I know we said we were taking a break this month (and we are), but God gave me this blessing unexpectedly, and I wanted to share it with you in time for the holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!
The Girl Who Was Going to Spain
I stood between two headstones, hands in my coat pockets, shivering in the cold November wind. It was the graveside service for a dear friend, the wife of the elderly couple I’d spent a year and a half caring for, thirteen months after we’d gathered in this same cemetery for the service of her husband.
A woman I half-recognized met my eye and walked over to me. “Aren’t you the girl that was going overseas?”
It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked the question. Returning to my part-time job at my mom’s consignment shop, I’ve been surprised by the handful of regulars who remember the conversations we must have had.
“Didn’t you live abroad?” “Weren’t you planning to go to Spain?” “Wasn’t it last year . . . ?”
Yes. Yes, I did, and I was, and it was.
While each question touched me with the thoughtful remembrance of people I barely knew, it also pushed the thorn of hurt a little deeper into my heart.
The Girl Who Was Going to Spain.
Except she didn’t. And isn’t. And, in the foreseeable future anyway, won’t.
One of the most beautiful, most exciting, most thrilling dreams of my life, and each well-meant question just directed my gaze down to the shattered pieces lying around my feet, just one of many broken dreams of the past few years.
The King Who Was Going to Build A Temple
A few days later, I listened to a sermon titled “When God Shoots Down Your Plans,” about David, The King Who Was Going to Build a Temple.
Except he didn’t.
I cried my way through the sermon because it spoke so directly to the hurts, confusions, and frustrations of my life right now–so many plans shattered by chronic illness, dreams now pushed back on a shelf too high for me to reach, desires left untouched for so long I don’t even know what they are anymore.
The pastor asserted multiple times that it’s not wrong for us to make plans. People in the Bible made plans all the time. God even told David, “You did well that it was in your heart” (I Kings 8:18).
The challenge is how we respond when God shoots down our plans.
As the pastor explained, David responded in three ways:
- He received the word of the Lord.
- He rested in God’s character.
- He ran in God’s revealed will.
David accepted what God told him through the prophet Nathan. He rested, secure and grateful, in the character and promises of his good God. And he moved forward in what God DID allow him to do (such as prepare materials for the temple that his son would build).
Then King David went in and sat before the LORD; and he said: “Who am I, O Lord GOD? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far?II Samuel 7:18
I’m a list person. I find structure, relief, and sometimes even closure in writing lists. So I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote two lists: My Plans, the plans I had when I started college and/or started grad school, and God’s Plans, the different ways my life has gone since.
As I wrote out each item under “God’s Plans,” each experience that I never asked for but He gave me anyway, I realized how many good things came with each one. And I was moved with a response of not “Okay, God, I guess You know what You’re doing” but “Wow, God, thank You.”
Then, inspired by David’s example, I took my list to church. I went into the empty auditorium and “sat before the Lord” and put my list on the floor between us–the things I wanted (and still want), and the things He’s given me (and is giving me).
I told Him He could do whatever He wanted, that His plans have been better than mine and therefore WILL be better than mine, so I trust Him to do whatever He knows is best, even if it hurts. I prayed, journaled, listened to part of the sermon again, and worshiped.
And I walked away feeling not too different from how I walked away from the cemetery after my friend’s graveside service: a little sore from the loss, but grateful for the good things and free to move on. And with an overall, comforting peace.
The Girl Who Is . . .
Since then, I’ve started a second list with all the items from “God’s Plans.” Underneath each item I’ve listed all the good things related to that experience.
For example: I started college as a Church Music major, but my health couldn’t keep up with the demands of 11+ hours of practice a week along with the many extra classes and requirements. So I changed to English,
- to a program that my literature-reading-nerdy-self LOVED,
- with classmates who became great friends,
- under professors whose influence continues to resonate in my life,
- toward a capstone class that terrified me but ultimately showed me so much of God’s grace,
- for a degree that’s more versatile and marketable (and helpful toward my novel-writing).
After I finished this degree in English, I never would have seen myself working in a field as unrelated as senior care. But God gave me clients who became dear friends, whose needs and gifts taught me so much about life and living and God’s love, whose friendships blessed me with countless sweet memories.
And work at a consignment shop, where my boss is my mom and I use my Spanish all the time and I can shop for friends (and myself) for cheap and build relationships and share the gospel? I mean, what could be better? 🙂
And so on. Could my original plans have had just as many blessings? Perhaps. But not THESE blessings. Not THESE lessons. Not THESE opportunities.
This is what God had for me, and it has been GOOD.
And then I made another list (okay, enough with the lists already!) of all the things I’m doing now, the things I can “run” in, the responsibilities, opportunities, and pursuits I can dedicate myself to in the present. And it helped me focus not on what I don’t have, what I’ve lost, what God has taken away, but what I have, what I’ve gained, and what God has given me.
So if I can challenge you, if you’ve found yourself grieving the loss or destruction of dreams, hopes, and plans, good plans, beautiful dreams, godly hopes, but not the plans God has had for you–
Make a list. If it helps give you closure, write out all the plans you had, have had, and still have. Be willing to surrender the ones you’re still holding onto if you haven’t yet.
Then write a list of God’s plans: the diagnoses, experiences, and situations you wouldn’t have asked for but He’s given you. Even the ones that hurt. Even the ones you can’t find good for yet. Even the ones you’re still grappling with.
Then start a third list, or leave room under “Gods’ Plans,” and write out all the good things you can think of with each experience.
You don’t have to finish the list. You may very well be uncovering blessings or recognizing lessons from these things the rest of your life. But start. Be intentional in searching for the good. Ask God to open your eyes to what you think has been for evil but what He’s meant for good (Gen 50:20). He’ll show you.
Then, if you want, make a list (or pictures if you prefer art over words) of all the things you’re doing right now, of all the identities you hold at this time. Take this time to think of yourself not as The Girl Who Was but The Girl Who Is. They may be little things, invisible things, or seemingly unimportant things. But these are the things God has for you. These are the things you can do. These are the things He wants you to “run” in.
And maybe, if this is a Thanksgiving when you’re not sure what to be thankful for, you’ll find some blessings to count after all.
What plans has God changed in your life? What are some good things of where you are right now? How can you focus on gratitude this Thanksgiving?