I live in a creative community that inspires me. With my family and friends, I create...memories.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

To Plan or Not to Plan

I am an unabashed Planner.  I am never happier than when my calendar is filled with lots of activities and my to-do list is full of do-able tasks.  I've even been told on several occasions that I should be an event planner (from people who really know me, like my mom).

Planning has served me well...I initiated and planned three successful Parent-Child Valentine's Dances for my neighborhood.  Not only were these heartwarming affairs to celebrate that great love bond between parent and child, but they also raised money for local charities and introduced many to our MOMS Club.  And of course, I planned that MOMS Club.  Which in as many years grew from one to three chapters.  That took some planning, along with some great fellow Planners.

In the past year, however, my love for Planning has been upended.  It all started when my child went into sudden and completely unexpected respiratory failure.  We didn't know for sure if she would survive or what life would look like at all for us.  In the midst of the chaos, the Children's Pastor at my church (I think it was her...remember this was CHAOS) gave me a new devotional book, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence by Sarah Young (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004).

Initially, the first-person voice of Jesus was pure comfort as we struggled at the beside of our child in the PICU...August 10: "Relax in my healing, holy Presence" (233).  August 12: "Come to me when you are weak and weary" (235).  August 17: "Find me in the midst of the maelstrom" (240).  August 18: "Anticipate coming face to face with impossibilities: situations totally beyond your ability to handle...Allow me to fight for you" (241).  August 20: "I am the God who heals" (243).  August 22: "Trust me, and don't be afraid" (245).  August 23, the day H-Bear's breathing tube was successfully removed: "Entrust your loved ones to me; release them into My protective care.  They are much safer with me than in your clinging hands" (246).

However, as I continued to read the devotional through the fall months, Jesus began to attack my need to plan everything.  October 10: "Trust me enough to let things happen without striving to predict or control them" (297).  October 27: "Many people are so preoccupied with future plans and decisions that they fail to see choices they need to make today" (314).  November 3: "Every time something thwarts your plans or desires, use that as a reminder to communicate with Me" (322).  On and on, the devotional made clear that my need to plan, organize, and orchestrate my whole world reflected a flawed desire to control my own life and a lack of trust in God.

I believe my ability to administer is a gift, but like all good things, too much can leave a life wholly out of balance.  I'd always envied my sister-in-law's spontaneous nature, expressed to a smaller degree in my husband, who is clearly NOT the Planner in our family.  I recognized even as a teenager that my need to line everything up before acting often built a roadblock to my own joy.

Yet, my role as a mother necessitated lots of planning and organization.  Inspired by a fellow East Nashville mama, I even created a little morning chant (recited monk-style):
     Lord, please give me patience
     Patience for this day
     Strengthen me, encourage me
     As I chart our way.
You can substitute wisdom, courage, joy, or whatever you feel you'll need in place of patience.

All day long, I was in control of my little ones, and I was indeed charting our way.  Some planning simply had to happen.  Getting children to school with good hygiene, clean clothes and all their supplies, making meals, and paying bills all required planning.  After H-Bear became sick, some elements of planning became crucial to her health and well-being.  No long car rides without her ventilator, since she was sure to fall asleep, gave way to planning all activities for when she was sure to be awake.  The sheer amount of equipment needed to keep her alive at night demanded some organization and forethought.  And the 50 -- yes, 50! -- medical appointments she had in the last 4 months of 2011 required some Planning.

At the same time, I began to realize I could no longer make calendars of fun-filled activities and family trips months in advance, because H-Bear could suddenly become ill at any time.  Two weeks ago, she helped me in the garden, and we made a pizza together.  As I was reading her bedtime books, I hooked up her oxygen sensor to find she was below our acceptable range.  By 3:00 a.m., we were headed to the hospital, where she stayed in the PICU for 2 days.  Completely out of the blue.

Such sudden and unexpected disruptions to my previously orderly lifestyle forced a new style of planning, one that I'd thankfully experienced just prior to H'Bear's initial medical crisis.  In early August of last year, we planned a four-day trip to Tulsa to visit my brother.  M-Cat would be starting school only 2 days after we returned, so I made sure we had all his "standard school attire" and other supplies in order before we left.  Thank God.  We were in Tulsa with H-Bear for two weeks.  A week in, M-Cat flew back to Nashville with his Grandma, who started him in Kindergarten.  Everything was ready for him to make a successful entrance into his new stage of life.  Mommy learned, and has not forgotten, that procrastination is inadvisable in a life that can change in a moment.  When there's opportunity, things in our home get done...often far in advance.  Now, that's some good Planning!

Another new trick that I've developed is backing up spontaneity with some of my beloved Planning and research.  When H-Bear and M-Cat are doing well and ready to seize the day, we have far fewer grumps-about-the-house times, because in my mental repository is a list of wonderful things I can't wait to do with the kids, many of which I've already researched online just in case.  When H-Bear is lowly and can't go to school, I pull out activities like painting and stickers that I've shelved knowing that lonely weeks in the house with little companionship or novel diversions aren't too far in the future.  This Planning is sort of like dreaming a beautiful life for my kids and family, while receiving the days as they come.  Mentally, it helps me to accept a difficult week and embrace a good one, because I've Planned options without putting them on a calendar.

As I have been able to let go of Planning, I have learned to enjoy life more day by day.  I still struggle with the balance.  Many of the memories I want to create require advanced effort -- excursions to the strawberry patch, a campout birthday party, trips to visit long-distance friends or to theme parks, or renting the RV M-Cat so earnestly desires.  It's scary to want, even need, to do things for my family that can't be done without putting a date firmly on the calendar.  I guess with any gift, we must learn how and when and how much we should use it.  Right now, I'm planning this afternoon as we for next week, well, I don't really know!


  1. It's a completely different scenario, but being married to a Pilot...I can't plan far out in advance...I don't know what days in May we are going to be available until April is almost done. It's not such a big deal to me, but the people wanting us to make plans don't always "get it" I guess that's my biggest challenge, not feeling guilty when I don't meet others expectations of us.
    Anyways, I relate.
    You have a great way of articulating things. Thanks for sharing.


    1. The same devotional I referred to in this post moved along to turning our focus to God and not to others. When we are trying to please others or meet their expectations, we are turning our gaze from God. Perhaps we can both remember that as we fail others! ;)

  2. That's me! The non-planner, that is. Let's figure out October!

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