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Today I unpacked my suitcase for a trip I didn’t take. I don’t much like unpacking after a great trip, but I’m usually happy to be home and enjoy remembering what I did as I fill the laundry basket. I wore those jeans on that great hike. That’s the top I wore to that restaurant overlooking the bay. These shoes are filled with wonderful beach sand. Ah…

However, I certainly did not have fun putting away those perfectly folded, unused items. We were nearly ready for a road trip, our favorite. The snacks in zip lock bags, the books for reading aloud, the destinations in Google Maps on our phones. Crates of baby clothes for our pregnant daughter. The cookies she loves. Bags of granola and coffee for the Airbnb on the coast. Oh, the joy of packing shorts and sandals in Iowa days of lingering winter.

We are not going anywhere. Fears of coronavirus and acknowledgement of our own risk factors pushed us to make a cautious cancellation. I understand the need to make sensible decisions, but I’ve never been good at handling unmet expectations. I love planning trips and then actually going. I don’t do well when the pictures I had of an event change.

When my oldest daughter graduated from high school, we had the party at home with ice cream sundaes. My picture included guests spilling out on the deck and backyard on a sunny, warm May afternoon. Instead, we crowded guests into our living family room on a rainy, cold day when ice cream was only mildly appealing.

When my sister and I told secrets and relished good times, I pictured us growing old together, sharing stories of grandchildren and memories of our childhood. Instead, she died at age 26 and the best I can do is share those memories with her children.

When our children married, I pictured sweet grandchildren arriving on time and just when everyone wanted them. Instead, our daughters have struggled with infertility and postpartum depression. One grandson spent his first month in the hospital and another came too soon to live on his own. The others are so loved, but not always sweet or brilliant. This was not what I expected.

Where is God in all this? If God is totally in control, God could stop the rain, save my sister, help those babies grow to full-term. God can stop the coronavirus. I know that. I know that God cares and I know that my canceled trip is minor compared to the anguish of so many displaced families and grieving parents who have stopped having expectations of joy. Still, I need to talk it out with God. I need to lament.

Imagining God deciding to send disappointment, suffering, and racing viruses to people on earth is not helpful to me. I need to know God is loving and grieves with me.

There are those verses Christians pull out and plunk down in anger and darkness. Jeremiah 29:11 is a favorite. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” If God’s plans for our hope include grief and disappointment, how can this be love? Another favorite of super-comforters is Romans 8:28. “And we know that and all things work out together for good to them who are called according to his purpose.” What is good exactly? What good is there in a twenty-six old mom dying or a baby not living to full-term or thousands of people dying from a virus gone rampant?

Those verses don’t help me. When I’m unpacking for a trip that didn’t happen, missing a sister who didn’t grow old, mourning a baby that I never held, I go back to Romans 8:22-24. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Creation is groaning and broken. And, unfortunately, we contribute to this brokenness every day. The rest of Romans 8 tells it all. Life is more than we have here on earth.

Somehow it seems we think God owes us happy times and success. But God does love me. I don’t have to call God in during the bad times. God is there all along. There are moments of joy in darkness. There is more to life than what I experience today.

I will pack for another trip, I had so many times of joy with my sister, and a new baby is on the way. I lament and I rejoice. God is good. Unmet expectations are my problem, not God’s.

Helen Luhrs

An Iowa woman to the core, Helen Luhrs is a recently retired high school teacher who lives in the country near Knoxville, Iowa. Helen and Lee have four married daughters, six grandchildren, a graceful prairie, and a square foot garden.

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