By Susanne Gonzalez
God has rarely met my expectations. Growing up around church, I vaguely knew of him and thought of him mostly as a benevolent deity who preferred that I attend church and generally be a nice person. When I truly met him for the first time at the age of thirteen, I quickly realized he was close, wanted all of me, and was way more exciting than I gave him credit for. As I continued walking and growing with him, I began to see that, throughout my different chapters of life, he always wanted more for me than I wanted for myself.
I thought the first person I had strong romantic feelings for was “the one.” He mercifully let that one pass, though that mercy was lost on my grieving and questioning twenty-year-old self. After spending my entire college career preparing to become a teacher, I thought I would end up working in a traditional school environment. Instead, I spent eight years of my life working at Boys & Girls Clubs, where I was able to use my God-given zaniness to not only teach, but also grow and learn with over one thousand kids all over the Valley. I thought I would marry a loud, boisterous, outgoing male version of myself. God instead gave me a strong, quiet, thoughtful, smart, humble man who complements and challenges me in ways I didn’t even think to expect.
But here comes the tricky part, the part without the neatly summarized hindsight. I thought I would get pregnant when I wanted to—I didn’t. I thought God would surely be faithful to grow our family exactly how I expected when I wanted him to—he didn’t. I thought doctors would give us answers why and that fertility treatments would be the way that God would finally complete our family—wrong on both accounts. I thought foster care would surely be a great way to grow our family, and at the same time, help others! After six months of prayer, classes, home studies, paperwork, and preparing and rallying our church family to help out, we opened our home to a sweet baby boy who left us after less than forty-eight hours. Though we were happy to provide him the home that he needed, it wrecked us emotionally, and we took an extended break after he left. We were then given a baby girl who stayed with us for four months before going to live with her grandmother. Foster care is, above all, a ministry of reconciliation, not a primary means to grow a family. Although I knew that when we started, it’s another thing altogether to experience it firsthand. Tears and yelling at and crying out to God have lately become routine parts of my time spent with him. Around three weeks after we were given that baby girl to care for, however, I realized I had a choice to make. I could either constantly close in on myself in fear, grief, and anxiety, looking only at myself and my own hurt, or I could breathe deep, choosing to look outwards to God and to be a part of what he’s doing, even if it painfully makes no sense to me at all.
When I open my Bible, I realize I’m in good company. In the Old Testament, God never did what the Israelites expected him to do, quite the opposite actually. In the book of Exodus, freedom from slavery meant wandering in a lifeless, unforgiving desert to learn how to trust a life-giving, endlessly forgiving God (Exodus 3:7–8). The prophet Jeremiah’s book contains a verse that is no stranger to being displayed on tattoos, paperweights and various other inspiring artifacts; “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). Yet, when we read a little further in the book, and we quickly see that God’s vision of prospering is not what we expect at all. I imagine ole brother Jerry was questioning what “welfare” God was referring to as he sank into mud at the bottom of a well after doing exactly what God had told him to do (38:6).
As we keep reading through to the New Testament, we read that Jesus’ first disciples left their lives, their comfort, and what made sense to them at just one call from him—“Follow Me” (Matthew 4:19). Not “Follow me so I can meet your expectations.” Not “Follow me so I can give you the life you’ve always dreamed of, in the exact way you’re wanting it.” Jesus’ life was the antithesis of those things—a baby born to poor teenagers in a backwoods town, growing up in obscurity, becoming hated and killed by the very people he came to redeem, all to become a man of sorrows, well-acquainted with grief, who would defeat death and usher in a Kingdom built on grace, which constantly reshapes human expectations. Jesus calls us to follow him so that we can live life the way we were always created to—in love for him and love for our neighbor (Matthew 22:37–40).
I don’t have a nice, neat conclusion to this story. I am in the process of navigating a dark valley where I cannot see where I’m going or why this path has been laid out as it has. But God is giving me light for each step. He loves me, and he loves you, enough to open up our hearts and minds and rework our expectations to replace them with his radical and revolutionary vision for his Kingdom here on earth. For me—and I say this through gritted teeth, wishing it could be any other way—he hasn’t just given us children. He’s allowing us to be part of healing brokenness, reconciling pain, and opening our home and our hearts to others in need. He hasn’t just completed our family picture—he has extended that family to include birth parents, grandparents, caseworkers, judges, and so many others that we would have never given thought to otherwise. When I’m in my frequent moments of wondering what he’s doing and why it hurts, I eventually remember that he has a much larger perspective on things than I do. I ask him for help, and I take that next step. The path rarely leads where I think it will, or where I want it to, but I continue to walk towards him, nonetheless.