Wrong Roads: Trusting God When Things Don’t Go According to Plan

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“It looks like the only other class we have open that hour is Communication Arts,” the principal said, folding his hands together and placing them matter-of-factly on the desk between us.

I blinked, unenthused. “Communication Arts?”

I was going to be a vet. It’s what I had been planning since I was six years old and found out there was a real life job that let you work with animals all day. I’d planned my class schedule to give me the best transcript for applying to vet schools, I had worked hard to get good grades, and I knew where I wanted to study. Sure, making community TV could be fun, but I had a plan and Comm Arts wasn’t in it.

But here I was, starting a new semester at a new high school, and the block scheduling at my old school was making non-block scheduling at my new school very difficult. I had two choices: Comm Arts, or repeating a class I’d already taken. Either way, that hour was a wash that did nothing to get me closer to my dreams.

I gave a heavy sigh, registered for the class, and went home to our tiny, temporary rental house feeling more than a little dejected. Why did we have to move to crummy old Michigan anyways?

I couldn’t see it then, but God knew what He was doing when He put me in that Comm Arts class. The teachers, Mr. Murray and Mr. Miller, took me under their wings and showed me around the production studio. I learned how to operate a camera, how to do technical directing, and how to edit video. I also learned that I was actually pretty good at this stuff. Messrs Miller and Murray encouraged me to consider pursuing film or TV as a career. At first, I waved them off. I already had an acceptance letter the 3rd best pre-vet program in the nation—and besides, it was too late to apply anywhere else. But there was a secret little part of me that felt like maybe I would like to go into film production, and the more I thought about it and prayed about it, the more it felt right.

Baby Jess in Comm Arts

It made me sad to turn my back on a dream I’d had since childhood. I also had absolutely no idea where I was going to go to school, and I was well aware that going into an artistic field could mean lots of unemployment in my future. But I had received confirmation that pursuing film was the right course for me, so I applied to BYU and hoped for a miracle. It came in the mail a few weeks later, and come August, I was on a plane bound for Utah.

Recently, a friend asked me how I have learned to trust the Lord when things don’t work out the way I hope they will. The honest answer is that I still struggle. It’s often hard for me to accept the will of the Lord, especially when it upends the perfectly organized plans I’ve already spent so much time and energy on. But time and time again, God has shown me that if I will trust Him, He will never lead me astray. Here are some things that are helping me learn to accept the Lord’s plans even when they don’t match my own.

All Things Shall Work Together For Your Good

My first year at BYU was awful.  I won’t bore you with the details, but it left me feeling confused and frustrated. Why had the Lord told me to go to BYU when He surely knew it was going to be a bad experience for me? Had I not gotten the answer I thought I had gotten? I did a lot of praying over the course of that year and suddenly felt like the Heavens had fallen silent. I left Provo in April with a fiery determination to never step foot on that campus ever again. Needing some time to sort my thoughts and make a plan, I spent the next year serving with the AmeriCorps*National Civilian Community Corps, a national service program that’s kind of like a domestic version of the Peace Corps. I loved it.

And then it was time to decide where to go to school the next fall. As I prayed about it, the answer that kept coming back to me was BYU. 

“Been there, done that,” I would say. “Where else should I go to school?”

BYU. 

“Ugh, no! I am not going back there!”

This back and forth went on for months, but the Lord never changed His answer. (No surprise there, right?) I’d like to say that eventually, my heart was softened and I humbly submitted my will to Him, but that would be a lie. When August rolled around, I headed to BYU only because I didn’t feel I had any other choice. I hadn’t even bothered to apply to any other schools because God had made it clear where He wanted me to be, but that didn’t mean I went willingly. I’m more than a little ashamed of the surly, close-minded version of Jess that showed up in Provo that semester.

But you know what? God was right: BYU was the right place for me. I actually loved school. I had the best ward and roommates a girl could ask for. I got accepted into the highly competitive film program and was finally on my way toward my (new) dream career as a filmmaker. I looked back on all those months of fretting over coming back to BYU and laughed. How silly I had been! Of course I was supposed to come back to BYU. I had bogged myself down with worry when I could have found joy in trusting the Lord instead.

