Sand & Stone
I was sitting in my 11th grade English class grieving my recent breakup with a boyfriend... when I received a text message from my best friend.
**Yes. Even way back then we had text messages — only ours were carefully folded so they were compact and easy to pass along, remaining secure until they reached the intended recipient. **
In English class, my friend sat right behind me, so the note didn’t have to travel very far. It arrived silently over my left shoulder.
I opened the thick note to discover it was a three-page story written in her distinctive handwriting. The way she could put words on the page looked immediately warm and creative. I have always treasured her handwritten notes.
The teacher had to know I was not focused on our class work that day. Instead, I was drawn into the story of two women, successful in their careers. One was a poet laureate, the other an award-winning writer. These two women had achieved so much without “the obstacle of a man” to help them get there. In the story, they walked along the beach, discussing their next projects, drawing ideas in the sand and then climbing the rocks to feel the wind of freedom in their hair. It was the encouragement I needed to overcome temporary grief.
College was an important part of the plan. That was where I would improve my writing skills and prove to everyone I didn’t have to teach to be a success. I was going to write.
I went to a women’s college to validate my strength to stand on my own. I wanted to go to college in Virginia because that was horse country. I had been riding for three years and I wanted to keep doing that, so it seemed the best place to do it was in Virginia. And the college I picked had a strong English department where I could continue writing while studying good literature.
Did I mention I NEVER planned to teach?
I accepted my first teaching job about a month before graduation. I was hired to teach riding at a competitive Virginia boarding school. I was also a dorm mother. So, I wrote in my journals, but I set aside my writing goals to teach equitation to young girls who had never ridden a horse before. I had the opportunity to teach in a writing workshop while I was there and I learned as much about my students as they learned about me. Whether we were in the dorms, at the barn, or in the writing workshop, students opened up and shared their goals and their worries. The emotional difficulty of the job came from my attachment to them and my concern over their insecurities bound up by the system that had put them in a boarding school to begin with.
When the opportunity to go to graduate school came along, I jumped at it. Not only could I focus on writing in nearly every medium, but I could live at the beach! And I was proving that I didn’t need a boyfriend or a husband to achieve the plans I had laid out for myself.
I met one of the law school students going to the same university right before orientation. By October, we couldn’t stand to go more than a day without seeing each other. By the next summer, we were married, fitting our wedding neatly between summer and fall quarters.
Foolishly, I continued to tell God the things I would NEVER do. I would NEVER move away from the beach. I would NEVER teach. I would NEVER have children.....
We moved back to my husband’s hometown, far from the beach. It wasn't too long before I discovered the weather here is significantly milder than the tumultuous weather patterns in “Hurricane Alley.”
While I was able to pick up some freelance jobs, it wasn’t long before a connection at the community college asked me to join them as an adjunct.
Shortly after that, our daughter was born.
Oh, I’ve been writing. I have worked for newspapers, magazines, radio stations, campaign managers, and marketing firms. But I’ve also found myself doing a lot of the things I told God I was “never” going to do.
I have a friend who always reminds me, “Goals in Stone, Plans in Sand.” And every time I hear it, I think of the story my friend gave me that day. Just like the image of us climbing rocks on an early morning beach walk, I feel more confident about the stones I stand on — the parts of life that matter — than of the timeline I thought I created for my life.
Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”
When I entered the doors of that communication building almost 30 years ago, my goal was to be a stronger writer, be able to present my ideas in front of a group, and to use what I was learning in a way that honored God.
I had carefully laid out plans to achieve every one of these goals. But since the first “never” I ever uttered, my life has been full of adjustments. Many adjustments.
And as I run my hand over the goals I carved into the stone of my life, I can see how I reach each of them by a much better plan than the ones I drew in the sand in text messages in an 11th-grade classroom.
So I guess that’s my question for you. What plans are you trying to stick to so tightly that your God cannot help you reach the goal? What plans are you following so precisely that you’ve lost sight of the goal itself?
As someone who has often lost sight of the goal, I want you to remember two things — things you know, but you just need to say them out loud again. First, you can — and should — make your plans. You should make those “actionable steps.” But please remember to be flexible. Please remember that you can make adjustments to the plan. You don’t want to miss the experience that an adjustment might bring. because — and this is the second part — God always has a better way. Always. Don’t worry. He knows your goals. He knows your dreams. But his way, his plans are guaranteed to make you better equipped to reach those goals.
“He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.” — Psalm 25:9-10