What to Do When You Find Yourself in Donkey Class

Do you ever have days or seasons when your expectations and reality just aren’t matching up? Like the time I ordered three slow-cookers online in China and expected to be able to actually use them and bless friends with them. When they arrived, I couldn’t get them out of my house quick enough. “Cheap crock-o-junk” doesn’t even start to describe the mess I had on my hands. Or, the one night we stayed in a tree house in Thailand and could hardly sleep as we feared our condition in the morning after the cat-sized mosquitoes migrating through the gaps in the floorboards had their way with us?

Perhaps, like me, you’ve settled into life overseas, and whether you want to admit it or not, you have come to expect a few things. According to your expectations, everyday life should have a certain level of comfort (at least in your own home where you’ve been able to set things up the way you like).

You can approach the culture with a level of understanding in which you feel you should be able to predict the outcome of certain situations that used to leave you bewildered. As the neighborhood has become familiar, there’s now a sense of safety in your day-to-day routine as you cross the street, get on the bus or walk down an alley. You know where to access some sort of healthcare and you’ve found a place in your community. These things, which I once saw as huge, unexpected blessings have now become normal. If I’m not careful, I can begin to live out of the demand that these expectations shall be met or else! My demands lead to a sense of entitlement and a sour attitude.

If you’d like an example from my own life, I’ll spill a few beans for you. My husband and I have been whining to each other lately about the inability to plan our lives when it comes to short-term stuff, like where to spend Christmas and when to travel this summer because “yada, yada, China, blah, blah, blah.” I’ve been waking up in the morning expecting the unexpected, but not in a good way. I’m wondering what challenge or trial is going to rear its ugly head next.

Will it be two weeks of sickness, indescribably oppressive air pollution, more visa and passport headaches, misjudgments and heartache in relationships, or an insane traffic incident involving our children? Those things all happened in the past month or so. Life isn’t always this way, but there are seasons when it just seems like too much. In these moments, instead of trusting God with each trouble, I’m on the brink of an angry tantrum in which I shout “I’m entitled to better than this!”

As I read the Christmas story this year, I’m struck by how many unexpected things happen to Mary. I mean, if I were Mary, I might have told God that society would never accept my explanation of my unexpected pregnancy, and that his plan for my life shouldn’t include the hardships I’d endure as a pregnant virgin. Oh, and don’t get me started on how I would have reacted to the news that I had to travel in DONKEY CLASS (which is probably just above “standing room only” in Chinese train terms) in my THIRD TRIMESTER!

Then, to arrive in Bethlehem and find that there’s no place to stay? Oh, how I’d rant about how ridiculous this whole census thing is and how I can’t believe pregnant people aren’t exempt and what in the world are we gonna do?? And, this is God’s plan?! To have a baby in a stable (or a cave or a barn or whatever it was), away from my family and friends without even a mid-wife to assist me? Where am I supposed to put the baby? In a manger full of HAY?!

I can just hear the bitter carol now:

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,

                  Are you kidding? This is where he’ll lay his sweet head?

The stars in the sky look down where he lay,

My little baby Jesus should not sleep in hay!”

I’m dumbstruck as I fully digest the outrageous, unexpected nature of all of Mary’s life from the time the angel showed up and onward. Not only was that promised Son of God born in a barn, he died a convict’s death on a cross while she looked on and had her heart broken into a million pieces–shattered into unrecognizable heap. Why? Because she chose to say “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

The theme of her life became “expect the unexpected.” But, when the unexpected happened, she didn’t become jaded about her unfulfilled dreams. She continually put her faith in God to show up in the midst of the uncertain, painful and unplanned moments, and in those moments she saw God provide for her. He blessed her with an understanding, supportive husband. He gave her the strength she needed on that trek to Bethlehem. She saw JOY in a manger and received confirmation and encouragement from angels and shepherds and foreign wise men. Later, she’d see God provide eternal life when she saw her son alive again!

The focus of Christmas is on the baby in the manger, but as a woman striving to trust God and put my own expectations and entitlement aside so that I can serve Him with all my heart and soul, I’m intrigued to find Mary there, quietly gazing at her newborn baby, treasuring God’s goodness in her heart.

How about you? Are you experiencing the Christmas story in an unexpected way this year? How does Mary’s attitude toward the unexpected challenge or encourage you?

Photo Credit : Gratisography


  1. Dorette December 3, 2014

    Hi M’Lynn. I love this post and it’s so encouraging since I’m really experiencing the Christmas story in an unexpected way this year.. Being 8months pregnant with my first child and living in a small rural town in Thailand I have no idea what to ‘expect’. And yet I find comfort in knowing that with God all things are possible.. even travelling in donkey class and making a crib with hay!

    1. M'Lynn December 4, 2014

      Dorette, you are a courageous woman! What a blessing to be able to experience new life at Christmas! I’ll be lifting you up as you near your due date. If you don’t mind my asking, will you deliver in the small, rural town? I just have to wonder if you’ll end up in Bangkok. I’ll be spending a week there the end of December! 🙂

      1. Dorette December 4, 2014

        Thank you for your kind reply. We’ve decided to go ‘local’ since I want a natural birth as far as possible – we are not that far from Phuket in case of emergency but I would prefer to be here so please pray that everything will work out for the best. I’ve had a very blessed pregnancy so far and I came to the conclusion that if you have faith – you do not need a back-up plan 😉 Enjoy your trip to Bangkok. Blessings

    2. Monica December 4, 2014

      Blessings to you Dorette!  I had two natural childbirths in Chiang Mai and it was a fantastic experience, praying the same for you and wishing you a blessed delivery!

  2. Christine December 3, 2014

    This post was all I needed to make the tears come this morning.  I find myself trying so hard to be able to weather the unexpected.  There were many uncomfortable and unexpecteds this past month and for my husband’s sake as well as my own I had to keep on saying “I will trust God”.  But there came a point when I got tired and said “I can’t do this anymore” and I am so tempted to rant…  And so I remember Mary again.  Thank you for the encouragement and reminder.

    1. M'Lynn December 4, 2014

      Christine, I’m so thankful that when we’re at the end of our strength He’s there waiting and ready to give us the strength to continue. Isn’t it awesome that instead of a rant from Mary she chose to glorify God and sing instead? “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” (Luke 1:46-48) He was so pleased with her words it’s included in His Word for all time as an encouragement to us all. And just this week I’m guilty of ranting. Ugh.

  3. Ashley Felder December 4, 2014

    M’Lynn, I LOVE this post. You are so funny! Makes me wish we could be friends on a day-to-day level because I think our personalities are pretty similar! I, too, am pretty bad when it comes to unmet expectations. The first week we arrive back in-country, my husband knows it’ll probably be pretty rough because I’ll be critiquing and whining about everything we don’t have. All the while, he’s assuring me everything will be fine. I mean, we have Taobao for crying out loud. 😉

    Good to read your take on Mary’s perspective. I’ll be pondering that this season! And, loved the song re-do. My thoughts exactly!!

    1. M'Lynn December 6, 2014

      Ashley, I have thought the exact same thing…that we should be friends! 🙂 I’ve been more and more amazed at how much you can get in China these days. I love the feeling of randomly finding poptarts and marshmallows at the import store and buying milk online!

  4. Cecily Willard December 6, 2014

    I’m walking through some unmet expectations in the financial department, but how this has brought me closer to the Father!  I have spent many hours in tears lately, but that is because I finally made a commitment to pray every day–I mean, really sit down for an hour and have a conversation with the Lord.  I am so thankful that the Lord worked out the timing of this commitment to prayer.  I didn’t know that I had so many tears bottled up inside.

    Today when I was crying out to Him, He met me in such a tender way.  Suddenly I started sobbing harder than before, and it was then that the Father spoke to me and said, “I am crying with you, my love.  But my tears are not tears of hopelessness, for surely I hold out hope for you.  But my tears come because I hurt for you.  I cry because I feel the pain in your heart and I see the fear that you face.  But as I cry here with you, lean into me and know that I am with you and I will walk with you through this dark, wintry night.  The sun will come up again, and springtime will come when you feel warm again and see the buds on the trees.  This is only a season, this time of great discouragement, but I am here to walk with you.  Take hold of my hand because I want us to go together.”

    1. M'Lynn December 10, 2014

      Cecily, Thank you for sharing the tender words He spoke to you. What a blessing! I found myself in a funk about the beginning of winter the other day, and remembered that spring is not so sweet without the season of winter. It is truly miraculous the way seemingly dead and frozen everything can burst into life during the spring. I love that He can bring that about in our hearts as well. I hope your prayer time continues to be sweet.

      1. Cecily Willard December 10, 2014

        Yesterday spring came!  I had been walking through such a dark, cold valley–so many fears about the future because the money just hadn’t been coming in.  But I continued to bring my financial need before the Father, knowing that He would be faithful to keep His promises.  And, without saying a word to anyone, a HUGE financial breakthrough came yesterday!  So, so many tears, but joy came in the morning! Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ Jesus!

        1. M'Lynn December 11, 2014

          Cecily, Praise Him for you glorious answer to prayer. Thanks again for sharing. I’m so encouraged by this. Who are we that He should pay such attention to every detail of our lives?! Reminded yet again that He always takes care of His children.


  5. Kristina Krauss December 7, 2014

    Ja ja ja ja ja!!!!  Fabulous post! I’m with ya, gotta sit on my entitlement, and quick…… because it feels like every day now “yada yada, Mexico, blah blah blah…..” We lost 2 extra hours sitting in traffic last night because of a protest… and my mind goes to, “come on people… you didn’t really expect justice here, did ya???”  oh boy!

  6. Kristina Krauss December 7, 2014

    PS… Mary probably lost more than 2 hours in traffic, do you think there was ugly traffic in DONKEY CLASS???

    1. M'Lynn December 10, 2014


      That’s too funny. I feel ya on the traffic thing! Just the other day we were thirty minutes late to an appointment due to a traffic jam. I hate being late. I hate traffic jams. Thinking of Mary on that donkey really does help put it all in perspective. 🙂

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