Me and some warriors from the BYU Homecoming Parade

I’ve used this Allie White quote before, but it really is a game changer for me, so I’m going to quote it again: “Learn to practice rapid and radical acceptance.” What if, instead of dragging our feet when God tells us to change course, we leaped at the chance to obey Him? Of all the times God has asked me to do something, not once has obeying Him been a bad idea. Even that first terrible year at BYU was on purpose: without it, I never would have met my fantastic roommate Sarah or any of the other friends I met that year. I also wouldn’t have done AmeriCorps, a program that blessed my life immeasurably. Even when things don’t immediately look like they’re working out when we’re trying to obey the Lord, we can rest assured that all things will work together for our good. As a friend once said to me, “We’re promised that we’ll be happy in the end. If we aren’t happy, it isn’t the end.”

Door #2

So there I was in film school, finally content that I was in the right place and on the right path. Life was good.

And then we had a class discussion about balancing work and family in the film industry, and I felt the floor slipping out from under my feet. Things suddenly felt wrong. I wanted to be a mom someday—a present, involved mom who goes to every soccer game and ballet recital and never misses a goodnight kiss. Working in the film industry would require long hours and being away from home for weeks or months at a time. I know there are many hardworking moms out there who work in film and still have time for their kids, but I also knew in my bones that it was not the right fit for me. Without even asking for it, I felt the confirming whisper of the Spirit telling me that I was right. I would not have a career in the film industry.

I could have been mad about it. Maybe a little part of me was mad about it—why had I been told to pursue film at BYU if I wasn’t supposed to work in the film industry? I was frustrated and confused once again, but this time, I took a different approach. This time, I turned to the Lord from the beginning. I asked Him what I should do. Should I stay in the film program knowing that I wouldn’t actually have a career in the industry? Should I do something related, like animation or illustration, so I’d still be using my creative skills? Should I pursue something else entirely?

My answers came piecemeal over the next few months. No, I should not stay in the film program. No, I should not pursue animation or illustration. The answer of what to do instead took much longer, but I eventually settled on a new major, one that brought peace to my heart and felt like a better fit for my future.

Does asking for God’s input mean that things will always be perfect? Not at all. I asked for God’s input before I went to BYU and still had a hard first year. I asked for God’s input when deciding to pursue film and still ended up changing my major. At a low point when I questioned why God would apparently lead me astray, a dear friend recommended this story from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:

 

We can only see a limited view of our future. God sees it all. He knows where we need to be to learn the lessons that we need to learn to find joy and success at every stage of our lives. He leads us toward doors that He knows are going to close precisely because we need that closed door to redirect our path in the right direction—or because the key we’ll need to open the right door is somewhere in that room.

The Key

After leaving the film program, I joined the Recreation Management and Youth Leadership program. I loved my time in RMYL and knew without a doubt that it was the right program for me. I graduated in 2008—right as American markets suffered the worst economic disaster since the Depression. I spent the next six years bouncing from seasonal job to seasonal job because I couldn’t find anything more permanent.

Over those years, I started getting an inkling that I needed to change careers. When the Spirit started whispering Grad School in my ear, I balked—I had never wanted to go to grad school. And besides, what could I study that would improve my situation?

I kept coming back to The Future of Food, a documentary we watched in one of my film classes. I’ve always been interested in agriculture and enjoyed learning about sustainability, but that documentary really got under my skin. After lots of pondering and prayer, I felt like I needed to get a masters in sustainable agriculture, but I couldn’t find anything in the States that felt right. An offhand comment by a cousin about studying abroad got me thinking about attending school overseas, and then I found the Organic Farming and Food Production Systems program at Newcastle University in England. I planned on applying to start in the fall of 2015, but received a strong impression that I was supposed to go that fall, in 2014. It was already March and I worried that I wouldn’t get a spot in the program, but to my surprise, I was accepted. I got a visa, booked a plane ticket, and moved to England for a year.

