• Christmas Memories: The Gift in Unmet Expectations

    Christmas is just around the corner and I find myself reminiscing. A couple of articles ago I talked about my dad and it definitely got me thinking about the past and the many memories I still have from my childhood.

    In an article a few months ago I talked about my sister Rael and how important it is not to take your people for granted.  Rael died a few years ago and I definitely carry some regret about not having had more time with her or communicating more frequently in the years when she was still alive. As I look back on my memories of dad, lots of other memories come back to me about my family and the special times we shared. Christmas was always a very special time in our home, so, it is not difficult to reflect on some of those memories.

    One of my Christmas memories of Rael and dad provided for me a lesson that is very relevant and applicable to me in the present. This lesson has to do with expectations. I think it is really important to have dreams and aspirations and to visualize the fulfillment of those dreams and aspirations. At Connections the leadership team is asked to choose a word that they want to model for the weekend and then to visualize how they will model it. The team is told that they cannot achieve what they first cannot see happening.

    So; I believe in that principle, however, how do I handle a situation where my expectations do not line up with my outcomes? How do you handle it? I definitely experience moments and seasons where I feel deeply frustrated with unmet expectations. No matter how much I hope and believe for a certain outcome there are times when it just doesn’t happen. This can lead to disappointment, frustration, irritation and some resentment. Worst of all it can lead to a loss of belief and hope and accompanying feelings of deflation and depression. If these feelings persist they begin to affect my thoughts and beliefs and phrases like what’s the use or why bother begin to creep in. When I am in this place it is very difficult to feel motivated and active. I find myself is a slump or a rut. I’m sure some of you can easily identify.

    The question is; how do I deal with these debilitating unmet expectations? This question brings me back to the memory I had of Rael and dad. One of the things we loved to do at Christmas is to check out the presents under the tree to see who got what. Of course, the child who had the biggest present under the tree was the winner of this little game and their sense of anticipation shot through the roof as they waited for the moment they could tear the Christmas wrapping paper off of their present. I remember clearly one Christmas there was a huge present under the tree. Actually, it was so large that it did not fit under the tree, it stood beside it. When Rael and I saw this present we ran over to see who the lucky recipient was going to be. Much to my chagrin we discovered that it was going to Rael. This was Christmas Eve, so, we had to eat dinner before opening presents. I’m pretty sure that Rael could barely contain herself waiting for the big moment to arrive. Eventually, we got up from the table and headed over to the tree. Rael couldn’t wait any longer, so, she asked my dad if it was okay to open the huge present. He said yes and went and stood by the present to watch. He had one of those mischievous grins on his face that he used to get when he would play a trick on us. Rael began to open the present with some real determination and enthusiasm. The wrapping came off to reveal a large box. The box was taped shut and she needed to use scissors to cut it open. It was quite the process but she was still very excited about what was in the box, so she cut away the restraints and popped open the box. In the box was another present almost the same size and fully wrapped. Rael looked at my dad and said, “Dad! What’s going on?” My dad still had that silly grin on his face and told Rael that obviously it was another present and that she needed to open it if she wanted to find out what was inside. She was still really excited so she attacked the wrapping with gusto, opened the box and discovered another wrapped present. Well, a long story short, she ended up opening many wrapped presents, and as time went on it was obvious that she was becoming more and more frustrated. At one point she gave in to her frustration, broke down and cried and said to my dad that this was all a nasty trick that he was playing on her and that she was going to discover that there was nothing in this present after all. My dad just smiled and said, keep going, let’s find out.” Eventually Rael got down to one small box and with disappointment written all over her face, slowly opened it. Before the rest of us could see what the present was she looked up at my dad, her frustration turned to exhalation and threw herself into my father’s arms. She had just received her first watch and was ecstatic about it.

    The lesson for me in this story resonates. I often have a hope and expectation for a certain outcome that is misplaced. I want something badly that I think will make me happy or enrich my life somehow only to discover that there is a different kind of gift attached to that hope or dream. I want those things that make my life easier and more comfortable only to receive something that stretches me to be a better person. By the way, I was quite disappointed in the size of the gift I received on that Christmas Eve years ago, only to discover that I had received my first pair of skates. Skating still brings me great joy today.

    I encourage you to look at some of your unmet hopes and expectations and put on a different pair of glasses. I’m pretty sure there is a gift in there somewhere if you keep looking.