I’m one of those people who skips ahead to the endings of books (or, in the case of movies, looks up the plot summary online) — especially if the survival of a character I care about, whether human or animal, is uncertain. I’m clearly not alone in this. I even taught myself lucid dreaming so I could revise my nightmares.
But life, as my mother has so often reminded me, is not like a book. Or a movie. Or a dream.
We don’t get to look ahead to, let alone write, the ending. We want to; some of us perform careful cost-benefit analyses and make what we think is the most logical, risk-free, guaranteed-outcome decision. (Can you tell I’m the child of an engineer?) Others listen to our guts or pray — or consult Tarot cards or visit a psychic or analyze how the stars align or look for signs as we go about our lives.
However we make our decisions, the harsh reality is that we simply don’t know how they will turn out. Life is not a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. We don’t get to jump into a different story if we dislike the one we’re in or rewrite a chapter that didn’t turn out the way we’d hoped. We make our decision as best we can, and then we celebrate our success or — all too often — pick up the pieces and struggle to start the next chapter.
At a meta level, I can understand why we don’t get to see the future. If we knew a venture or a relationship or a move was going to fail, most of us would opt out. But maybe that’s the failure we needed to learn something valuable that enables the next venture or relationship or move to succeed. But knowing that doesn’t make those lessons any less painful to endure.
Awhile back, I had a job I loved at an organization where I was planning to stay, if not forever then at least until I wrote my bestselling novel. I was being mentored in preparation for management, my income was growing, I had just bought my first house, and life felt stable and pretty good.
Then, within a few months, things changed. An executive VP decided to do away with my department overnight. I was moved into a different role, so while I still had a job, it wasn’t a good fit or a direction I wanted to go. A few months later, a new VP took over, and his management strategy seemed to be “use ’em up, burn ’em out.” By the time I got home every night, I had nothing left, no energy for my novel or my house or friendships or hobbies or anything more demanding than a walk with my dog.
I spent eighteen miserable months looking for another job. I knew this would entail moving to a different city, and I knew where I wanted to go: a metro area where a group of my friends had already relocated. Finally, after seeing a slew of “local candidates only” ads, I decided to take the plunge: quit my job, move, and freelance until I found full-time work. Most of my friends in that city had done this, and it had worked out well for them. And I felt this strong, unfamiliar sense of peace — like God was saying, “Go for it. Trust me.”
I still don’t know whether I read God wrong or right.
I moved. I sold my car and relied on public transportation, which seemed like a good idea in theory but limited where I could work (my commute needed to be shortish because of my dog). The economy in that city tanked, and the jobs dried up. My house, which needed repairs before I could sell it, stood empty until it went into foreclosure. Without a work schedule, my sleep became totally erratic, and insomnia sabotaged everything from job interviews to plans with friends, who didn’t stick around long anyway. I plummeted into the worst depression of my life. Finally, after nine months, I called my mom and said, “I don’t think I’m going to make it through the winter if I stay here.” She said, “I don’t think so either. Let me talk to Dad and we’ll figure out when we can come get you.”
So that was it. I had to move back in with my parents.
Epic adulting fail.
Finding full-time work continued to be more difficult than I’d expected. I lived with my parents much longer than any of us had planned. My dog liked having a fenced yard, but I felt hopeless and bleak the entire time. I thought that deciding to leave a horrible job had ruined my life, that any path I chose was doomed to fail, that I had no future.
But living there also meant that I was near my nephew. Who was joined by two more babies in due time. So I got to take the kids to the zoo and share my love of animals, including snakes (much to the dismay of my brother and dad). I got to babysit and help fold laundry, go camping with them, read them books, laugh at the funny things they said, hug them when they cried, and watch as their delightful, wonderful, unique, quirky, incredible personalities unfolded.
And when my dad’s job sent him to Maui and he wanted my mom to go too, I got to tag along so she’d have someone to explore the island with. One day we set out to see the black sand beaches, and what we discovered were green sea turtles playing in the surf, riding the waves into shore, tossing their flippers into the air and cruising with the current. I waded out as the waves crashed around me and the turtles swam close enough to touch, and it was one of the most purely joy-filled experiences of my life.
So. Was quitting that job a mistake? Would I have made the same decision if I knew the outcome?
I honestly don’t know the answer to those questions.
This week I ugly-cried my way through Lysa TerKeurst’s It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way. Which I highly recommend, by the way. And she says this (in a dialogue; God is speaking):
“She will see I didn’t do these things to her. I did them for her. Though it broke My heart to give her the opposite of what she wanted, she will watch me eventually turn all that bad into good….She will be a beacon of light in extreme darkness. She will be a voice of hope when others feel all is lost.” (p. 217)
I still struggle to trust. I hate that I can’t look ahead to the ending. I hate that knowing the ending might keep me from wanting to turn the next pages.
I’m in the midst of a story now, and not only do I not know where it’s going, I don’t know what kind of story it is. That drives me crazy. The whisper in my head that I believe is God says, “It’s a story of my love.” Maybe that should reassure me, but I’ve experienced God’s love as many things, not all of which are comforting, some of which burn like fire. I know it’s not an easy story. It’s almost certain to involve more disappointment and anguish.
But I hope there are moments of unexpected joy and delight, too. I hope there will be blessings I haven’t yet known. I am gradually coming to believe that there is a theme of redemption. That the love is, and will continue to be, strong enough to motivate me to keep going, keep turning pages.
I hope when I get to the final chapter, I will be able to look back without regret and say that fighting through the struggles was worthwhile. That this story casts light and offers hope. That it has been a story worth telling, worth living, worth sharing.
What else I’m reading this week: