Louie, my adopted pup, and I were walking on a beautiful fall day when we saw one of his pug buddies—or so we thought. His friend Sammy is a tan and black pug with a unique characteristic: his tongue protrudes ever so slightly. I recognized that the person walking him was not his owner. That’s not unusual since many of us in the community need others to walk our dogs on occasion. Louie was excited to see his buddy and could hardly wait to romp and play.
As we approached, I asked if the dog was Sammy, because he had the same markings and same characteristic of a slightly protruding tongue. The person walking him said no. But Louie quickly ran up to the Sammy look-alike; it did not take him long to realize this was not his buddy, and then he became indignant as if he was mad at the pug for not being Sammy.
We quickly said our good-byes while Louie kicked up his feet and snarled just to make sure the dog understood he was not even close to being Sammy.
I realized Louie’s expectations for playing with his friend were unmet, and disappointment had set in quickly. Based on all appearances, Louie was expecting to have fun and play, but that expectation was not to be filled that day.
This time of year, the majority of us have many expectations that, when unmet for whatever reason, will disappoint us. People have a hard time moving on from such setbacks. I think these disappointments occur because we’ve set ourselves up for failure when we box up our expectations in the hopes that they will be fulfilled.
Instead, what if we had a spirit of expectancy? You may wonder what the difference is between having expectations and having a spirit of expectancy. A spirit of expectancy is what very young children usually possess. They have the mindset that something wonderful is about to happen, but with no expectation of specifics. While they may wish for something on their Christmas list, it is their heart of expectancy that is truly magical. It is the hopefulness of something wonderful. For me, that may entail time with my family, but without expectation that the time meets any specific criteria—it is simply time together.
Another example occurred on the holiest of nights. For centuries, people expected the Messiah to come amongst their midst. In this expectation, they envisioned a king, surrounded by throngs of noble men and women and trumpets blaring. Because of these expectations they missed the wonder of all that took place on that quiet, serene night when the stars were brightly shining.
Yet only those with a spirit of expectancy, whose hearts were open to the wonder of what only the Creator of the universe could put into action, witnessed the birth of the King in a simple, lowly manger.
Expectations for particular things and events always run the risk of disappointing us, since many times, events and what others do are out of our control. As we wind down our year, rather than focusing on the disappointments of unmet expectations, let’s look forward with a heart of expectancy and see if that doesn’t lighten our spirits with the hope that something wonderful is about to happen.
While Louie experienced disappointment by not having his expectations met with the look-alike Sammy, it did not dampen his spirit of expectancy. He still walks out of our home with the hope that something wonderful is about to happen. Something as simple as seeing a dear neighbor who pats him on the head or gives him belly rubs lends to his heart of wonder.
Confession time…I’m a multi-tasker and have trouble focusing on one thing at a time. In fact, I was one of those kids who received the checked box next to the comment, “Does not concentrate on task at hand,” on almost every report card throughout grade school.
To this day, I justify my struggle with focus by saying I am a very creative person and I need to live experientially and savor the richness of the world around me in order to be a better writer. However, I understood very early in life that if I did not learn to focus I would be in trouble. The only nun who was impressed with my creativity was my English composition teacher. The others—not so much. So I became very intentional about focus and it has paid off.
Which brings us to Louie, who shares my struggle with focus. I recently shared with our trainer that he seems a bit skittish when I walk him in the dark and he has a hard time focusing on what he needs to do while we’re outside. The trainer reminded me that I am alpha, which means confidently leading Louie in a way that is fun and gives him safe freedom to do his thing, despite the darkness.
One beautiful morning, right before dawn, we walked a little further than normal and were moving at a pretty good clip. Since there was no one else around to whom Louie could react, I decided to check emails on my phone. In a flash, Louie jerked to the left, my phone went flying and three large creatures ran in front of us. They were harmless deer but they definitively startled Louie—and me. The deer moved on but it was a few minutes before my heart stopped racing and Louie settled down. As I picked up my phone, I had to shake my head…I know better than to check email, walk the dog, and pay attention to my surroundings simultaneously. Walking Louie only takes a small chunk of time each day, and he deserves my undivided attention—especially when we’re walking in the dark.
And so it is with our teams, loved ones, friends, and people in general. Yet, we pay so little attention to others and rarely give them our focus and undivided attention. We sit in restaurants on our phones, checking Facebook or seeing if we received that “important” text or email. If we are attentive, it is usually because we want to get our point across as soon as that person stops talking. Let’s face it; sometimes it’s easier to carry on “virtual” conversations than it is to fully engage in real ones.
There is no greater gift we can give someone than to be fully present. People long to be known and understood. And the best way to know someone is to intentionally focus on what they are saying by not only hearing their words but also hearing their heart. It takes time and effort to truly “hear” people, yet it is the best way to demonstrate that you value and honor them.
At the time of this writing, we were celebrating Christmas. What better time to practice being fully present with whomever you’re with. Take some time to truly focus on those around you and whom you spend time with. Be intentional, put down your phone, step away from the technological noise and listen to their words and pay attention to what their hearts might be saying. We’ve been given the best gift humanly possible through the birth of Christ. He modeled how to connect deeply with others. I once heard Willow Creek Community Church Founder Bill Hybels said. “You will never lock eyes with someone who does not matter to God.” I often remind myself of that as I sit across the table from someone, walk through Findlay Market, or take Louie on a walk and say hello to neighbors I only see occasionally throughout the winter months. I am intentional about locking eyes with others not because I learned this in a business course or from the latest new leadership guru, but because people matter to God and therefore matter to me!
The best present you can give to others is to be present with them.
I love this time of year for many reasons. It is a wonderful time to celebrate life, enjoy relationships, and look forward to a new year, which could mean a new “do over” if we felt the past year was tough. I especially enjoy taking time to reflect on what I would change and how I will strive to be a better person next year.
Added in the mix this year is my love for my crazy dog, Louie! We’ve been together for three years now. I look at him and wonder what our lives would have been like had we not met. We still have a lot of work to do together, but I believe he is so much better off today than he was this time three years. I’m growing too, thanks to Louie.
I am also reminded of the relationships I no longer have. Louie would not be with me if I still had my sweet little Bichon, Cece. And what would life be like if my mom and dad were still alive to see MY grandchildren? Both my parents have been gone 20+ years, yet I still miss them and remember clearly the Christmases we shared.
Our little Cape Cod home nestled in a suburban cul-de-sac brimmed with energy for weeks, beginning with Christmas Eve. We would have a large celebratory meal and all eight of us would pile into the Edsel to go midnight mass. Afterwards, family and friends would come to our home while we kids were hustled off to bed so we wouldn’t “delay” Santa.
We would awake predawn and run down the stairs. We realize now that our parents stayed up all night putting toys and bikes together to surprise us. With six children and a father who was an officer for Cincinnati Police Department, that was a magical feat in itself. But surprise us, they did. And there was always a really “big” gift that would take our breath away at the end of our wrapping paper frenzy. Even our faithful dog, Smokie, would join in on the fun discovering the dog treats my mom wrapped for him to uncover.
More family and friends would come over for a brunch that would last for hours. Once again, we’d pile in the car and head to our grandparents’ home for another large meal and fun times. We sometimes stopped at an uncle’s home and once we kids called it a night, there were even more people who would come and visit with mom and dad.
I can’t imagine how they did it all, but my mom and dad enjoyed life to the fullest, and I will always appreciate that about them. I honor their memories by celebrating Christmas with the same vigor, love, laughter and life.
Sadly, life includes necessary endings. Saying goodbye to my parents, experiencing other tragic losses too painful to mention, and bidding farewell to one too many furbabies I’ve carried in my arms means I have closed the chapter on a part of my life but am opening a door on another. Louie represents one more chapter in my life, and he brings me incredible joy. And each chapter just keeps getting better, as I’ve shared with my daughter Marisa. I’ve enjoyed every stage of her life, but I believe this stage is the best so far!
As we close out this year, I am thankful for the life with which God has blessed me. I am reminded of the life God breathed into our world through Jesus Christ and the necessary ending he allowed so that we may have eternal life and have it abundantly. I stand amazed at the humble beginnings of a King and the necessary ending of a humble servant just so you and I can live life to the fullest. Don’t let searching for things that can’t last cause you to miss that remarkable miracle.