I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
Psalm 130: 5
Every family has their own holiday traditions. Regardless of faith, there is some rhythm and pattern that is created within a family unit to mark how each holiday is done. Thanksgiving, here, Christmas there….Hannukah, Easter, Seder, Mass, Ramadan, Fourth of July….if you ask most families, they will share some sort of ritual that their tribe ascribes to to mark the day. Until the tradition changes, or a wrench is thrown in.
In my family, Christmas Eve is always at my in-laws. This, in years past, has been a crowded occasion with my MIL’s family and their closest friends (who are family as well). We spend the day taking pictures in front of a large ornate tree, eating nonstop, and reminding our children to play nice with the Legos and plush Grinch that has survived two generations. We drive home after much merriment, tuck our kids in, and invite Santa to bring presents. The next morning mirrors many homes, with presents and then my in-laws, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law arriving to our home for Christmas dinner….and more presents.
You might be wondering why I giving you the itinerary for our holiday. It is because this year it changed, for the first time in 13 years.
On Saturday, December 21, my daughter developed a fever. It was pretty high too, considering I immediately began rotating ibuprofen and acetaminophen. I found myself waiting up with her… checking every two hours as if she were again an infant, watching, waiting, in vigil to check her progress.
Mothers are used to this gig. As infants our babies need us to feed them every few hours to make it through the night. As they become toddlers, those needs shift to water, going potty, or comforting after a nightmare. For G in particular, she did not sleep through the night until she was six.
So, finding myself back in this place, falling asleep next to her on the tiny bed, tiptoeing back in to take her temperature, coaxing the medicine down, and repeating the cycle came naturally. I quickly fell back into the rhythm, my own body waking me without her call to check on her.
As I was laying with her I began to think of Vigils that we hold sacred: the waiting that marks advent, the counting down to Christmas. My mind wandered to the vigil Mary held, that all women hold as they wait for the arrival of their babies, and the vigils we hold less sacred as mothers throughout the entirety of our children’s lives. As I stroked my girl’s hair I whispered prayers of healing and peace over her little body.
Waiting is something I am not good at. Not because I am necessarily impatient, but that I am desperate with uncertainty. The “what’s to come” is an undoing agent for me, for my tilt is toward the fatalistic, pessimistic, and often fearful assumption of the worst. In our current season of parenting, everything feels like a wait…. How will they turn out? Will they be OK? Will this require counseling…..? And yet, this time, I found peace holding my girl while she felt her worst.
Our traditions this year were already altered. 2019 was a year of loss, and we went into Christmas knowing that joyful moments would be bittersweet, with family members no longer there. And as I found myself inthemidst of a flu diagnosis and the uncertainty of family gatherings, I experienced unexpected gratitude. I found the breathe of my prayers saying, “Thank you God for this time of quiet with my girl. Let us both remember this year together. ” “Thank you God for the time my boy has alone with his grandparents. Let there be memories they never forget…”
And the restless sleeplessness brought less tension than usual.
As much as I dislike waiting, I abhor the lack of sleep even more. And I feel whispers and and prompting that the Spirit might be encouraging me to lean into both, rather than fight it.
Now a word came to me secretly; my ears caught a whisper of it. Job 4:12
So while I am still working out, leaning in, praying over the next few days about what it all means….my word for 2020 is Vigil.
This is a shift in thinking. Rather than simply stating I am waiting obediently for God’s will to be made manifest, I am striving to become an active participant the wait. I will participate in more expectant, purposeful prayer, and dedicate my times of sleeplessness to the Lord. If I find myself lacking in slumber, I will keep watch over the burdens He has placed on my heart and chase His presence through His word and spirit.
Our God is infinitely good, and we were still able to fulfill some of our Christmas traditions. We settled into the love of presence and gratitude for each moment spent alongside our family.
“So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” Hosea 12: 6
And now, as I wait the coming of a new year, a new decade, a path of brand new for my own life as well as that for my whole family, I will wait in joyful anticipation for what goodness is in store.
I will see you again in the New Year!