I remember it clearly. I was sitting in the kitchen with mum and dad, just days before I set off for university, when my dad, with a smirk on his face, piped up: “I wonder if Annie will meet her future husband at university?”
I laughed, shaking my head. Both my older sisters had met the boyfriends they were either now engaged or married to, in their first or second years of university. That was not going to be my path.
“No!” I said, quite resolutely. “I’m not getting married young; I’m not meeting anyone in my first year at university, and I’m definitely not bringing anyone home to meet you in the Christmas holidays!” As both sisters had done, ugh – cringe-worthy!
I had plans, you see. I was career-minded, fancied the idea of travelling the world and driving a fast car, and marriage would have to wait until at least 28. Or so I thought.
Although I had a strong Christian faith and had been growing quite a lot in my walk with God in the previous couple of years, I was still fiercely independent. While I prayed about most major decisions in my life, and sensed God’s guiding, it was becoming clear that there were some things that I wasn’t even going to ask God about. Marriage was not remotely of interest, and the subject didn’t enter my prayers.
Does this sound familiar? Is there some area of your life that you like to keep all to yourself, with a kind of virtual boundary locking God out? It could be related to career, relationships or culture, or maybe subtler issues related to free time or leisure pursuits.
In this case, God, it would seem, has a sense of humour. I met my husband on the first day I arrived at my halls of residence – a tower block on Aston University’s campus; he lived on the 15th floor, I on the sixth – ended up inviting him to visit over the new year, and walked down the aisle at 21. Not my plan at all!
My family all had a good laugh over my backtracking. But I knew that we were right for each other; it just wasn’t how I would have timed it.
Fast forward nearly 10 years: after a particularly stressful day with two noisy, young sons, including a fair dose of yelling and defiance – from both myself and the boys – I announced to my husband: “That’s it! I’ve decided we are NOT having another baby. I’ve had enough! And if God wants us to have another one, then He’ll have to make it happen!” Husband didn’t disagree, thinking it was probably for the best. He’d look into getting a vasectomy. We felt at peace.
You would have thought I would have learned my lesson about making such sweeping statements. Less than three weeks later, we were staring at a pair of pink lines on a home pregnancy testing kit. God, it seemed, had defied the wonders of contraception! I was more than a little annoyed.
And yet a little tugging in my heart reminded me about what I had so flippantly said: “If God wants…” I started to accept that maybe this was what God wanted for our family.
As my pregnancy progressed, friends and acquaintances would quite often inquire as to whether this one was planned. It’s amazing how invasive people can get about your body or sex life. Over time, I came up with a witty response: “Yes, this baby was planned – just not by me or Tim!”
Through both of these experiences I learned that we either can’t, or shouldn’t try, to control every facet of our lives and run them to an ultra-specific agenda or plan. That’s not to say we shouldn’t make decisions. We should. And we do have choice in many areas.
It’s just that it’s a good idea to include God in those hopes, dreams or plans. Sometimes, He’ll steer our plans and desires towards something we hadn’t quite expected. Sometimes, He may seem to throw a spanner in the works of our lives.
Marriage, and later on, three children, were not my ideas at the time, but I began to become more open to where God was leading me and what He intended for me. And although I didn’t get to own a fast car, I was still able to travel with my husband, spending three years just outside New York City.
I don’t believe God is out to mess up our plans or make us do what we don’t want to; there IS such a thing as free will. However, I’m learning to include Him in more decisions before making dramatic announcements and also, to see that ultimately He knows the plans and purposes of my life better than I do. Sometimes I don’t like it – my career plans were screwed up for quite some time. Sometimes we don’t love every aspect of our life; sometimes not absolutely all of our dreams come true.
Sometimes the thing you didn’t really want becomes the thing that shapes and defines you. If it were not for my third son, I wouldn’t have been making up a bedtime story for him one night that inspired me to write a children’s novel. I couldn’t possibly imagine our family without him.
Some things are destined to be.