On Why Plans Not Working Out Like You Thought Can Sometimes be a Good Thing
2016 was the first year since getting married where I haven’t been able to look back and say “those were the best 12 months of my life so far”. The vast majority of my life in 2016 has still been amazing and there have been some real highlights, but also, for the first time in a while, some really tough times. It’s also the year that Liz and I collectively realised that our life was heading down one particular path and that we wanted it to go somewhere totally different. All of which makes 2016 a good target for some reflection on what I can learn from my experiences. Because as up-and-down as 2016 has been I think it taught me some pretty hard but powerful lessons. As one of the pastors at Life Church said in a talk he gave one time: never waste a good crisis.
I started 2016 in my boring office job at Lloyds Bank doing pretty much the same thing I’d been doing for the past 18 months- evaluating PPI complaints. People usually said that sounded like a tough job when I told them what I did, to which my standard response was that it wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds. I was actually doing kinda well at it- I’d just been promoted to senior case handler, me and a couple of others spent a few months in charge of an entire project which went well (the details would bore you), I had a great group of friends and I had just figured out that if I legged it out of the office at 14.56 I could catch the 15.05 train and be home by half past. And I was making good money and we had enough saved up to go on random weekend breaks to eastern European cities basically whenever we wanted. Overall it was a pretty cosy arrangement. But then, some time around April I think it was, Liz and I realised that we never signed up for “cosy”.
We were in the car. Most of our really deep chats happen in the car. I voiced aloud a concern that had been nagging me for a while: were we in danger of settling down? When we got together both of us felt emphatically that we were called to mission work, to live crazy lives doing God’s work around the world. And yet, two years on from getting married, here we were. We both had secure full time jobs. We had a mortgage. We had a freaking cat. We actually had 6 cats at one point, but that’s a story for another day. We had pretty much everything we wanted and were incredibly blessed. But were we letting a comfortable, enjoyable and slightly unremarkable life take the place of our dreams?
We decided we wouldn’t let that happen. And we’d both listened to enough sermons in our time to know that just deciding something isn’t enough. You need to work out how you’re going to bring it to reality. So we made plans to spend time scouring the internets looking for mission opportunities. The idea was that if we could find some organisation with whom we could spend a year or so abroad doing God’s work, that would be a great “training” experience for us to test the water of mission work and learn some valuable skills for when we set off on our own. It was an exciting time. We went through a load of false leads, all of which we were utterly convinced were our ultimate calling and were definitely ordained by God… and none of which ended up working out. Parallel to this we had the idea that renting out our house would be a great way of supporting our little adventure while keeping us on top of the mortgage payments, so we started renovating the house, starting with the kitchen and garden.
Anyway, about July time something of a curveball hit us. The day after I came back from playing a gig in Poland with LIFE Worship (which was awesome, by the way, if one of the most exhausting 48 hour periods in recent memory) I was contacted on a freelance writing website I had just started using about a job. I had only recently started writing for money (after Liz suggested that my dream of being a writer might actually be easier to achieve if I actually started writing some stuff. Smart woman, that Liz) and my total earnings at that point probably totalled less than £100. And yet here, out of nowhere, was an invitation to interview for a full-time writing position with a reputable entertainment agency. I remember ignoring it for a while, thinking it must be a scam or something, but eventually I decided to contact the guy about it and see.
Less than a week later I was handing in my notice at Lloyds and on my way to living my dream of being a full-time writer. It was insane. Totally out of nowhere, totally and exactly what I had always wanted to do. It was as if God had just decided to hand me my dream job on a plate. I couldn’t thank him enough. I had never really understood why I had had to tough it out at Lloyds for 2 freaking years calling up morons to ask them about insurance policies from 20 years ago that they barely understood, and this seemed like the answer. Persevere and trust in God, and you will be rewarded with a cushy job where you can stay at home in your dressing gown and write about Belgian jazz bands and surprise singing waiters for a living. Boom.
Which is why when, only four months later, I was abruptly told that as of that moment my job no longer existed, I didn’t really get it.
