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Refining hope

The preset buttons on my kitchen radio are all programmed to the same radio station this time of year. My 16-year-old loves Christmas music; as soon as the local station starts the 24-7 Christmas line-up, she’s thrilled – and making us all listen (whether we like it or not). She loves the musical anticipation of Christmas.

Anticipating Christmas is often just as exciting as the actual day of Christmas. Mixed in with the parking spot rage and shopping list angst, people do seem to be extra cheerful in November and December. The Christian season of Advent brings a special perspective to the four weeks that precede Christmas Day. The retelling of the stories of Simeon and Anna are comforting because we know their hope is realized with the arrival of the Christ child.

With all the tinsel and outdoor-clip-on-your-eaves trough lights, today’s anticipation of Christmas can build an almost unrealistic expectation of the actual day, as if all our awesome Christmases of the past (and whatever Hallmark movies we memorized) will be re-lived in that one day. Instead, for some people, the anticipation of Christmas is filled with trepidation, fueled by family strife and financial hardship.

The dreams of the heart
Anticipation has taken on a different impression for me in the years I have become a mother. I remember anticipating the arrival of our oldest daughter Emily. In light of the miscarriage we had the year previous, Emily’s arrival was extra special. She did not come without some panic, and the labour was much longer than anyone guessed, but she was healthy and beautiful.

Anticipating Sophia after birthing Emily was like riding a bike for the second time, a much easier experience than the first awkward ride. With no concerns over the health of me and the baby, Sophia’s birth came with feelings of pure joy and relief.

I remember anticipating Rachel’s birth. It was around this time, 12 years ago, we learned the baby (then at 20 weeks) was raising some concerns with geneticists and radiologists. Slowly, throughout the months that followed, our anticipation turned into a struggle between despair and determination. We were determined to welcome our new little one, but we despaired with each worrisome report from our team of doctors at McMaster Children’s Hospital.

I suppose I naively assumed Janneke would arrive as Soph did, accompanied with feelings of relief and pure joy. We were certainly hopeful she would bring some healing from our sadness with Rachel’s birth. In fact, there was an extraordinary strong feeling of peace the week before Janneke was born. I thought the peace was due to the fact we were going to have a healthy baby. This was not meant to be. The peace became the calm before the storm, and her birth instead brought tremendous sorrow.

The limitations of our being
All of these experiences serve to remind me our anticipation is limited by our human inability to know all and see all. We anticipate what we know. We anticipate what we think we need. We anticipate what we wish. There’s little to convince me that the Jews at the time of Christ’s birth were anticipating a baby born to a young couple staying in a space ordinarily reserved for animals.

During my pregnancy with Rachel, I desperately hoped for a miracle. I hoped the doctors were wrong, and I hoped we would all be surprised by a healthy baby girl. We were still surprised when Rachel was born, but it certainly wasn’t with joy.

Refined and renewed
Research tells us having hope is the key to engineering resilience when living with adversity. The practice of anticipation aligns with having hope; to look forward to something motivates us to keep going. Though what transpires may be so different from what you anticipated, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of hope. The hope that comes from the disappointment is refined, and we renew our anticipation.

Merry Christmas. May you confidently hope in the mystery of his prevailing comfort and grace. One day, this will be the best Christmas ever.  

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”

– Emily Dickinson

  • The Pot family story is about faith and disability as experienced through a life of caregiving for daughters Rachel and Janneke.

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