Advent finds me.  She finds me weeping and wondering, broken and whole, hurting and healed all co-mingling in the mystery that is Jesus.
Is this Christmas season far from “Christmas-perfect” for you? Is your journey towards Christmas messy, ugly, difficult, seemingly impossible?  Mine is. If yours is too, I invite to accept the gift that ugly and beautiful are NOT mutually exclusive.  I invite you to accept the gift that in the messy, painful, angry, and impossible, Hope and Joy can still be found and coexist with it all.
It is in the gift of these “co-minglings” that Advent finds me with a Joy that accepts the realities of the day (no matter how rotten they are) but chooses to look with gratitude towards the glimpse s of Hope tucked into each day as i slow down and keep my eyes and ears and hearts open.  
Here is my Advent journey this year.  Not at all concise.  Not at all a pretty gift wrapped up in a perfect bow.  But this Advent journey of mine is rich and good and beautiful.  Come join me:

I entered Advent looking, seeking for more of God’s glory.  On earth as it is in heaven.  Our church’s sermon series is “here comes heaven.”  Bright, shiny, optimistic!  Let’s replace despair with Hope!  These are words I tout from my blog over and over.  These are words I believe whole hearted. They are pretty, and they are perfect, and they are inspiring.
 However, I am realizing that these words have an underbelly that must be addressed.  The hope of Christ is not a perfectly shiny packaged gift with an extravagant perfectly crafted bow. Yes it is a simple (and beautiful) gift to receive (by simply believng): but, the journey of opening it is an arduous one wrought with the challenges of being human.
Being expectant.  A season of waiting.  The “not yet”.  Looking towards the unknown.
I went to an advent retreat yesterday (1).  This retreat highlighted the journeying surrounding advent in the scriptures.  Angels journeying to Mary and Joseph and Zechariah.  Mary journeying to Elizabethand Jechariah’s place.  Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem.  The journey into the unknown.  The journey of the impossible –  immaculate conception.
As I learn more and more about my personality, I uncover that as a performance driven perfectionist I am not very in tune with my emotions.  I’ve always known that I’m not a terribly emotional woman.  I didn’t realize until recently that I wear this as my armour.  Brene Brown says perfectionism is a 20 ton shield. (2)  It hides the shame and fear.  I am on a journey towards dismantling my shield, to lightening my load.  A journey towards understanding myself better.  Understanding who God has made me to be: gifts, talents, strengths…. weaknesses.  Oh those weaknesses!(3)  It’s a tedious and not so pleasant journey.  It forces me into the ugly that I’ve become proficient in either running from or smoothing over with a perfect, pretty bow of achievement and efficiency.   I don’t like opening up the pretty package and getting my hands in the junk (sh#t) within. 
One station at the Advent retreat was contemplation at the manger crèche: an empty nativity scene.  As I look at the manager crèche, perfection slips away.  I am overcome by the ugliness of it! A stable to give birth in?!!  A manger to place a babe in?!!  Think about this place in detail, allow time for the luster of Christmas “beautification” to fade.  Here is a drafty, stinky building, most certainly filled with live animals and sh#t.   Not the picture perfect place to birth your first child!  This advent season is allowed to be messy because look at this very manager image: it is messy!
As I incredulously contemplate this Jesus whispers to me, “Yes’ Cheryl, I was birthed in “imperfection” to bring perfection.
I recoil, because I like matters to be shiny and perfect.  How do I process, this?
Slowly I begin to see it:  the ugly and the beautiful co-mingle.  This manger scene.  Beautiful and ugly swirled inseparably.
And I begin to think of the cross of crucifiction.  This is a gory scene.  Ugly and gruesome.  Yet, it too is beautiful.
Within me I hear permission, “it is ugly, Cheryl, it’s okay to scream at life’s imperfections! Its okay to scream at life’s unfairness! It’s okay to scream at the downright awfulness of it all!”  It’s okay to scream at my cancer diagnosis and everything that has unraveled.
I see I have not allowed my anger of grief to sing her song yet.  And I see I must do this to keep pressing in, to pressing forward into living.  To keep pressing forward into Hope.
So here it goes:
Journal excerpt Nov. 7/18
The flux between stages of grief is confusing and complex and makes me feel like I don’t have a place.  I dance between denial, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and anger.  Yes anger I will name you.  It’s a funny thing hard to describe.  Hoping and pressing into hope is unsettling when acceptance resurfaces-  acceptance that this is what my life looks like, stage 4 brain cancer diagnosis and prognosis and all and the potential realities.
These questions: What if I only have 3 more years to live? (an arbitrary amount of time that surfaced after reading about a 5 year glioblastoma survivor)  If that’s the case what do I want to prioritize?
And this: I have glimpsed Jesus so intimately, I have touched his cloak and it was magnificent, that fear truly does evaporate because I know within my core that no matter what all will be well.
But: How do I belong in this world when I’ve begun to enjoy “normal” again – running with a dear friend, soccer, doing Christmas: buying gifts, planning, celebrating.   But I am so far from normal.  I look normal and can pretend well that I am normal but underneathe there is always this which is so NOT normal:
I feel like an expat not truly at home in my native country (“the non-cancer world”)  but not truly at home in my new country (“the cancer world”).
How do I deal with the dance between enjoying life and being optimistic and being aware of the monster they say lurks in my body?
