“Any fun plans this weekend?” the man behind the counter asked as he handed me a “Love-It” size chocolate ice cream scoop. “Giving birth” I responded with all the casualty of a woman who has not yet crossed the bridge of motherhood. Startled, he nodded his head, as if that were the only response he felt appropriate. The next day, Friday, marked my last official day of teaching before maternity leave began; my due date was Saturday. My husband and I were out to enjoy what we knew would be our last complication-free date night for years – we wanted to reminisce our adventures and simpler life. However, instead of looking back, our conversation bubbled with anticipation. That evening we giggled (mostly me) and dreamed, trying to guess what our future would look like, what our baby would look like, and how we were going to change. Our hopefulness, and joy, were high.
I sometimes wish I had gone back and told that Coldstone cashier I was right. With all the preciseness of a Rube Goldberg machine, my labor began shortly after midnight on Saturday, two days after startling the teenager behind the counter. I called my mother to verify that my feelings weren’t simply a bad case of stomach trouble or a trick of the mind, and she remained on the phone with me until my contraction timer told me it was time to call the doctor (about an hour later). A quick conversation with the OB on call, a shower, and I awoke my husband, very calmly informing him that we needed to drive to the hospital. Everything felt like clockwork, but our hearts beat fast – this was it! We were as ready as we could be.
This memory, almost 4 ½ years ago now, is at the forefront of my thoughts as I prepare to birth our third blessing. While nothing can truly prepare a couple for the labor and birthing of a child, bringing home a tiny newborn, or life as a family of three instead of two, our focus on the future gave us joy in anticipation. We knew that difficulty, pain, struggles, and even potential danger were in our future, but our joy at the thought of holding a tiny image-bearer of Christ, a miracle entrusted to us, guided us through the fear and anxiety of all the unknowns.
A few years before, fresh out of college, I lived in Napa, California (I know, rough) for my 1-year youth ministry internship. Not yet married (my fiance lived several states away), I found myself with a lot of free time (a concept that, as a mom to almost-3 children under 5, seems completely foreign!) Shortly into my year I learned of a local radio essay contest: write a short essay about your “Heartsong,” and win two tickets to Spirit West Coast Christian music festival, complete with backstage passes to meet Tenth Avenue North, my all-time favorite Christian music group. After making sure I could get the time off, I wrote my essay about the song chosen for my fellow interns and I, played during our placement worship service.
For a short time after submitting, I lived in anticipation, but at some point in the month between the submission date and the winner announcement, my hope dwindled. Instead, I busied myself with preparations for an upcoming youth trip. On the morning of the trip, I woke early to finish last-minute packing and eat a solid breakfast before my airport ride arrived. I turned on my phone ringer (a rarity for me), knowing they would call when in my apartment complex. Shortly into my breakfast, an unknown number scrolled across my (non-smart) phone. Hesitant, I answered. “You won!” the voice chirped.
“I won?” I replied, still hesitant.
“You’re going to Spirit West Coast to meet Tenth Avenue North!,” the morning talk-show hosts laughed.
“Oh. Uh, ok.” At that moment I honestly had no idea what was going on – was this a scam? I racked my brain to remember… slowly it clicked\ but too late to give the woo-hoo response the radio hosts wanted.
In their ever-bubbly voices, now twinged with a bit of disappointment, the hosts asked me to stay on the line to provide my address. I never got to hear my response played over the radio since my ride arrived soon thereafter, but I’m certain the hearts of America (or at least Northern California) broke at my ungrateful response.
I had forgotten the joy of anticipation. Instead of marking the day on my calendar, joyfully expecting with hope, I’d allowed other commitments (albeit good things) to cloud my vision and keep me focused on the present.
Despite my less-than-awesome reaction, meeting Tenth Avenue North was a huge highlight.
Are we ever so busy caught up in all the good things of life that we wouldn’t notice Jesus coming back?
Paul warned the Thessalonians in his first letter to them: For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. (verses 2-6)
What does your story look like today? Are you living in joyful anticipation, or has the day-to-day clouded your vision? I believe we are made to live in both the now and the not yet. Earthly joys are meant to point us to the creator of joy, and earthly struggles remind us that one day every tear will be wiped away in the glory of His presence. Two thousand years ago, Christ walked the earth. He attended celebrations, he ate meals with friends, he wept, and he suffered deep sorrow and pain. He lived just as we do, but perfectly. The author of Hebrews reminds us to look to him as our model for earthly life:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2
Life is full of good things, like ice cream and youth trips, but let us not get so caught up in them that we forget who is coming for us and what he is preparing! Life is also full of labor pain, struggles, and heartbreak. But let us not focus on that darkness, and instead look to the joy ahead. Amen, come soon, Lord Jesus!
Two years later, at the same Coldstone, enjoying ice cream with our little miracle.