Everyone has a path to walk, a journey to make, a story to tell. Some days, the road is clear. Our story goes according to plan. The appointments on the calendar come to pass, just as we intended. We travel confidently, not fearing what lies ahead.
Other days, the bottom drops out. In a split second, everything changes and nothing goes according to plan. The notes on the calendar must be drawn through and rewritten on another date, if at all. Without warning, we find ourselves on a tangled path, unsure of even our next step.
When life makes a sudden turn, or screeches to a halt, it leaves you disoriented, afraid. And sometimes, despite our best efforts to get back to where we were before, we can’t go back. We are here, and there’s nowhere else to go. We’re faced with a new normal, whether we want it or not.
The same life that can fill us up with joy, can also be hard and cruel. Our lives can change forever, due to no fault of our own. Parents divorce, leaving innocent children to deal with the fallout that never ends. A husband is told he has cancer, and a handful of months to live. A drunk driver crashes into a car, taking the life of a loved one. A careless driver runs into innocent people on a sidewalk, altering their physical abilities forever. Such tragedies are almost impossible to bear.
Other times, our lives are changed forever by our own actions. I remember when my dad, at the age of 85, climbed on the roof one time too many. This time, the ladder broke and down he came. His fall resulted in a grave injury to his ankle; the doctor said he might never walk again, said he might need an amputation, said it would be a difficult recovery for a 20-year-old man, let alone an 85-year-old man.
I recall my sister wringing her hands in anguish and asking, “Why did this have to happen? Why now, after so many years?” And my mom’s answer to her was simple and straightforward: “It happened because of gravity.” Yes, that was it in a nutshell, but to think that my dad might not walk again was something I couldn't wrap my head around.
But I remember the night that I adjusted my perspective. I couldn't let myself think too far ahead; I had to get through this moment, this day, this long and tiring night. It was the only thing I could do, unless I wanted to be miserable from this point on.
And when I did that, when I adjusted my perspective, when I got over the fact that I had to put my life on hold for an indefinite amount of time, when I accepted that my dad may have walked his last mile, that God had allowed this to happen, when I embraced what could not be changed, a curious thing happened: I stopped fretting. We would get through this, one painful step at a time. And I began cherishing the time spent with my parents, shuffling around a house with no television, no Internet, drinking coffee every morning with them, sitting on the porch together, watching my husband push my father here and there in a wheelchair, helping him with daily necessities. And as we played games at the kitchen table, or I planned the next meal with my mother, I knew I'd been given a priceless gift, just being there, helping them cope, sharing their space.
Another gift that came out of this tragedy was having friends all over the country hold us up in prayer. Prayer can move mountains. This, I know to be true, and it was an amazing feeling knowing people were praying.
Three months after Daddy’s fall, he took his first halting and painful step. He needed assistance, and his ankle, held together with metal rods and pins, hurt something awful, but he was determined to walk again. Soon after that first step, he and Mom felt they were ready to travel the road ahead on their own, and it was a bittersweet day when we rolled out of the driveway and waved goodbye. I cried, for reasons hard to explain, but mostly because my life had been enriched and blessed by sharing in their time of suffering.
Oh, the hours wasted kicking against the hard places, wishing we could turn back the hands of the clock. I have been guilty of doing that myself in recent months.
But if—instead of fighting the detours, and the inevitable changes they bring—we can adjust our thinking and embrace what is, we will be strengthened, and the journey will reveal gifts in the most unexpected places.
I believe—and time has proven to me—that the best stories come from the tangled paths.
This post is part of the series Spiritual Sundays.