Managing Expectations

Last year, we bought a new minivan while my daughters were away at summer camp.

We hauled all their luggage out to the parking lot on pickup day, and they stood there scanning the rows of vehicles wondering where in the world I parked.

Even when I opened the back door of our new van and told them to load up, they still didn’t understand. One of them asked if I had rented a van just to come pick them up.

It  was quite the surprise.

But now that one surprise has destroyed my kids’ abilities to gauge how excited they should be for any of my surprises.

Sometimes,  by “surprise” I just mean it’s National Doughnut Day and we’re going to Krispy Kreme for some hot doughnuts.  That’s a wonderful treat—-unless you’re expecting something more along the lines of a new car…or Disney World…or something like that

This year when I picked my girls up from  camp, my youngest daughter asked me if  I’d bought a new car again while they were away?  Or maybe a dog?

So, the ice cream cookie sandwiches I had actually bought didn’t quite measure up.

We’re not really a family that loves surprises of any kind.  (Actually, I hate surprises. So, why should I expect my kids to love them?)  But I am slowly learning that if we do have a surprise  we should package it with some expectation boundaries.

Something like:  Okay,  we have  a surprise for you.  It’s not a Disney World surprise, more like a local, nice surprise that you haven’t tried before and also it’s not  a puppy or a car.

We’re managing expectations with birthdays a bit, too.  It goes  like this:

Mom:  What would you like to  put on your birthday  wish list?

Child:  Well, there is one thing….

Mom:  Something that isn’t a dog.

Child:   Oh.  Right.  Well, how about a camera and some craft supplies?

Mom:  I’ll write those down.

I’m getting better at expectation management and expectation clarity with my kids.

Today, though, I was thinking about how my kids can slip into expecting so much, but I seem to slip into expecting so little of God.

I  read again today the account of Thomas the disciple, who needed to  see Jesus’s scars in order  to believe He was alive following t he crucifixion.

But there’s another moment  with Thomas in the Gospels that I love.  Before Jesus died,  just as tensions were rising and the disciples sensed the growing enmity of the religious leaders,  Jesus announced he was going to Judea again–right into the thick of the conflict and the trouble.

Lazarus had died,  and Jesus intended to be with the family.  The  disciples didn’t understand why Jesus would put himself  in danger, but we know why:  His purpose was resurrection for the glory of God.

So, Thomas  said to his fellow disciples: “Let’s go too so that we may die with him” (John 11:16 CSB).

I love how Thomas was ready to die for Jesus.

Beth Moore wrote,

“What a strange mix of loyalty and pessimism. Oddly enough, Thomas never doubted Christ would die. He doubted the most important part of all–that He would rise from the  dead and live again!” (Living Beyond Yourself).

Thomas expected Jesus to die.   He had no trouble expecting the worst.

But He didn’t expect Jesus’s resurrection.

Isn’t that me sometimes? 

In a season of loss, I can begin to expect more loss.  I expect to barely scrape through and survive the mess or the famine.

When there is bad news, I begin to expect more bad news.  More sadness.

Like Thomas, I have no trouble expecting the worst, but I so rarely expect and anticipate the resurrection Christ brings and that  is what needs  to change.  Instead of expecting the worst,  can I learn to  anticipate God’s glory?

I’m so deeply grateful that God is a God of abundance. he does so much more than meet my meager, miserly expectations.

I can never expect Jesus to  give me everything I want or ask for.  He loves me too much for that.

But I can expect this:

His goodness in all things.

His lovingkindness.

His sweetness in the midst of the best and worst of times.

His presence with me at all times.

His provision.

His strength.

His resurrection work, making things new, making things beautiful, filling the things that seem so dead with new life.

This resurrection work is what He is doing now, and it will be His ultimate work in creation,  building an eternal kingdom with no sin or death or pain, transforming all that is dead in this world into the perfection of eternal heaven.

Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.”  (Revelation 21:5 CSB).

Trusting When Life Feels Shaky

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We were simply working on a piano lesson.  I didn’t anticipate crumbling her perspective on life, the world, and the ability to “know” truth.

But that’s what happened.

As a young music student, I learned the same lesson in music theory: a B sharp is the same exact note as a C on the piano.

Now, this was cool to me.  I thought I was “in the know” and had some incredible, deep music knowledge that only the truly initiated can possess. It was a sort of all-access pass to conversations with musicians who actually knew far more than I ever will.

That’s not what this felt like for my daughter.

I told her, “See that’s a B sharp, so you actually just play this C.  See it’s the same thing. See how cool that is?”

She did not see.

She accused me of rocking her world.  Everything she ever thought about life and existence could all be on shaky ground where B’s are really C’s and how are you ever supposed to know what’s really true?