Orange brick building on a university campus
Newcastle University Campus

That year was one of the very best things I’ve ever done. I felt incredibly blessed to be on such an unexpected adventure, and it truly strengthened my testimony of a loving God who orchestrates the tiniest details of our lives. After all, were it not for that scheduling conflict in high school, I never would have discovered my love for film production, never would have gone to BYU, and never would have seen the documentary that literally changed my life. As Christy Wright says, “[Your] story wasn’t an accident or an afterthought, it was written on purpose and it is priceless.”

When the Answer is No

Within weeks of getting back from England, I was offered a position as an Organic Inspector with the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. On paper, it was perfect. It was in my field (hehe), paid well, and had excellent benefits.

And I hated it.

I started looking for a new job almost immediately, and was pleased as punch when my dream job (teaching sustainable ag to kids) was handed to me on a silver platter. I was ready to turn in a letter of resignation to my boss and move to Ohio, but when I prayed about it, I received a resounding no.

I was devastated. I prayed for understanding and was gently told to just trust the Lord. Remembering how fruitless it was to fight His answer about going to BYU—and how blessed I had been because I obeyed, even grudgingly—I packed up my life and moved to east Idaho—a place where it snows (yuck!)—for a job that I didn’t love. While I quickly grew to love my new apartment, new ward, and new town, my feelings about the job didn’t improve. I was almost relieved when I suddenly found myself without said job only six months later, even though it meant I had to face yet another dreaded job hunt.

And then, a miracle! A chance meeting at a joint YSA activity with another local congregation opened the door for another perfect job opportunity. This time, it would have been managing a herd of sheep and making cheese, a delightful prospect. It was serendipitous, to say the least.

But when I prayed about it, it was another no. Again, I was told to trust the Lord.

And then, only a few weeks after the second no, I was getting ready for church when the Spirit told me to check my Tinder account, which I had set up on a whim when I first moved to the area and wanted to try something a little different with my dating efforts. It had proven to be a rather unsavory place, so while I hadn’t deleted my account, I also hadn’t used it in months. To feel the Spirit encouraging me to check Tinder, of all places, was quite unexpected. I’m a creature of habit, I guess, because my first reaction was “No way! Tinder is icky.” But the voice of the Spirit persisted. Check your Tinder account. 

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll check it—but then I’m deleting it because ew.

I pulled up the account and swiped on a few guys. I paused at a picture of a bald, bearded guy in a tuxedo. He was handsome, but his profile was very sparse. In my limited experience with the app, sparse profiles usually led to sparse conversations. I moved to swipe left, but a still, small voice said, “You should swipe right on this one.” 

Ummm, okay.

I swiped right. It was a match.

And seven months later—to the very day—I married that bald, bearded guy. We just celebrated our second anniversary on Sunday.

Me and Brett. Photo by Roger Sondrup.

Looking Back

Had I accepted the job in Ohio or the job making cheese, I never would have met Brett. Had I not gone to Grad School when I did, I wouldn’t have gotten the job that moved me here. Had I not had a brief stint in the film program, I wouldn’t have gone to grad school. And I never would have studied film at BYU if I hadn’t had to take a communication arts class at a new high school where I didn’t want to be anyways.

So how do I know that I can trust God when my plans take some adjusting? Because life experience had shown me that His plan always works better.

If you struggle to trust God when you look to the future, turn around. Look backwards. See the windows that have opened up to you because a door got closed. They’re not always easy to see, but the Spirit can teach us all things and bring all things to our remembrance. As we reflect on the times the Lord has led us down the right road after all, it will be easier to trust Him when life doesn’t go according to our plans.

Jess
Find Your Joy

How have you learned to trust the Lord when things don’t go according to plan? How have His plans worked out better than your own? If you’re comfortable sharing your examples, I’d love to hear them! If not, recording them in your journal is a great way to reflect and remember the ways the Lord has helped you.

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