Parenthood is the epitome of finding yourself five minutes into a beautiful plan that has utterly derailed.
Plan a birthday party and your toddler will wake up with a fever of 101. Get everyone miraculously dressed in time for church and the minute you’re about to walk out the door, every single pair of socks in the house will have disappeared into the black void of no return. Meticulously map out a route for all your out-of-state relatives to find their way to church and the road you’ve chosen will be under construction that day and that day only. Pack goldfish, pretzels, and Cheerios for snacks and all the kids will want is Doritos.
There is no well laid plan that even the mildest of kids can’t unravel with ease.
But that doesn’t make our plans or, more importantly, our intentions any less significant.
For Christmas this year we planned to pick one activity, one deliberate point of focus outside the whirly-burly of Toys R Us, Black Friday fliers, and wish lists. We wanted them to start to see Christmas for what it is and not for what we often make it. We wanted to open their eyes. We wanted them to see.
I think maybe many of you also printed out copies of Ann’s beautiful Jesse Tree Advent Calendar this year.
We were late getting started. And then our printer was out of ink. We never bound the pages and we probably got only five days into the readings before packing and travel and chaos ensued and we veered off the plan altogether. But those five days? They stayed with us this Advent season in ways I never could have planned. In car rides late at night across the winter white planes of the Midwest those first readings rose up again and again and again in the piped, persistent questioning of our five-year-old.
“Tell me it again,” he would say.
“Tell me about that mean snake,” as signs for gas and food and restrooms flashed by on the side of the freeway. As my eyes wanted nothing but a few hours of snatched rest and my head struggled to find ways to translate the story of that first temptation into a child’s vocabulary. Again.
He hadn’t been able to wait out the countdown to discover who the Hero was. The Hero that God promised would come and crush that serpent’s head. On the first night of our first reading he had wide-eyed demanded to know.
“But who was it, mama? Who killed that snake?”
Because he was devastated to learn the first man and woman had been chased out of God’s beautiful garden. He ached for them and with fists clenched on the table in front of him he keened over their loss and I saw it reflected on his face and in his whispered refrain, “But that’s soo sad.”
He couldn’t wait. He was desperate to know everything would turn out OK. And when I offered him the hint of a hero he was like a bloodhound after it.
And then in an urgent whisper, “Was it Jesus? Was it, mama?”
And his pinched face split into a wide grin as we leaped into the account of the Hero who’d come, who’d died and in so doing had cracked open the very earth, ripped the curtain in the Temple separating us from close contact with the God-Father and defied the grave that tried to hold him. We’d acted it out – we’d stomped and bellowed and crushed heels into the ground, grinding our own flesh over the snake that Jesus came to destroy. And Jackson, my hero-hungry-boy, couldn’t hear it enough.
So I’d tell it again. From the beginning.
Late at night flying across miles of winter land between Wisconsin and Illinois. I’d tell it before bed time and I’d tell it on the way home from Grandpa’s church. I’d tell it until I ran out of words and then Pete would pick up the tale. And all it took was five days of a well intentioned, but unsurprisingly derailed plan for my son to latch onto the story of a baby who grew up into a boy like him and became the hero who saved the world.
So much more joy, excitement and comfort was found from that telling and re-telling than I ever would have imagined.
Can I offer a piece of it to you?
A small token of comfort to any of you already beating yourselves up about derailed resolutions. Because sometimes it’s not the best laid plans that matter, it’s how they translate into our real lives.
How we digest them in the every day-ness of every new day.
How they sink into our way of thinking.
Because all it takes is a small adjustment in steering to change the course of a conversation, a family, a year.
And you are much more than the sum of your resolutions. You are a child of the God who has well been known to change every plan. Without consulting us.
Here’s to the two of you.