2016 has been a hard year the most difficult year of my life. It is a year that has been filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Hope. Anticipation. Joy. Loss. Grief. Despair.

Losing Alexander in July has left this year’s Advent season feeling very different from last year.

Flashback to one year ago today: It was a Sunday. I was just starting to have some inklings that I might be pregnant. We had spent the weekend with Scott’s parents and were getting ready to have some friends from church over for dinner. I had mentioned to Scott a couple times over the weekend that I thought there was a chance I might be pregnant, and I picked up some pregnancy tests from the store but was waiting until Monday morning to take a test after a full weekend with family and friends. There was so much anticipation and expectation building already as we had been hoping and praying about starting a family of our own. Those friends that we had over for dinner on that Sunday–a family who we were really looking forward to getting to know a little better, parents who we really look up to and kids who are just fun to be around. There was no way we could have known on that day what that day and that Advent season and the coming year would bring and the meaning they would hold. There was no way we could have known on that day what our friendship with the SC family (I’m going to just go ahead and call them that because all of their initials are SC) would come to mean to us in the coming year.

Fast forward back to today.

The SC family has become so important to us in our journey of grief. Probably more important than they know. They have walked with us so closely, and have become an irreplaceable part of our tribe. We eat dinner with them on a regular basis–which works so well since we live in the same neighborhood. We do life together in a way that feels so much like family. We laugh together. We cry together. We play games together. We run errands together. We eat together.

And in a lot of ways, we parent together. It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking to see Scott invest his dad energy in the SC boys. It means more than words can say when the words, “What’s your input as a parent?” are spoken to us.

It’s amazing to me the difference a year can make.

This past weekend, I did something that I have never done before–at least not quite in the way that I did this weekend. SC and I started talking last week about this time about doing some sort of girls’ weekend away as a way to just get some rest and reprieve and change of pace from normal life. We talked about it and laughed a little, and then by the end of the week we were making it happen. We finalized plans on Friday and hit the road for Chicago at 11pm Friday night for a girls weekend getaway in the city. It was crazy. And spontaneous. And oh so fun. We didn’t make hotel reservations until we were halfway there, north of Indianapolis at almost 2am. We checked into our hotel at 3am Central Time and packed as much quintessential Chicago and rest into the weekend as possible. We pulled back into the neighborhood at 11pm Monday night, exactly 72 hours after we left Friday night.

Seventy two hours. Seventy two hours. Seventy two hours. Millennium park and the bean. Deep dish pizza. Skyline views. 96th floor views from the Signature Lounge. An evening of entertainment seeing Stomp at Broadway in Chicago. Shopping on Michigan Avenue. A visit to Navy Pier. Seventy two hours of quintessential Chicago. Seventy two hours. Seventy two hours.

More than anything, though, I am thankful for the experience we shared at Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue. We happened to find ourselves in Fourth Church on Saturday afternoon when we walked in at the tail end of an open house they were having. We spent almost an hour inside learning about the history and symbolism of the beautiful 102 year old sanctuary, the unique inner city ministry of the historic congregation, and the many ways they provide a sacred space and holy ground that is so perfectly juxtaposed against the consumerism and overindulgence found on Michigan Avenue. It is like stepping into another world. On Saturday, we explored the historic sanctuary as well as the modern Gratz Center which houses offices, program spaces, and a modern chapel with a beautiful tiled prayer labyrinth.

We decided to return to Fourth Presbyterian on Sunday afternoon for the 4:00pm Jazz at Four Advent worship service. Advent is a season of hope and anticipatory waiting as we prepare our hearts, minds, and spirits for the coming of Christ in Christmas. As I wrote last week, this December and this Advent is hard for me. The kind of hope and waiting I am experiencing this year are so very different from a year ago. Last year, I was living so much into the anticipation and waiting of Advent. This year, I am yearning so much for just a glimmer of hope.

When we walked into the historic sanctuary after walking eight blocks through downtown Chicago in a heavy, fluffy snowfall, there was no way of knowing what an incredible sense of warmth and hope we would be invited into or how deeply God would meet us through these strangers and friends in a way that was incredibly personal to the exact season of life in which we find ourselves.

The Gospel lesson for the day was from Matthew 3:1-12, read from the Common English Bible in which John the Baptist proclaims: “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” Here it comes. It is both here and on its way. In the sermon, Minister for Congregational Life Nanette Smith proclaimed the Good News of a hope in Advent that is gritty and grounded. A hope that is not blind optimism or happiness, but rather that meets us exactly where we are, recognizing that the glass is both half empty and half full. A hope that is gritty in that it is real and uncomfortable and that is grounded in recognizing God’s faithfulness through every season and every circumstance. (I am waiting so impatiently for the sermon manuscript and audio to be posted on the Fourth Presbyterian website so that I can revisit those words and truths over and over and over again.)

I think a hope that is gritty and grounded is a hope that I can cling to. It is a hope that I need so desperately in this season of my life. In this Advent season. In this year that has been so incredibly difficult and full of grief. It is a hope that I have received through this friendship with SC and the whole family. It is a hope that I experienced through laughter and tears and worship and walking and waiting and driving and stillness and silence and listening and so many other things during this weekend in Chicago.

Gritty and grounded.

Gritty and grounded.

During the offering in worship on Sunday, the jazz musicians offered up this Carole King song that I had heard only once or twice in my life. But as I sat in that holy space with a very special friend of mine, I couldn’t help but be overcome by all the feels. It is a song that now holds such special meaning to me, and that I have been listening to today on repeat. And, so, today I leave you with this song and with a few snapshots from a much needed weekend getaway in Chicago.

 

When you’re down and troubled
And you need a helping hand
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there
You’ve got a friend
If the sky above you
Grows dark and full of clouds
And that old north wind begins to blow
Keep you head together
And call my name out loud
Soon you’ll hear me knocking at you door
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there
Ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend
When people can be so cold
They’ll hurt you, and desert you
And take your soul if you let them
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there
You’ve got a friend
You’ve got a friend
Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend
Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend
A peaceful late evening visit to the snow covered bean in Millennium Park on Sunday evening.
A peaceful late evening visit to the snow covered bean in Millennium Park on Sunday evening.
buchannanchapel
Buchanan Chapel at Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago.

 

stomp
SC and I seeing Stomp at Broadway in Chicago Saturday night.

 

millenniumchristmas
Made a stop to see the Christmas tree in Millennium Park and paused to think of my boy and how much I am missing him in this season.

 

navypier
Spent some time shopping and dining at Navy Pier on Monday before heading home.

 

skyline
SC and I at my favorite Chicago skyline stop. Too bad the fog cut off the tops of all the buildings. Great company, mediocre skyline views.

 

alexanderchicago
Picked up these keychains for Scott and I while doing some last minute souvenir shopping at Navy Pier. Always thinking about my sweet boy.
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2 thoughts on “Gritty and Grounded Hope.

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