When God Interrupts Your Plans

A woman lays on her side like one in deep sleep, her petite body curved to fit the narrow space in the toilet cubicle, her back pressed against the door.

“Hello . . .” Another woman, clad in black trousers and navy blouse, kneels outside the cubicle, her hand pressed against the door. “Can you hear me?” Her words echo off the walls of the ladies’ room.

There is no movement, no sound.

She turns to me. We exchange concerned glances. “I know First Aid,” she says.

“Oh.” I nod. “Good.” I see her reach under the door to find the woman’s pulse, all the while praying, God, what do you want me to do? Do I stay? Do I go?

His words from that morning sweep over my heart again. Bask and bless. Receive My love and let it overflow to those around you.

Sunrise on distant hills

Bask and bless. I’d almost forgotten that directive in the hustle and busyness of the time since. My well-planned morning has been interrupted by one minor glitch after another. I’d arrived at the shopping centre later and a little wearier than I’d hoped.

But now I see there’s a different plan at play. God’s plan. In that plan I am exactly where I need to be, right on schedule. This is not a time to bustle on with my to-do list. It’s time to overflow.

The woman in blue tries once more. “Hello! Can you hear me?” She feels for a pulse, checks for breath. “She’s not breathing.” Her grim words hang in the space between us.

I step closer. “Do you mind if I pray?”

“No. Go ahead.” She moves aside.

I squat to reach under the door and place my hand on the woman’s back. “Lord, I thank you that you know this woman and you love her. I speak life over her now . . .”

“She’s not breathing.” Security guards have arrived and the first aider explains the woman’s condition. “Her pulse is very faint.”  Her words fall like a wet blanket over my prayer, threatening to smother hope.

Quietly I finish then move into the next cubicle where I kneel. Leaning forward, I press my chest against my legs and hang my head till I can see the woman’s face. She’s wearing jeans, a cotton t-shirt and canvas shoes. Her hair is swept back in a simple ponytail. Her face, lined with the passing of years, is pale. Her eyes are closed.

Compassion fills my heart. I touch her hand, continue praying, and notice the muscles in her jaw beginning to work. “Her mouth is moving!”

Slowly she shifts her legs, tilts her head back and groans.

“She’s breathing!”

The team’s response is immediate. “We need to get her out of there.

A man climbs into the cubicle and helps us move the tiny figure out to an open area on the restroom floor.

“Where am I? What am I doing here?”

“You’re in the ladies’ room at the shopping centre.”

The woman is groggy and disoriented. Carefully we roll her onto her side and explain that help is coming. The guards leave and return later with a clean pillow and blanket. They tell us that, due to a misunderstanding, the ambulance has only just been called.

Time passes and the woman asks the same questions over and over. “Where am I? How did I get here? Who are you?” She seems surprised that strangers have chosen to stay with her, there on the floor.  Her mind drifts back and forth from confusion to resistance, gratitude to fear. Unbidden, she pours out reflections on her life – tales of family tensions, illness, guilt and despair.

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I am compelled to speak. Taking her slender hand in mine, I tell her of love – of Jesus who laid down His life so she can be forgiven – released from the heavy burden of guilt. I stroke wisps of hair back from the face of this one who could be my mother, telling her how precious and beautiful she is. My words are few and inadequacy plagues me as I offer them. Yet I wonder – how long is it since someone treated this dear one with tenderness? How long since she heard she was worth dying for?

Has anyone ever told her?

I don’t know if my words are received; she goes back to her questioning as soon as I finish. But I’m thankful to be there, glad my plan was interrupted. The love God has lavished on me is meant to be shared, not hoarded.

The woman grows tired, her eyes close and her breathing slows once more. The first aider persists determinedly, rousing her again and again until – at last – the ambulance arrives. The medics move in and I embrace the first aider and say goodbye.

I plod through the essential tasks on my list then, my mind drifting back over the events of the previous hour. I pray for the woman – that the love she was offered takes root in heart, bringing hope and security.

And I pray for myself, that my plans are never so rigid they can’t be interrupted.

The best moments in life are the ones my Father orchestrates.

“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (NLT)

“Always let Him lead you and He will clear the road for you to follow.” Proverbs 3:6 (CEV)

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Careful What you Listen to

Have you ever noticed how subtly negative thoughts weave their way into your thinking? So silently, those sneaky, snaky strings of words take up residence in our minds, challenging our hopes and trying to reverse every positive attitude we hold. Sometimes there’s an element of truth in what they say; sometimes they’re outright lies. Either way, we often allow them to settle into our thought patterns, unwittingly giving permission for them to influence our lives.

