Our message series for Advent this past December was called “Be Present to the Unexpected.” For four weeks leading up to our Christmas Eve services, I spoke about how unexpected it was for God to bring his son into the world as a baby. I taught that part of being present at Christmas time was being present to the unexpected things in our own lives. On Christmas Eve, I had a chance to practice what I preached.
Since Christmas Eve is the 2nd largest event of the church year, I always impose on myself some pressure for the services/message. All December long, I battle voices in my head that say things like, “Don’t mess up this message because there will be lots of visitors that day.” And then I remind myself it’s about God and not about me…, and then I basically repeat this debate 100x over in my head throughout the month.
The week before this Christmas, our nanny Gabby returned to China to visit her family after 2 years here in the U.S. We were so happy and excited for her, but her travel disrupted what had become our normal routines with our 2 ½ year old son Russell.
Our dear friend Charlie heard we needed help and volunteered to watch Russell for us on Christmas Eve morning. At about noon, while in my office putting final touches on the talk for that afternoon, I got a call from Charlie saying, “Russell is sick.” Concerned, I zipped home, a conveniently short commute since we live next door to the church. Russell did not look good. By 2 p.m. my concern had not waned, so I called the nurse hotline to get some advice, and she said, “You need to bring him in right away.” The only appt was at 3 p.m., and our first service was at 3:30 p.m. I was thinking: T minus 90 minutes until the service starts… No pressure here, Susie… 2nd biggest event of the year… and your baby needs to go to the doctor!
I hung up the phone and started crying uncontrollably. Something about that mix of pressure of a big day plus my-baby-needs-me and a little bit of the mother-guilt over having a babysitter on Christmas Eve and the fear of what might be wrong with Russell added up to my feeling so raw, vulnerable, and all alone. So I cried big tears that seemed even to me in the moment a bit disproportionate for the situation, but I couldn’t help it.
Here is how God showed up in that moment and how I got to practice what I had preached: “Be present to the unexpected.” The unexpected sick kid, the unexpected tears, the unexpected timing of it all. God showed up for me in the unexpected presence of Rob and Carol (our medical expert friends & church elder) who came to our home, assessed & treated Russell, and reassured me. The blessedness of their gift of love to me in that moment cannot be overstated. They were hands-down the best Christmas gift I received, and they gave it just by being there and being Jesus-with-skin-on for me that day.
God also showed up for me in the unexpected presence of Curtis, our professional musician friend who canceled his Christmas Eve plans to stay with our son, skipping out on the candlelight service himself. He was away from his family for the first time ever on Christmas, and he chose to be family to us by sitting with our sick toddler. When I walked in our back door after the services were done, weary and grateful that God had gotten us through, Russell was curled up and sleeping on Curtis’ lap on the couch. That image, even to this day, makes me weep.
Of all the plans we made that year for Christmas (the special music, holiday foods, carefully crafted décor, and nostalgic candlelight) God chose to come closest to me in the unexpectedness of that night, which I will not soon forget.