22 years ago, my boyfriend proposed to me on the banks of the Red River in Grand Forks, North Dakota. It was his 23rd birthday. I was 20, and half way through my third year of college. We dined at a local Italian restaurant, then made our way towards the river where we walked hand in hand as snowflakes dusted our rosy-before-the-battle cheeks. I’m pretty sure I had no clue a proposal was coming, most certainly NOT on his birthday. But as my hubby-to-be knelt on one knee, I knew the only answer was YES. Yes, I will wait patiently while we’re separated by several states for a year and a half. Yes, I will obey my parents wishes and wait until I finish college before I get married. Yes, I will be your wife.
My last year and a half of college was spent STUDYING for a career in speech-language therapy and PLANNING our wedding.
If any Tom, Dick or Jane would’ve asked me what I planned for life and marriage before I walked down the aisle that blistering hot day of June ’98, I would’ve told them I envisioned life back in Minnesota after two years of grad school in Indiana, two full-time careers with solid income, a house in the suburbs, two or four kids (definitely NOT three), and celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary surrounded by children and grandchildren, just like my hubby’s grandparents, Selmer and Anita. The plan was pretty generic, I tell you. The only things I knew FOR SURE was that I was going to be a full-time working mom my entire adult life, and that I was going to be with my Superman hubby until a ripe old age, holding hands till death do us part.
I didn’t plan for life to look different. I didn’t plan for life to take so many twisty turns. I didn’t plan for any of the dirty details between YES and till death do us part. But I said YES to the husband of my dreams, YES to better or worse, YES to richer and poorer, YES to sickness and health, YES to doing life together. YES to my Superman hubby who sang me a romantic Elvis tune at our reception. YES as we first danced to Natalie Cole and Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable.
I didn’t plan for two years of full-time grad school to be totally and ridiculously stressful with classmates who were a LOT smarter than me, but I made it through with a master’s degree anyway. I didn’t plan to do home visits my first job out of grad school, but visited homes for 14 1/2 years and learned what it looks like to be powerfully present in the midst of peoples’ rawest and truest stories through that work. I didn’t plan for six years of my sister in rehabs, hospitals and halfway houses as she battled significant addiction and mental health issues and attempted to take her life more than once, but those years formed and shaped me AND my sister into who we are today. I didn’t plan to be the sole birth partner for my sister’s first and second babies, but I was, and can say today that I’ve had the privilege of being present for the birth of five human beings. I didn’t plan to have three children, but our third is a joy and the only person on earth who can make me laugh without saying a thing. I didn’t plan ANYTHING BUT a full-time career as a speech therapist, but realized a year and a half into mothering that the full-time working mom gig was NOT going to work for me, so now I say “been there done that” with 1-2-3-4 and 5-day work weeks. I didn’t plan to start dreaming about a writing career when I was three years into the career I went to grad school for, but God sets dreams in human hearts and He’ll see them to completion however He sees fit. I did NOT plan to leave my 14 1/2 year career, but three years of prayer, contemplation, and consultation with wise counsel drew me closer to my Creator and richer in faith.
I did NOT plan for my husband to be diagnosed with eye cancer three weeks after I left my career, did NOT plan for that diagnosis to come two days before I left on a week-long dream writing trip to Dominican with Compassion International, and did NOT plan to go on a mission trip to Kenya 10 months after that. I did NOT plan to walk snail’s pace with my dad on oxygen, did NOT plan for him to need a lung transplant. Did NOT plan for my husband to get laid off, did NOT plan for the layoff to be so long, did NOT plan to uproot our family and make a move from Minneapolis to Seattle, did NOT plan to build instead of buy existing, did NOT plan for everything to be so expensive, did NOT plan to drive UBER for four months, did NOT plan that our social butterfly would take the longest to adjust, did NOT plan that cancer would come back, that my husband would be diagnosed with metastatic uveal melanoma just six months after our cross-country move, did NOT plan to switch treatment facilities from Minnesota to Washington to Oregon, did NOT plan that the first treatment wouldn’t work, did NOT plan for my hubby to be enrolled in a clinical trial, did NOT plan to be asking questions and having conversations I did NOT plan to have at 42 and 45 years of age.
Nope. I did NOT plan ANY of that.
I didn’t plan to be blessed by the piano player when we went for eye cancer appointments, didn’t plan to be emptied and filled back up full on that trip to Dominican, didn’t plan to fall in love with Kenya and desire so desperately to go back. I didn’t plan for the miracle it was when my dad woke up from his lung transplant, didn’t plan for the joy it’s been to walk with my dad at a normal pace. Didn’t plan to put our trust in God the way we had to when we didn’t know WHERE we were going, WHEN we were going, or HOW we were going to get there. Didn’t plan to see limitless possibilities in a city I’d never been to, but was going to move to. I didn’t plan to find a house we hadn’t seen in a neighborhood we didn’t know about in a city we’d all but discounted as a second-tier choice. Didn’t plan that UBER driving would help me see (once again) what I was really supposed to do with my life. Didn’t plan I’d adore our kids’ new friends, didn’t plan to adore the mountains, didn’t plan to adore our new city. I didn’t plan that a guardian angel with a southern accent would gift us with chocolate pecan cakes during our journey through metastatic uveal melanoma, didn’t plan on non-stop support from out-of-state friends and family, didn’t plan to be blessed by amazing doctors and nurses when we thought we’d forever lost the best ones. I didn’t plan on sharing mimosas with a writer named Tove at a neighborhood cookie exchange, didn’t plan to be teary eyed at my daughter’s birthday party realizing this gathering of incredible women was NOT random AT ALL but rather divine providence, didn’t plan on the neighbor across the way having the sweetest girls for my daughter to play with, and didn’t plan for her to bring a special ornament my way just minutes before we left for my hubby’s third clinical trial treatment.
Nope. I did NOT plan ANY of that.
Ridiculous pain. Ridiculous joy. Ridiculous unexpected life. We don’t plan any of it.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.” – Isaiah 55: 8-13