THE BEST LAID PLANS
I was packed and ready to go! The call came in just as I was walking out the door. While there was certainly a good deal of work involved in setting up and running this annual event, I was now definitely looking forward to spending the next three days on the beautiful Oregon coast. If nothing else the change of scenery would be a welcomed relief from the chaos of the normal routine during this Covid-impacted season and the ongoing social turmoil that has engulfed the Portland metro area. Answering the phone yesterday morning changed all of my “best laid plans” for this week!
The call had come from the conference center that was hosting our annual spring retreat. A group from our church has gone to Cannon Beach Conference Center for the past 20+ years. On Monday morning they were notified that a group that had stayed in their facilities over the previous weekend had experienced an outbreak of the Covid virus. The staff members at the conference center were tested that afternoon and notified Monday night that some of those tests had also come back positive. As a result the conference center had to cancel all of their events for the next two weeks, starting with ours that was scheduled to begin Tuesday afternoon. In that one phone call all the plans and efforts I had put into planning for this retreat had to be put on the shelf. I’d spend the next two hours frantically trying to reach those who had registered for the event in an effort to catch them before they left town. The last thing I wanted was for people to drive 2-3 hours to get to the coast, only to be turned away at the door.
In many ways this particular setback is an analogy of many other areas in my life. As it turned out, this retreat felt like it was snake-bit from the start. It was originally scheduled for March 2020, with plans set into motion in the summer of 2019. A speaker and special music had been arranged, advertising was sent out, and registrations were accepted. When the pandemic first hit we had to postpone the scheduled event until June. That meant contacting everyone, refunding some registration fees, rebooking flights for our speaker, and re-confirming our special musical guests. Of course, as you all know, June 2020 didn’t turn out to be any better of an alternative than March!
Once again we had to push the date back for our retreat, this time to September 2020. That meant repeating all the steps we had taken in March when we postponed the event until June. Unfortunately, this time neither our scheduled speaker or our musical guests would be able to join us on the new dates in September. I would have to start scrambling to fill the slots in the program. Then, as August 2020 rolled around, it became obvious that the dates in September would also have to be scrubbed, leaving me little option but to cancel the entire event for 2020 and put my efforts into our next annual event in March 2021. By now you know what happened to that plan!
Like many of you, I tend to be a planner. I like to think ahead and figure out what things are going to look like moving forward. While I don’t relish the idea of the detail work necessary to plan an event, make a major purchase, oversee a project, run a team of volunteers, organize an outreach effort, or work on a solution to a sticky problem, I’ve come to realize that I do better if I think through a plan in advance before jumping into the fray. Most of the time I actually can lay out some sound ideas on how to accomplish the task in front of me. I don’t want to waste time or expend energy on things that ultimately don’t help me reach the desired goal or outcome. By thinking through things in advance I can normally avoid a lot of pitfalls that come with a lack of sound preparation. I sincerely believe the old adage that says, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail”. It’s not that I don’t expect to make mid-course corrections after those initial plans are laid, but I do fully expect that my “best laid plans” are a solid course moving forward.
Unfortunately, the reality is things don’t work that way more often than I like. It’s not that unusual for my plans to be completely blown out of the water, much to my dismay. Sometimes the disruption comes from circumstances beyond my control, like the outbreak of Covid at the conference center I was planning to be at this week. Other times someone else involved in the activity or project has very different ideas than I have, requiring one or both of us to make some alterations to our original plans. There are also those times when the steps I’ve laid out in advance simply don’t work in real time. And then there are the times when my ideas are simply rejected by those who may have the final say in such decisions. Whatever the reason may be, things simply don’t always work out the way I planned. My only option is to react to the change, adapt my plans, or simply give up.
I’d like to sit here and say I always react or adapt well when my “best laid plans” are blown up…..but let’s be honest, I don’t! Guess what? Neither do you!! I recognize that there’s enough selfish pride in me that wants things to go the way I planned, and when they don’t I’m not always a happy camper. It’s not like I’m some sort of monster who stomps his foot and pouts until he gets his way. But I’ve been known to be resistant to moving away from plans I had already set in motion. I know I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I like to think I know what I’m doing if this is an event, project or activity that I’ve been given responsibility to execute.
When such moments arrive we all end up at the same place asking the same question, “What do I do now?” The answer isn’t as clear cut as we’d like it to be. In most circumstances the answer to that question is “It depends”. I have to tell you, I really don’t like that answer! I know it’s true, but that doesn’t satisfy my unquenchable desire for clear direction. If my “best laid plans” are going to be blown up, then I want concrete directions on what the next steps are supposed to be. But as I’m sure you already know, that’s just not the way things work.
Back in the real world we have to find a way to adapt our plans to make the “next right move”. That move may have not even been considered in our original ideas, but now it’s more than just a possibility, it’s a necessity. Such decisions to move away from our “best laid plans” are painful at times because we don’t like the idea that what we had planned won’t work out. While it’s not an admission of failure, it is an acknowledgment that adjustments still needed to be made. Then when further changes need to be made to our adjusted plans, we can get swept up in a whirlwind of frustration as we anxious try to find the right course of action.
In days like today, when all of my “best laid plans” have be sidetracked, I try to remember that I still serve a God of order. None of this has escaped His attention. I may not like or enjoy the unexpected detours, but I can trust in the One who is truly in control. In fact, while I may get a bit tense about the shifting sands of change around me, I have confidence that somehow I’ll find my way through the chaos if I just keep looking up! I take solace in the words of Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.
OK, so I’m not looking at the waves rolling in from the Pacific Ocean this afternoon as I thought I would be. Instead I’m busy trying to clean up the mess left by this sudden change in my plans for this week. It’s not what I would have chosen to be doing today, but it’s a necessity if I’m going to move forward. Call it bad luck, a comedy of unfortunate circumstances, or simply the realities of modern life……whatever you call it, once again I’ve been reminded that change happens, whether you’re ready for it or not! The “best laid plans” need to always be open for revision……….especially by the One whose plans are always truly for our best!!