Advent has begun, that season of time leading up to Christmas, drawing ever closer to the celebration of the birth of Christ. You want to understand anticipation and excited preparation? Six years ago, I began the Advent season more than eight months pregnant with Jules. If ever there is anyone in the world who knows what it means to wait with great expectation it is a woman at the end of pregnancy. As Christmas drew nearer, my anticipation of celebrating the birth of a baby was beyond measure. Twenty days. Ten days. Five days.
Four days before Christmas Jules arrived.
Four days later I rejoiced at another birth that had happened two thousand years before. My perspective on Christmas has forever been altered in having a December baby.
Two babies separated by centuries, both dear and loved, but one who was, who is God. Emmanuel. Savior.
The best kind of waiting is knowing that something great is coming. We even have a saying that we can hardly wait. It's anticipation thrumming through our veins, excitement pushing us forward just a little bit faster.
We know the other kind of waiting though. The kind we hope to avoid. I have known the kind of waiting that pushes you down, makes time move slower, fills your soul with anything but joy. Waiting for news from the doctor. Waiting for news of the job. Waiting to fulfill a dream that suddenly seems impossibly out of reach. Dread. Disappointent. Fear.
Last summer, I got a taste of this kind of waiting.
We had spent the afternoon at the beach, and we were packing up to head home. Jason and Jules headed towards the parking lot bathroom, climbing a sand dune that stood between the beach and the cars. Sydney, Addie, my friend Kim and I gathered the rest of our things, but Sydney wanted to catch up to Jason.
I'm going after Daddy! she called and then was out of sight.
Kim, Addie and I got to the car and started loading everything up. Jason came out of the bathroom with Jules and asked, Where's Syd?
She's with you, I said.
No. She's not.
It had been 10 minutes since I had seen her walk over the hill. All this time I thought she was with Jason getting cleaned up.
The parking lot is small, and Sydney is no wanderer. A surge of panic.
Jason took off running in one direction, and Kim in the other. I stood there next to the car, holding Addie, trying to keep calm next to Jules.
I yelled Sydney's name into the tall grasses, yelled for her into the trees near the parking lot, yelled and yelled, knowing full well that the ocean roar was swallowing my words.
People nearby heard me yelling, and they started looking. First two, then four, then dozens. Everyone searching the beach for the little blonded haired girl in purple.
I couldn't go running down the beach because I needed to stay with the other girls, and stay by the car in case Sydney came back. All I could do was wait.
After 30 minutes I called 911. My daughter is missing, I told the dispatcher. Eight years old. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. 54 inches tall. Dressed in all purple.
They would assemble a search team and call me back.
A woman came up to me and said, I saw a man in a van. He was in the driver's seat, a woman in the passenger seat, and he was smoking. The van was waiting by the trees.
I heard a report once about our brain being able to stretch out time when it's under a life-threatening situation. I immediately knew what they were talking about because that's exactly what happened to me the day Sydney was missing.
A man in a van. I had seen a man standing on top of the dunes, taking pictures. I had seen another man wearing a baseball hat, sketching--watercolors maybe?--the ocean. I closed my eyes and thought of all possible scenarios, but only one seemed plausible to me:
Someone had taken Sydney.
In an instant, I played out my life without her. I would have two kids, not three. Jules would now be the oldest sibling. Sydney was not coming back. It wasn't that I had completely lost faith, it was, in fact, the opposite. In the face of horror I knew that God was going to hold me up. I didn't know how He would do it, but I had faith that He would because He has done it before.
Jules said, "Let's pray, Mama," and we closed our eyes. I listened to her ask what I had been asking for more than a half hour, Please, dear Jesus, help us find Sydney. Jules was silent for a moment and then said, "I'm going to miss Sydney."
Advent season doesn't ellicit a time-standing-still emotion for me. I'm waiting for the celebration, but Christmas is only part of the story. I wasn't part of the people who waited thousands of years for a Savior. I am part of another people who have been waiting thousands of years for another return. I don't worry that Christmas won't come this year, that the angels won't sing to the shepherds, that a tiny baby won't be born in a barn. I have the benefit of having already connected the dots.
But what if I didn't?
What if I, like so many people, continue to wait--or, more likely, have given up waiting--for a Savior?
Forty-five minutes after Sydney went missing, a man came running down the path, the tall beach grasses cutting at his legs.
They found her.
I held my breath.
She's safe. She's right over the hill.
My knees stopped holding me up, my hands filled with sand, my sobs uncontrollable. In one brief moment, grace had been poured out on me in the form of a few words of good news. Sydney had been made whole again. I ran up the hill, through the sand and grass, grabbed Sydney to me and scared her to pieces with my sobbing. Then I hugged all the people who had helped look for her even though some of them probably thought I was being overly dramatic.
But that is what gratitude looks like. You are not embarrassed about looking foolish or silly because your life has been changed and you want everyone to know it.
I called the 911 dispatcher back and told her the good news. We had found Syd, she had gotten lost in the dunes, and had followed a group of horseback riders down the beach knowing that they would eventually lead back to the parking lot. The woman on the other line rejoiced in the good news and was relieved that the search-and-rescue team would not be heading our direction.
We walked back to the car, brushed the sand off our shoes, and drove home.
When I think of waiting in anticipation, I think of two moments. I think of my December 2006. There was no faking the anticipation. No "let's imagine that we're waiting for good news." I knew waiting because it was real, and it was the best kind.
And I think of July 18, 2012, when the waiting wrenched my soul into a million different pieces, and then mercifully was restored. The story could have ended differently, but we found her. Safe and safe and safe.
I asked her later if she thought we would find her.
"At first I did, but then I got worried. I told myself not to cry, but then I thought that I was going to be stuck on the beach forever."
While I was waiting for someone to lead Sydney to me, she was waiting for someone to find her. Someone did find her--a mother with two daughters who had heard a mile down the beach that someone was looking for a little girl dressed in purple. And then that mother walked my little girl back to me.
We don't usually get to choose the kind of waiting that comes to us. Maybe we plan the good kind of waiting. And maybe the bad kind falls in its place.
No matter what, I have this to hold onto:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
This kind of waiting?
It's the best kind.