It was a Monday morning in November and I was just getting used to the awesome fact that this really was my job now, and my life really was this awesome. I was using my skills to do something cool, and I was really good at it. What’s more, it totally fit with our plan for mission work- I can write about waiters and Belgian saxophonists from anywhere with an internet connection, so this was perfect for supporting us while we were travelling. So yeah, when this job that was so clearly God-given came to just as unexpected an end as it had begun with, it felt like I had missed something somewhere. Why would God give me something just to take it away again?
All told I think I coped with the job loss pretty well. My first reaction was to grab Kendra (my bass) and blast out some worship music for a few minutes while I waited for Liz to call me back. Liz rang me from work and was super lovely and reassuring like she always is. Then I think I ate some jelly beans. Then I did some gardening and felt calm enough to send a polite “thank you very much for firing me, all the best for the future” email to my old boss, and delete all the “I HATE YOU YOU RUINED EVERYTHING I WILL DESTROY YOU AND ALL WHO CALL YOU KIN” drafts I had saved. At which point it really began to sink in. My grand gamble of leaving my secure and uneventful job had totally crashed and burned.
Oh yeah, and the Friday of that same week, several thousand pounds worth of hired gardening machinery was stolen from our back garden. I don’t really wanna talk about that right now.
Not gonna lie, that was a pretty awful time. But I couldn’t let it destroy me. And old friend of mine called Bekki messaged me with an encouraging verse from 2 Kings about a woman who asked God for a son, and was given the child she dreamed of, only for him to die suddenly. The woman mourned and asked God why he would give her a child only to take him away again. But the prophet Elisha prayed and brought the son back to life. Perhaps the same thing would happen to me with my perfect job.
While dealing with the police and helping my father in law Phil build us a new kitchen (and by ‘help’ I mean ‘keep him supplied with coffee and occasionally do some heavy lifting’) I began rebuilding my career. I spent a few grim weeks grinding out a tiny amount of money doing menial freelance work writing how-to guides about fixing HGV engines (which I know nothing about) and shopping guides for golf kart accessories (which I know nothing about). Slowly but surely I worked my way up the freelancing ladder, getting more jobs with better clients, until by midway through December I was in a better position than I had been to begin with! I had (and still have) two main jobs, one working for a clinical psychologist in Sydney writing content for his website, and another researching and writing for a Christian marriage counselling company in Canada. Not only was I more secure against future job loss due to having my eggs in multiple baskets, but I was writing about really interesting things and getting to stretch the Psychology muscles I had barely used since my degree. And for part of the time I was writing for Christian websites!
The turnaround happened so gradually that before I knew it I actually had too much work on my hands and had to scale it back a bit, which was not a problem I had envisioned having a few weeks prior. But now, a couple of weeks on, I can say that I’m in a really good position, totally loving both of my jobs, and well and truly back on track.
What’s the lesson here? God gives and takes away. That’s the bottom line. He gave me my first writing job, and he took it away again, and it was always his to do that with. It hasn’t been easy accepting that but it’s a valuable (if rather sobering) thing to remember- everything we have is borrowed from God, and sometimes he asks for it back.
Could it be chalked up to persecution from the enemy since he was trying to hinder our plans for mission work? Possibly. But I think there was something else going on with it all. And it’s to do with stepping out.
Quitting a well-paid permanent contract to pursue self-employed freelancing was a risky move whether it was my dream or not. If God hadn’t handed me the job with Scarlett Entertainment, I probably never would have made the jump and just carried on with my mundane, safe job with Lloyds. And if I had never had that job, and then lost it, I never would have been in a position where I needed to carve a new living for myself. That job with Scarlett was never the final destination God had for me, it was just his way of getting me to where he wanted me- to a place of total dependence on him. And once I was there he could show me what he really had in store for me.
Is my new situation the final destination, or just another step in God’s weird and wonderful plan for my life? Dunno. I’ve learned that there is always a plan for my life, even when to me it seems like there isn’t. And that God likes it when we step out and trust him. Sometimes he gently coaxes us out of the boat and into the water. Sometimes he just shoves us overboard. But either way, he never lets us drown.