year-old shed torn down; and its lovely weathered boards were perfect for building a little cabin.
I explained what I wanted and Paul drew up a design. I was thrilled — a vague dream coming to life.
We hadn’t counted on the county’s objections. A request for a simple permit turned into a long and seemingly endless series of requirements, requests, regulations and restrictions.
Paul insisted they were only doing what county land-use offices do, but I was convinced some vindictive person had made it his mission to deny me my dream.
The waiting went on and on. We submitted forms and contacted engineers and paid fees. On walks down Powerline Road, I would stop and look at the building site among the trees and hawthorn bushes, wondering how long I had to wait and whether this was a dream that would slowly die.
If I had my cabin, I would do this there,” I thought every time I tried to find a secluded place to write or planned to meet someone for a quiet conversation.
But, like the Advent tradition teaches, I kept making preparations in spite of the unclear timeline, the lack of any evidence that the hoped-for would come to pass. I gathered a small antique table from a benefit auction, a file of ideas, vintage-looking fabric to cover an office chair, and the little display shelf my grandpa made for me, some 50 years ago.
Enduring with grace was the only part of the process within my control.
Then, one day in late fall, Paul came home with a bright yellow paper giving us permission to continue, and that time of waiting was over.
The process was made easier, I realize, by a faith made stronger by tough things in the past.
Nine years ago, our teenage daughter was sick with a vague, debilitating and chronic illness. Every day we hoped for improvement, prayed for it, longed for it. Every day she would come downstairs, curl her thin body into a chair next to me, and beg me to assure her that she was going to get better.
I don’t remember what I told her, but I recall the huge and frightening unknown before me like an opaque fog that we were forced to walk into, morning after morning, a place where we were forgotten and time stretched endlessly. 
At the same time, we had friends and family who stayed with us, assuring us of God’s presence by their own, so we knew we had not been abandoned.
The daughter got better. It was a long and bizarre journey, but today she is a senior at Oregon State University, paying for it herself, and doing well.
I’m still amazed that the waiting actually ended. Our gratitude was and is enormous. I see glimpses of purpose and redemption now in her determination and her compassionate heart. She became someone who finds a way through and who will never say the wrong words to a sick person.
When the time is right, a door opens and light comes in.
My niece Annette knows all about waiting. She and Jay married in 2005 and then, instead of easily growing a few babies like all of their friends, they faced infertility, disappointment and failed adoptions for years.
I recall the sense of desolation, the grief, the anger that women who didn’t want babies were having them, and this stable couple who would make wonderful parents couldn’t conceive.
Then, without prelude, the endless fog lifted, a child was available for adoption, and they had a son, their long grief and emptiness flipped over to an enormous completeness and joy.
Less than two years later, in the most astonishing of blessings, Annette was pregnant with a daughter they named Liberty.
And incomprehensibly, another pregnancy followed, soon after, just when they were going through an especially stressful time. Annette says, “God gave me a word one day for her. ‘She is a symbol of light in a dark time of your life’ followed by Isaiah 60:1—‘Arise, shine, for your light has come.’ The stress didn’t go away but we felt peace. ‘Ayla’ means shining light. Her middle name is Hope, and she is our little shining light of hope.”
We saw them all in Minnesota recently, having gathered to celebrate my dad’s 100th birthday. Justice ran around pretending to be a fire-breathing dragon. Liberty played in a dress I had made for her, and little Ayla sat on her grandma’s lap and giggled.
Children are always precious, but I think we see the value of these three more fully for having waited for them so long.
This, then, is my Advent resolve — to embrace the waiting, to keep faith in the silence, to be kind to those suspended by circumstances and to prepare with expectant hope for the gifts that are certain to come.


  1. Thanks for this post! It brought on tears.
    Challenged to "Embrace the waiting" and "Keep faith in the silence". May Jesus help me day by day to do this!

  2. Thank you for touching my heart this morning! Beautiful, challenging truth!

  3. Dorcas, I nose around here a lot and always enjoy your writings, but I really love these insights into your faith -- they're so very edifying!

  4. I am waiting, for a baby. The baby will be 2 next month, and we have been trying to get him into our home for a year! He is my husband's great nephew, and is in the custody of another state. This state does not allow its "children" to leave the state. Last month he became available for adoption, but still they wont allow us to adopt him because "they don't allow their children to leave the state". But we feel called to this child. We feel he will be with us one day. So I am trying to step out in faith, make plans where there seem to be none. Expecting the miracle we feel God is planning for us. We are 53, my husband is retired. We are raising a grandchild already. But still hoping and praying for this baby boy. The baby also has 2 sisters and a brother. But they are with family members. None of the family took this baby because he is bi-racial. So many details in this story are sad. But we are continuing to Hope and pray into the new year! Thank you for this article!

  5. Last week just before your column was published I led a Bible Study for Lutheran Women on just this topic. Wish I could have shared it as well as you did. I hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas.

  6. Dorcas, this is beautifully written. When I grow up, I'm gonna write like you do.:) Thanks for these words. Christmas is always such a poignant time of renewing hope even in the dark times.