Expected arrival…..unexpected package?

“For unto you is born, this day, in the city of David, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you, you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger”
Have you ever received a gift disguised to look like something else? Once my husband wanted a new truck which was out of our budget for Christmas. So carefully I wrapped a small toy truck in a box followed by bigger and bigger boxes matching the size of the computer printer I had secretly hidden away which was his real gift. He expected the box to contain the printer; unexpectedly it contained his “new truck”. As the advent season comes to a close I have been prompted to reflect on the unexpected in life. This advent a dear friend preached on finding God in the unexpected and it has really touched my heart. As I read the scripture above and God touches my heart I can’t help but imagine those shepherds who heard this pronouncement……the King has arrived? As a baby? Born in poverty? And in a smelly stable no less? Well, yes maybe we were expectantly awaiting a king, but like this? You have to be kidding!
Then in the midst of imagining what the shepherds must have thought I find my own image reflected back to me and realize that my expectations and the packages they arrive in are so often different; yet each time God works within them…….painful, joyous, bad, good, ugly, beautiful, smelly or rose scented. He is there in the midst at all times but I get so tied up in what I am expecting I don’t realize the beauty of the package until later…..sometimes much later. Much of my adolescence was tied up in an expectation of grief. Having lost a great-grandma, granddad, step-father and various other relatives in my short time I had come to expect grief. It sounds morbid but I looked for it everywhere. I just knew it was waiting to take someone else. A nasty looking cloud convinced me a tornado would sweep away my mother, a wild animal would kill my beloved pets…..you get my point. Then, when I fell in love, married and began to have children I somehow convinced myself that God had given me so much grief when I was young that I could expect only joy and happiness as a married woman and mother. And for a while my expectation appeared to have arrived just right; a marriage, a new house, then two beautiful boys within the space of just four years. In-laws who were the best, a father I finally was getting along with and a mom who had found happiness. Just as I expected, God was giving me a neat little packaged life and grief became a memory.
Then it happened, the expected package actually arrived. It was called life and I was furious, mostly at God. It began in 2002 with the death of my beloved mother-in-law from a brief battle with cancer; I yelled at God in my grief. Why did you let this happen again? She was a good woman! What did we do to deserve this? How am I supposed to tell my boys? I knew it God, I knew you would throw that back at me; I ranted, raved and cried endless tears. However, this package I discovered later was like the present you teasingly wrap for your 15 year old son, packages within packages until the true present is discovered. The package within this one was totally unexpected. We had two boys, the oldest 11, we were done with babies…..wrong! Exactly six months to the day of my mother-in-law’s death I conceived and nine months later we were presented with a most unexpected package in the form of a tiny boy with big blue eyes, a smile that melts hearts and hair that is the exact same color as his Granny who missed knowing of him by six months. I knew within weeks this was God; reaching to us, comforting us and showing us that life is on the other side of grief.
The day our youngest son was born, in the same hospital, my dad lie on an operating table and received devastating news……Stage IV aggressive salivary gland cancer. God, I cried again, can’t you even grant me time to enjoy my baby? Once again the expected package of sickness and grief. Once again however this package contained an unexpected package. My dad who was given six months at best was a fighter who lived instead for five and half years. These years were an unexpected gift; not just in regards to his life, but also in regards to our strained relationship. Five years I got to know my dad as never before, spend time with him and discover how much he truly loved me. An expected arrival of sickness and grief, an unexpected package of healing. Within these five years; more grief, loss and sickness. My father-in-law, grandma and a host of other relatives. Yet each time something good and unexpected came from my expectation of grief. Somehow I held fast to the only God I knew, continued going to our small church and trying to instill faith into the lives of our sons.
Throughout this time I believed I knew God, knew what he dished out and what gifts he could sometimes give in return. I also knew when I sinned, the grief that followed was my fault and God was only giving what I deserved…..at least that’s what I thought I knew. One day, after years of losing minister after minister in our small dysfunctional church a new Pastor walked in…..the likes of which I had never before seen. I expected the same old package……excited at first then waning and getting tired of the politics and walking away in just a year. The package that arrived did not meet my expectation at all. She was perky, fashionable, full of the love of Christ and brought to our small church her full and abiding love. She spoke of rarely acknowledged subjects, like the Holy Spirit, laying of hands for prayer and listening to our “splagna” (gut instinct). God knew what package I was expecting; he sent something quite different! In her time there God clearly revealed why this unexpected package arrived as our children fell in love and brought together two families to become friends. They were married just six months ago! This unexpected arrival opened my heart and the hearts of many others to a God with which we were previously only acquaintances.
Three years ago I was invited to a small meeting with this same Pastor, it was to be a meeting of ideas, fellowship, and ways to reach out in the church. We expected to discuss the church; instead the Holy Spirit began leading the way and unexpectedly old memories arose……painful memories I thought I had buried long ago. I expected to bury them once again, neatly where they belonged, knowing they never really went away just stayed buried as long as I was careful. Unexpectedly God had other plans, these memories refused to be buried and with the help of the previously unexpected package of an out of the box Pastor…..the deep wounds of these memories began to heal.
Over the past few years I have discovered without a doubt, God is never what I expect; yet He is always what I expect. As I expectantly await what is next in life I know without a doubt it will be unexpected. Yet, I have come to expect my God to be there; however unexpected the arrival and package He comes in! Just as the shepherds quickly realized the joy in the unexpected I pray also that each of us may come to know joy within the unexpected. As 2013 comes to a close I bless each of you in the mighty name of Jesus Christ with a heart opened to expected arrivals in unexpected packages.

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