Here in Casa Riselli, we’ve spent much of 2016 awaiting something. We’ve waited with great anticipation for all manner of events and visitors and change. My smallest asked repeatedly if it was her birthday yet? My oldest asked when, oh when, would Kindergarten start? This spring I woke up every morning waiting to hear where we were moving in the summer, and as we passed Thanksgiving, that question loomed again as we waited to hear where the Air Force would send us in 2017.
But my point is not what we waited for, but rather an important lesson I learned while waiting in 2016. Because as the year closes, I’m aware of what a great year 2016 has been, and I don’t want to begin 2017 without capturing the lessons of this year. After several years of cataloging my years by the amount of sleep lost to newborns and toddlers, I want to catalog this year differently. 2016 will be the year I began cataloging what I learned.
So, here’s my not quite finished thought as I look back at 2016: How I wait matters. Waiting is a constant in life. We spend an inordinate amount of our life waiting. Just today I waited in a carpool drop off line, I waited at the grocery store, and in the miles to go before I sleep, I’ll wait on my little people to: put on a coat/take off a coat/go to the potty/eat your dinner/eat your vegetables/brush your teeth/go to bed/go back to bed and much more. Repeated a dozen more times daily.
This month we’re waiting for Christmas. We’re celebrating Advent, trying to instill in little people a sense of anticipation for what Christmas brings – the birth of Jesus, the Light of the World, the Hope of Life. But let’s be honest, preschool comprehension grasps “Jesus’ Birthday” and then asks “where’s Pixie (our Elf) hiding” and “how many days until I can open those packages under the tree?” Lately, I’m reminding myself that those questions aren’t reflective of parenting fails. Rather, my girls’ endless queries about “how many more days until Christmas?” are precious childhood reminders about waiting with anticipation and expectation.
How we wait reveals our deepest beliefs. My little people wait for Christmas with great anticipation because they believe Christmas brings all good things. They are joyful. They are hopeful. The absolute last thought in their mind is that they won’t get what they want or that they will get something terrible like coal in their stockings. They believe the giver of their Christmas gifts gives all good things. Because they BELIEVE, they wait expectantly. (And, perhaps, because they believe, every gift they receive will be treasured.)
Many times this year I stepped back and realized that my emotions while waiting revealed a lot about what I believe. Too often my waiting was marked with anxiety and trepidation: was this the year that the proverbial “other shoe” would fall? Was this next assignment the one that would bring 365 days of separation? And I found myself asking, “If it is, what do I believe?” Do I believe that the Giver of life has good things in store for me? Do I believe that my God has plans to bless me, regardless of my circumstances? Do I believe the Scriptural promises that my God goes before me and with me into everywhere that I set my feet?
Vague phrases of Bible verses memorized years ago, in a different season of life, floated in and out of my mind, and this spring I made a point to find those passages. As I reacquainted myself with the truths that had provided me a sure foundation in years past, my faith felt stronger. I began to remember how filling my mind with truth offered deep roots, made my faith less susceptible to fierce winds. Taking the time to define what I believe built a strong foundation to stand upon as I waited. A strong foundation of faith enabled me to wait with certainty and trust instead of fear and trembling, and that meant I could enjoy where I was, even as I waited.
How we wait shapes our present reality. By design, our year in Alabama was a ten-month assignment. I called it our sabbatical, the Air Force called it school, and my girls called it awesome. It was a gift and we chose to steward those days and weeks accordingly. As we past my birthday in February, we entered the time period when we expected news of our next Air Force adventure. Days became weeks, and suddenly it was nearly May, and although we would leave in early June, we didn’t know where we were headed. Sometime in early April, my impatience gave way to prayer and I found a whispered truth circling my mind: “If we knew where we were going, I would start to look ahead and miss what’s right in here.” The challenge of waiting for something in the future is that we risk missing out on the present. I decided to shift my focus as we waited. I wanted to enjoy every moment of our time in Montgomery. It was a time and space to which we would never return. I embraced one of my favorite quotes from Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be ALL there.”
As we left in June, I knew the tears streaming down my cheeks represented not what I was losing as I drove away, but all that I had gained. It was hard to leave because I had invested in that place. Our family had developed deep friendships in a short amount of time because we’d intentionally sought and fostered community. We enjoyed every minute of our time in Montgomery, and for me, one of the greatest lessons of those 10 months has been to view a season of waiting as a reminder to enjoy today, and to recognize how waiting prepares me to move forward confidently.
Which is why this is the first lesson of 2016 that I’ll catalog. Because how we wait prepares us for what comes next. I owe my deepest apologies to every pastor I’ve tuned out during a sermon expounding on the virtues of patience, and how steadfast perseverance (in waiting) builds character. My head fully comprehends this truth. But quite frankly those lessons never took deep root in my heart until this year.
I’ve finally internalized a lesson I could have learned decades ago. And, please hear me say this with profound sincerity and deep recognition that it sounds trite: There’s a purpose to every season of waiting; nearly every season of waiting is also a season of preparation. How I wait matters because there’s purpose in the wait. How I wait reveals what I believe. When I take time to define what I believe and allow it to be prescriptive for my life, choosing to live what I believe will guide my steps in the journey ahead. It’s in the waiting that I have the space to take inventory. It’s in the waiting that I can examine the gap between what I believe and what I’m living. And it’s in that gap where I can change my life. How I wait teaches me to enjoy the present. When I choose to live intentionally in this time and space, I receive all that today offers. It’s in the waiting that I receive.