Waiting… waiting… waiting…

I saw the patient’s mom walking up from the cafeteria, shoulders drooping and head down. I gently asked, “How are things?” She shook her head, “Still waiting on the doctor…” She invited me to come back with her to see the rest of the family. “We’ve had a hard day,” she said. “I think they’d like to see you.”

There were three or four family members sitting quietly in the half-darkened room, looking out over the hospital parking lot. The patient’s daughter had her phone out, texting a friend. His wife, Cheryl, sat staring off into space. I sat down next to her with a quiet greeting. She looked up, eyes filling with tears. “We don’t know about the brain scan yet but I think it doesn’t look good.” She gestured at a monitor. “There’s been little change, from what I can tell.”

I don’t know how to interpret the printouts and monitors. In a more humorous moment, I might say, “I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on TV!” On this occasion, I just held her hand and listened. Cheryl told me about the neuro checks and what the nurse had told her about the labs. She shrugged, “We just don’t know.” The nurse and I exchanged glances, somber.

“So… we wait,” I said. “And wait some more.” The results weren’t in (or the doctor hadn’t gotten to the see the family yet.) But even to my eyes, the patient’s pressures were low and his intracranial pressures seemed very high. And I knew from scanning the patient’s chart that things were indeed quite grim.

Eventually the doctor came in and the news wasn’t good. There was little to no brain activity. The patient’s pupils didn’t react to light. All of the sedation medications were out of his system, and he did not react to painful stimuli. His blood pressure remained low despite support from pressors. His heart was showing irregular rhythms here and there. “I don’t want to give up,” he said, “but in all honesty, I don’t know what else we can do.” He asked about CPR measures. Cheryl was adamant, “No more pounding on his chest and shocking him. If his heart gives out, let him go.”

The doctor nodded. “OK. I understand.” He stayed a little longer, answering questions, choosing his words carefully. He left the room to sign the DNR order.

Cardinals in my yard.
Cardinals in my yard.

Cheryl turned to me, “and so… we wait.” I nodded and sat back down. We talked about how he loved Christmas carols. How his favorite time of year was “the dead of winter” because all of the cardinals in their yard were so bright and cheery. How he was a huge optimist and always “looked on the bright side.” With a grin, she started singing the Monty Python song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” We chuckled and fell into silence. Waiting…

It was a long evening. I left and returned a couple of times, answering a page, giving them space and privacy. The family stayed in the room, snacking, talking, and at one point we prayed. It was a difficult, seemingly endless night. “I’m SO tired of waiting!” said someone at one point. Eventually, the patient had a series of afib runs and it was clear he was dying. On his own terms. At his own time.

I stayed nearby and helped as there were needs or questions. Mostly, I just waited. As the family slowly filed out, tears on their cheeks, I saw their sense of relief, their sense of benediction. The waiting was over…

This experience came to mind as I have been tussling with God over waiting. I had a timeline. We’ve long since blown past it. I had a mental plan of what might be. It was, apparently way off track. I’m starting to get really edgy. Irritable. And even a little sad.

This restlessness has woven into my Advent this year. I have never had an Advent where the waiting just got to me. Is it really over a week until Christmas? Can’t we have an END to all of this waiting? The poignancy. The worry. The “what-ifs”. The second guessing. The anticipation that there will be an answer. Soon. Maybe? PLEASE???

I am not usually a clock watcher, but lately I have been keeping an eagle eye on the clock, and a very attentive ear to my phone. Maybe this call will be THE one? I try not to be anxious. But, in all honesty, I am.

There are occasions where I have been told, “well, it just isn’t your turn yet.” Or, “your number hasn’t come up yet.” As if there is some kind of heavenly queue? I don’t think so. And yet, there seems to be a certain expectation that there will be a time of “dues-paying” until it’s my turn to reap the rewards of my persistent, insistent petitions.

But God does not work that way.

When I read the prophecies concerning the coming of the Christ Child, there was no sense that God’s people “were not ready.” or that it wasn’t their turn. No, it was much more a matter of God’s Providential timing. The choice of a woman to be the Mother. The choice of a nation, a hometown and a birthplace. Generations were born and died, one after another. And again, the people of God waited.

This season of waiting is tedious. It is easy to want to just stay busy so that the days fly by and the “next” thing can take over. But then, you miss the important work of waiting… waiting… waiting…

Allen Saunders wrote “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” (Reader’s Digest, 1957)* I made intentional changes in this Advent season in how I read my Bible. When I light the Advent wreath and sing and pray. How I plan meals, shop and even wrap presents. I’m more methodical, even while struggling with being anxious. I write future plans in my mind, knowing God has not brought things into place yet. I long for an answer. I plead for a response. I am fearful that God’s answer will not be the one that I want… And yet, I also trust… God is at work.

Psalm 13 (Contemporary English Version)

How much longer, Lord,
will you forget about me?
Will it be forever?
How long will you hide?
How long must I be confused
and miserable all day?
How long will my enemies
keep beating me down?

Please listen, Lord God,
and answer my prayers.
Make my eyes sparkle again,
or else I will fall
into the sleep of death.
My enemies will say,
“Now we’ve won!”
They will be greatly pleased
when I am defeated.

I trust your love,
and I feel like celebrating
because you rescued me.
You have been good to me, Lord,
and I will sing about you.

*Yes. that line is attributed to John Lennon, but apparently he was just quoting it. (See: Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When, 2006.)

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