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When Expectations Become My Ultimatums

That day of his birth was full of surprises. The first being his grand entrance via C-section. That kid was not interested in evacuating the premises and was forced out 10 days past his due date. He owed back rent for sure. Secondly, he was a boy, but I had been certain he was a girl, and her name was Brooklyn Joelle. It took 2 days to finally name him and realize he had a penis. Third, he was huge, weighing in at 9 pounds 4.5 ounces. Newborn clothes were for wimps. Lastly, he came out with dark eyes, olive skin and a full head of perfectly combed hair.

I’m a white girl. Pasty white. When my friends and I hold up our arms next to each other to see who has the darkest tan, I’m in the middle, like an Oreo. I’m the color of cream. My friends are chocolate brown cookies. How does a white girl have a dark skinned baby?

Oh, that’s right. That kid has a father. With olive skin.

Point is, that baby was nothing like I expected. I pictured myself rocking a tiny bundle of pink, clothed in newborn-sized dresses, bows on her bald head, lathered in SPF 50. Instead, this man child preferred to lounge in his crib, no rocking required, wearing onesie t-shirts size small in men’s, just chillin.’ And every day since has been full of surprises.

I expected the next one to be identical to his brother. Instead, he came out bald and bright pinkish white with blue eyes. Yep, that’s MY baby. I claim that one. The third brother I was ready for. Ready to be completely wrong about whatever my expectations were. And he, too, came out as his own little man. Totally different from the first 2.

Anyone with kids will tell you they are all completely different from one another, and any expectations you have of what they will be like? Throw those out the window.

Expectations in parenting can ruin us. Unless our expectation is to be surprised. And yet, we love each and every kid fiercely and wouldn’t want them any other way, mostly. We love their unique qualities and quirks and what they teach us about God and His sense of humor. And His love.

In 2001, we planted InRoads Church in the San Francisco Bay Area. That experience was similar to childbirth. Jeff and I dreamed and planned for the day it would be “born.” We had expectations for what it would look like.

Most of our expectations came from past church experiences in Colorado, Texas, and Southern California. It would be like those. We were certain.

Except we were wrong. Like that first kid’s birth, our new church was full of surprises. And expectations gone wrong.

“Huh. Well now. This is different,” I think on a regular basis. Because just like babies, churches are living, growing, changing beings. They have personalities and characteristics and many quirks and issues. And my expectations for how it’s “SUPPOSED to be” and how it actually is, well. We know about expectations. Throw THOSE out the window.

Except I don’t want to. I want my church to be the way I have it envisioned in my head. The way it’s always been. I want to sit in the same place every Sunday. With the same familiar people. I want the music to be music I like and can worship to. I want the sermon to be for ME. I want to really connect with all the staff and have them notice when I’m not there for awhile or if I’m in a bad mood or had a bad week. It’s what I expect, if I’m being honest. And I guess I am.

So sometimes I’m kind of a whiner. Okay, maybe a lot. I’ll go home and give my pastor husband an earful about all the changes that need to happen in order to make church the way it “should” be.

Can I share an embarrassing story?

When I was in my twenties, our church at the time was building a new facility. I didn’t like some of the plans and the ways money was spent. In protest, I wrote my tithe checks and stuck them in a drawer. “They’ll get my money when they start spending it better!” I self-righteously proclaimed. I called my mom and told her all about it. In her wisdom, she shared with me:

Jodi, you’ve been called to give. How the money is spent is up to the elders. The elders have been called to handle money responsibly. That’s on their heads. Not yours. By not giving, you aren’t being obedient to what God has called you to do.

I’d like to say I repented and willingly gave my tithe checks. I did give them, but with this addendum: “I’ll just believe that MY money is going to the right things like keeping the lights on, and not all of those foolish other things.” Yay me.

Praise God for grace and years that have matured me.

In the deepest part of me, when I get alone with God and actually get quiet to listen, I know truth. Truth that the church is CHRIST’S body and not mine. It’s kind of not about me and how I want to do things. And the only expectations allowed are the ones based on His truth and His promises to us.

The Great Commission is our assignment (Matthew 28:19 - go, make disciples, baptize, teach), and how we get there is just the vehicle. Church building? Park? Coffee shop? Zumba class? Church is where His people gather to worship Him, teach His word, pray, use their gifts and community. And the way to do that? Endless.

Expectations. They get me into trouble.

InRoads has been a mobile church for the past 3 years. When we sold our property, the leadership set out to find a new building as soon as possible. Our expectation was to be moved into a new place within the year. As leadership prayed and sought God’s direction, we continued to wait. Building opportunities came and went. And the natives got restless. We had expectations. And a ticking timeline.

They weren’t wrong or bad expectations. Until they became the focus. And we laid out our ultimatums: We can’t do ministry without a building! We can’t do ministry without proper classrooms and a fellowship area! I can’t tithe to a church that doesn’t have a building! In fact, I can’t ATTEND a church that doesn’t have a building. Time to go elsewhere.

But when my expectations become my ultimatums, I limit God’s plans for reconciliation: He calls us to lead lost people to Him, not to a building. But I get so hung up in my creature comforts because they make sense to me. And they just feel good.

Scripture tells us:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;

do not depend on your own understanding.

6 Seek his will in all you do,

and he will show you which path to take. —Proverbs 3:5-6

No where in that passage do I get to decide which path to take. Not if I’m seeking Him. And thank God! His plans are always way better than anything I come up with.

As church leadership seeks God’s will and commits their actions to the Lord, my job is to pray and trust God to direct their path.

Even if it looks nothing like what I expect. Especially when it looks nothing like what I expect.

I’ve seen what happens when I rely on my expectations and give my ultimatums. It’s rather embarrassing. So I’m grateful for another chance. But if I get a vote at all, I vote for something pink. There just doesn’t seem to be enough pink in my world.

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