Great Expectations

If you had asked me a year ago what I thought I’d be doing this Christmas, I wouldn’t have guessed that going to the cemetery would be one of them.  Or picking out a Merry Christmas balloon for my son’s grave.  But there I was this morning, in hand, with the balloon.  At the cemetery.  On Christmas morning.  Alone.

Every year at Christmas time, I look back to the year before and marvel at how far God had brought us.  I would look forward with expectation to the next Christmas to see where God would take us.  And hope that the brokenness of years past would somehow be redeemed.

It wasn’t so long ago that Christmas was filled with church services, children excited for Santa to come, and the busyness of being a family of four.  Then 2012 came and left us reeling.  It wasn’t at all what we expected.  Christmas changed. Children were now shared.  Holidays were split. New memories and traditions had to be formed.  But we survived.

And now 2016…a year of unbelievable and most certainly unexpected loss.  Loss that leaves me gasping for air some days.  Loss that doesn’t want to look back to last year, because there was joy in waking up with my kids on Christmas morning.  Loss that doesn’t want to look ahead, because maybe next year will be worse.  This is not how life was supposed to be.  

And therein, lies the crux of so many of my problems.  Expectations vs. Reality.   Or perhaps….God’s plans vs. My plans.  

The Christmas story is full of UNexpectation, isn’t it?  Angel sightings, a 14-year-old virgin impregnated by the Holy Spirit, lowly shepherds being the first to hear the news, a crude barn for the King of Kings.  Yet, people had been expecting Jesus for literally thousands of years!  Perhaps He just didn’t come the way people expected He would.  But it was God’s plan.  All of it, down to the last detail.  

Reality better than expectation.  

God’s plan was better than any we could have thought up on our own.  Because that plan was to send a perfect baby, His son, into this sinful world.  His plan was to have Jesus grow up, fulfill all the Scriptures and become the sacrifice on our behalf.  To save us.  To ensure that we would never be separated from Him for eternity.  To give hope to those who grieve.  To those whose life didn’t turn out the way they thought.  And even to those who bring a balloon to their son’s grave on Christmas morning.  

So now we, like the people of Israel did long ago, wait with great expectation that Jesus will come again as He promised.  That longing is so deep in my heart on a day like today.  I don’t know what I can expect for next year or the year after or really any day I live on this earth.  But I do expect God’s plan will be better than my own.  And that His promises of peace, comfort, rest, hope, and salvation are mine forever.  I can’t think of better gifts to receive this year.  

 

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

Israel’s strength and consolation

Hope to all the earth Thou art

Dear desire of ev’ry nation

Joy of ev’ry longing heart!

Born Thy people to deliver

Born a child and yet a King

Born to reign in us forever

Now Thy gracious kingdom bring

By Thine own eternal spirit

Rule in all our hearts alone

By Thine own sufficient merit

Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

The Toilet on the Sidewalk

It was a night like any other.  Except it wasn’t.  Because nothing was the same anymore.  It was a night of trying to adjust to a new normal, which never would really be normal again.  

It was a month after Joe died, and I was trying to get into the habit of going for a short walk after dinner.  I knew exercise was good, almost necessary for me.  And it was hard to be in the house with pictures and memories.  I needed time to process the day, reflect on life, cope with this new reality life had thrown at me.  It was also my time to spend alone with God and connect with Him.  I plugged the tangled headphones into my iPhone, found my favorite Pandora station and set off around the block.  As I settled into my reflective gait, my head was down, always looking just at the two or three feet in front of me.  And perhaps that’s why I didn’t see it coming until I was nearly upon it.  

A toilet.  Directly in front of me.  Blocking my path.  

It wasn’t off to the side in the grass.  It wasn’t facing away from me. It was dead center in the middle of the sidewalk, as if it were looking straight at me.  Challenging me.  Mocking me.  Daring me to pass.  Interrupting my perfectly peaceful walk of solitude.

I stared at that toilet for a while.  I had seen a lot of odd things in my pseudo-ghetto neighborhood over the months:  mattresses piled in the yard, broken chairs, dilapidated couches, outdated TVs on the edge of the lawn.  Even a larger-than-life green and white-striped chair next to a wooden moose.  But a toilet?  And let alone, one blocking my path.  It was absolutely ridiculous!  

And yet, here I was, frozen.  My eyes transfixed on this newest eyesore of the block.  I must have stood there for a good minute just looking in disbelief at what was in front of me.

I did eventually step to the side and pass that toilet.  I mean, what choice did I have?  To stare at it all night? That would be a waste of time.  To turn around and go back?  That wouldn’t really accomplish my goal of continuing my peaceful walk, would it?  I had to pass it to get on with what I set out to do.  

And there, transfixed by the toilet, it hit me.

Life had thrown me for a loop.  It had put me on a path I never wanted to walk.  And for lack of a better analogy, it had placed a toilet on the sidewalk of my life.  It was certainly not what I had expected and it was the last thing I had wanted.  I had truly experienced the ultimate crap (or whatever word you’d prefer to use) of life.  My baby boy was gone.  In an instant.  A mother’s worst nightmare realized.

And I was faced with a choice.  I could stay frozen in my path, focusing on the horrors of my son’s death. I’ve relived it in my mind more times than I care to say.  I could turn around, turn my back on the path God chose for me.  Or I can step to the side and continue to walk.  Continue to worship.  Continue on the path with God to the destination He has called me to.

I don’t know what’s ahead on the path, but I will tell you this with everything in me:  I trust in the sovereignty of God.  I trust in HIS power.  HIS grace.  HIS strength.  HIS plan.  

We all have a “toilet” in life, don’t we?  Something we didn’t see coming, something we didn’t plan on happening.  Something we wish were different in life.  But we don’t need to stay stuck in that reality.  We can chose to, by God’s help, get off “our” path and move forward.  Keep fighting the fight.  Keep running the race of the Christian life.  This is what Paul described in Hebrews when he said, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

My translation?  Take your eyes off the toilet and put them on God.  He knows the path.  He sees what’s ahead.  He’s making a way.  He’s already there.  And even when it feels like there’s no good that can come from it, God will make something beautiful out of the crap of your toilet.