I love to anticipate things.

I told Matt early on in our relationship that I always need something to look forward to. This doesn’t have to be a spendy vacation or a big event—right now I’m excited for my first listen to Christy Nockels’ new Christmas album and having some good Mexican food for lunch—but I’ve learned that I enjoy life more if it’s filled with a series of small pleasures. In fact, the small ones are often better, because the big moments in life usually turn out differently than we expected.

Six weeks ago Matt and I won a three-year custody battle for Miles and Nina, which became just a battle for Nina because it took so long that Miles actually turned 18 and aged out of the system. For THREE YEARS we shuffled paperwork, paid lawyers, raged against delays caused by incompetence and bureaucracy and malice, and endured the existing custody schedule with all the disappointments and dysfunction which originally led us to seek change. And on October 13 we finally won, won bigger than we’d even thought possible.

I was sitting in a park near our home when Matt called. I’d gone for a walk on that warm fall afternoon knowing the saga was finally going to end that day, for better or worse, and wanting to be alone when the call came. And when he told me the verdict I belly laughed, bent over double with relief, and texted our faithful prayer partners, and floated home in a haze of happiness.

I won’t say it wasn’t awesome. But it wasn’t what I thought it would be.

There was no soundtrack with soaring violins. The credits didn’t roll. There was still dinner to figure out. And the initial thrill of victory gave way to a more balanced joy as we have watched Nina thrive, as we’ve seen her grades climb, as we’ve listened to her questions and as Matt has responded with truths we didn’t think she’d be ready to confront for another ten years. This post-win time is deeply good….but significantly different from what I imagined.

I’ve always loved the lyric of A Quiet Thing from the musical Flora the Red Menace:

When it all comes true
Just the way you planned
It’s funny but the bells don’t ring
It’s a quiet thing

When you hold the world
In your trembling hand
You think you’d hear a choir singing
But it’s a quiet thing

There are no exploding fireworks
Where’s the roaring of the crowd
Maybe it’s the strange new atmosphere
Way up here among the clouds

Happiness comes in on tiptoe
Well, what do you know
It’s a quiet thing
A very quiet thing…

This is true in other areas, as well. I spent more than a decade looking forward to being married, and marriage is a good thing but nothing like what I anticipated. (See: three-year court battle.) My brother and his wife are expecting a baby this week (THIS WEEK!) and all you parents out there can give a witness that it will surpass and surprise every expectation they have. Someday maybe I’ll hold the first copy of a book with my name on it or the keys to my dream house or a grandbaby and it will be glorious….and different than what I thought. After the pastor says to kiss the bride, after the doctor says it’s a boy, after the judge says mom gets four days a month, it’s a quiet thing, and you start adjusting to the changes.

The moment was a little bigger and louder when Jesus was born. While Mary held the whole world in her trembling hands, a choir was singing…. (although it was miles away, and she didn’t get to hear it. As Trump would tweet, very unfair!). But it was still different from what anyone was anticipating. For nine months Mary had dreamed of this moment, but she had not planned to be leaning on a pile of straw staring at cows when it finally happened. For centuries the Jewish people had longed for a Messiah, but that night none of them even knew he’d arrived. It was hard to see what God was up to, and the initial rush of happiness was followed by life and logistics. The Lord has come! There is still dinner to figure out.

At Advent we celebrate the coming of Christ. We prepare and we anticipate. But Advent is also a reminder that things rarely turn out just as we expect them to.

God is expert at zagging when you think he will zig, and sometimes it’s wonderful: barren women conceive, youngest sons become kings, downtrodden people grow into a great nation, and the Maker of feet learns to walk. But it can also be confusing, overwhelming, sometimes even disappointing. Advent teaches us to prepare for the future without trying to predict the future, because it will never be quite what we think.

Maybe this year you are simply anticipating the joys of the season. Or perhaps you are praying hard and longing for justice, just as Matt and I did the last three Christmases. Whatever you are hoping for this year, may the Prince give you his peace as you wait….and again when it all comes true differently than you had dreamed.