Not even a shopping trip goes as planned. Here I am, steering my shopping cart through a huge post-Snovember and pre-Thanksgiving crowd at Wegman's. I think I'm good to go through an intersection. Surprise!
"STOP! NOW! GRIDLOCK!" hisses my navigator Paul in my ear. "Then Make a HAARD RIGHT!!!" A near-miss.
Bet the trip of your whole life hasn't gone the way you planned it to, either.
Before Paul and I got married, we rhapsodized about having five or six children. But by the time we'd had three, very close together, - Mary Beth, Paul, and Cathy - we weren't sure any longer that we wanted five or six children.
God laughed. "SURPRISE!!!! I'm taking you at your word."
Numbers four and five came merrily along. And each time I knew I was pregnant, I loved the unexpected baby growing inside me. Today I can't imagine what my life would have been like without the additions of Peter and John.
Today our society is more than a little control happy. Sign a Pre-Nup before you get married in case your marriage goes south. Plan EXACTLY how many children you are going to have. Have enough money squirreled away to take you through three months of catastrophe. Have a Five Year Plan for what job you'll have, where you're going to live.... etc.
There's an old Yiddish proverb that tells you what's really going to happen:
"Man plans and God laughs."
In other words, on the journey of life, expect a fair amount of gridlock. Tricky intersections. Near-misses. Detours. Unexpectedly beautiful scenery.
And storms, like the winter storm, Snovember, that just savaged our Western New York. Unpredictable. Destructive. Yet somehow God has made it and its repercussions part of our mutual journey of life and death, opportunities for caring and sharing - for His always-Mysterious reasons.
If you believe in God and you've read Scripture, you know that God's preferred M.O. is turning people's plans upside down.
You're this sweet little Jewish girl named Mary, still a virgin, and suddenly the angel Gabriel appears and asks you to be the unwed mother of the Messiah.
God says "Surprise, Mary! Now that you've said 'yes,' nothing's going to be ordinary about your life!"
You have nine months to carry this child, Mary, carry the load of wondering how your life is going to change, carry the load of explaining it all to your frustrated fiance Joseph after an angel has prepared him for the truth. Nine months and a long, arduous trip to visit your cousin Elizabeth and hear her affirmation of your miraculous motherhood.
It seems, Mary, that you need time: time to walk, think, pray, journey, labor, in order to have the Child born from you. Once we too say "Yes" to our unpredictable God, we need time - time to make the similarly unpredictable journey of a lifetime so the Child can be born within our hearts.
God's creative Work of Mercy and Mystery is constantly re-aligning our life trips, surpassing or thwarting our carefully thought-out destinations. God is always working to bring us to new spiritual wholeness and growth, through our time on a long, arduous journey of unexpected joys and devastating tears.
Prepare for frustration. If you find your happiness in being a neat freak, God may well match you with a slob for a spouse. Daydream about dressing baby girls; God may send you boys. Plan on a happy life in a classroom; you could end up with the stresses of being an administrator.
Prepare for anger and disillusionment. You plan to spend your whole life with one person. And suddenly you're making the long, arduous journey alone.
Or, start out on the road to being a professional dancer and end up in a car accident which tragically damages your legs. This is what happened to Doris Day. While recovering, she listened to the radio, and began singing along with the great song stylists of her day, especially entranced by Ella Fitzgerald. No one, least of all her, even knew she could sing.
Her mother got her singing lessons. That unexpected talent propelled her into becoming a singer on the radio, a prominent big band singer, a powerhouse in the recording industry, and one of the most beloved singers and movie actresses of the twentieth century. Today she is in her nineties, still vibrant, and, in another twist to her life journey, a prominent animal activist, a leader in establishing shelters for dogs.
If we place our life journey in God's hands with a "yes" of trusting surrender, we believe that a Good Shepherd leads us up mountainsides and down, through dark valleys and green pastures. Like Mary, our path will take us to the foot of the cross, to sickness, death, and new tombs. But also like Mary, we know our tears of grief will change to tears of rejoicing and new life.
Our upcoming Advent is our time for a journey of new, deeper surrender, a new "yes" to wherever our life journey will lead, trusting to our Good Shepherd to bring us home. Home, at Christmas, to our Heart's Home: the Infant in a manger.
Finally, after a lifetime of surrender and "yeses," of trusting in God to lead us through the unexpected destinations, dead-ends, hairpin twists and turns of our life trips here, I can just imagine us opening our eyes on the other side of Death. We'll hear this incredibly beautiful and loving Voice saying
"SURPRISE!! YOU HAVEN'T SEEN ANYTHING YET!"
"Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it even entered into the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love Him." (1 Corinthians 2:9.)