In the 49 years of my life, not counting the first 17 as a child living at home with no responsibilities, I will readily admit to fully embracing maybe one year of the Advent Season in its true aspect. Preparation, anticipation, even aspects of peace, love and joy, are all to be wrapped up in this season of the birth of our Lord and the promise of His second coming.
Yet, only in the one year did I allow myself to stop, repent, plan ahead, and simply receive the gifts in being still in the Spirit.
What made the one year different from the others?
An onslaught of tragedy. So much that I often refer to that period of my life as living out the book of Job. It wasn’t a month or two of down time. It was years. Five to be exact. Marriage issues. Thyroid cancer diagnosis. A hurricane (Harvey) flooding my home and being displaced for a year, while still going through cancer. Death of loved ones. The finality of the marriage issues in divorce. And then, the year I learned to be still:
Advent 2018, the year my father passed away on Christmas Eve at 4:30pm.
“Shannon, I don’t have much time,” my dad said to me when we got into his truck after learning of his terminal, stage 4 lung cancer. “I still have too much to do!”
Being with my dad was a gift during this time. None of us knew that would be the diagnosis he would receive that fateful September afternoon. I had driven the four hours to be with him as my mom was still taking care of other things at a family property in Colorado. In some ways, I do believe looking back that God chose me for that time. My dad was rushed into the mode of preparation and even repentance, and I was gifted to be alongside him as he navigated this journey of meeting his maker.
It wasn’t planning the funeral or getting financials in order that mattered the most to my dad, it was seeing everyone who was important to him and telling them he loved them. This wasn’t like him. He was a loving and caring man but also a bit gruff, straight to the point, and, let’s say opinionated, though that is an understatement. For him to want to verbally share his sentiments with you, now, this was a gift of the Spirit.
In lighting the first candle of the Advent wreath that year, I sat with my dad in the hospital. We were watching Judge Judy when he looked at me and said, “Hurry up and wait.”
I looked over at him a bit confused. “What?”
He sighed, as deep as his lungs would allow and said again, “Hurry up and wait. I feel like that’s all we do. I did everything I needed to do as if my life depended on it,” he snickered and then coughed, “thinking I could maybe add a few more months to my life, maybe even a year. But what for? Now I’m just waiting to die.”
“You’ve lived a good life, dad.” I said.
He reached over and squeezed my hand. “Yes I have, but I missed out on a lot because I rushed to the next thing.”
The third Advent candle was lit, and my dad was moved to our home on hospice. My mom, sisters, and I took care of him. One late night shift, at 3am, I sat holding his limp hand and sang the Divine Mercy Chaplet realizing how beautiful it was for my dad to fully embrace the Advent season in his final journey – he prepared and made sure what needed to be done was done, he shared his love, care and concern to all that mattered, he repented and received absolution, he ended his final days with the joy of his entire family surrounding him, and in the midst of it all he, as did I, learned to be still.
Later that afternoon, at 4:30pm, on Christmas Eve, my dad didn’t have to wait any longer and there was peace.
I wish I could say I have taken that Advent lesson and embraced it every year since. I am not as focused on presents as I used to be, I do try to make sure the gift has meaning and thought. I make sure the decorations are put up in plenty of time to enjoy them, but I still get caught in the anxiety of perfection. This party, that party, this to-do and that to-do, even penance service can get caught up in it and it all comes back in a rush and instead of being still, I find myself caught up in the whirlwind of “hurry up”.
Join me this Advent Season in being intentional in our preparation, do what’s needed with joy and love, and find the gift of peace in being still. Because truth be told, all we need to do is just show up.