Advent Letter 2021


Opening remarks

For my global community:
Anyone done with waiting for Covid to stop interfering (or worse) with your life?

For my local BC community:
Anyone done with waiting for the multiple atmospheric rivers to stop and for the flood waters to subside?

For my Brain Cancer Community:
Anyone done with the mind game of waiting for MRI results?


Yeah. Me too.



This year I resonate deeply with the season of Advent. Advent is all about waiting. It is the season of waiting for Jesus’ arrival. It’s not a pretty time as our society’s packages and sparkles and bows would have you believe. It is a gritty time where we must practice the “Discipline of Hope” (1) Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a theologian who returned to Germany, from the United States, to help Jews escape the holocaust. He was imprisoned (and later executed) for his resistance. While in prison he wrote: 

“Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten. It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot….For the greatest, most profound tenderest things in the world, we must wait. It happens not here in a storm but according to the divine laws of sprouting, growing, and becoming.” (2)


Yet this difficult waiting does not mean we stop celebrating. As Bonhoeffer describes in this letter to his family:


“We can and should also, celebrate Christmas despite the ruins around us…We must do all this, even more intensively because we do not know how much longer we have.” (2)


Though life is brutal and our longevity is questionable, we celebrate in the moments we’ve been given. Kate Bowler puts it this way: “Advent is a state of being.” (3)


Sit here for a little while and the inspiration of these words will likely evaporate, at least they did for me, leaving these thoughts: Thanks for the inspiration, Cheryl. It’s lovely and heart-warming, but inspiration only goes so far. Waiting is still hard. So, what does this mean, PRACTICALLY?

I think I might have an answer! 


(Who wants to surrender in our capitalist culture? Hang on with me. Don’t let the word Surrender scare you off.) 


Surrender Encounter 1 (of 3)


This summer the word “Surrender” came up three times within three months in three different places. Clearly God/the Universe wanted me to listen. 

I first encountered Surrender when I met with my Spiritual Director, Lorie. She introduced me to a welcoming prayer practice (4): the best anxiety-combatting tool I’ve encountered. It is grounded in neuroscience, psychology, and spirituality (5). Welcoming, the practice “manual” describes, is a “Letting Go”; saying “yes” to the Divine’s presence within you. “‘Welcoming’ [is] really surrendering,” author Mary Dyer describes, “but Westerners have such an aversion to the concept of surrender, we have to couch it in the words, ‘letting go’”.  Participants are asked to recite: “I let go of my desire for security, affection, control and embrace this moment as it is .” (6)

I looked at my Spiritual Director suspiciously and retorted, “But we need security! We need affection!” (I had already learned that control was merely an illusion).

“Oh, yes!” She replied with a loving smile, “We need them, but we already have them. The Divine has already given them to us, we just have to welcome them.”


Maybe I was (very) slowly beginning to see what she was saying.


 In the guide one of the authors, Mary Dyer, writes: 

 “Surrender is one piece [of the practice]. But it’s really about radical and invincible trust – that the Yes we are saying [to the Divine’s presence within us] is heard and received and we’re being loved to life. It’s walking in trust that the Divine Indwelling is present and living in every cell of your being, and loving you to life, It’s this gift you are opening to – and it’s already there.” (emphasis mine)


Surrender Encounter 2 (of 3)

During our first session at the family camp we attended this past August, the speaker discussed- you guessed it -surrender. I smiled as I heard her describe that surrender is trust, a letting go of self-dependence. “Surrender,” she said, “so what you have left is trust.”