Her whole reaction was shockingly unexpected, but I consider. I ponder what’s at stake.

Life can feel just that shaky at times.  There are things we take for granted, foundations we’ve been sure are rock-solid.

There are expectations we just know will be met.  There are promises we feel sure God will fulfill in a certain way.

Then something goes awry.

We can ride this intense roller coaster of emotions:  “Everything is great!  Everything is falling apart!  Today I definitely see everything working out!  Today everything is in despair!”

What can we truly know?

When life can shock you like that, when a moment that should be certain victory becomes defeat instead, when you trusted in God but got hurt anyway….when you look at the music and see a B sharp but you play a C….then what do we do?

Shakiness like that, doubts like that, disappointment like that may seem like they’re signs of weak faith.

We tell ourselves, “Pretend to have it all together.  Don’t admit that you’re struggling with doubt.  Don’t tell anyone you’re feeling defeated.”

But here’s what I wrote in Anywhere Faith about doubting:

“God is gracious. He knows exactly what’s in our heart in our weakest moments. He loves us and calls us anyway, not because we are worthy, but because He is worthy; not because we are able, but because He is able.

We need not exert ourselves and try to force ourselves to believe, or try to chase doubt out of our hearts. Both are just as useless. It begins to dawn on us that we can bring everything to Jesus, no matter how difficult it is; and we need not be frightened away by our doubts or our weak faith, but only tell Jesus how weak our faith is (O. Hallesby).

We can bring our doubts to Jesus. We don’t have to pretend they don’t exist or hide them away in embarrassment and shame. Instead, we can pour those doubts right out at His feet and choose to trust Him. Trust Him to answer prayer. Trust Him to do what He promises to do. Trust Him even with our doubts (#AnywhereFaith).

We can drag our confusion and hurt, our disappointment and doubts to the feet of God and ask Him to heal us and show us how to trust Him.anywhere-faith

Not trust in circumstances.

Not trust in others.

Not trust in ourselves.

Not trust in our own expectations or plans.

Not trust in what we think God will do.

But trust Him.  Trust His character.  Trust His love for us.

Jeremiah the prophet wrote:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is in the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream;
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

Before these verses, he tells the people “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength….” (verse 5).

In other words, don’t trust in other people. Don’t trust in human strength.

After these verses, he says, “The heart is deceitful above all things…” (verse 9).

In other words, don’t trust your own heart and emotions.

But in the moments when nothing seems to make sense and when circumstances seem impossible, we can go back to the thing we know we know that we know.

We trust in the Lord.

We sink our roots deep down in Him and we allow Him to make us fruitful and strong despite heat and drought and the crazy world where B sharps are really C naturals.

Dear Pinterest, May I Suggest a Glossary?

She says the word ‘just’ and I cringe.

Something about that word, the way it frustrates and deceives, never quite used as intended, never fully revealing the truth.

She says, “Mom, you can just….” and “how about we just….” and, in her innocence, she believes the lie.

That this is easy.

I explain to her that despite the Pinterest headings on the pictures that promise “Simple,” “Easy,” DIY for beginners,” “Quick,” and “Painless….” her mom is in fact craft handicapped.

So, no we do not “just” snip, fold, twist, tuck, glue and ‘voila’…create masterpieces.11918590_s

In fact, these projects always seem to involve more effort, mistakes, mess, physical trauma, and failure than the pictures and the headings make you believe.

Dear Pinterest, may I suggest a glossary of terms for non-crafty folks like myself?  Perhaps a translation tool?  Or a handy dandy guide to assessing your actual ability to reproduce the adorable projects people post?

Maybe a “Warning Label?”

Like this:

“5 Easy steps..”:  Each step really includes 5 other sub-steps not included in the instructions because the writer assumed you’d be craft-smart enough to know without being told or shown.

“Simple….”:  This project is designed for people far more artistic than yourself.  For them, it is indeed “simple.”  For you, it will not be.  Consider yourself warned.

“For beginners…”:  These instructions are written by people who are not beginners and who have forgotten how ‘beginner’ Beginners really are.  Sure, it’s easy for them; they’ve been whipping out afghans, dresses, pillow cases, cakes, and wreaths for years.  You, however, are truly a beginner, still apt to burn your fingers with the glue gun and stab at your fingertips with a sewing needle.

And my favorite:

“Just”:  “Just” implies that the steps you’ll be given are simple, a snap, easy as 1-2-3.  But in reality, the instructions are long and involved, utterly confusing and complicated, and at some point will not work the way they are pictured or portrayed.

It’s not just the pitfall of arts and crafts.

It’s faith, too.

We forget sometimes that faith is hard.

We say, “just believe,” “just trust God,” “just hold on to the promises,” “just wait on Him,” “just keep praying….”

