Why I Threw Out My Five-Year Plan

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“Do you have a five-year plan?” she asked. I had heard this question many times before, but something in her tone and furrowed brow made me feel small in this moment.

“I used to have a five-year plan,” I replied, “but when I was diagnosed with lupus, everything slowed down. That’s okay, though, because things are still moving and there’s so much God has done that wouldn’t have been possible if I had tried to stick to the five-year plan. He’s done more in the seemingly slow than I could’ve imagined!”

This was not the answer she was looking for.

Even though we had just met, she had a lot of opinions about how I needed to conduct my life to get “back on track” with my five-year plan. And as I quietly listened to her well-intentioned words, I found myself feeling sad for her. I had told her of the beautiful miracles God had done in the past six years since my diagnosis and the things He is doing in the here and now, but she couldn’t see any of that. All she saw was someone who couldn’t stick to her five-year plan and was a failure because of it.

When did we decide that success is measured by five-year plans?

And where in the Bible does it say that we must have a-five year plan in order to adequately follow Jesus and obey the Great Commission?

When my husband and I were fresh out of Bible college, we moved to DC to be part of a church plant. It did not go well. Mark Batterson—before he was a bestselling author, but after National Community Church started to get a lot of attention—told his administrative assistant, “If anybody from that church planting team want to meet with me, put them on my schedule.”

We took his offer, and he spoke life into our wounded souls. He showed us the ten-year plan—or was it twenty?—for the first church he planted, a church that never got off the ground. And he told us the lessons he learned from that failure and how they impacted the life of the thriving church he now pastors.

About a decade ago, my husband and I were on staff at a church in the Philippines when we both (separately) felt God calling us to move back to Springfield, MO for the purpose of preparing to one day move to Japan. When we came back to the States, we had a five-year plan. It included both me and my husband getting master’s degrees, Japanese language study, and a slew of other things to accomplish before moving overseas again. When we reached the halfway point of our five-year plan, we were right on schedule and feeling quite accomplished. I had earned my master’s and it was my husband’s turn to start grad school. At the halfway point, we were literally halfway done with our ambitious to-do list.

And then a diagnosis changed everything. Our progress slowed down and our timeline went out the window. And eventually, I decided to give up on my five-year plans.

Please don’t misunderstand: I have given up on five-year plans. I have NOT, however, given up on God’s call on my life.

I daily strive to walk in obedience to what God has called me to do in the now and the ways He wants me to prepare for the not yet. I don’t need a five-year plan to do that. In fact, I’ve grown more and accomplished more without a five-year plan and with a chronic illness than I did when I had a five-year plan and healthy body. After all, God’s call on my life isn’t about a certain country, dream, or timeline; it’s about so much more. It’s about a Kingdom.

Our five years have now become ten. There are things that God has done in and through us that we would have missed if we would have tried to force a five-year plan. God has been in the waiting living. He’s not waiting to do “the good stuff” when I get to a certain destination. He’s doing the good stuff now, and I don’t want to miss it because I was too busy obsessing over a timetable.

Five—or ten or twenty—year plans are helpful tools to get us moving in the right direction, but sometimes the right direction means coming to a point where God asks us to lay down our five-year plan and simply obey His voice. Sometimes, that was all the five year plan was meant for—for getting us where God wants us to be.

I still make plans and goals, but I (try to) hold them loosely because I know that God can interrupt my plans with beautiful opportunities, and I don’t want to miss it.

I don’t want to miss Him.

Overture for the Year

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It took me a long time to decide my goals for this year. For me, year goals are important. I’m the type of person who’s constantly working on improving myself—I’m a 1 on the Enneagram—but having times of reset helps me evaluate my progress and recalibrate. So months before this new year, I spent a lot of time dreaming and asking God for direction.

In an episode of The Office, the Dunder Mifflin employees were watching Andy perform in a musical. As Michael Scott was muttering something at the start of the performance, Darryl said, “Shh. If we don’t listen to the overture, we won’t recognize the musical themes when they come back later.” That’s what this post is: an overture for this year. You’ll see these themes in my writing. And hopefully, as this year progresses, those who do life with me will see these themes become more and more woven into the fabric of my life.

My Goals for 2019

1. Love well. 

I want my life to be marked by love.

I want to love God well. I want to love my husband well. I want to push myself beyond my introvert tendencies and love my friends well over cups of coffee. I want to love my students and the people I minister to well, going beyond requirements and pouring my heart into their lives.

2. Cultivate a prophetic ear.

I want to cultivate a prophetic ear so I can have a prophetic voice. I don’t mean I want to stand on a street corner with a sign warning of the end of the world. I want to be a voice that speaks life and hope and change into my culture and generation. And this starts with something simple: less noise and more prayer.

3. Spend money meaningfully.

I’ve got three subgoals for this one:

  • Live on a budget.
  • Be generous.
  • Slow/ethical fashion. (I know that’s not a complete sentence, but I’m still trying to figure this one out and this is going to be a year of learning.)

4. Write a book proposal.

This one scares me because I had this goal last year and didn’t come close to achieving it. And when I realized it wasn’t going to happen, I was filled with guilt. But the end of this year, my book proposal doesn’t have to be completely finished, but I want to make significant progress towards being done.

5. Grow into the performer I want to be.

I want to keep refining my craft, to be a more secure performer, to have a stronger vision for what I want each piece to be, and to push my artistry and ask more of the music.

6. Love what I see in the mirror.

My perfectionism makes it tough to look at myself in the mirror. This year, I want to cultivate healthy rhythms of exercise and rest. But more than that, I want to look in the mirror and see beauty regardless of my weight, hair, or makeup.

Also, I want to dress like an adult…because I’m 37 years old and don’t need to wear Hello Kitty and three separate patterns. It’s time to limit my outfits to one cutesy thing at a time. Again, progress.

7. Donate healthy hair.

When I was diagnosed with lupus, I lost about half my hair. Because of scarring on my scalp, the doctors weren’t sure how much of it would grow back. The long, healthy hair that falls on my back is part of my testimony. It is an Ebenezer reminding me that God has brought me this far. But a few months ago, I realized that I can’t just let my hair grow out forever. So this year, I’m paying it forward.

8. Make the library in our house a place where I want to be.

This is my decluttering goal.

9. Read/listen to 100 books.

How will I do this? I’m an avid reader, but my husband introduced me to a game changer: Hoopla. An app where I can borrow audiobooks for free? Yes, please!

10. Do at least one fun thing every month.

The fact that I made this a goal this year is already a sign of growth. This goal may sound frivolous, but my struggle to intentionally take time to have fun has worn on my mind, emotions, and even my body. And to be perfectly honest, this is the goal I’m scared of the most.

A quick note about goals: As this year began, I didn’t expect sudden change. If I would’ve done that, I would have already felt like a failure and given up. I’m approaching this year looking for progress, not perfection. So if you’ve started this new year feeling like you’ve already messed up your New Year’s resolutions and goals, that’s okay! The year’s not over!