After years of birthday disappointment, I had it all planned perfectly this year. My birthday is a month before Christmas and always falls the week of Thanksgiving and more often than not I find myself either at the grocery or at the hairdresser on my actual birthday rather than being able to enjoy a memorable birthday dinner and celebration. Thanksgiving sets the stage for the four weeks of Christmas anticipation and celebration that is my most favorite time of year. This year I set aside almost a full week of vacation for Thanksgiving-Birthday week.
As much as I would miss my Florida God-daughter Kirbie visiting me this year, I was looking forward to less cooking and more “me” time. My sweet Florida step-sister Donna visited the week before and she gave a jump start to the holiday by helping me decorate the entire house for Christmas. Donna is not a true “step-sister” but it is the least complicated way to describe the convoluted way we are partially but not really related! But I digress…it was time to get ready for 10 days of doing all the things I had looked forward to for years.
The master plan was to unfold this way…
- Thursday-the symphony;
- Friday-a roaring fire and a date with the 20 Christmas e-books I bought the month before;
- Saturday-a date with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John about a story I am working on;
- Sunday-worship with the King;
- Monday-dinner at the Cheesecake Factory with one of my dearest friends;
- Tuesday a day of conversing with the King for more story ideas while preparing a few dishes for the Thanksgiving feast;
- Birthday Wednesday – breakfast with a writer friend who wrote an article about about my calendars for the Christmas issue of a local magazine, then an afternoon of frivolous shopping for my holiday traditions like the tri-colored poinsettia, a Christmas cactus and some fresh pine scented candles; Wednesday night the coveted birthday dinner at a new place I recently discovered;
- Thursday Thanksgiving and then fireside for more reading;
- Friday Christmas candy making an annual tradition with my sister’s family;
- Saturday preparing Christmas card letters;
- Sunday celebrating with my full church family and then a nice long winter’s nap.
What really happened:
- I developed terrible chest pains right before Donna’s visit;
- Which turned into full blown flu after dropping her at the airport;
- Too sick to eat the surprise birthday cake my co-workers had for me at work;
- Never made it to church to worship the King;
- Waited until the last possible minute to cancel dinner with my dearest friend;
- Prepared Thanksgiving favorites without zeal or the usual enthusiasm;
- With sheer determination I did go to the birthday breakfast and birthday dinner but coughed so much my head required double doses of pain killer;
- Too sick for Thanksgiving dinner, so sent all the food with my sister;
- Managed to help my sister with all the homemade candy for purposes soon to be revealed;
- in bed at 6 pm miserable watching the lighting of the Christmas tree on TV;
- Had a quiet Saturday at home because I was too zapped for anything more;
- Reflected on what God wanted to show me during all this down time and wrote a blog about it.
I saved a precious week of vacation and had so looked forward to all the plans and all the reading and writing but all I could do was go to bed, cough and blow my nose. As I laid flat on my back trying not to cry because I was already too stopped up to breathe, I started to read one of the 20 Christmas e-books reserved for this week of holiday reading. In Max Lucado’s One Incredible Savior – The Majesty of the Manger, this story turned me right around.
I give credit to Max, but I am going to paraphrase and add my own story line, but you will get the picture. Joseph is contemplating someone else’s birthday plans.
But first a little back story: Joseph had a wonderful life planned for Mary, his wife to be. She turns up pregnant and Joseph knows the child is not his. Joseph plans to quietly divorce her but an angel appears and tells Joseph to marry her anyway.
Then he and Mary get summoned to Bethlehem for a governmental census. From Nazareth to Bethlehem is 70-90 miles depending on the route. The vehicle of the day was either a horse, a donkey or a camel. They might have actually had to walk, we don’t know. Mary was very pregnant. And for the days and possibly weeks it took to travel to Bethlehem, Joseph had a lot to discuss with God.
Joseph’s discussion points
Discussion points might go something like this:
- God, this is not at all how I planned it, my child being born in a stable with sheep and donkeys, hay and straw. My wife giving birth with only the stars to hear her pain.
- I imagined family, grandmothers, neighbors clustered outside the door, friends at my side.
- I imagined the house erupting with the fist cry of the infant, laughter, jubilation.
- But now, who will celebrate with us, the sheep? the shepherds? the stars?
- What kind of husband am I? No midwife to aid my wife, no bed to rest her back.
- Did I miss something? Did I God?
- When you sent the angel and spoke of the son of God being born, this isn’t what I pictured.
- I envisioned Jerusalem, the temple, the priests, a pageant perhaps, I mean THIS is the MESSIAH!
- Or if not in Jerusalem, how about Nazareth? Wouldn’t Nazareth have been better, at least there I have a business and a home.
- Out here what do I have, a weary donkey and a cold dirty stable full of hay.
- I accepted the coming of the angel, the questions people asked about the pregnancy I can tolerate. The trip to Bethlehem, fine. But why a birth in a manger God?
- I am unaccustomed to such strangeness. I am a carpenter. I make things fit. I square off the edges. I follow the plumb line. I measure twice before I cut. I like to know the plan. Surprises are not a friend of a builder. I like to see the plan before I begin.
willing to let go of the life we planned
… in order to have the life God has waiting for us
And in that instant, both Joseph and I started to see our situations a bit differently. Joseph did not get the marriage he dreamed of. I did not get the birthday vacation I dreamed of. But it turns out God has used both of us for some pretty important work.
We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned in order to have the life God has waiting for us.
a look back
A year ago, a perfect stranger came to my house, broken and defeated. She sat on my couch and used an entire box of tissue she had so many tears. I wrote a story about it. God Can Use Anybody. She invited the Savior to start running her life. I have seen her once a week since then. We don’t have much in common. She helps me with projects and I thought I was just giving her things to do to keep her out of trouble. She just kept showing up and so did I.
I have just received my second early Christmas present. I found out that all these weekly visits made a significant difference in her life as she wrote a beautiful tribute for her growth, the suffering and for all the help given. Even her son wrote to me thanking me for being his mom’s friend and he hoped to meet me some day. I might be the only bible she will ever read. My home is most likely the only church she will ever attend. I want her to know Jesus like I know Jesus but I have learned patience and also learned you can share the love of Christ without ever opening your mouth, opening the good book or opening the church doors.
So on the anniversary of the worst time of her life, she reflected and publicly gave thanks. I invited her to join my sister’s “day after Thanksgiving” annual candy making event. My sister’s mother-in-law is a pastor’s wife and she asked how Tammy and I met. We both smiled and I asked Tammy if I could tell the whole story. Tammy confidently said yes. (I named her Melissa in the first story because I was keeping her story private until she was willing to share.) Then the pastor’s wife told her own story of how God brought redemption and transformation for her and especially for her husband out of tragedy. He was not always a pastor.
birthday reflections and lessons
God comes into our lives in the most unusual ways but always with a perfect plan.