Sunday would have been Cora’s ninth birthday. We made our way to the cemetery after church to release balloons like we always do. Each year the growing bunch of pink balloons fill up a little more space in our van. It’s like the amount of time that has past since we last saw our girl, which is hard to wrap my mind around when some days it still feels like yesterday she was in my arms. The plan was for each of the three boys to release three balloons. I should know by now to hold loosely to my plans. Before we could even get the balloons out of the car at the cemetery, they all tangled together thanks to the unrelenting Kansas wind (which hasn’t let up even as I type this two days later). If you have never been to Kansas you might not understand that this wind is not just a pleasant breeze but something that can actually knock you over, or in this case tangle up all your birthday balloons. My sweet idea of each of the boys releasing three balloons for their sister would not be happening. We tried to get all three boys to hold onto the balloons and release them together but by this time the wind was making Jake cry. I felt like crying too. The balloon ribbons ended up wrapped around Levi’s neck and once Griffin finally freed him, they abruptly flew sideways into the air in a big tangled blob, barely clearing the nearby trees. We all proceeded to sprint to the car to seek shelter. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?
But isn’t that life sometimes? We come up with a detailed, beautiful plan–even determining the precise timing–but instead find ourselves in the middle of a big tangled mess. We try to cling to our failed plan, maybe adjusting it a little but not wanting to completely let go. The wind tosses us around and we end up feeling a little like Levi, choked by the tangled up balloons on a horribly windy day. We sometimes get this idea that if we are following Jesus our life should be good and easy. We equate a smooth path with God’s pleasure or blessing and see difficulties as bad. But when our “good” plans fail, when we instead are facing disappointment, sorrow, betrayal or heartache, we feel let down. We wonder where God is and we desperately want to understand what He is doing. I’ve been there, have you?
Here’s the thing about our best made plans and not understanding when God says no. There was a time (and let’s be honest, it still happens) when I asked God for his blessing over my family, home, and career and waited expectantly for him to bring the “good” things, the things I thought were best for me, into my life. I thought I knew what God’s blessing looked like. But in many ways I think I was putting God neatly in a box that made sense to me. I was trusting in a god-of-my-plans. Maybe you have done this too. But do we really want to put God in a box so that we totally understand Him? Do we really want to serve a god who is predictable and always acts the way we are expecting Him to; a god that is no bigger than our limited wisdom and understanding? Or do we want to serve a God whose ways are higher than our ways and thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9)? A God whose knowledge is too wonderful for us, too lofty for us to attain (Psalm 139:6)? A God who is all-wise, all-good, and all-powerful.
I read this a few weeks ago and loved how straight forward it is,
“God knows what I need. I do not. He sees the future. I cannot. His perspective is eternal. Mine is not.” (The Unwelcoming Gift of Waiting, Vaneetha Risner)
God is not like us and that is such a good thing. Instead of holding onto our plans, what if we would hold onto God? What if we would let go and find shelter in Jesus? What if we would choose to find rest in knowing that He is for us and that His plans are for our good…even if they don’t seem good to us at the time?
Nine years of birthdays without Cora and I still find myself struggling to let go. I still find myself wrestling with God about my plans that I thought were pretty great and the things he has allowed into my life instead. I have to remind myself to stop bossing God around. For me, most of the time it comes down to having a right view of God and remembering that He reigns for my sake and for His glory. I have to choose to trust in who Jesus is above my circumstances and feelings. And sometimes that means being willing to let go of my plans or the outcomes I was hoping for. We can be confident that God is who He says He is and He will always act according to His character. Nine years later and I can tell you without a doubt, He is always faithful and always trustworthy.
Maybe this yearly birthday tradition of releasing balloons is meant to remind me to stop holding onto what seems good to me and instead hold onto my good, good Father.