A Different Kind of Waiting

Seeing the Unseen

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It was mid-December. We were all waiting. But we weren't waiting like the rest of the world.

In homes, they waited for Christmas. Young children counted the days with their advent chains and calendars, anticipating that wonderful morning when they would tear the paper, fling the boxes, and see their wishes come true. Adults, also waiting, planned gift-giving, organized party menus, and made travel plans to visit family.

In the church, they waited for the Christ-child. Advent services on those cold, December Sundays counted down the weeks. Lighting each candle brought celebration of his birth one week closer. Pine boughs adorned the window sills and the annual “Angel Tree” stood in the corner of the fellowship hall. Familiar advent carols filled the sanctuary in anticipation of the joyful Christmas hymns to follow. 

We sang those carols. But our voices were restrained and melancholy. We yearned to focus on joy and celebrate the season as we always had. But this year was different.

We were waiting. But it was a different kind of waiting.

A young man who had spent his entire childhood as a member of our church was dying of a rare form of cancer. Morgan Bolt, 27-year-old husband to Christina, son to Marv and Linda, brother to Elyssa, Korynne and Ariane, and friend to many, was slowly fading with each passing day. We awaited the news none of us wanted to hear, yet we knew was coming.

Our holiday preparations were tempered by constant thoughts of Morgan and his family and what they were going through. Thoughts of growing tumors eclipsed trimming the trees. Reports of liver failure overshadowed holiday lights. And the word “hospice” drowned out the Hallelujah Chorus.

To ease our sadness, we prayed and spoke often of Morgan, remembering the sweet young boy who had stolen our hearts with his love of nature and hawks, roller coasters and snow-boarding.

Morgan had taught us much in the four years since that dreadful day of his diagnosis. We learned to appreciate the gift of each day as we witnessed him and Christina living fully “in the moment,” that is, as much as that’s possible when one doesn’t know how long “the moment” will last, and when juggling a host of medical symptoms, procedures, and treatments.

We learned through Morgan’s example, but also through his own words. Between chemo treatments and bucket-list adventures, he wrote a book. Cancer Just Is was published just weeks before his death. In it, he helped us understand that cancer isn’t evil, and it doesn’t “happen for a reason.” It just is. With his bright, curious mind and a firm faith in God, Morgan shed new light on difficult questions of disease and suffering.

Morgan’s book was his parting gift to us. He challenged us with these words: “So go volunteer. Go take a risk. Go live, really live. Life is shorter than we think, and we have no guarantees. Live well and love everyone, without exception.”

On Dec. 18, one week before the Christmas celebration so many were waiting for, we got the call we had been waiting for. The call we had been dreading. Morgan had taken his last breath; his wife and parents at his bedside. The waiting was over. Our hearts were broken.

In this Advent season, as we stand in long check-out lines, sing our advent tunes at church, and wait impatiently in traffic, we would do well to look around and remember the many who are hurting.

Waiting is not always a time of excitement, great expectation, and hope. The holidays are not without suffering and pain. “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” might be the most difficult time for the stranger or friend standing next to you.

The pain of losing a loved one or celebrating a first Christmas without that someone may fill their minds. They stand next to us, broken-hearted from the sorrow of the previous Advent season or the pain from a season of loss long ago.

Who do you know that is suffering this holiday season? Is there someone who has lost a loved one over the past year? Drop them a note or card, send them a message, or give them a call. Let them know you are praying for them and that you haven’t forgotten them or their loved one.

And if you’re the one who is hurting this holiday season, if you can’t find joy in the music, if you’re waiting for someone to remember you in your pain—know that you are not alone. Others are mourning with you. Despite our joyful exteriors, our hearts ache for you.

We live in a fallen world where pain, suffering, and loss are inevitable. Cancer and car accidents, heart failure and miscarriages, gun violence and war: they are all part of our current reality. And we continue to wait.

We wait for cures. We wait for solutions. We wait for peace.

But we do not wait without hope.

We light our candles. We remember the birth of the Christ-child and pray as we wait for his return. For we have been promised, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Our hope is assured by this Christ-child. And he is worth waiting for.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

About the Author

Linda L. Hanstra writes about faith, empty-nesting, and other topics at lindahanstra.com. She works as a Speech-Language Pathologist in Edwardsburg, Mich. She and her husband, Tom, attend Church of the Savior CRC in South Bend, Ind.

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Thank you for this reflection and the reminder that we wait, with a hope that is sure, even in the darkness.

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