I am not a last-minute kind of gal. Since I was a teen in high school, whenever I had a project, there was a to-do list of plans dedicated to that project.
One day not long ago, I was going through a big plastic tub over-flowing with materials from past church projects. I had saved everything from devotions for study groups to the first cantata I directed in my new church in Georgia, “Ring the Bells.” I even had the material for the first musical program I directed in my home church in Oklahoma when I was twenty-two years old, “Come Together.” Women’s retreats, Children’s outreach programs, Sunday School lessons, Praise music and Worship schedules. And SO much more!
Thirty years’ worth of working in church ministries! And what did each project have in common?
Written plans, diagrams, and TO-DO LISTS!
A simple luncheon for friends or a Thanksgiving feast for family . . . I have always made lists and planned well so on the day of the event – big or small – I was prepared and could relax and enjoy the day.
That was pretty much how I lived my everyday life, too.
But I learned early in my marriage that even the best-laid plans could be thrown out the window in a flash.
Case in point: Bill and I had been married five years. He had advanced in his job with a telephone engineering company and was doing well enough that I was able to take off some time from working and stay at home with our then two-year-old son Andy.
We had bought a cute little house and fixed it up inside and out. It took a couple of years, but we finally had it like we wanted it, and the to-do lists had been checked off. Bill had given up his ’61 Corvette in favor of buying a brand new, shiny red pickup, a better choice for his job. I was active in my church. We had friends with whom we socialized. My family and long-time friends were all close by in this Oklahoma town in which I was raised. Our plans had been laid out. Life was on track.
Until one day when Bill spoke, and all my plans for our life flew out the window.
Those life-changing words? “Karen, I want us to move back to my hometown in Georgia.”
If he wanted to move, what about the partnership his former boss offered him in Dallas? An opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a brand new, rarely heard of business that was a sure thing for a prosperous future . . . cable television! At least Texas was much closer to my family in Oklahoma.
“ARE YOU CRAZY?!” was my gentle reply. “You have a great job here. We just fixed up our house. We have Andy to provide for. I love your family but besides them, what do we have in Georgia? No job! No home! No friends! No church! And what about my family?!” (I was a mama’s girl! I went straight from living with my parents to living with Bill when we were married. I had never been independently on my own.)
I was freaked out!
Bill said we would sell the house and all our belongings (down to the Christmas decorations we had collected during our five years of marriage). Then we could pay off all our bills. He would help his dad with laying carpet until he found a job. A cousin’s father-in-law owned a mobile home park. We could get live there. He had it all figured out.
I dug in my heels! We were NOT moving! I was a Christian, but Bill was not serving the Lord at the time. I just knew God would be on MY side!
I prayed and asked God for direction, but my mind was so set on not moving that I really wasn’t listening for His answer. I thought I already knew it!
Then I thought of Gideon in the Bible. He laid a fleece before the Lord to get confirmation about what he should do (Judges 6). So, I laid a “fleece” before the Lord. I prayed if it were God’s will for us to move that He would cause our house to sell extremely fast. I told Bill about the fleece. “If our house doesn’t sell quickly, I know we’re not supposed to move!”
Well . . . two weeks later, we sold our house. How was that for fast?
I was devastated. But I knew it was God’s will, and I had to obey Him.
It is ironic that many years before, my grandmother had faced a similar situation. I only learned about it, because my brother had the foresight to ask her questions about how she and Grandpa, Rev. Ira Thomas Harper, started in the ministry.
My grandparents were saved at a brush arbor revival meeting. A while later, Grandpa told Grandma Harper that they were “goin’ preachin’.” Like me, Grandma dug in her heels. No way was she leaving their farm and the crop in the field and packing up her children to go preaching. In his gentle way, Grandpa kept the idea alive and in the forefront of their conversations. Finally, Grandma told him, “If someone comes along and buys our crop layin’ out there in the field, then we’ll go preachin’.
THE NEXT DAY, a man came to their door and offered to buy their entire crop right then and there. Guess who went preaching. Grandma knew she could not disobey the Lord.
Within a couple of weeks of selling our house, we were in Georgia.
I would like to say, “Praise God! It was wonderful!” But the truth is that first year was one of the most miserable times in my life.
It was a while before Bill found a job, and the little money he made with his dad barely covered our basic expenses.
At home whenever we passed the golden arches of McDonald’s, Andy would yell out, “Fwench fwies! Fwench fwies!” And I would usually go through the drive-through window and get him a ten-cent order of French fries. Even that little bit of money was a luxury now . . . oh, yeah . . . that is if our new little town even had a McDonald’s . . . which it didn’t.
I was physically ill that whole first year in Georgia. I could barely take care of Andy and our home, much less handle a job to help with bills. I was sick so much, that I rarely went to church, which was my only means of meeting new people and making friends. Bill’s family was sweet, but I ached with homesickness for my family. I was so lonely! And sick. And sad.
Almost a year later, a doctor diagnosed me with Grave’s Disease. I had a goiter removed surgically, which was thankfully benign. Suddenly, I had a new lease on life. I was not exhausted and depressed and crying all the time.
I started going to church regularly and made some wonderful, life-long friends. Bill found a good job, although the pay was not nearly as good as in Oklahoma. Plus, the cost of living in Georgia was higher. But God provided. I was finally well enough to work and able to help financially, plus meet new people.
I was raised a big city girl. At that time, our brand-new mall here in Georgia was about as big as a strip mall in my hometown. You pretty much had to drive sixty miles to Savannah for any major shopping. Most people thought I was a Yankee because I didn’t have a Southern accent, and I didn’t use the colorful colloquial language. At that time, if you had not lived in Bulloch County for at least twenty years, you were still considered a newcomer. So, it was an adjustment.
But I made a discovery! I loved the small-town life! I was made for it!
I have made friends here that I will forever cherish. I have had opportunities for ministry inside and outside the church that I would never have had in my hometown. Forty-six years later, I still know this is where I was meant to live, work, and raise my three sons. Of course, God knew it all the time.
Because of our local university, we have grown a lot over the years, and our culture is much more diverse. Between the university and the town, we have wonderful opportunities to enjoy the Arts. We can dine at nice restaurants, enjoy a lot of places for family entertainment, and shop at many nice stores and boutiques.
And, yes, we have had a McDonald’s for years.
But compared to my hometown, we are still a small agricultural community with a lot of history going back to the 1700’s, and I love it!
So . . . I still make plans. I still have to-do lists. But if feel a breeze from an open window, I am no longer fearful that my plans will be blown away.
God has a plan for my entire life . . . even during these twilight years. He taught me when I was twenty-three years old that His plans for me are good plans. I can trust Him. And if I trust Him, there is no worry when my own plans fly out the window!
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).