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adjusted expectations


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Christmas day, wrapping paper scattered across the floor and turkey leftovers sitting on the kitchen counter, I sat on the couch and hit the mental replay button over the last 24 hours. Days were spent in the kitchen preparing all the yummy Christmas favorites- from sweet potato casserole to stuffing made from scratch, to pumpkin pie and dozens of Christmas cookies. Recently moved into our home here in Durban, we were working hard to get as settled in as possible before the festivities began.

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is Christmas Eve service. The dim lights, the carols, and the quiet moment to reflect on the birth of Christ have always been a highlight in our family. This year Joel would be sharing the Christmas Eve message at our church, and I was so excited to share in this experience.

And then…


I really don’t know what triggered him. There wasn’t a lot of noise or over-stimulating activity. The only thing I can deduce, as I’ve processed the unravelling of that evening, was that our “church routine” was not normal. It was not a typical Sunday morning church experience, and I believe, in his little mind, that was what he was expecting. Because this was a special service, with a completely different format, Jasper went down the slippery slope and fell into the dark hole of a meltdown that I couldn’t pull him out of. I ended up taking him home early. There was no other option.

On the drive home, I sealed my lips shut so that I wouldn’t say something mean or hurtful to Jasper. (I keep reminding myself that his explosions and impulses are not something that he won’t control, but something he truly can’t control.) I knew that I couldn’t berate him and blame him for ruining my Christmas Eve experience.

Once home and collected, I fed Jasper some dinner and put him to bed.

I’m not going to lie. I was disappointed. I was frustrated. Frustrated with Jasper and frustrated with myself. After parenting for nearly 18 years I’ll admit that there are more than a few moments of self-imposed guilt and shame for the state of parental cluelessness I feel on an ongoing basis. This Christmas Eve experience was not an isolated event. It was merely one in a long line of humiliating and bewildering parenting moments over the course of Jasper’s five years of life.

So, sitting on the couch on Christmas Day, recognising my own pain and disappointment, I chose to look forward to the year ahead through a different lens. In order to navigate this season well, I realised that I need to adjust my expectations.

Adjusted expectations.

And not just as it pertains to Jasper. For sure I am challenging myself to take my hopes and expectations for Jasper, and for myself, and adjust them to fall into a more realistic picture of where he and I are on this journey. But also, I am challenging myself to take this same principle and apply it to every area of my life: ministry, missions, transition, life in the age of COVID, etc.

“An unmet longing from a realistic expectation is such a searing pain within a human heart.” Lysa Terkeurst, It’s Not Supposed to be This Way

I think, if we were sitting around a table together talking about our 2020 lives, we would all agree, to some degree, that our expectations a year ago were not completely unreasonable. Most of our daily routines were slated to roll out much the same as they have in years past. Most of us are not in the habit of resolving ourselves to some kind of extraordinary feat of accomplishment that overrides reality. Our resolutions often look like reasonable goals, with a hint of risk, that propel us forward so that we can take the next step, and then the next towards the greater goal ahead. Our disappointment this past year was not because we didn’t qualify for the Grand Prix or make it to The Voice finals. Most of our disappointments came from the “unmet longings from realistic expectations”.

At least, that is how it looked for me. Much of the expectations I held over the past year were fairly reasonable. I wasn’t building up pie-in-the-sky fantasies of parenting, ministry and life overseas. In fact, I felt that I had lowered/adjusted many of my natural expectations to meet the needs of our family, for Jasper, and to understand ministry in a cross-cultural context.

And yet, still, so much disappointment.

Adjusted expectations.

I think the first step forward in this new year – this new normal – is letting go of my/our expectations, the ones unmet and the ones we are still holding onto.

I believe God can, and will, do new things – great things – but they will not look the way we may expect. It’s not about having no expectation at all, but about adjusting our expectations and holding some things more loosely. It is unfair to put a burden upon someone who, or something that, is incapable of carrying it. The load isn’t fair. People will disappoint us. Organisations and governments will disappoint us. In my personal journey, it is realising Jasper has limitations. My expectations of him have to adjust. I need to meet him where he is…not where I want him to be right now, or where he will be eventually. It doesn’t mean he and I will never get to the place that I desire, but it means I need to learn to adapt to the process.

Oftentimes it simply comes down to the realisation that people, organisations, and current circumstances simply can’t meet our expectations, not that they won’t.

My mantra these days is “adjusted expectations”.

Stability is a moving target.

And, for me, the way to move forward – in order to embrace life, to minister to my family, to meet Jasper’s needs, to find peace and internal stability – is to hold on loosely to the picture I have in my mind of how things should look, and learn to be okay with how things actually play out in this current reality.

I’m pretty much learning to adjust my expectations in every area of life.

“They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:8

In an unstable world, where expectations are bound to go unmet, we are not left hopeless. For those who choose to root themselves in the truths of a stable God – who will always meet our expectations – there is nothing to fear. The winds of insanity may blow hard, long and fiercely, and the heat of this life may weary us, but we can still come through these barren and broken days fruitful and strong.

Rooted in God’s Word.

Rooted in a deeper faith…a tested faith.

We may have to adjust our expectations for the world around us and the circumstances in front of us, but we will never have to adjust our expectations for God’s promises and his faithfulness.

And I believe it is a rooted faith that will keep us moving forward…helping us to let go of what we thought things should look like right now and embrace the reality of where we actually are today.

What about you?

What areas of your life are you needing to adjust your expectations?

What is one expectation you can let go of, or adjust, today?

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4 Responses to “adjusted expectations”

  1. Sarah says:

    This rings so true for me…the meltdowns, frustration (with child and myself!), adjusted expectations … if you ever need someone to talk with please don’t hesitate!
    Sarah Gammell Matthews

  2. Stacey Novak says:

    Thank you for this. I completely and thoroughly understand your feelings of frustrations, disappointments in having to adjust your expectations. I truly wish I was able to recognize and do a better job of this when my kiddos were little. Being brand new parents to two toddlers all at once, and not completely prepared to handle the challenges that came with them. Now there no longer toddlers but
    22 & 23 year olds, and I still have some of the same exact issues with one that he’s had his whole life and more than likely with have with him forever.
    My huge adjustment is knowing that he quite possibly will live at home forever. That’s hard because he truly is very high maintenance.
    I believe God can still meet our son where he’s at and well as the rest of the family.
    Amy, I will make a reminder to continually pray for you, Jasper, and the family.
    You are loved!
    Stacey Novak
    P.s. I’ve had one of those exact church adjustments and with my child that you did with Jasper. My heart is with you!❤️

  3. Amy says:

    Thank you, Sarah! It means so much to me knowing that you have walked this road, are still walking this road, and can empathise so deeply with the challenges we are dealing with. I appreciate you!

  4. Amy says:

    Wow…Stacey…I have so much respect and admiration for you. You have really walked through this, and are still walking through it. Thank you for praying for us. It is a gift having someone who knows exactly how to pray standing with us and loving us. Love you!

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