“Just,” that’s how we oversimplify when really it’s desperately difficult.

And rather than wade in waste deep to the muck and mire of messy faith, we stand on the shore and shout out pat phrases and cliches like ineffective life preservers.

Here’s what’s true:

Some days we’re going to mess up.

Sometimes God’s provision is hard to see, when the bills are crushing in and it’s one broken thing, one unexpected expense, one medical crisis after another after another.

Sometimes you can sit all day at that kitchen table with your Bible and journal, praying desperately for direction and still He remains silent for a season.

Some mornings you wake up believing implicitly that God has got this whole massive world tucked into the palm of His capable hands only to feel the earthquake threaten your faith foundation just ten minutes into the day after one tragic phone call or one message of hurt, pain, fear, and need.

Some days you want to give up because this calling is too hard and you can’t even see the tiniest bit of purpose or hope or sign that all this sacrifice is worth it.

This isn’t “Simple,” “5 Easy Steps,” “Just” faith.

This is real life faith.

This is where we’ve exhausted all of the belief we have and the circumstances haven’t changed, so we bring it to Jesus because we don’t even know where else to go.

And like the father in Mark 9, we pray:

“if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!”” (Verse 22, NASB).

God, if You can help me…

That’s what the father prayed, and Jesus reminded him: All things are possible to him who believes (verse 23).

Surely the desperate dad had heard the promise before.  He could have nodded his head complacently and pretended to “just believe” and “just have faith.”

Instead, he confessed the truth to Jesus:  “I do believe; help my unbelief” (verse 24).

I believe.  And yet, sometimes, Lord, it’s hard to believe.  If life were easy, faith would be easy.  But life isn’t and faith is hard.

That’s the truth.

This father prayed for mercy because he was human.  He doubted and struggled.

We confess this, too, and this is the assurance we receive:

As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:13-14 NIV).

Dust.  That’s what we are: Small and dependent, near-sighted and earth-bound.

Have mercy on us, God.  Help our unbelief. 

That’s what we pray when life isn’t “simple” or “easy” or “just.”

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

Fear of Blank Calendars and A New Year’s Verse

Afraid.

That’s how I feel.  Maybe it’s pessimism or a sort of realistic pragmatism, but pulling out that blank calendar for the new year, all those empty spaces soon to be filled to overflowing with notes, events, appointments, due dates, and reminders, makes me nervous in an awkward and embarrassed kind of way.  It’s the kind of fear that you want to hide and cover over with nervous giggles and by abruptly changing the subject.

I’m no believer in superstition, and yet I battle this one mysterious fear-mongering belief that if the first few weeks of the new year begin poorly, I’m in for doom and dismay for the next twelve months.

Like the year I threw up on New Year’s Eve as a teenager.  Even I knew that seemed like a bad omen.

Truth be told, I don’t look at that empty dayplanner with excitement and anticipation about all the unknowns in the coming year.  I don’t like surprises and the unexpected makes me nervous.  I’d rather see the pages filled out in advance so I can brace myself for the ride with all its twists, turns, high rises and low points.

I guess I’d be a failure as a mountain climber or an adventurer of any kind.  I’d never really look forward to what’s over the next peak or around the next bend in the road.  Instead, I’d likely be trekking backwards, always back.  Even if the ground were difficult, at least it’d be familiar.

It’s a foolish thing really, this fear of mine coming so soon after Christmas.  The consistent message of the Christmas story, heard in the prophecies of Isaiah, the announcements of the angels, the pronouncements of Almighty God, is “Do not be afraid.”

All year I flip open my Bible to these words, returning again and again to take comfort in the promise of an angel to a virgin and the host of heaven to shepherds keeping a night-watch in the fields.  God with us.  Fear Not.  Do not be afraid.  Emmanuel has come.

And then I sit just days after Christmas staring at this white-paged calendar, worrying and fretting anxiously, preparing for the worst instead of expecting the best.

How quickly I forget the promise and stumble into this now-familiar pit.

And I need to stop.

I don’t want to be a backwards-traveler, confined by foolish superstitions and held captive by the sin—yes, sin—of fear and worry, refusing to trust my Almighty God who carries the the whole world in His palms and who loves me so passionately and lavishly that He’d sacrifice His Son to spend eternity with me.

It’s uncomfortable at first, awkward like a baby stumbling through those first few steps.  Maybe it’s even unnatural, me learning slow to walk by faith, letting go of the comforts of the known within my white-knuckled grasp.

So I’m choosing this week to meditate on a verse that reminds me to be excited about the new work of God in my life, the blessings and beauty He has in store for the year ahead.  I’m reminded to take joy in the promise of a new year in His presence and in His care.

Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland
(Isaiah 43:18-19).