She gave us a few minutes at the end of our session for meditation. In the quiet I remembered the early days of my brain cancer diagnosis and the chaos of my treatment regimen for myself and my family. During those days I thought often of the bible story where Jesus walks on water. It’s the dead of night and Jesus’ buddies are in a boat in the middle of the sea when a storm crops up. They’re in trouble. Jesus walks – atop the water- towards the boat to ease their fears, but the men freak out thinking Jesus is a ghost. Peter, clearly cocky, shouts (my paraphrase), “Jesus, man, if it’s really you ask me to come onto the water with you.” Jesus does and Peter thinks it’s pretty cool when he doesn’t sink. That is until he starts to realize how big the storm around him is and he begins plummeting into the waves. (7)  

I thought of this story alot those days because I was sinking, drowning, barely keeping my head above the disastrous waves of terminal brain cancer and trying to mother my three very young children in this storm. If only I keep my eye on the Divine, I thought, I won’t drown. My head was barely above water. (When Avril Lavign released Head Above Water in 2019 I played it endlessly on repeat; Avril understood).  

Now at Camp Oshkidee during my meditation time I had an image pop into my mind’s eye. It was an image of nearly drowning which, subsequent to surrender, morphed into walking on top of those waves. 

Surrender is about trust,  just like Peter needed to trust Jesus’ track record of doing the miraculous. I need to trust in God/ the Divine within me (9). I need to trust in myself – my body, my mind, my intuition. I need to trust in my breath to sustain me. I need to trust that the Universe is conspiring in my favor.(8)   

Just as drowning prevention courses teach the importance of resisting the instinct to thrash and fight in order to survive (you must be calm in order to float) so too, surrender is about resisting the urge to fight for control.


 Surrender Encounter 3 (of 3)

Hearing the concept of surrender twice in quick succession was noteworthy. Hearing it a third time out of my oncologist’s mouth left me wide-eyed, ears fully open.

My oncologist is a brilliant, soft-spoken man. He doesn’t usually have much to say to me beyond disclosing my test results – unless he’s asked a question, then knowledge and wisdom pours out of him. I now come prepared to my oncologist appointments with a question or two. This particular day I asked, “What are your thoughts about the interplay between the immune system and positive thinking and visualization?”

“Hmmm,” He smiled contemplatively before intricately describing, citing pertinent research, how the mind and the body are meshed. How the pituitary and the thalamus and hormones and imbalances affect the immune system. (I appreciated him talking to me like a peer, but most of it was beyond what I could remember from my physiology classes). 

“Ancient wisdom knows this.” He stated.

I smiled and nodded trying to remember as much of what he was saying as possible. He continued, “The state of accepting the moment as it is, is the key. This is surrender. It’s not about giving up, like most people think, but of releasing. And this is what positively impacts our epigenetics and therefore our immune systems.”  

I was gobsmacked. Surrender would boost my immune system?! My immune system that needs to be on guard to surveil for unruly cancer cells? Surrender was…
a power move!


Closing remarks

Advent and surrender are all about gritty hope and trust when circumstances are unfavorable. To close, I will share the most impactful quote I have read since beginning my brain cancer journey. James Stockdale, who spent eight years as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam, says: 

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end- which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” (11) 

Stockdale’s words are about keeping your eyes wide open, all the while: Believing. Hoping. Waiting.


Maybe this is the magic of Advent.


Wishing you love and grace for your journey this Advent season.





  1. “Discipline of Hope” is Kate Bowler’s phrase from day 2 of her Advent Devotional: the season of almost. Available here:  Advent – Kate Bowler
  2. As quoted in Kate’s devotional, referenced above
  3. “Advent is a state of being” is also from Kate’s Devotional —just go and read the whole thing!!!
  4. The Contemplative Life Program practice guide by Contemplative Outreach.
  5. Much of what I learned from the groundbreaking book on trauma called The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk is echoed in this welcoming prayer practice. Highlighting the difficult and important work of cracking into subconscious processes. 
  6. Aka “Let go and let God”; The Contemplative Life Program practice guide by Contemplative Outreach.
  7. Matthew chapter 14, the Bible.
  8. Christians call this the Holy Spirit
  9. This is a reference to how life is discussed in the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It is an allegory of life and a must-read.
  10. I first came across this quote when I read Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead, p.57. The original quote is from Good to Great by Jim Collins, p.13.