Monday over Coffee: "Botherations"

Published May 2, 2022 by Greg Funderburk

I had botherations that led to good things.
— Civil War historian and author, Shelby Foote

"I can't begin to tell you the things I discovered while I was looking for something else," Shelby Foote once told a magazine writer. While researching and writing about one Civil War battle, one general, or one politician, he would vaguely recall some fact, quote, or obscure anecdote he had read in the past. Frustrated that he couldn't remember it or where to find it, he'd further focus his thoughts. He explained it this way to his interviewer: "By golly, there's something [General Grant's Chief of Staff] John Rawlins said at that time that's real important. Where did I see it? Then I'd remember it was in a book with a red cover, close to the middle of the book, on the right-hand side and one third from the top of the page." With this, Foote would put down the inky dip pen he used to draft all his manuscripts, arise from his desk, and head over to his bookshelf in search of the elusive fact he had in mind. "I'd spend an hour combing through all my red-bound books. I'd find it eventually, but I'd also find a great many other things in the course of the search." Foote succinctly summed up these bonus discoveries he had made like this: "I had botherations that led to good things."

I was in high school and had just gotten my driver's license near the beginning of the summer and was driving with a friend to play racquetball one morning when we were diverted by some construction. Detoured, we headed down an alternate street we hadn't planned to be on when we saw something quite curious ahead—a girl walking a goat. We slowed down to see the goat, and discovered as we got closer, that we knew this young woman with the goat. She went to our high school. Her name was Kelly, and while Kelly and I were already more than acquaintances, we weren't close friends. We waved to each other, then I pulled the car to the side of the road so that we could talk to her. Upon closer inspection, it turned out it wasn't a goat she was walking, but a dog. Her boxer, Gus, had just gotten his ears fixed at the vet, so because they were taped with stiff white bandages—and standing up rigidly—they had looked just like goat horns from a distance. We spoke to Kelly, then having managed to wrangle an invitation, my friend and I abandoned our plans to play racquetball and instead went over to her house, which was nearby. One thing led to another, and we all ended up spending a good deal of time together that summer. Turns out, this girl with the goat later became my wife, and we now have two kids (human ones). I guess it could be said that I've had some diversions, some botherations, that have led to good things too.

Our education, our careers, our daily work, our relationships seldom progress in a linear fashion. We get slowed down. We get knocked off course. We get diverted, shunted off the more direct, straight-line path along which we often feel we ought to be going. But here's the thing, there's often—perhaps more often than not—a deep and special richness to the diverted path. There's a unique, unpredictable, and unrepeatable quality to it?even a transcendent beauty sometimes.

What if we chose to meet these sorts of diversions, these botherations, these inevitable detours in our days not with frustration, irritability, or annoyance but instead with curiosity, equanimity, even a willingness to be beautifully blown off course? What if we considered the possibility that the alternate, nonlinear, and unplanned path might be better, richer, and more satisfying than what we'd originally planned or envisioned? Finally, what if we took into account the sacred prospect that perhaps God might be calling us into these detours for an important, even holy, purpose?

Think about it—how many times have you been chasing one thing and in its pursuit found something far richer than what you'd originally set out to find? How many times have you been set and determined to go one way, but instead fate, destiny, or the spirit of God intervened and took you in another direction, a way which, had it not occurred, you'd have missed out on something truly wonderful?

Thank God life can be like this. Thank God for our botherations. Amen.

— Greg Funderburk