It’s exam season in the UK at present. My daughter Zoe took exams last May and June, aged 16; this year, aged 17, and will do so again next year, aged 18. And then, in 2015-2018 it will be Irene’s turn.
British Universities state the minimum grades necessary to be considered for admission. So these examinations determine whether, for the next phase of their lives, they dwell in their personal Plans A, Plan B or perhaps, Plan Z.
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Very few people live their lives in Plan A. At 17, my Plan A, oddly, was to become a nun, and work with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Well, I entered the novitiate, but left 14 months later, when I was 18.
Plan A was then academics. I read English at Somerville College, Oxford, and was accepted for a Ph.D at Oxford University, contingent on getting a First. I didn’t.
Plan B saw me go to graduate school in America to study Creative Writing rather than Literature. I grew close there to Roy, now my husband.
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Plan A then involved becoming a writer. I published articles in various prestigious places, won prizes, including a $20,000 National Endowment for the Arts award. I got a dream editor and agent.
But my manuscript was not the one they envisioned, and in the process of revising it, I got depressed, and abandoned it—and for 4 years abandoned writing, while I founded a successful micro-publishing company which now supports our family
And the publishing company has opened other doors, such as travel, which is a happy, refreshing, revitalising and educational experience for us. We tend to explore Europe, or further afield during every school holiday, sometimes on a shoestring!!, but the frequent shoestring travel might not have been possible or affordable without the freedom of a small business.
I will still write books, but I might self-publish them. They won’t be perfect, but they will be exactly the books I want to write.
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For most of us, Plan B is where our real life happens.
It’s where I live. I don’t live in any of my plan As which would have involved me being a successful and very prolific writer by now.
It is an interesting life, a happy life. I like it.
But, in common with the lives of most people I know, it’s just not Plan A.
For Plan A has a fatal flaw we do not realize. It is too golden. It is a scheme which would please our parents, and dazzle our friends and contemporaries. Since we are not all-wise, our Plans A are not necessarily the very best thing for us. For one, they do not develop character.
And our happiness depends on our characters, not on the success, wealth and glory that our Plans A often involve.
Plan A is a Do-It-Yourself plan of strength and success and achievement. It has little room for God.
It is the failures, weakness and tears of Plan B which teaches us our need of Him.
And gives us the joy and peace which can only be found in Him.
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And then, there is the dread Land of Plan Z, which Joseph called the Land of Suffering.
I know a young mum dying of cancer; people dying of debilitating illnesses; friends who have never married, but would have liked to; who have not been able to have children; who are struggling to adopt. The very worst thing they could imagine has happened to them.
And most of us have, or will, visit the Land of Plan Z, the land of suffering, for a season.
It is in the shadows of disappointment and heartbreak, of things not working out as they should, that we develop character: endurance, toughness, optimism, and compassion for those who are walking the same shadowy path. That we learn to trust God!
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I have a Plan A for the second half of my life. It involves health, happiness, fruitfulness, happiness for my husband and children, the continued success of our family business, and God’s blessing on my writing. It involves some travel, much gardening, much reading and writing.
I believe I can ask God to bless it.
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For after all, God does often grant the desires of our heart, our mid-life Plan A’s.
Moses catching sight of God bursts out with, “Show me your glory.” And the Lord replies, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you, and I know you by name.” (Exodus 33:17).
Hezekiah’s prayer in Kings adds 15 years to his life.
Prayer is the action which is most likely to bring Plan A into existence.
I like this Davidic prayer, May he give you the desire of your heart, and make all your plans succeed. “Psalm 20:4. I am praying this for myself and my family.
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But ultimately, I hope I will be content to dwell in God’s Plan A for me for the rest of my days, “plans for good and not for evil, to give me a future and a hope.” (Jer 29:11).
May it be so!