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the active stillness of Advent {guest post}

J.R. Goudeau is a blog-crush turned friend who regularly inspires me with her passion and humor. If this is your first introduction to her, check out Love Is What You Do, where she blogs about literature, motherhood, and her work with Burmese refugees in Austin. I'm grateful for the stories she's sharing here today.


The first time I remember really waiting for something, I found out a few weeks before my best friend that her father was leaving her family. I had to wait for her to find out. It’s a long story and the details are not mine to tell; I was 18. I was devastated. It was the first time I fasted and prayed because I meant it; it was the first time I hiccupped into my pillow late into the night begging God to get up, to move, to do something, dang it.


I went and spent a long day alone in a state park nearby. Armed with my huge study Bible, I sat under a tree and read and prayed all day. I watched an armadillo for more than an hour as it dug in the underbrush a few yards away. I left when it was too dark to see.


Nothing changed. He left their family. She was hysterical. I was bewildered.


***
Jonathan and I waited for four months to get to Brazil. We were 23, just married, armed with our Idealism and our Dreams, ready to change the world. We were supposed to leave on September 20, 2001 to be missionaries. On September 12, 2001, we heard from the Brazilian consulate that someone had stolen our passports.


Because it was the day after September 11, nothing was certain. We had to start over, new passports, new visas, new bureaucracy to hold us up. Every week we called and every week we got the same words: nothing.


For four months, we sat on my parents’ couch watching CNN, reading books, and eating. We had nothing to do. Again, I fasted and prayed. Again, it just took forever.


When we finally, finally, finally got word, got on the plane, got there, I looked around, ready to see the secret reason God had us wait so long.


To this day, there is no coincidental story, no glorious explanation, for the waiting.


The waiting itself was the point; it was not the means to the end in which I got some big surprise with a bow on the top. The discipline of waiting day in and day out was what I needed to learn. The trusting, the holding on, the making just to the end of the day--those habits became familiar, the rudimentary movements I would need to make it through my life.

***

Since then, it seems like every few months we have to wait: to get into graduate schools, to find a job, to get pregnant, to have a baby, to figure out what we are doing with our lives, where we will live, how things will be. In the last couple of years, I’ve waited with a friend to find out whether she had breast cancer. I waited with a dear friend for months as she watched her mother die of cancer. I have waited to hear whether marriages would make it or not. I have waited with friends who desperately wanted a viable pregnancy.



In the last five years, I have waited in the NICU or by my cell phone to hear about 11 different children with severe or extremely rare medical needs.


Some of those babies made it. Some of them did not. In all of those moments, the waiting completely changed me.


It is one thing to wait on something I want, a privilege I would like. It’s another to breathe prayer with every fiber of my being as I beg God for the life of a baby or a marriage or a friend. That is the kind of face-down, in-the-dirt waiting which has left me with scars. My heart has been carved in those periods of not-knowing and desperate hoping.


In my life, that waiting has ceased to be something passive and has become something active I do. It is familiar, even if I don’t always (or ever) like it. Simone Weil talks about the Greek word "hupomene," which she defines as “waiting in eager expectation.”


I hold myself still under the heaviness of the waiting. I try to be patient.


Weil says I should be eager.

***

In March 2009, I sat in front of a computer screen, heavily pregnant with my second baby girl. I had been having contractions every twenty minutes for hours. Past my due date, miserable, blimpish, I drank tea and clicked around the internet. I found a website about China Special Needs adoptions. I read almost all night, blogs and articles and chat rooms and forums.



I waited for a baby who would be born two days later, healthy and purple and squalling with life, but I began to pray again, eagerly, expectantly, for another one.

***

Now we are waiting again, this time for our third daughter who will be coming home from China hopefully sometime next year. The home study was in November. The dossier should be finished and sent off in a month or so.



Our case worker said we could be home with a baby in June at the earliest. And suddenly, six to nine months seems like a lifetime.


We’re researching doctors, preparing for surgeries, thinking through the options for whatever her special need ends up being.


There’s no baby yet—we’ll be matched when our dossier is logged into the system in China—but whoever she is, she already exists. It is likely she has already been born, already abandoned, already placed in the orphanage crib. She is going through a winter somewhere without me and I find myself waking up breathing out to God: please let someone hold her, love her, sing her lullabies, keep her safe, please...just…please.


When we hung up her stocking in our house this year, my little one said, “I sure really miss my new sister.” Our whole family waits and prepares and prays.

And we know, when she gets here, everything will be different and hard and good all at once.


I groan and hold still in the heaviness. With Mary, who waited for a baby and then waited for that baby to die, with the angels who quiver with waiting for the sons of God to be revealed, with all the mothers with empty arms who long with every fiber of their being for babies to come, I wait. I am reminded this week especially that not all waiting is good, that sometimes we wait for a grief that is more horrific than we can prepare for, and I am humbled by the weight of their incomprehensible waiting.


For those who wait in grief and those who wait in hope, I pray this season, as we wait together in all the active stillness of that holy word.



J. R. Goudeau is the Executive Director and co-founder of Hill Country Hill Tribers, as well as a grad student in English literature. When she’s supposed to be working on her dissertation, she can usually be found blogging about books, babies and Burmese refugees at Love Is What You Do.