Sometimes we’ve lived with those poisonous little phrases for so long we don’t even realise they’re there, dictating so many of our choices – until someone points them out.

That’s what happened to me last Sunday. I was sitting in bed, propped up on soft pillows, musing over Jesus’ words in John 15, “Remain in Me and I will remain in you . . . apart from Me you can do nothing.”(1) How well I know it! The enormous changes our family is going through, with all its uncertainties, has each of us starkly aware of our need to stay connected to Jesus – like a tender branch gaining strength from the sturdy vine.

But that’s not the only transition happening in my world right now.

After more than eight years, I’m making final touches to my book manuscript, ready to submit it to publishers. Within a couple of years, the long-dreamed-of book could be in print, (God willing) bringing perspective and hope to people who struggle with anorexia – and their loved ones. Publishing a book raises your profile and brings new opportunities to speak with people. You’d think this would be a time of great excitement and anticipation. Instead, I’ve found myself becoming reflective, quiet and a little overwhelmed by the thought of all that attention.

Why, you ask. That’s where last weekend’s revelation comes in.

On that cosy Sunday morning, tucked up in bed, my attention was drawn to these words of Jesus: “If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” (2)

I’ve read those words lots of times. They make perfect sense. If a branch remains connected to the vine – and it’s a strong, lush, nourishing vine – of course that branch will bear good fruit, much fruit. I’ve always agreed with that principle. But until that morning I’d never stopped to imagine what ‘much fruit’ might look like in a person’s life, particularly my own. I was okay with the thought of bearing some fruit; but much fruit? Wasn’t that a bit, well . . . much?

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Photo by Luiz M. Santos on Pexels.com

In the same passage in John I read that when people bear much fruit, they bring glory to the Father. (3) Not to themselves, but to the Father. Suddenly God had my attention. A sense of wonder washed over me as I filled a page of my journal with quickly flowing revelations. Out of His great love, the Master surgeon was uncovering an oppressive pattern of thinking that had bound me up since childhood: “You can shine; just don’t shine too brightly.”

In my earliest years I had boundless confidence. The doted-on ‘baby’ of three girls, I followed my whims and said or did whatever popped into my head. It didn’t take too long to discover it wasn’t such a popular thing to be so sure of oneself. Names like ‘show off’ were fired my way, quickly teaching me it was better to shrink back and be quiet than stand out from the crowd.

More recently God has been calling me out of that self-conscious place into the peace and rest that comes when I put my confidence in Him. Jeremiah 17:7-8 is a favourite passage. Again and again, in my quiet times and through others, God has told me to ‘Arise and shine.’ Fear and intimidation have roared, Don’t be a show off! No one wants to hear what you have to say. Many times I’ve chosen to push through the fear barrier and follow God’s lead any way. But always there’s been a sense of restraint – a feeling I shouldn’t let things go too far, shouldn’t shine too brightly.

Last Sunday I realised just how much those fearful thoughts were holding me back.

I read on. Jesus told His followers He had chosen them and appointed them for a special task – bearing fruit(4). That task has also been given to us who love Him today. It’s Jesus’ desire and purpose for us to bear fruit – and plenty of it. If I want to walk in His plan for my life, I need to be willing to do that.

It really doesn’t matter what others think of me – or even what I think.

In truth, it’s all about Him.

I did a lot of praying that morning – forgiving the people who put me down in the past, rejecting those fearful thought patterns and tuning in to what God had to say. Lately I’ve been sensing He wants to lead me further out of my comfort zone than I’ve ever been before. On that particular day He asked me to throw off any limits I’d put on my life. And I did. I don’t know exactly what that will mean, but I know I can be confident that whatever comes, I won’t face it alone. He will be my strength and sufficiency each step of the way.

These words of Jesus are true for all of us who love Him. He desires us to live abundantly fruitful lives as we fulfil the specific purposes He made us for.

I wonder what that looks like for you?

And what kind of thoughts might be holding you back?

Imagine how bright the light will be if each of us shines the way we were created to.

“. . . let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1b

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(1) John 15:4a,5b

(2) John 15:5b

(3) John 15:8

(4) John 15:16