Waiting for the Unknown

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It was time for my sister to give birth. I immediately tossed my bag into the car, kissed my husband and one-year-old goodbye, and began my six-hour road trip north. I couldn’t wait for my nephew to be born!

The next few hours and days were filled with anticipatory waiting, anxious waiting, and exhausted waiting. For two days, I piddled around the hospital waiting room, trying to focus on books I’d brought, but mostly watching HGTV on the wall-mounted screen. With a young infant myself, the experience transported me back to my own delivery the year before. I remembered my mother waiting alone outside the delivery room, for the first time recognizing how isolating that must of felt for her. Then, I thought of my mother-in-law, waiting in Guatemala, denied a tourist visa twice, and unable to be present for the birth of her granddaughter.

Marrying an immigrant invited me into a diverse group of people, who have taught me about waiting in the midst of difficult circumstances. Over the years, legislation has found its way to Congress. My mother-in-law called after the Senate passed immigration reform in the summer of 2013. “Maybe I will soon be able to come visit!” she said hopefully. But when the House refused to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote, we were heart-broken.

Pregnancy is a waiting with a clear expiration date. As people love to tell you in the frustration of the 41st week, “You won’t be pregnant forever!” But walking alongside immigrants, I have had to learn more about waiting when you have no idea when or if it’ll ever end. For my mother-in-law, it was eight years before she applied again and was granted a travel visa and came to visit us. My father-in-law applied with her and was once again denied, so the waiting continues.

During Advent, I always return to the idea of waiting. My children are old enough now that the anticipation for Christmas parties and presents is high. But as we wait for the holiday festivities, or even reflect on the birth of Christ, I am reminded there is a drop date. December 25th will finally arrive. Mary will eventually wrap the Savior in swaddling cloths and lie him in a manger.

I am learning from immigrants what it looks like to wait with dignity in the midst of the unknown. My tendency is to think about the future obsessively, talk ad nauseum to my loved ones about the variety of ways the unknown could go, and get frustrated about how long everything seems to take. But I watch others who’ve experienced ongoing challenges take these moments of waiting in stride. I witnessed Philippians 4 in action as anxiousness is bypassed for prayer and a peace that passes all understanding guards hearts and minds (verses 6-7).

In Philippians 4:4, Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” In the same way, I am frequently surprised how people in exceedingly painful circumstances can maintain a sense of humor and attitude that resonates joy. I recently sat at a dinner table with new arrivals from Venezuela, a country currently mired in political and economic turmoil. There was talk of the dangers and poverty they’d felt forced to flee. But there was also laughter and storytelling and new friendships formed.

I have also seen how those who are waiting can stand up and take ownership of their own story. In light of this fall’s cancellation of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), young immigrants have been standing up and telling their stories. They’ve been calling on Congress to act before their protections lapse. They are not waiting and biting their nails. They are taking action with strength and dignity.   

My sister eventually had her baby, and I snuggled my nephew with joy and delight. Waiting is hard. And it’s even harder when December 25th comes and goes but the waiting continues. Still, we place our hope in the Christ child. May we learn from those who walk among us how to wait with dignity, joy, and fight. Their example gives me hope.