Have you ever heard the phrase, “we make plans and God laughs”?
At nineteen years old I sat in the backyard of my parents home dumbfounded over how quickly an entire life of plans could change. A week earlier my boyfriend, who I had been dating on and off for the past year broke up with me, for good this time. While I was upset because, well, no one enjoys getting dumped, it wasn’t an earth-shattering event. He would only be in town for another year before heading off to medical school and there wasn’t any point in being tied down if he was just going to leave, anyway. We had spent my freshman year and his senior year, enjoying life, going to parties, hanging out with friends, and pretty much just living for the moment not worrying too much about the future. We knew that this time in our lives would be short lived and soon enough we would need to grow up and fill the expectations that had been set before us. I had not figured out what I wanted to do with my life and had changed my major three times by the end of my first year at school. This summer I had planned on working at the local video store and just waiting to see what great things would come my way. With no clear goals it didn’t make sense to go back to school. I knew at some point everything would all fall into place and work out. Why wouldn’t it? I was a good girl, from a good family. Every happy memory from my childhood was in a church, because of church, or with people from church. So many years of always doing what was right, and good meant that a few digressions would only be a small blemish on the white picket-fence life I was meant to live. Even during this time of self-discovery, or sewing of my wild oats, or whatever it is you want it call it, I continued to attend church (at the small church right outside of town with the super late service start times) and my foundational beliefs never wavered. I may not have had any specific plans for the near future, but I had spent my whole childhood envisioning what my adult life would look like. Just like my parents, I would marry young. We would have three children each two years apart. We would live in a big house in the suburbs, and I would stay home to take care of them just like my mother had done. I had always dreamed of a simple cookie cutter life, and it never crossed my mind that it might not turn out like I had planned.
On that sunny day in the yard, I sat alone after breaking the news to my parents that I was pregnant. The day before, I had made the uncomfortable phone call to the guy who wanted to “move on”, and now he was having the same conversation with his parents a few hours away. The next several months were filled with more emotions than I had ever experienced in my little sheltered life. Quickly I tried to pick up all the pieces of my life and make them fit back together before too many people noticed, but I was unsuccessful. In the beginning I thought if we got married, it would solve all of our problems and make everyone happy. Almost everyone in both of our families came from traditional families and I had no frame of reference for what the future of an every other holiday kind of life would look like. My ex would not even entertain the idea of getting married. I remember that first conversation sitting on my couch when he said, “What are we going to do?” I quickly said “Get married”. He looked at me like I had lost my mind and in an annoyed voice said, “We just broke up!” It took a long time for me to understand how he could be so sure it would not work and, eventually admit he was right. I knew that being a mom was something I was born to be, so I had no choice but to give up on the life I thought I would have. The pregnancy and first year of our daughters life was emotionally exhausting. I continued to hold out hope that eventually we would be a real family. Our daughter brought us closer together, and some days and weeks we would consider ourselves a couple while other times the stress of uncharted water made us not be able to stand each other. We never lived together, somehow hoping to salvage some of the moral values we had been brought up with. We also retreated to the place we felt most comfortable, church. It was hard because people didn’t know what we were, and neither did we. Even choosing a bible class was a challenge. We weren’t young marrieds, and we didn’t fit in with the singles or college class. Every Sunday morning we sat together with our daughter beside us hoping that she would do better than we did. Eventually there came a breaking point where I knew that I had to stop trying to fix something that couldn’t be fixed. This is when I realized that nothing had ever been broken in the first place, it was just life.
When life gets hard people tell you that God will give you strength. When you mess up, God will grant you grace. When choices are hard, He will bless you with wisdom. I used to wonder why He would give us these tools instead of just answering our prayers. Paul tells us about the boldness we have through God and the invitation we have to come to him. This is coming from a man who’s entire life plan has been turned upside down many times over. How can someone behind bars have boldness? Even more so, how can a man who spent most of his life persecuting God’s people go to Him with confidence instead of fear and shame? Sometimes, as Christians, we think God alone is the only one that will make good things happen, so we sit back and wait for everything to get fixed. If it isn’t fixed, we assume it’s because we don’t deserve it, or it just isn’t in His plan. In reality, God gives us these tools because he knows that he has sent us to live in a broken world. This amazing plan that people speak of isn’t about the people we will meet, or the jobs we will have. The plan is that we will use His tools, blessings, gifts, and His words of wisdom to live through this broken world. He knows that bad things will happen, that unfair things will happen, and that the consequences of our actions will hurt. So why doesn’t He just fix it all for us? Because it is what we do together that makes us his people. It is up to us to rely on our faith, stand boldly, and face this world and all of the brokenness that comes with it.
With this new understanding I choose to look at life differently. I stood with confidence through God, and for the first time in a long time I wasn’t afraid of what the future might hold. This lack of fear allowed me to step out on my own and find out who I could be without all the preconceived ideas of who I had planned to be. I was working as a preschool teacher when I finally found my calling. I re-enrolled in school when my daughter was 10 months old. Knowing that with a career ahead of me, I could support my child on my own, gave me peace and comfort. I made every choice from that point on with confidence knowing that everything would be okay no matter what came next, because He has already given me everything I need to succeed in this broken world.
Two and a half years after our daughter was born the plans changed again when we committed our relationship to God in marriage. Two years later I finished my teaching degree and waddled across the stage nine months pregnant with our son. Jeff never went to medical school like he had planned, but when I was six months pregnant with our third child he finally figured out what he wanted to be when he grew up. After law school we settled our family in Jeff’s hometown where we live with our five children on a small farm in the country. I am a first grade teacher and I am only a few short months away from finishing my masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction. While five kids, living on a farm, juggling family and work life, and going back to school are all things I thought I would never do, it is these “never will I ever” challenges that have given me my greatest joy and made me so happy to be part of His plan.