“Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me”—Carl Sandberg.
I always want to add a footnote onto Sandberg’s quote that says, “but not by God.”
Many, if not most, of the greatest blessings I’ve received in life have stemmed from unplanned circumstances. Obviously, my very existence was unplanned. And although it must have been a great source of anxiety and, at the time, crisis, I don’t believe I’m being boastful in saying that my initially unplanned existence has brought great blessing and joy to this world, for every life is a blessing, regardless of whether they were planned or unplanned.
Truth be told, it saddens me greatly that we live in a world where worth is weighted in terms of whether a person or a circumstance is planned or unplanned, as if the planning provides the merit. Don’t get me wrong, planning is an important task. I’m a rather thorough planner and a lack of planning on the part of others in my life can be stressful to me (even me dear husband, whose famous line, “We’ll see,” used to throw me into a tailspin when it came to planning), but I’ve also come to believe that you can’t plan for everything (thanks be to the grace of God and my husband’s role modeling) and still allow room for the Holy Spirit to enter into your life.
Ultimately, we must come to recognize that our best-laid plans are guided by God’s will, and although our choices and behaviors shape circumstances and situations, there are also consequences that come from our free will and how it plays into God’s plans for us.
I don’t think we need to look very far in our world to see the consequences of aborting human life, lives that may be unplanned to the human eye, but are planned by His heart. The disregard for human life, especially those in most need of protection and care, the breakdown of the family, the overwhelming presence of pornography…I could go on and on about the troubles we see in our world that I believe are intrinsically connected to the reality that we are killing children in the womb, playing God here on this earth, when it is not our role to play. But that’s a whole other article, and I digress…
I know I’m not alone when it comes to experiencing great blessings out of unplanned experiences, but I don’t want to assume that everyone has their heart and mind open to seeing and accepting these blessings. I wanted to take time to share a few of my most blessed, albeit unplanned, experiences with you that are talked about a bit in You Carried Me, as I simultaneously share some steps that I think we can all take to work on the ever-so-difficult task of appreciating them.
1) Be willing to change your plans, your schedule, at a moment’s notice.
This one is NOT easy, nor is it always do-able. There are jobs we need to report to, there are responsibilities we can’t step away from. But have you ever been faced with an amazing opportunity to serve God in some capacity, accomplish a goal or embrace an opportunity and could have found the time or space in your schedule to do it, or you could have taken a leap of faith to allow it to happen, but you didn’t take advantage of it because it just wasn’t in your plans?
I have greater flexibility in my schedule now that I’m involved in ministry work full-time, but I believe that my place in ministry was derived from my willingness to finally let go of my plans for my life, allowing God’s plans to take precedence, and building the rest of my life (part-time employment at first to continue to support our family, careful budgeting and expense tightening) to support His plans. So often, it seems that what we want is just the reverse of this, to plan every facet of our lives and then ask God to plan around us and what we want.
I can still remember how overwhelming it felt when I was “doing it all,” working full-time, doing ministry part to full-time, and caring for my family and home. Whenever someone else asked me to do something, even when they invited me to do something I truly enjoyed, I had the running tally in my head that said “yet another thing to do, another thing to try and fit in.” I should have taken joy in all of these opportunities and experiences, but many a time, if I didn’t plan it, it felt like stress. And then along came an innocent Facebook exchange that would change my life forever.
In 2010, I had learned of a new pro-life organization in Australia, Life Network Australia, and reached out to them over Facebook to encourage and thank them. What began as an innocent post quickly (and I mean quickly as within days) turned into a formal invitation to go to Australia and speak. And what first started as a possible two week trip quickly turned into almost four. Leading up to this time, I knew that I wanted to transition to a life of ministry, and I knew that God was waiting for me to take a leap of faith and He would provide for our family, but I could never pinpoint when and how this was going to occur.
My faith told me that this request was divinely providential, and although I knew the potential hazards of saying yes, I did it. I said yes, allowing what I saw as God’s plan come into play. I then based my plans of how I would handle the responsibilities that I had at work, how we would handle the financial, emotional and physical stress that such a trip would have on our family, and how we would handle the likely reality that taking this trip, saying yes to God and His plan, would lead to me having to leave my full-time job and the benefits that had so effectively provided for our family.
Almost ten years later, I can still feel the anxiety that was building inside of my stomach as I scheduled a meeting with my boss at work to tell her about what was transpiring and make my plans and needs clear. I can still remember how, even though my boss showed great support to me during our meeting that day in 2010, I cried openly about how overwhelming this all was for me. With the blessing of my boss and the upper management team, I was permitted to use my vacation time and unpaid leave to cover the trip to Australia. Yet I knew that spending four weeks in Australia was only half the battle. Once I returned from Australia, I had a number of speaking engagements scheduled around the U.S., speaking engagements that I would have otherwise used my vacation time at work to cover.
Earlier that year, I must have been the only one in the office who was pleased about receiving furlough days to help with the State’s budget shortfall. To most, it was a great source of financial stress. To me, it was a gift to have more time to give to ministry. But as the trip to Australia in September 2010 loomed large, my furlough days had all been used up. The vacation days would be used up.
Would they allow me to take more unpaid leave to cover my events? Was I asking too much? I knew what God was communicating to me—that I may not have ever pinpointed a time and a way to transition out of my work in the child welfare office, but He could and He would.
It was with a mix of excitement, fear, and sadness that I called Ryan late one August afternoon, just a few days before our trip was to begin. “I’m going to have to quit my job,” I whispered into the phone. I had received word just minutes before calling him that my request for more unpaid leave had been denied. I had known it was coming. I had known that it was going to be okay, even better than okay, but I was overwhelmed by the reality of this big change in our lives. I had been continuously employed since I was 14 years old. I had never left a job without having another one in place in over 15 years.
Even though I knew that this was God’s plan, I struggled with fear that others around me would think I was being selfish or foolish—and that’s certainly what many people around me communicated at the time.
In the whirlwind of the next few hours, I submitted my resignation, planned out how I would keep our family covered by insurance for as long as I possibly could, notified my part-time counseling employer know that I would be open to take on referrals, and let Olivia’s daycare center know that the following day would be her last day there.
Wow! How quickly life turns on a dime when you allow God’s will to be done. Now, a decade latter, I can look back on all of these circumstances and smile. Was all of this easy? No. Were there difficult days even after we went to Australia and I took on the role of full-time ministry? Yes. But the blessings of our lives have grown in abundance, and I know that I can speak for Ryan , Olivia, and now Ava when I say that our family, our lives, are more joyful, more peaceful, more purposeful since all of this transpired.
I owe all the credit to God for this, but I believe that it was by my deliberate act of submitting to His will, by creating the space for Him, by allowing His plans to unfold in our lives and planning around them accordingly and not vice versa, that His will was done.
Part 2 coming soon….