Monday Over Coffee: "Plan It Over"

Published August 28, 2023 by Greg Funderburk

My son Hank and I met in Seattle a few years ago aiming to visit Mt. Rainier. We rented a car, got some sleep in the hotel, and the next morning I typed “Mt. Rainier National Park” into my phone’s navigation app. We chose a route and headed out. But about 60 miles into our 90-minute drive, we found ourselves on a very narrow, very icy, almost deserted road. I began to suspect that where we thought we were going and where the navigation system thought we were going were two different places. When Hank checked, he pointed out I’d routed us to the Carbon River Entrance of the park instead of the more picturesque one at a place called Nisqually Falls.

We soon found ourselves in front of Ranger Stephanie who, for a park ranger assigned to the Carbon River Entrance of the park, was not a very ardent enthusiast for its attractions. In fact, she encouraged us to turn around. “Nisqually Falls,” she said, “shouldn’t be missed.” Although Hank was behind me, I could feel him shaking his head as I thanked Ranger Stephanie for her helpful insight.

What do we do when where we thought we were going and where our lives take us turn out to be two very different places? What do we do when our lives spin off in an unexpected and unwanted direction? What would God have us do when our lives take a detour?

The main thing most of us remember about the Old Testament “riches to rags to redemption” story of Joseph was that he had a technicolor dream coat. This coat of many colors, which his doting father gave him, was really where Joseph’s detours began. Thrown into a hole by his jealous brothers, he was then sold to slave traders. However, he then rose to prominence in the house of Potiphar, before he was wrongly accused of sexual assault. In jail, he again rose to become head trustee and eventually find a way out as a dream interpreter, ending up second in command to Pharaoh just as a famine arises. Against all odds, Joseph, in the end, saves the very brothers who set out to kill him almost two decades before as well as their starving families. In effect, he saved all of God’s chosen people and Pharaoh’s people, as well. The story is a compelling fourteen-chapter novella thematically focused on how to navigate the detours of our lives.

The night before our trip to see Ranger Stephanie and Mt. Rainier, when Hank and I checked into the hotel in Seattle, I was sorely disappointed. When I’d made the room reservation online, based on the pictures on the website, it seemed I was being promised a beautiful view of nearby Puget Sound. Once there, though, there was a slice of the water off in the distance, but the predominant feature as you peered outside was just a giant run-down building. If the photographer who took the website photo had adjusted the camera just a tad, I’d have seen the not-so-attractive true picture of what our room was going to be like.

But this works the other way around too. We can be in a really ugly or a difficult place in our lives, but if we’re able to pull back just a little bit and see the wider picture, we’d see the bad story we think we’re in isn’t all there is. It may seem like we’re in a pit in the middle of the desert as Joseph was, but it’s important to remember there are always two stories going on: one we see, and one we don’t see. That second story may remain invisible to the human eye for months, even years, but there’s always a second story going on in which God’s own redemptive purposes in our world and in our lives are being worked out.

Do you remember those overhead projectors teachers used in class a long time ago? They’d write out something on a transparency slide then project it on a screen at the front of the class and do an equation or diagram a sentence. Get that picture in your mind—a clear slide on which your life’s plan is drawn out. Whether we mess up our own picture, someone else does, or some sort of unfortunate event does, it’s God’s rescuing, redeeming nature to lay down another transparency, a second slide on top of ours, until together with ours, a new story emerges. New lines appear. Loose ends are tied off in unexpected ways, and paths are linked back up into something new, beautiful, and redemptive.

God — I will trust in the second story. Amen.

— Greg Funderburk