Have you ever looked forward to an event, only to have your plans crumble? “Life intrudes” we say. Or “God laughs when we make plans.” Responding quickly to change can be difficult. At least it is for me. If you know people of Dutch descent, you will understand. We are not known for our flexibility! We are known for our tenacity, which is also a virtue, but quite a different one.
Right now I’m in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I came for the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College, which I’ve been attending every-other-year since 1996. There is no other gathering that I attend with such regularity. FFW pulls together many threads of my life: 1) As a former member of the Christian Reformed denomination, Calvin is my alma mater; 2) As a pastor, I have found lots of fodder for preaching and ministry; 3) As a reader, I have been bathed in words, and the ways that words evoke meaning; 4) As a budding writer, I have met editors, publishers and agents over the years; and 5) I can do all this and simultaneously visit my parents, who moved to Grand Rapids in retirement.
In fact, my favorite festival events have been the ones my parents attended with me. In 2006 I even convinced them to register for the whole festival. That was the aerobic FFW. I fondly remember pushing my mother’s wheelchair across campus at high speed — whirring her to one event, then running off to attend a different one myself! My parents are 87 and 90 now, and the festival events are too difficult for them logistically. The crowds are hard to navigate and they have difficulty hearing. Recently my father has slowed down quite drastically. His breathing has become labored.
Months ago I registered for this year’s festival and bought my plane tickets. Then my father’s doctors scheduled an elective heart catheterization right in the middle of FFW. I was concerned about the changes in my father’s health, grateful that I would be in town, and disappointed to miss hearing the authors.
How the days worked out has been a gift, a different configuration of the threads of my life. I had already set up a number of appointments related to my books, and was able to honor those. I was even able to attend the opening lecture by Tobias Wolff, whose writing I especially appreciate. On the day of my dad’s heart procedure I was at the hospital with my mother, sister, and niece. The medical care that my father received may be considered “routine,” but it is truly amazing. What a privilege to pray over my father’s bed, hands joined with family members.
Today will be a similar patchwork of events, including picking up my father from the hospital and attending a lecture by Nadia Bolz Weber. At least, that is the plan! We shall see what transpires.
I’m pausing to write this as I begin another busy day — a day that feels complicated, messy, and beautiful! I know your days often feel the same way. There are unwelcome adjustments, but also unexpected blessings. Perhaps these messy days are when God’s activity becomes most apparent to us — in a swirl of events that the finest planning could not have orchestrated.