On Making Plans: Thomas Merton Prayer

If all had gone according to plan, I would be arriving in Rome today with my husband and our friends Katy and Todd, to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversaries. On Monday we would have boarded a cruise ship, which would have conveyed us across the waters to the single most important item on my bucket list: a guided tour of the Holy Land. All the while we were planning it, my heart raced to think of what it would be like to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, to visit the place where heaven truly touched earth.

This was my plan. As it turns out, God had a different plan. And so, this year Craig and I hosted Thanksgiving for a small group of family and friends, while Katy prepares to take the last round of chemo. They had tried to get us to go on the trip anyway … but I had made a pact with God. “Just make her well. The trip will wait until we can go together.”

Of course, it’s a bit foolish to bargain with God, who I am sure sees how it all turns out, and even knows whether we ever get to make that trip. All our plans, seen on that scale, really don’t matter. One of the most important lessons we need to learn in this life is that there is precious little that we can control ourselves. That’s why it’s so important to learn to trust.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. (Thomas Merton)

Lessons Learned on Marriage: Celebrating Fifty Years of Love

John and Sandy Hess, December 8, 1962

John and Sandy Hess, December 8, 1962

This weekend my parents are celebrating fifty years of wedded bliss, and all their girls are descending from the four corners of the country (NH, PA, GA, and WA) to join the festivities.

Fifty years of marriage is an achievement by any standard, and what is even more remarkable is that they faced so much hardship within the immediate family circle during that lifetime. Military deployments, at least ten interstate moves (each of us was born in a different state), my sister’s childhood bout with cancer, my prolonged recovery from a car accident in 1983, financial setbacks, unwed pregnancies, countless hospital rooms, cancer, diabetes, stroke . . .  Then, as each daughter left home, they began to provide backup for the little emergencies that blew into our lives like so many dark clouds.

How did they do it? Here are some of the things I learned from my parents about marriage.

1.  Faith and family are inseparable. They go to church, together, at least once a week — and usually any other time the church doors open. What’s more, they always gave generously of their time and talents, whether singing in the choir, teaching Sunday school, running VBS, or making sandwiches for the after-school program. Their example stayed with us — each of us in turn found a place to serve; missionary projects, bell choir, domestic violence ministries, and other kinds of service.

2.  The best way to forget your troubles is to help someone else. The year my sister had her leg amputated, my parents invited an exchange student to live with us. And when the doctor bills piled up and money got tight, instead of sending Jaana away, my parents hosted her parents at our home — with the help of seven boxes of groceries that mysteriously materialized on our front porch one Sunday morning while we were at church.

3.  Don’t forget to have fun. Someone once told me that in the Church liturgical calendar, there are six feasts for every fast (such as Advent or Lent). My mother was especially good at finding inexpensive fun for us: cookie baking, road trips to local parks, camping at the lake, and knowing how to stretch the soup or whip up a pan of biscuits to accommodate an unexpected dinner guest.

This year, we’ve had ample opportunity to put these principles into practice, and I’ve discovered how important these things are in a good marriage — or even a struggling one. When times get hard, you can look for reasons to leave . . . or reasons to stay. With God’s help, my parents have amply demonstrated, a couple who is determined to persevere . . . will find the reason they need to make it work.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

From your grateful daughter,

Heidi