When God Massively Changes Your Plans

Back in November, 2004, my wife and I were living in Tennessee where I was working as a Resident Director at a private college.  Having always dreamed of being able to fly, and having a father-in-law in the Air Force, I decided to apply to be a pilot.  It was a long shot being that I had virtually no flight experience, but I went for it. To the shock of us and even my recruiter, I was accepted and was given a OTS (Officer Training School) start date a little over a year away.

In that time, my wife and I didn’t do much.  We bounced around odd jobs here and there, and lived in different places, wherever was cheap.  All we could think about was our lives in the Air Force and what it would be like.  We both really looked forward to it.

About a year later, I went to swear in at the local MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station).  There was to be a short but official ceremony, a moment I was looking forward to.  Before the ceremony, since it had been a year since I was accepted, they gave me a routine physical.  The doctor there, we have since learned, was one of the most picky in the Air Force.  He looked at my shoulders and noticed a slight hunch (which I do have), and he wanted to get me x-rayed.

So, while my wife waited at the MEPS, they taxied me about 15 minutes away to a place to get an x-ray done on my back.  That whole process took about an hour.  They then gave me a big manilla envelope with my x-ray and taxied me back to the MEPS.  I handed it in and had to wait another hour or two.  Then the doctor called me into his office and promptly told me that I have been officially disqualified from any service in the Air Force due to the lower front-to-back curve in my spine being 56 degrees (1 degree over the limit).  And that was it.  The plans that we had so much looked forward to, the career I anticipated loving, was done.  (Interestingly, I did try to fight it, and had x-rays re-done on my back – the accurate curve is only 32 degrees.  It seems that there was something wrong with the reading, or my back was accidentally swapped with someone else.  They were unwilling to get me back in).

I also have a good friend who underwent a serious change of plans.  He and his family wanted to do missions for a while.  He went to seminary for four years to prepare, and was very involved in their church to help cast the vision for what they wanted to do.  They eventually applied to a missions organization and were accepted.  They came down to within months (or less) of heading overseas.  The plans were ready, and everything was set.  They even sold nearly all of their possessions.  Then they got word from the missions organization that they were no longer able to send them, leaving them with no plans, no place to live, no possessions, and feeling absolutely lost and crushed.  His situation is far more recent than mine, and I would say far more difficult than mine.  I have much sympathy for them.

For me, the only real healer was time.  For quite some time I searched and searched for a reason, thinking clearly there was a reason I would discover as to why God would allow me to be accepted, then have it pulled out from under me just a couple months before I was scheduled to start.  But, nearly nine years later, I haven’t found any clear reason.  To make matters worse, we visited my in-laws typically once a year.  He is still active duty Air Force, so visiting them on the Air Force Bases was tough.  It was especially tough when they got stationed at a pilot training base.  I would have a really tough time being there.  But year-by-year, it got better.  Slowly.

So what do we do when God massively changes our plans in a seemingly far less desirable way?  Life must go on, and we must make the best decisions we know how, but it is most likely going to be a long and difficult process.  I would suggestion not focusing on finding a reason (which I briefly discuss in another post).  Chances are that you won’t find what you are looking for, and even if you think you have, it is subjective and there is no way to really know God’s ultimate plan and intention for the change.  Do what you think is the best next step and start moving forward.  It won’t be easy, but I don’t think God expects it to be.  The Bible is full of wrestling with God and difficult situations.

How do we handle family or friends in this situation?  I wish I had some good advice here, but I really don’t know if what I’ll say is best for everyone.  The things that seemed to help me most was a listening ear and empathy.  The things that seemed to be least helpful were people trying to fix it or tell me that what I’m feeling is wrong or that I just need to get over it and move on, people telling me over and over that God has a reason for it, jokes about the situation, and people trying to tell me situations that happened in their life that seemed 1,000,000 times less difficult than my situation.  Think hard about what you say, and say as little as possible.  Try not to say the obvious, as chances are they have already thought about that plenty already.  Listen when it’s time to listen, but also help them get their mind off it.  Sometimes it’s just good to be distracted from it.

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