How do I choose priorities when death could be imminent, but I’m pressing into Hope that it’s not.
These are my struggles
My uncle is dying from MS and this breaks my heart.  His daughter, my cousin, has always been my dear friend.  His youngest grandchild just a babe.  And I rally against God in the too soon of his body failing him. Anger for him.  Anger for me.
Yes it is anger.  I will finally name her for what she is.
The questions: Why? Why me? Oh God why me?
God do you not see my hopes and plans?
God do you not see my love for you?
God do you not see my husband? My children?
Oh God preserve my life.  Oh God give me a long life.
Oh God do you see me?  Do you see me! Do you see me ?!
(the whisper response): I see you.
Please heal me, I whisper back.
So what shall I do in all of this?
What shall I do?
I lean into the words of Katie Davis Majors and I choose to dare to hope. I join with her as she says,
“Maybe courage is trusting when we don’t know what is next, leaning into the hard and knowing that it will be hard, but more, God will be near.
Maybe bravery is just looking fear in the face and telling it that it does not win because we have known the Lord here.
Though we tremble and feel uncertain, courage means we press into a God who is certain, sure, steady. He carries us; He lifts our heads. And His unfailing love and comfort become our courage and our hope.
Katie continues, ““It is a brave thing to hope, to continue in hope,…”Chin up, love.”(God) whispers. “Hold on to that hope.  Eyes on me dear one. I am not done yet.” (4)
Yes, I choose to dare to hope.
(ps.  All this took place on a Sat AM before soccer practice.)
End of  journal excerpt
At my advent retreat I participated in 2 labyrinth exercises.  The handout I was given states “A labyrinth is a tool for prayer whereby a person follows a path in prayerful silence to a centre.  It is a living representation of our life journey from birth to death to new life in God” 

These are 2 images an image of an outdoor labrynith similar to the one I walked on Saturday and an image of a paper labyrinth I began coloring.  These experiences were surprisingly fruitful for me.  First I sat and colored a labyrinth.  It was annoyingly tedious. Then I walked the Labryinth, it was frustratingly tedious as well: just let me get there. Here are my responses to my labyrinth experiences.
As I return to Mary and advent I see an arduous journey demanding courage and hope.  A journey of pressing into the unknown, the waiting though it seems fruition is not coming.  Pressing into the journey while I’m screaming “Enough God. Enough, I’ve had enough!” And God whispering, “press on child.”
the Joy is in the journey,
I am not a God of “efficiency”
Stand at the watchtower and wait
Mary’s arduous advent journey.  Putting words in her mouth to echo my own I hear “a long donkey ride while pregnant?! Are you kidding me?!” and “This is taking freaking forever!!!”
But God replies, “My gift is… forever.” 
And to my performance driven perfectionist self:
Slow down.  Enjoy the journey.  Lengthen your days by being present in them.
Like Mary chose to say, “Yes”, to being Jesus’s mother I say “yes” to being present in the ugly, in the pain, in the unknown, NOT rushing to find certainty (that does not exist); but finding beauty right where I am.
And I see this is what hope and courage mean  —-  not waiting for the rescue in angst, but realizing that the rescue is actually in THIS moment, every moment – God with me –through the ugly, broken, stinky mess that life is.  God with me: good news that brings great joy.  Good news and great joy that exist even when the impossible of life comes around and trys to steal this good news and great joy.  Good news and great joy because nothing is impossible for God. 
I’ve been warring with my diagnosis this past week as I await MRI results.  I sat in church service this morning very much in need of a HUGE dose of hope.  In need of being reminded, passionately reminded, that I have a God who gives hope. Our pastor this morning reawakened the hope I need to keep pressing on in this arduous journey.  He preached that when the angels spoke to Mary “nothing is impossible with God” the angels offer not an announcement; but rather an invitation.  An invitation to say yes, like Mary, to step into the impossible trusting God to make it possible.  An invitation to step into “holy boldness” and courage. Step by step believing that God is bigger than my impossible.  SO much bigger. (5)
This is where advent finds me this year.
To close, an Advent poem voicing the longings of my heart to see cancer destroyed in my body that I may raise my children and more.  Please join me in prayer for the impossible to be realized in my life.  Thank you.
My Holy Assignment: an advent poem
By Cheryl Rostek
My Holy assignment is to love my children
The best I know how.
To open my heart.
Loving. Oh so loving.
Wanting to protect these precious babes.  
My gifts.
So pure.
To Hope so boldly
Pressing in to the
With all my guts
That there is a horizon of
In this mysterious (scary)
Oh God rain down blessing on this
My holy assignment.
(1) Advent Retreat hosted  by Lorie Martin,
(3) I watched “A wrinkle in time” with my 6 year old this past week when she was home sick.  I loved this movie.  I read the book years ago and didn’t think too much of it : too much fantasy and stuff that didn’t make sense to me.  As I watched the movie 25 years older I have much appreciation for the fantasy, for the “doesn’t make rational sense.”  In the story Meg is told that her weaknesses is her gift.  I am on the journey of discovering my weaknesses.  I hope that as I unwrap them, that God will grant me the ability to see how my weaknesses can serve me as a gift.  I think Paul’s words in the bible verse 2 Cor 12:9: [God] said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
(4) Daring to Hope, By Katie Davis Majors.
(5), at time of posting sermon not posted online yet but I’m sure it will be- sermon 1 in series “here comes heaven”