It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas around our house. It was an especially long and beautiful fall, but we are ready for some yuletide cheer.

We celebrate Advent as a means of preparing for Christmas. Advent is a season of spiritual preparation which focuses on waiting with expectation for the birth of Christ. It’s a good way to slow down the season of frenzy and give ourselves some time to reflect and prepare for Christmas.

Many families wait to decorate till closer to Christmas as a means to keep the Advent waiting alive in their hearts. Growing up, we didn’t decorate the tree until my birthday on December 19th. Having a birthday the week before Christmas made the holiday season extra bright. My mother told me that she and my six older siblings used to set up our tree on Christmas Eve before I was born. But when I was born, that tradition changed. My Dad and brothers and sisters set up the tree in time for our homecoming from the hospital. I can only imagine the joy they all felt bringing a new baby into the home for Christmas. I’m glad it was me!

In our family, we decorate slowly but we start the day after Thanksgiving because it takes a while to get it all done! This year it was too hard to wait since Thanksgiving was so late. We used the beautiful fall weather to decorate outside in “Jo’s Cottage.” We turned those lights on a few weeks before Thanksgiving. My daughter Johanna and I were so excited by the early snowfall against the bright white twinkles in our backyard. 

Our Advent wait also started early as we are renovating our home to make it more accessible for Johanna. We need to accommodate for the changes in her mobility after this most recent decline in her motor and cognitive abilities. I’ve had no washer or dryer for the past six weeks as we needed to move the appliances to make room for a roll-in shower in the bathroom and build a laundry room in the garage. It’s a work in progress and it’s hard to wait.

As we wait (and the laundry piles up from time to time) we’ve been keeping Jo busy with her artwork and with building a gingerbread house for a competition that benefits a local nonprofit. Johanna now has her own “Jo’s Cottage” store online where you can purchase her artwork printed on notecards. You can purchase a pack here. All the proceeds go towards helping us with the renovation. 

As we prepare to fill the orders, a 10-foot evergreen is sitting undecorated in our living room. This weekend we’ll hang the lights and by the third Sunday of Advent next week, the house will be decorated for Christmas.

I think sometimes we confuse waiting with being passive — not taking any actions because we need another component to finish a task. The dictionary definition of waiting is a noun: “the action of staying where one is or delaying action until a particular time or until something else happens.” But there’s always the transitive verb form, wait — “to stay in place in expectation of — which is full of possibilities.

The longest Advent of my life happened when Johanna was just six years old. She had suffered a near-fatal bleed in the basilar artery in the brain and was placed in a drug-induced coma to give her brain time to heal. The bleed happened in the operating room during an emergency surgery the day after Thanksgiving. 

My husband and older three kids were in Illinois with family while Johanna and I were in the PICU at home. It was the first time we were separated for major surgery. But I asked my husband to please stay with the kids so they wouldn’t have to spend another holiday in the hospital. 

I prayed in the waiting room with some friends who had come to offer support while Jo was in surgery. But at a certain point, I asked for quiet to pray. While waiting, I felt a powerful sense of God’s presence and heard the Lord tell me there was a life-altering event happening in that operating room. I knew Johanna’s life was in danger. As I prayed, I envisioned the surgeon’s hands as I prayed for him even more than Jo. 

When the surgeon emerged into the waiting room he confirmed my sense in prayer as he told me there was a “catastrophic event” in the operating room, but miraculously Johanna survived the bleed. I broke down sobbing in our conversation but ended taking his hands in mine and leading us together in prayer. 

I remember thanking God for saving Jo and for guiding this surgeon’s hands which I now held in my own and for asking for the grace to wait for the restoration and healing to come. 

The waiting happened as the hiss and hum and beeps of the respirator controlled my daughter’s breathing and kept her brain at rest. Every breath was calculated even as other leads attached to Jo’s head registered that her brain was asleep in her own Advent wait. 

When my children returned, they greeted their little sister with hopeful exclamations telling Jo stories of the holiday celebrations awaiting her as they bravely held her death-cold little hand. I will never forget the image of my teenage son pressing his lips close to Jo’s ear as he sang her a sweet lullaby.

We set up a little Christmas tree and a manger on the hospital ledge. A large stuffed Pooh bear and Tigger laid in wait at Jo’s feet during the day. They served as my comfort pillows at night, taking away some of the aches I felt to hold my baby in my arms.

It was a long wait that Advent but it was not at all passive. As we waited for Jo’s brain to heal, we still had to battle swelling and seizures in the brain. She needed more brain surgery even while she was in the coma because the bleeding in her brain was clotting the drains and causing more pressure on her brain. Then she developed an aneurysm that needed to be coiled. 

As we waited with expectation, we fought to save Jo’s life. 

And so, that Advent taught me: God is in the waiting. 

The Lord was more real and present to me in the PICU than in any church. He was giving us the strength to hope and the courage to fight for what we did not see. 

God is in all our Advent waiting and draws us closer to His heart even as we wait for the Lord to come.

There is a song I love called  “Take Courage.” You can watch and listen here:

The chorus reminds me of Advent:

“Take courage my heart
Stay steadfast my soul
He's in the waiting
He's in the waiting
Hold onto your hope
As your triumph unfolds
He's never failing
He's never failing
He’s in the waiting” 

(“Take Courage” by Kristene DiMarco/ Bethel Music)

Most of us are waiting for something and the wait is hard to do — especially when we are waiting for loved ones to be healed from sickness and disease. Waiting for relationships to heal also requires patience and prayer. 

But in all these, we can persevere with active faith — pursuing avenues for healing even as we wait. Recognizing that God changes our hearts and He is with us in the waiting helps us to wait with expectation for the full purpose to be revealed. 

May you find God’s presence in your Advent wait. He’s there waiting for you. 

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen