The Children's Hospital was already decorated for Christmas. My little Bean sat curled up beside me watching a show in the waiting room, while I sat watching the activity around me. Teenagers escorted in by police. A mom talking on the phone about her fears. A baby wailing. A newborn who hadn't eaten in a day. A teenager wheeled out to an ambulance, perhaps heading to a psych hospital.
They admitted us, thinking our little girl might need surgery. We spent the night. She had an IV and some blood drawn, she slept in the little hospital gown and looked tiny and precious in the big bed. We shared our room with another little girl who needed lots of medical attention through the night. As I listened to the nurses take care of her, I was struck by their tenderness, their compassion. In the morning, the little girl's dad sat by her bed, singing softly to her.
A bit later in the morning, our little Bean was ready to go home and eat pancakes smothered in maple syrup. She was fine, no surgery needed. We came home tired, but healthy.
The night we spent in the hospital allowed me to briefly glimpse other people's stories. Stories of fear and pain. Stories of family. Stories of broken relationships. Stories of hope and hopelessness.
I had a moment, sitting in that hospital room, where I was suddenly more aware of the pain in the world. Maybe it's more pronounced in this season of Advent, more strikingly obvious against the backdrop of twinkling lights and jingle bells.
That's the funny thing about Advent.
Somehow Advent gives our longings room to breathe. They lie dormant through much of the year, still there, but hidden. And then, in Advent, they seem to burst out from beneath the frozen ground. For some, this is a gift: the recognition that we are waiting. And hoping. That there is reason for these longings because they bend our hearts toward God and God's promises.
But for others, I suspect, these longings come as uninvited guests; they remind us of our pain. Of what we lack. And we feel like we don't quite fit in this season of good cheer. A season when we can, supposedly, buy happiness and wrap it in shiny paper. We just wait for it to be over so we can go back to everyday life.
In Advent there is room for both: for longings that remind us that we have reason to hope, and for longings that remind us of our pain.
Somehow, in these short days, when shadows stretch long, there are glimpses of light. And just as our longings whisper more loudly, I think, too, that the light shines a bit brighter in Advent. But it's not always obvious. Sometimes we have to look for it. In the faces of our neighbours. In the laughter of our children. In quiet moments of gratitude. In the simple pleasures of a shared meal.
And, ultimately, in the birth of a helpless baby breathing the breath of God.
Where are you finding glimpses of light and hope these days?