Many years ago, when it was just Jim and I (it actually seems more like a lifetime ago), we took a second honeymoon tour of the Southwest. We drove through Louisiana and then Texas, visiting friends and family along the way. One special friend that we visited as often as possible was our dear friend, Dairy Queen. As fond as both Jim and I are of milk products, locating these gold mines of lactose-loaded delights quickly became a daily tradition. As we started our long leg across southern Texas, however, our mid-day pit stop at a roadside DQ became more of a challenge. We had entered a Dairy Queen desert. Like thirsty travelers in search of an oasis, we would eagerly await each exit food sign, quickly scanning the edible options. If there was no Dairy Queen, we would laugh a bit to ourselves and light-heartedly say “Ah, there will be one at the next exit.” And so it would go, Dairy Queenless exit after Dairy Queenless exit. With each passing hour, our disappointment mounted and disbelief turned to desperation (we might have settled for a Baskin Robbins just to get through the day). Then, somehow, it became funny. It was so tragic, this lack of ice cream, that one had to laugh. And we did. It became a standing joke for the rest of the trip and even now. Of course, it didn’t hurt that upon entering the great state of New Mexico, we found Dairy Queens aplenty.

This week, I felt a bit like a wanderer in a desert with no oasis in site. My family will tell you that I look forward to Christmas even more than I look forward to a perfectly dipped chocolate cone (especially because Jim always bites the tip off my dipped cone, perfectly dipped or not, as it passes from the drive-thru window to me. Not that I am bitter.) I especially love arriving at my parents’ house a week or so before the big day. My mom always does a great job decorating the house and we usually have several special events planned for the kids: ice skating downtown with my dad, going to Dollywood for the shows and lights, and hosting friends and family while a fire crackles in the fireplace. This week, however, my kids have hardly left the couch as bad colds have kept everyone homebound. No one has slept well and Sam ended up with pneumonia. It’s enough to make a girl go “Bah, hum bug!” While laying beside my kids at night, rubbing their backs as they hack in my face (why don’t they write about that in Mother’s Day cards?) I have prayed that God would heal the kids in time for them to have a little fun. Is that too much to ask? I felt like I was back in our little Toyota Corolla all over again, driving down an endless highway, just looking for a little relief. And relief was granted but certainly not in the form I expected or frankly wanted. No, the kids didn’t leap from bed and say “Hallelujah, I’m healed!” But they didn’t complain or whine much about missing out on all the things we planned. Yes, I still had to get up over and over to get them water, fix their covers and rub their chest with Vic’s Vapor Rub (again). But God granted me more patience than I usually have and a great husband and parents who got up every morning so I could sleep in. It’s such a clichĂ© that God always answers our prayers, just not always in the way we hoped, and yet it is a truth that too often seems to take me by surprise.

So this Christmas, be prepared. You will be disappointed, either by something that is or isn’t under the tree or more likely something someone does or doesn’t say or do. In your disappointment, however, try to remember just what you are celebrating. We recognize the birth of Jesus as the great gift-the deliverance of mankind from bondage and death. But for some who had looked forward to his birth, it was the greatest disappointment of their lives. Sometimes the greatest blessings come in forms you don’t expect, whether you are looking for the Dairy Queen or the Messiah.

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