Our little town of Carbondale has an annual Christmas “Lights Fantastic Parade” and most years will find our family sitting curbside, bundled in layers, huddled under blankets, and sipping cups of hot chocolate as we enjoy the festivities.  We watch marching bands with lights wrapped around instruments and musicians playing familiar holiday tunes, civic and religious groups walking by with friendly smiles and waves, and local businesses reminding us to stop in and check out all they have to offer this holiday season.  We always run into friends and acquaintances, chat briefly, and part with an enthusiastic “Merry Christmas”.  I look forward to the event all year.

I absolutely love being connected to the university that is such a central part of our community because it provides us opportunities to participate in events and activities that are special and unique.  This year, we were invited last-minute to ride in the parade on the university’s tram along with students and city representatives.  Our Grey Dawg university mascot was along as well which added to the excitement.  We were the number six entry following police cars and fire trucks and so we got to be one of the first welcoming “hellos” for all who attended.  Our tram was decked out in white lights and all aboard were just a little bit giddy as we began down the parade route.

Josh, our eight-year-old, was so much fun to watch.  He waved at everybody until he finally looked at me and said, Mom, my hand hurts from waving so much!  Every once in awhile someone in the crowd would recognize us and call our name as we passed by which just made us smile all the bigger and wave all the higher.  We did wave until our arms hurt.  And it was amazing fun.

As I looked at the dozens that turned to hundreds that turned to thousands of faces that watched us pass by, I was struck by how many of us there are who share this planet.  So many people and yet not one of us is unseen by our Father.  Scripture tells us that the hairs on our head are numbered (Matthew 10:30), that our names are engraved on the palms of His hand (Isaiah 49:16), and that His love endures forever (Psalm 136).  Each person, each face, every life, and every story is known by God and loved by God.  It was a wonderful reminder for me.

This Advent season, I am waiting.  Over the past few months, I have been working very hard to move past some old pain and find renewal and healing with my feet more firmly planted in a place of accepting God’s unconditional love for me.  This season in my life has been full of promise and hope, but it has been difficult.  Painful.  Too much of the time, I have felt like I take one step forward and then two steps back.  Freedom is coming.  Peace is coming.  I feel it, but it isn’t quite here yet.  And I am waiting.  Hopefully, painfully, deliberately waiting.  Doing my best to both believe and remember that in my waiting, I am seen, known, and loved by God.

There’s a beautiful advent hymn called Come Thou Long Expected Jesus that holds these lyrics:  Come Thou long expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free, From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee.  I hold onto this promise right now – that there is freedom, release, and rest in Jesus.  Come, Lord Jesus.  For every face in the crowd.  Come.  And for my heart that aches for your salvation.  Come.  Peace, my friends.