This week, I found myself back at school. As a newly-employed substitute teacher, I was attending a training day. It felt good to walk along a corridor wearing a lanyard around my neck, introduce myself to new colleagues and wear something other than shorts and flip flops. I felt one step closer to getting back out there and into the work force.
This time of year has brought up a lot of memories for me. Usually I would be frantically sorting and resourcing my classroom, buying new pens and notebooks, lesson planning and of course, shopping for my new work wardrobe.
On Sunday evening, I got my first 'back to work' feelings. Early to bed, alarm set, outfit sorted, bag packed. I felt a mixture of excitement and nervousness, but after months of not working, I couldn't wait to get up and go. There's just one small problem...
My EAD (employment authorisation) card has not arrived.
It may not arrive for another whole month.
I cannot work without the card, even though my application to work has been approved.
So just to recap: I have permission to work and a job, but still no physical card and so, after all the excitement of my first day back at school, I have ground to a frustrating halt. I know that in the grand scheme of things, this is just a minor hiccup, an irritating inconvenience that will pass. But after months of waiting, this most recent news was a bit of a blow.
But if there's one thing that I've learnt in my 46 years, and certainly in my 24 years as a Christian, it's that the plans we make often don't go as smoothly as we'd like them to. And there's almost always a really good reason why.
I've never been much of a believer in coincidence, but as a Christian, I've preferred to think of it as 'God-incidence' - when the intricacies of God's plans for us reveal themselves in spectacular ways. The dictionary definition is 'a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.' Synonyms include: accident, chance, serendipity, fortuity, providence, happenstance, fate or fluke. Whatever the definition is - coincidence always provokes a mixture of surprise or disbelief and makes us ask: 'how on earth did this happen?'
The nature of coincidence is that it usually involves scale and improbability. Like finding the lost diamond from a wedding ring on a beach, ten years after it was lost. Or when you move from England to America and your son goes to camp in a completely different state, only to find that one of his camp counselors is someone who lived in the same small village we lived in back in England, who lived just a street away him and who went to his school (Yes, that actually happened!).
When I look back, I can see so many occasions when God stopped me in my tracks with a God-incidence - maybe it was because I needed rest, maybe it was because I needed to go in a totally different direction. In each case, I can see that the path I had chosen was always improved by God's amazing timing and His plans for me. Sometimes the plan just needed a tweak - like a delay in a work permit. Or maybe it needed to spectacularly crash down round my ears. In each case, I've learnt something or done something that has shaped me in a positive way - even though we may not see these positive effects until months or even years later.
Often on these occasions, when I have finished asking 'how did this happen?' I start to focus on 'why' it happened. I don't know why my work permit has been delayed again, but there will be a reason. Once I stopped feeling so frustrated, I remembered one of my favourite Bible verses:
Jeremiah 29:11 New International Version (NIV)
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
So if your plans have been thwarted, maybe you're feeling hurt, angry or, like me, pretty peeved and impatient - maybe there's another plan that might not be what you had in mind, but will turn out better than you could possibly have imagined.
I may not be able to start work when I expected or wanted to, I may not find a diamond on the beach - but experience tells me there could be something pretty amazing just around the corner...