The Ultimate Plan for Your Life

 

God’s plan for your life is probably not what you think.  I learned this the hard way.

Though I prayed and desperately prayed for God to clue me in on his specific intentions for me, I never seemed to get them. Still, I persisted. Where should I live? Exactly what career path should I take? When answers didn’t come as I expected, I’d wonder if God’s plan was for me to feel so discouraged and confused. I just couldn’t figure it out. Regular little fits of anxiety overcame me as I worried that time was running out for me to tick items off my own personal Big List from God.

Slowly, though, the idea that there wasn’t a Big List penetrated my head and my heart. The important decisions – as well as the minor ones – were mine to make (duh, that’s free will).  But does it mean there’s no plan? Of course not. God does have a plan for each of us and as far as I can tell it comes down to this:

We are to love and be loved.

Now, I’m no expert on the subject but I am learning how to cooperate with this Big Plan, to love and be loved.   I hope you’ll join me for thirty days as I post my own little Love Lessons. We start tomorrow. ❤

A Month in the Life of an Overcooked Mom

There is a packet of papers from the middle school  laying on the coffee table. They are the forms  parents of eighth graders need to fill out if we want to  have a special message printed in the yearbook for our graduates. My daughter brought it home right after Christmas vacation.

She handed it to me as I was fixing dinner on a weeknight. I read the forms quickly, made a mental note of the due date which was over a month away,  and set them aside in a  place where I knew I would remember them. I really wanted to write something special for her, but I also didn’t want to interrupt the flow of my work in the kitchen. I was tired from the work day and  knew I needed every bit of concentration I could muster to get our meal on the table.

After a few days, I honestly had completely forgotten about the forms. In mid-January this same daughter represented her school in the prestigious All County Orchestra and I did the things any mom would do to support her child in this endeavor: driving, shopping for her concert attire, dropping everything to  bring a forgotten violin to the rehearsal venue an hour away.  A week later, I received word from the high school of an attendance issue involving her sister.  We (the vice-principal’s secretary, the school social worker, my older daughter and I) resolved the problem on a Thursday.  On Friday, I was in the pediatrician’s office with the eighth grader to get medical clearance for an endoscopy scheduled for the following Monday.   A Nor’easter  hit our area that day so I rescheduled  with the doctor and shoveled snow instead. Right around this time, I started hitting the snooze button at 5:30 a.m. instead of kicking off the the covers for a workout and morning prayers.  Despite the weather, report cards were delivered home through the mail. Consequently,  I talked with my girls about  managing stress and responsibility as one  daughter took the B+ she earned in Math as shameful failure and the other was content to get by with a D.  “That’s still passing, Mom,”  she argued.  Deep sigh.

Another week went by.  I made the nightly dinners and shoveled more snow.  On an after-work errand run, I held my hand on my car horn and yelled angry words at the driver of a black Mercedes-Benz when she slipped out of nowhere into the parking spot I had been waiting for. I spent the next few days worrying about this uncharacteristically reactive behavior.

The Saturday before Valentine’s Day each of my girls invited a friend over to make Oreo truffles, a new tradition in our home. My job: pulverize the Oreos in our blender and clean the melted chocolate mess when they were done. During the week that followed I kept up just the basics of my routine: wake up early, go to work, come home, make dinner, clean kitchen,  zone out in front of Pinterest, say a short prayer, go to bed.  I might have also done a load or two of laundry. Definitely ate a few truffles.

Remember the yearbook forms?

I didn’t. They were due February 14, the last day before a week-long vacation.

Dang it,

I’m tired.

Beloved

Beloved.

These days when I see or hear that word,  I become weightless and warm, blanketed in its tender comfort.

I didn’t always.

The word “beloved” used to give me the feeling I’d lunched lavishly on a pound of princess-pink sugar and gotten up from the table sickened by the over-sweetness, craving a substantial meal. It would sometimes come to me garishly, covered in glitter on five-dollar paper Valentines – and go out with the trash on February 15th. Beloved. Even to a lover of lovely words like my English-major self, it sounded out of place in millennial times, except maybe when used in my university Shakespeare class, which only proved to me how this was as archaic and laden with melodrama as a single word could be. Reeking with over-the-top romanticism, “beloved” sounded like a promise so great it could only under-deliver.  Who, in modern life and modern love is beloved?

Then I found out I was. I was beloved.

It was very late at night. I was deeply fatigued at that moment, standing there taking in more of his loveless words. I didn’t try to defend myself (I have my reasons) and I didn’t flinch.  Nothing moved within me either, except for the faintest idea that maybe I had died on the inside. Then, like the maid-of-honor’s boyfriend tapping the best man’s shoulder to get a dance with his girl, my Truest Love cut in to woo me.  Right there, in front of my husband.

You are loveable. I know because I made you.  I love you. No one else can love you as I do. No one ever will.

Call me crazy if you like, but I heard those distinct words with my own heart. Yes, I was surprised. No, it wasn’t wishful thinking, nor my own intuition, nor indigestion.  In an instant, I was protected from the verbal barbs and brought to compassion.  Every human soul that ever claimed to love me was suddenly freed from my expectation to make me feel loved, especially the one standing before me. If no person this side of Heaven could love flawlessly, then I couldn’t either.  I was suddenly flushed with assurance that my husband’s angry, degrading words were not intended for me, but for himself and I willed peace and healing for both of us. (If I’m beloved, he must be beloved too.)

 

 

 

The Grace of a Good Friend

The liquor store was out of the spiced Holiday Wine she loves so she bought a bottle of light, sweet red from the same vineyard and places it on my dining room table.  After banishing our children to the TV room, I pull out two stemmed glasses and the corkscrew. She pours and the conversation flows. Between deep sighs and long sips, we talk about our heartaches and our hopes for the future. On a Saturday night two and a half weeks before Christmas we open many gifts without untying a single bow.

In the listening and the laughter, in the empathy and in the encouraging words,  God is right there with us.

We once rode bikes with training wheels side by side down the wide, waterfront streets where we grew up.  She shared secrets with me at the gate between our backyards in the days when there was no more to think about than jump rope and kickball. Even when I felt brave enough to speak to most other children, I never knew what to say so I relied on her to take the lead when they approached us. She never let me down.

How would girls so young know why they were such good friends? Even more, how would they know about the grace that brought them together in the first place?

The last half-mouthful from my glass goes down like sticky Welch’s grape juice,  its sweetness tainted by the bitter alcohol. Life is messy now, with adult-sized complications, but something I say makes my friend laugh. It is the same robust giggly sound I remember hearing while splashing in the plastic kiddie pool many years ago.  My heart is light and quite at home.  Once again, God is showering me with love.

The Three Things to Remember

My lawyer, Lord love him,  is working diligently to keep me focused and in good spirits as we push through what we hope are our final days in court.  Undeniably, working out a final agreement is heartbreaking hard work. My deep-thinking brain cells are in need of rest. While I don’t see myself as an advice maven, I can share the three things I’m trying to remember as I plod on. God bless you!

1. Pray for His mercy.   I wish I didn’t have to say what I’m about to say but I’m afraid there’s no way around it. Divorce is not God’s will. Let me tell you, I wanted it to be. I wanted to somehow look justified in God’s eyes for my part in splitting up our family. I searched and searched for loopholes, anything to let me off the hook. I found nothing but the truth He spoke Himself in three of the four gospels: marriage is “til death”. That’s a big bitter horse pill to swallow, especially if your marriage has brought you more pain than peace. No, you shouldn’t live with abuse; that’s not God’s will either. This puts Christians right between a rock and a hard place, I know, and we do we what we do to make life work. But if I’m aware that what I’m doing is not God’s will, I have to pray for mercy – and be thankful for such a merciful God.

2. Stay faithful to the call of the moment.   Now that word is out about the change in my relationship status, I’ve had a couple of offers to date. As they were happening, I felt my stomach fluttering excitedly. After all, why wouldn’t a woman coming out of an arduous twenty year-long marriage jump at the chance to dust off her high heels for cocktails with a brand new man on his (presumably) best behavior? One of the offers came (after my husband moved out but before we had begun divorce proceedings) from a sweet guy quite younger than I am. Aside from being absolutely flattered, I knew I would enjoy his company and my “yes” would delight him. From head to toe, I felt a tingling Why not? but you can’t always trust tingling feelings. You can trust that bit of Holy Spirit that rises up inside when we seek to do what is right, but it probably won’t hit you like pure excitement does, at least not at first. You have to dig a little to find it. You have to ask Him What would you like from me right now? and listen for the answer. Indeed, it is a question to consider at least every day and in any situation.

There was a tug-of-war inside me as that small quiet voice from down deep competed with the tingling delight at the surface, I will not deny it. For a few seconds I honestly didn’t know which would win. I didn’t particularly relish the feeling of dissipating excitement as I politely declined the young man’s invitation, nor did any bells ring as I admitted to myself this is truly not the time to date, nor was this really the right man.  Still, I knew it was a movement closer to the woman I was made to be. I was peaceful. When you respond to the call of the moment faithfully, the victory is celebrated quietly and deep down inside. It’s true and lasting and right.

3. Notice in awe how God takes the messes we make out of life and turns them into something beautiful.   Divorce is a mess. Even if you’re leaving behind a house of constant fighting and dysfunction, you still have to separate a family and divide your assets, debts and your children’s time. The flow of life, even if it was ugly, is interrupted. For many of us, the process is expensive, disheartening and exhausting. Still, the God Who makes all things new is always at work, ready to receive us where we are and bring us beyond our wildest dreams.

I am amazed that I am writing this right now. Seriously, I am a mother going through a divorce with a full time job and a blog. I’m not supposed to have time for such frivolity. The only thing is, I don’t think of this as frivolous at all. This little blog is the dream I’ve put aside and pushed down for years. Somehow, though, as I’ve given more respect to the small, powerful voice deep inside nudging me toward writing, quiet time to write has presented itself. Words come to me, and although often it feels like I have to bear down hard to birth them, nothing about this effort seems forced. It’s become a natural and normal part of my life, just like kissing my girls’ sleepy foreheads before I turn in for the night and no meat on Fridays. I am tapping away at the keyboard, but I know Whose fingerprints are all over this. When God is near, life is beautiful.

Another Way

I’ve heard many stories about single mothers who work two or three jobs to support their families with little or no help from the children’s father. Their selfless ways indeed make them heroes. But since I’ve made the transition over the past four years from stay-at-home-mom to mom with a husband and a job to single mom, one huge question has loomed over me for months: Is this the only way? Now that my daughters have lost their family, do they have to finish growing up without their mother’s presence after school and on weekends? It seems to me that if we ever needed to connect over a family dinner at the end of the day, this is the time. And what about introverted me? Am I selfish to ask for regular prayer, thinking, and dreaming time? Do I get to refresh my own spirit in the midst of the stressful process of divorcing and its accompanying spiritual, emotional and financial poverty? Then again, how do I get all the bills paid?

My vocation as a mother requires me to provide for my children’s spiritual and emotional well-being, whether or not their dad is around to help. I don’t take this lightly, but I’ve also spent many brain cells trying to figure out how to earn more money only to come up frustrated and anxious, and always distracted. I know there must be women reading this thinking I’m some kind of emotional lightweight, that there is something wimpy about me for not getting over myself to work a second job. And then there is my own inner critic.

For as long as I can remember I have denied the truth about myself for the sake of fitting in. I have spoken about my intentions for my life in ways that a go-getter or practical type would find acceptable, while leaving my own heart sagging. It’s not that I’m deceitful, although denying the truth is unholy behavior, isn’t it? It’s more about fear, in particular, that who I am at the core is not enough. My natural way is a softer, deeper, slower way, and thanks be to God, I’m starting to see the beauty in this. Every day I am more convinced that this deep down core of mine is what it is by divine design.

I’ve put down the burden of scrambling for another job. The one I have is enough to pay for rent and health insurance and it leaves me with time and energy to listen to my girls around a home cooked meal at dinner time. I count toilet paper squares and I’ve had to use olive oil as makeup remover but somehow, there is food enough for today every day. The kids don’t like being told “not now” when they ask for something, but I don’t think that’s a terrible thing. God has offered me an invitation to follow Him and thus, given me hope. He’s placed in my heart some ideas of what the future could hold, but nothing is definite right now except that He wants me close to Him and my children.

He wants me to always consider what I’m called to do in this moment.

And that always feels right.

Blessings, in the Right Direction

The first blessing of my day was the extra hour of sleep afforded by the end of Daylight Savings Time. I awoke just when I love to on a Sunday morning, well ahead of my daughters with enough quiet time for morning prayers and a very hot cup of coffee, a treat I reserve for Sundays.  I am quite aware of how every penny of my last paycheck went straight toward paying November’s rent. It is also perfectly clear to me that I do not have much of a safety net in the bank, nor can I rely on any help from my husband.  But I did not worry about any of that this morning.

Indeed, there is less food in my kitchen cabinets than usual, but I managed to provide a decent breakfast. This morning it was egg salad sandwiches they wanted — and happily received.  The needle on my dashboard fuel gauge is pointed right at the middle and the optimist in me has been winning the war against the pessimist. For now, I’m OK. The tank is half full.

This brings me to another blessing of the day: knowing what makes me feel most fully alive. Today it was loving my girls with toasted peanut butter sandwiches and  from-scratch spiced hot cocoa after coming in from the cold.  I watched my 12 year old’s shoulders soften as she sipped from her cup. “This is glorious,” she said.  My simple efforts in the kitchen were not at all gratuitous nor insignificant. I think it’s easier for everyone to relax when home feels like home, safe and secure and normal.  There is no doubt my girls would survive if I had to leave them all day to work a Sunday, but I don’t think they could thrive under that circumstance.

None of this is about patting myself on the back. I’m not nominating myself for Mother of the Year. This is about paying attention to the movements of my heart, the way I feel deep, deep down when I’m actually following  God’s plan for my life and I know it because even when it doesn’t feel good, it feels right.  Mothering my girls feels right. Writing a blog feels right too.

In two weeks we will work out a child support agreement in court, but that is in two weeks.

Today we are just fine. Thriving, actually.

Today life is not about struggling or striving.   Gracing me with its morning prayers and peanut butter and hot cocoa, today life is beautiful art-in-progress, thanks be to God.