In the Christian tradition we have entered Advent: the anticipation of Jesus’ arrival, the anticipation of Christmas. Christmas: “the most wonderful time of the year”. My heart trills, giddy with expectation for the delight of Christmas morning and the glee of three young children. 


Yet, anxiety hitches in my chest. It’s not because there are gifts to buy and there are more concerts and activities this year with Covid restrictions eased (at least it’s not only because of these things). Since my brain cancer diagnosis and my twelve month prognosis, I have wrestled with trying to breathe deep, I have struggled to unclench my jaw, I have fought for a baseline sense of calm. That’s understandable, you might say (at least my oncologist does). Perhaps it’s understandable, but it’s frustrating as all get out. I’ve been doing all the things: exercise, good diet, eight hours of sleep at night, meditation. They help, but my chest still squeezes in the noisiness of family life- or for no apparent reason at all.

So I started reading Pema Chodron’s book The Places That Scare You: A guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times. I thought it would be about fear of death and disease, you know the big fears of life. But it’s more basic and wonderful than that. The places that scare us, Chodron says, are uncertainty and the “fear of a fluid world”. This is why we suffer. “How are we going to spend this brief lifetime?” Chodron asks, “Are we going to strengthen our well-perfected ability to struggle against uncertainty, or are we going to train in letting go?” Nothing stays the same no matter how badly we want it to.

Frozen II Wisdom

Three years ago I sat in the theater beside my daughter, mesmerized by Frozen II. Anna has survived a near-death experience. She is now engaged to Kristoff, this wonderful guy and she’s delighting in her renewed relationship with her sister, Elsa. Life is finally grand and Anna wants it to stay that way. But summer has shifted to fall, change is inevitable, and now her sister is hearing a voice, a calling that is about to upheave both their lives. Elsa sings, “I can’t freeze this moment, but I can still go out and seize this day.”                

Like Anna, I struggle to adapt to change. “There is a chaos-control spectrum” My counsellor described at my last visit, “some of us have temperaments better equipped to handle chaos than others.” As for me, I like order and predictability; planning and I are BFFs. Yet, the second law of thermodynamics says that entropy – the degree of disorder- always increases with time. Uncertainty is not going away, so like Elsa, I must accept change if I want to seize this day. 

The Irrational Season

Advent is more than anticipation of the wonder of Christmas. It is a season of great uncertainty. Madeleine L’Engle calls it the “irrational season”. That it is! As the Christian story goes, Mary is an unwed virgin who conceives by the Holy Spirit. Telling this to her betrothed, Joseph, she risks being ostracized or worse. But an angel declares to her future husband that Mary is telling the truth, so he believes his pending bride. At Christmas we celebrate the happy ending, but think of all the uncertainty! If I hop into Mary’s head it’s overwhelming: What will society think? Will they believe? Is my life safe? What will come of my child? Were the angels telling the truth? Did I actually see angels or did I just dream that? 

Uncertainty is the groundless gray-area that easily begets fear. As a human, Mary must have been terrified. As for me, I know that uncertainty is where I find my greatest fear. From the small things, like what on earth am I going to make for supper before these kids melt down? To will my body be able to relax today? Will I feel anxious? Or when will my cancer return? When will my mom’s cancer return? How are my kids coping deep down with all this cancer stuff? 

Yet, I remember, it was in my days of greatest uncertainty immediately following my diagnosis when I thought I was dying, I most deeply encountered supernatural peace. Dread cohabited with the Divine. It was terrifying and sublime. I think that’s just the way life is.


As Oliver Burkeman says in his book Four Thousand Weeks: Time management for mortals, “It is painful to confront how limited your time is [and] to accept your limited control over the time you do get…rather than face our limitations we engage in avoidance strategies, in an effort to carry on feeling limitless…[but] the more you confront the facts of finitude – and work with them rather than against them – the more productive, meaningful, and joyful life becomes.” When I move from fear and embrace my uncertainty I find freedom. 

Moving from uncertainty to Peace

That is what Advent is: a reminder of our daily, life-long,  journey from fear of uncertainty towards the freedom of peace. Peace is holding the uncertainties of life and trusting that it will all end up okay in the end. Not that it will end up perfect. Or as expected. Or maybe even what we would deem as ‘good’. Or that the path will be pain-free. But surrendering to the “okayness” anyways. It’s not false hope. It’s not believing in a grand rescuer who will make it all better. It’s settling into what Brene Brown describes as our strong back, soft front and wild heart.(1) My strong back is living into my values with a firm, boundaried sense of who I am that allows me to live with a soft open front letting my truest self show through with vulnerability and compassion both to myself and to others. With a strong back and a soft front I can find and follow my wild heart that believes, hopes and trusts for more. With eyes and ears wide open, seeking, scanning, searching for the magic and divinity that is in every moment. Every moment. 

This is peace. This Advent season wrought with uncertainty, Peace is the gift I seek. Peace is the blessing I pray for you.          




  1. Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown