I hate having to alter my plans, put lines through my tidy diary, alter my expectations… It’s all part of being in control, of course – having a sense of knowing what is happening and thinking I’m forewarned and therefore somehow all prepared. I know by now I should have learned the lesson of just living one day at a time, that ‘each day has enough trouble of it’s own’ – and yes, I am a lot better at staying focussed on ‘grace for today’… just like manna, there is never grace for tomorrow!
But I still like that to be in the context of a nice, neat plan – a week to a page diary, a calendar of what the next month holds and a year planner on the wall giving the bird’s eye view. I have a tidy mind, an administrative bent, that’s my excuse – unlike my husband always asking what we’re doing on Saturday week or November 24th: it’s a good thing one of us is organised! So once it’s all laid out and colour-coded, both on paper and in my head… I am content: I have managed to tidy up life! Once that’s settled, like all the cushions on the sofa neatly plumped, I really don’t like being jolted out of whack by some heavy object falling from a height and sending everything flying! People like me are not that good at spontaneity and surprises: we’re the Myers Briggs ‘judgers’ and of course ‘J’s” are the ones who ‘get things done’ 😉
It is often through natural rhythms and the order of the days that I see patterns and seasons and will habitually count off 10, 21 or 40 day periods, to help me focus on how to pray. Sometimes people ask me ‘can you do that for me?’ – a strange type of soothsaying perhaps! Of course I can’t, nor can I read your tea-leaves… It’s just that sometimes there’s a prompt within to ‘count’ and when I do the numbers seem to make some sense! To feel I am in step with some kind of spiritual journey always helps because it seems my days have been marked out by heaven. I did this at the start of the 9th month as I was struck September 1st was 40 days away from October 10th – yes, actually that happens every year… 😉 But this time it helped me identify a call to pray for Sam and Jessa as we approach their proposed wedding day.
40 days of testing – Jesus in the wilderness, Noah in the flood, Elijah on a journey, Israel in the desert 40 years – waiting time and preparation for a promised land and new beginnings. In this particular 40 days of ours we have so many key events written in the diaries – a house to buy, a flight to book, appointments, gathering of documents – so much to plan and moving home as well… there certainly is a lot to pray about! I am also well aware that an element of warfare is part of the 40 day journey – the wild beasts live in the wilderness and that is where the devil pays his calls – which is a good reminder to stay alert and get some extra covering from friends.
Does God sometimes speak to us because He knows what is going to happen and wants to encourage us to persevere through it? Or do the promises come and then immediately contesting of that very thing? Whichever way round it is, its always about forming character… the ‘desert experience’ always is! This is a very busy desert I am in – not isolation, fasting, dryness in that way – but more the plodding of Elijah making his way to the mount of God, or Israel’s parched throats while travelling through dust and sand, carrying their tents to find a place to pitch. We step it out, we wait for every next event, a day at a time: sometimes I can sit for hours in this quiet room, waiting for the next right thing to do, or today’s visitor to arrive – or poring over words or pictures on the screen – another way of making sense and feeling in control, just like my diary and lists. But I cannot ever speed things up!
Anyway, suffice to say that my alert about the 40 days prepared me for a bumpy ride… and this last week has certainly been that! Without the prayers of friends alongside us I don’t think I’d have coped… I haven’t felt so stressed and ill for a long time 😦 It’s not appropriate to go into detail, but just like any couple starting out Sam and Jessa have their ups and downs… just like I did with Martin in the past (see Sharing weaknesses) With all the uncertainty and frustration they both carry – being so young, coping with Sam’s illness, squashed into a one-room flat – it’s not surprising there are bad days and rows: that would be normal without the extraordinary circumstances and such diverse personalities. But on Monday evening when they came to visit Becca, home from Brighton for a week, after long exchanges in separate rooms, Sam shocked us all by saying he wants to call the marriage off!
Poor Jessa! Poor Sam! Poor all of us with all our hopes in ruins – we’ve all put so much into this! Of course it’s crazy and has all moved far too fast, but without the marriage certificate on October 10th, as we’ve been advised, Jessa won’t be able to return to make her home here and having left everything to come, she really has nowhere back in Pennsylvania to go! An engagement is supposed to be about such questions and one would normally be able to give things time, wait and see… but Sam doesn’t have the luxury of time and nor does Jess. If he has cold feet he has got to make a call that no-one would want to make over someone they care about… I felt heartbroken myself at the thought of losing Jess, and just wanted them to focus on all the positive things they share and find a way to put it right – but Sam knows his own mind: it’s not my choice to make!
I think they spent the whole night talking and crying. All the next day I tried to find another way through – surely a fiancée’s visa is an option, giving 6 more months and although it would cost us twice as much it would be worth it if it takes the heat off Sam?I really should be proud that my son takes this step so seriously – that he wants ‘the right person’ and declares that “if it’s not for life then why enter into it at all?”: he’s a man of principle… which is how he got into this situation, wanting to help Jessa.
‘Marriage is a sign of unity and loyalty
which all should uphold and honour.
It enriches society and strengthens community.
No one should enter into it lightly or selfishly
but reverently and responsibly in the sight of almighty God’
from the Anglican marriage service – not that they’ll be using such a liturgy, but I know their hearts are good. There are just some habits and behaviour that need attention – as in all of us! To my mind the marriage journey has already begun… but still the signing on the dotted line carries weight, and it is that weight Sam is not sure he can lift.
24 hours later they came back. Sam looked happy and had changed his mind again: they’d go ahead! It’s not a simple decision – I know he still has doubts and a thirst to be free and have a chance to live! We also know Jessa has a lot to cope with looking after him with all his habits and peculiarities… can love really conquer all? Can there be a holy compromise as the cost is counted on all sides? What are the pro’s and con’s of a decision either way? Whichever way you look at it, there’s still no escaping the Catch 22; if they don’t marry Jess must go away and lose her chance of a new life – and Sam could never live with himself again. It’s an anguished sacrifice – and yet there’s so much to be gained, potentially – a journey of growth, affection and companionship. With many discussions still ahead, and work to do, the 40 days continues…
The very next day to my horror, phoning to confirm the appointment this Friday to ‘give notice of marriage’ – a legal preliminary for a UK and non-UK citizen, so documents can be produced in time – I was told that no such appointment exists and the next one available is in late November! Once again my heart fell to my boots – that terrible coldness that comes over you: matters were being taken out of our hands! But Sam was just as upset and between us and a kind lady at Leicester City registry office, the appt was reinstated. PHEW! Back on track again? This is wrecking my nerves – let alone Jessica’s!
In parallel with this I’d had an email from a friend at church. My plan – my clever, inspired plan – had been to organise a prayer event next year – as preparation for the Olympic Games. I wanted all my young friends to take part – it’s all about that generation in 2012 and we have Team GB in Loughborough. I’d landed on the date exactly 40 months since the last Mercy Cry event I ran: it seemed perfect to my prophetic soul – it must be God! The email told me Open Heaven would love to support it, but I’d picked the Saturday of the annual weekend away! To change my plans – to be willing to yield and give way – is painful and confusing: it seems I am not in charge of time after all! What can I do? Just like with Sam, it’s not my decision… Eventually I understood what I must do: I asked them to decide when they want to be ‘delivered’ in prayer – early or late, just as any pregnancy can be. It’s not my choice – I am just the midwife: another lesson in changing my plans.
So – tomorrow is 9/9 to get this legal part underway: the registry office is booked in Loughborough for 10/10. I liked that symmetry of dates, especially as 8/8 was significant in our journey too… but too great a reliance on such signs could be my undoing if I use them to manipulate. The ways of God are higher than mine, and only hindsight gives the true timeline.
‘Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails’ Proverbs 19v21. So that’s alright then… I’d better hang loose and let Him run the show!