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Big plans and monkey wrenches

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I’m a bit of a self-help junkie. I especially enjoy popular business books about goal setting and achieving amazing results. All there in black and white, it looks so simple. Set a goal, stick to that goal, measure your results, then set the next goal.

Except that life rarely turns out the way we expect. Just ask Moses.

Plucked from a river by the princess of Egypt to be raised as her own privileged son, Moses had an inkling he was called to save his people, the Israelites. As a young man, he took matters into his own hands and murdered an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite slave. Someone found out about the murder and Moses had to flee into the desert – for 40 years – to raise sheep. Talk about a monkey wrench in the plans.

Not too long ago, my own big plans were interrupted. After a few years of curtailing my activities so I could be available for my young children, I was looking forward to growing my communication company. Then, my family needed me. I put my plans aside for two years while I tended to the crisis.

Recently, I interviewed a man who put his dream on hold for his family. Dave got a degree in fine arts and planned to be a professional artist. After graduating, he “temporarily” got a job at a factory, so he could pay some bills. Married with a growing family, Dave put his creative pursuits on pause – for 34 years and counting.

Dave’s oldest daughter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as an infant. He and his wife had to do daily therapies with her. She required many hospital stays and two double-lung transplants. In the final months of her too-short life, Dave’s home was like a hospital, with all kinds of equipment and nurses visiting daily. Caring for his 27-year-old daughter, while continuing to work, became “all consuming.” With no trace of bitterness at the hand he was dealt, Dave said, “I didn’t mind because I loved her so much.”

He hopes to focus on his art in two years when he retires from his steady factory job. So much for big plans.

Run away or return?

During my challenging family situation, there were times I wanted to run away. Through my work at a drop-in centre, I met people who had walked away from their lives. I knew it was possible – not pretty, but possible. When I was at the end of my rope, sometimes I would hop on my hybrid bicycle and take to the trails. Cycling as fast as I could, I muttered expletives and complaints to God.

At end of the trail, exhausted and spent, I had a choice. Would I turn back to face my difficult situation, or would I ride off into the sunset? It was touch and go a few times, but I chose to return. The ride home was calmer. I could hear God again, and even sing a hymn or recite some meaningful Scripture. I came home ready to face the next minute.

Moses eventually left sheep farming and rescued his people from the Egyptians. While wandering with the Israelites in the desert, Moses had many challenging moments. God gave him the opportunity to walk away, but he chose to stay and to love. About his people, God said, “They are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation” (Exodus 32:9–10).

I would have said, “Sounds good to me, God. Give them what they deserve, and you and I can start over.” Instead Moses said, “Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people” (12). A little later, after the Israelites had made a golden calf to worship, Moses said, “But now, please forgive their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written” (32). He offered to be cut off from God on their behalf. Wow – that’s love.

Grace and strength to all of you who have received a monkey wrench to your plans – the death of a spouse you weren’t done loving, the loss of a good-paying job you enjoyed, a strained relationship, an unexpected illness, the bankruptcy of a business, or the vaporization of a dream. Embrace your situation and find the arms of God around you, as he gives you the courage to face another minute and to love another day.

Sandra Reimer finds community at Glencairn MB Church, Kitchener, Ont., where she also volunteers at the Bridges Centre.

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