Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Waiting my Way Home

"Ben, you're my last hope," the station agent said into the phone. "You see, I've got this passenger who needs to get to Ft. Worth and--oh. You're in San Antonio? Oh, never mind, then."

After five hours of waiting for a train, this was not what I wanted to hear from the Amtrak station agent. My northbound coach, the Texas Eagle, was schedule to depart from McGregor at 11:50 AM on Sunday, but an accident north of Austin had led to a series of delays. All the passengers who had been on the train were loaded onto buses, and train service was to resume in Ft. Worth. After a series of frustrating conversations with operators, who seemed to know about as much as I did about what was happening, I finally learned that one of the five buses knew I was waiting in McGregor and would be coming to take me to Ft. Worth.

Waiting for another train, July 2007
By 5 o'clock, however, the station agent was beginning to worry that the bus had either forgotten me or was not going to arrive in time to get me to Ft. Worth.  Just before he called Ben, I had overheard him say as much to Maria, the station agent at Temple, Texas. "Do you know where he is?" my agent asked. "No, I can't hail Billings, either." The inability to "hail Billings"--the driver of the bus that was supposed to come for me--had become the last in long series of obstacles to my journey home for Christmas.

I should pause here to note that my wonderful, amazing, patient housemates had been waiting with me all afternoon, and when Jennifer realized that Billings-the-bus-driver was incommunicado, and that Ben-the-taxi-man was in San Antonio, she said, "Could we take her to Ft. Worth?"
"Could you?" the agent replied, relief visible on his face. "That would be best, because we just can't seem to hail Billings....and Amtrak could reimburse you for the gas."
"Okay. We'll do it. When would we need to leave?"
"Well, um, right now."

And so Grant and Jenn, who had originally planned to wait with me for fifteen minutes, drove me two hours to Ft. Worth, arriving about ten minutes before the northbound train pulled out of the station.  The generosity, patience, and love they exhibited was more than I could have asked for, and they, bless them, didn't even make me ask. They simply saw my need and met it without fuss or fear.

At the beginning of Advent, I wrote about how I have found it difficult to be faithful in waiting (read the full reflection here). Writing that entry humbled me because for most of my life I have thought of myself as being fairly good at waiting. In college, I liked to quip, "Delayed gratification is good for the soul," too often dismissing my friend Rachel's protest: "Yes, but it is hard on the heart."

My long day at the train station reminded me that waiting is much easier to bear with friends. This is hardly an original observation, but it is a truth that has come to dwell with me this year. Often, people describe life as a journey, and friends as our companions on the road. It is wonderful to have friends travel alongside me, but in some ways I am more encouraged when I realize that my friends are waiting with me as circumstances, sickness, or uncertainty stand in the way of progress.

And so tonight, safe and warm in my childhood home, I am thankful for Grant and Jenn, who waited with me all day, hugged me when it looked like I might not get home at all, then took action as soon as they saw a way to speed me on my journey.

I am also thankful for all the memories of other friends who have waited with me. I remember the spring I was preparing for my preliminary exams, when Adrienne would  come over and study with me, to help me stay calm and hopeful. Steph stayed up with me all night as I graded a mountain of essays and exams. And then there was that wonderful piece of pie Liz brought to the library during my second year of grad school. I was working frantically to finish a term paper, and she came and sat with me until the wee hours of the morning. In college, I once became sick on a night my friends and I had planned to cook dinner and watch a movie. They put me to bed upstairs, and whenever I would wake, one friend or another--first Rachel, then Keith, Mari, or Mark--would be sitting across the room, waiting quietly in case I might wake and need something.

As a single adult, I do not expect anyone to wait with me for a train to come or for a night to pass. No one is obligated to tend me if I am sick, to drive me to Ft. Worth, or to keep me company if I must work late into the night. Consequently, whenever a friend does wait with me, I know their waiting is a form of grace. When they wait, they say, "We believe this will end -- we believe you will get home, you will finish this essay, you will be well again."  But they also say--and this is such a gracious mystery--"This moment is good, too. "

At Advent, and during all our  seasons of waiting, we need such friends. Their presence reminds us that our savior's name is "Emmanuel"--God with us.


  1. "This moment is good, too."

    Speechless. :) Thank you.

  2. Dearest Bethany,

    I remember the time we went to Ridgecrest from Terre Haute. I remember how excited you were when we arrived there and when we went to the first night of preaching, you listened so intently and with such a maturity and understanding, that you had been given the gift of salvation by GOD that I wanted it too and thanks to your parents I have it. You and your family are shining examples of GOD"S unlimited LOVE. You and your parents have always been so amazing to me and such a blessing

    Love to you and to your mother Rose and to your Dad Roger, and A very Merry Christmas and a happy new year from your friend David in Boone NC

  3. This is a wonderful thought beautifully written. Thanks for sharing it with us, Bethany. May God continue to watch and care for you along your journey. You have chosen friends very well.

    Mary Beth Caffey