The last major thing that went as planned was the weather June 10th, 2006. It was sunny and I was gettin’ hitched.
So filled with cavalier college confidence was I that I didn’t even make an alternative plan for the Portland-Oregon-Rose-Parade-Day outdoor ceremony. As though making a Plan B would jinx Plan A, and I am ALL about Plan A. Plan B might as well be PLAN Z (can I get an Amen?)!
Yes, that morning, it was sunny and clear, just as planned. While some of us had been ripened by the southern Californian sun and thought it was unimpressively warm, the tender Oregonians amongst us went home with sweaty dress shirts, regrets about nylons, and sunburns, a cost-effective, environmentally-friendly wedding favor.
And that, my friends, was the last time a major event went according to plan. (It may have also been the last time you saw someone wearing nylons.)
After the breaking of those glorious Plan A rays, the wedding went decidedly downhill. Thank God Twitter was not invented yet because the tweets from that ceremony would have been epically disastrous. Best to leave the experience to deteriorating memories rather than enduring social media. Printed photos are just so much more…silent. Marriage was (is) a heck of a lot tougher than either of us ever anticipated; WE THOUGHT we would be so good at it! Our beautiful first-born’s appearance was compared to the immaculate conception by my OB (uh…for other reasons). In exchange for walking in my graduate graduation ceremony, I breastfed in the balcony. Kinda the same thing. And our 2nd son’s arrival was about, oh, 12 months and 6 days later than I wanted. (Despite my best theological attempts to not invest in my own plan about child-bearing.) Now, our hopes of adopting the baby in our arms, whom we’ve helped sleep through the night, transition to solid foods (i.e. gross diapers) and who is about to cut her first tooth, are dismantling, one day at a time. Each day as a family of five is precious but poignantly non-permanent. And it is a hard thing to know.
Career-wise, we have been missionaries as long as we have been adults. Not outside the plan but some things in that ARENA of the plan have been, how shall we say, unscripted. Compared to the amount of support my parents raised to go overseas as missionaries, we had to raise change when we first started. Full of missionary-kid-confidence (are we detecting a theme?), I didn’t think it would be a big deal, but it has always been a medium-large deal. I mean, sure, they had giraffes and huts on their side but gosh. After being here a while, it seemed obvious to everyone that Ryan was more cut out to be with people than computer screens, and we started dabbling in church planting (addictive, I know). Turns out Ryan is really gifted at striking up new relationships, sharing his Jesus story, and tracking with people that others don’t track with. It also turns out that while I have grown to truly love and find my place in church planting, the whole constant change in strategy, schedule, teams, and church attendees thing seems downright unnatural to my senses. I have a deep, resilient attachment to things like neatness, predictability and plans, specifically MINE. And to be in the church planting crew with this bouquet of expectations is like asking the organic vegan Oregonian crowd to eat Hot Cheetos. HOT CHEETOS, I tell you. I have come to accept the variables (i.e. chaos) of church planting, and even appreciate it at times, but it has been like physical therapy for the MIND. Other “goals” in the whole missionary work realm so far haven’t happened; Plan A’s didn’t even get demoted to B’s or Z’s, just
Plans. Tired, crusty plans.
To be clear, this is not a cry for help. At least that I know of. I’m getting to the point.
This is also not to say that the changes and surprises come void of triumph and celebration. On the contrary, they usually offer much of both. I just have to get over the humps of disappointment, anxiety or grief (or sometimes a cute triple cocktail) and my prodigal-son’s-older-brother-attitude out of my behind to join in. (Ouch.)
Also…even I have to admit I had nothing to do with the last acknowledgedly “planned” detail of a major life event 8 years ago. Yes, okay, the sun shining is actually independent of my striving and lists. Okay, fine.
In reflecting over the last time things “went my way” (however artificial), I have to admit that I would have a lot less disappointment in my life if I kept the big things in front of me instead of banking on the deets. That I have this crippling tendency of placing intangible yearnings on the shoulders of tangible, finite circumstances.
My plans are too small.
They are not built to keep step with my dreams.
In trying to be a person attuned to my history and personality, the plans I thought were God-given, and the goals I picked up along the way, I make really rather specific plans for myself. Plans that ultimately have nothing to do with what I ultimately care about. I give my heart to these details. I am so terribly good at details that I can inadvertently choke out my true dreams.
The dream of actually becoming a more humane and gracious, i.e. redeemed, person as time goes on, however time treats me. The dream of spending all sorts of energy and resources to pull people to both the cross and the empty grave, to justice and mercy, whether those be my own children or my neighbor or a distant reader. The dream of creating community that is life-giving and transformative, wherever I am, whoever I am with–of creating non-conventional, permeable family lines. The dream of valuing my emotions without marrying them to my actions and opening wide the places that I’ve made narrow.
These dreams are unencumbered by circumstances. I cannot blame the unfulfillment of these things on a bad event or rough season or late arrival. I am always on the hook for these hopes. And that seems divine as much as it seems uncomfortable. And that is how I know that they matter most. The scary things today are the freeing things tomorrow.
So, despite all those improv moments, when I wanted the script, and all the lingering expectations for the future I surely still carry, I will raise my glass to a free tomorrow. I will raise my glass in hopes of keeping the dreams real and the plans adjustable. Here’s to less disappointment, less coping and less scrambling. Here’s to keeping the big things big, and the small things small.
Here’s to another unplanned sunny day.