I'm always tempted to ice cakes before they're fully cooled, or to move onto step three of a craft project before the glue from step two is fully dried. I've never done any house decorating - probably a good thing! When I took up the bassoon aged fourteen, the first two lessons were just before the summer holidays. My teacher went through a few basics with me and pointed out the next two or three pages of the tune-a-day book for me to have a look at over the six week break. By September I'd finished the book and played a whole load of other things too. Too impatient to spend six weeks on three pages!
To some extent, this is my personality type. I'm always going to be like this, and I'm aware that I constantly need to learn how to recognise which things need the time and the wait and how to develop the discipline I need for those situations. Sometimes that lesson is learnt by retrospectively recognising what I have missed by not waiting. I wonder how much better my bassoon technique might be if I had spent six weeks on the first three lessons?
Fourteen years ago I travelled to Thailand to spend two weeks in a camp in the northern jungles. One of many camps occupied by Burmese refugees, fleeing the military dictatorship that had controlled the country since the assassination of Aung San in 1947. For two weeks, we spent time with some students our own age as they taught us a little bit about Burmese history, shared their culture, explained some of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and told us their stories. Personal, horrific stories of escaping from a military regime - things we could barely imagine in our own lives, stories that seemed to fit better in film scripts than in real life.
It was a powerful trip. Life-changing for us teenagers in so many ways. I have no idea where any of those Burmese students are now, and not really any way of finding out, but in them I met a group of people who were filled with joy in the face of great adversity. Many of them had been brutally tortured, had seen family members murdered or entire villages torched. And yet they smiled, real genuine smiles every day. They trusted God and they were grateful for what he had given them.
We returned home changed but also aware of a fifty year old humanitarian situation happening on the other side of the world that the media were largely ignoring. We hoped for peace, for breakthrough, for change. But it seemed so big and so impossible.
In the last two years, cracks have begun to appear in that giant, dark, impossible situation. The release of Aung San Suu Kyi after twenty one years of house arrest. The first stages of democratic reform. The country opening up to visits from international heads of state, and even international media.
Change is coming. Changes that I had dared to hope for when listening to my Burmese friends relay their stories, but never fully believed I'd see happen in my lifetime. I can't begin to imagine what that might be like for the people we met in those camps. Tiny steps, but early glimpses of a new Burma with the freedom for my refugee friends to return home.
It's an encouragement. A reminder that sometimes hope takes a long time, but it's worth the wait. We're impatient, as humans but it's not hope that dies, it's our interest. I'm not pretending this is easy - sometimes it's just too painful to keep hoping. I wonder how that was for Anna and Simeon, both of whom had waited their entire lifetime to see the infant Christ. The hope that he would come, not realised for many years. Were they ever tempted to give up the waiting? And how did it feel on that day to hold him in their arms?
I know I'm rubbish at waiting, but this advent I'm hoping to be just a little better at it. And to focus on God in the waiting, as we wait for him.
While I've been typing this, news has come through from some friends in Florida that a new liver has been found for their 7-month old son. A season of waiting come to an end, leading them straight into another wait, while their boy is in surgery for 15 hours. Will you join me in praying for them today?
** UPDATE **
From our friends in Florida...
"Praise our God of miracles! Charlie is out of surgery and all went well. The incredible surgeons were at work for almost 12 hours and told us his liver was like a rock, bleeding and with no function left. This new liver came just in time. Thank you for your prayers, thoughts and comments. It will be a slow and difficult recovery but God will sustain us as He always graciously does. Bless Charlie our little miracle!"