Sometimes you have a plan, and God has a plan, and the two are not the same, and God wins, and then – after a time – you realize in his winning, you won. The singular truth in this statement comes back and back, and yet we question – especially in turbulent times.
When I was in my teens, growing up in Maine, headed to college, I was resolved. I was going to be a veterinarian. I toyed with other ideas, law, politics, teaching, but I honestly wanted to work with animals, help solve their problems. The idea grew. By the time I was off, it loomed large.
I had read – and loved – James Harriet’s books about being a veterinarian, “All Creatures Great and Small,” “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” “All Things Wise and Wonderful,” and “The Lord God Made Them All.” His books made clear the job was long, all-consuming, but rewarding.
I knew, to become a veterinarian, I had to be pre-med. While other ideas circulated at the periphery, I prepared with four years of high school Latin, three of German, languages that play heavily into medical literature, or so I was told. I thought I was in charge.
I spent time following a veterinarian around locally, drew as close as a kid can to an idea. I fed pigs one summer, got to know habits of our cats, dogs, and rabbits (we had 64), convincing myself about this self-directed destiny.
Then, I got to college. Between eye-opening classes, social life, slight intimidation with where I was, how smart others were, and realizing how many years, how much money goes into vet school, plus how few vet schools there were, my idea – becoming James Harriet – slid sideways.
In its place, new ideas churned. By the time I graduated, my life was on a completely different track – law school, economics, a greater focus on people than animals. Decades later, the chance to contribute has been a reflection of God’s redirection, away from animals over to people.
Nor is this a one off. God’s plan seems to keep intersecting, and redirecting mine – and the plans of those I know – in ways that prove immediately frustrating, eventually life defining, lifesaving.
Not expecting ever to see Seattle, I ended up clerking for a U.S. Marine and Reagan-appointed judge who changed my life, and became an example of humility in power, gratitude, and patriotism. Accident of fate? That coincided with White Houses, naval intelligence, State Department – none of those things in my plan, not on my list, not in any of James Harriett’s books.
A close friend was a lifetime Naval officer and decorated ship captain. His career seemed locked into a high flying flag job at the Pentagon, then he got suddenly sideswiped. The office he expected to hold was denied to him by the Navy – and perhaps by an all-knowing God. That office, where he would have been, was obliterated on 9/11.
On that same day, as I have written elsewhere, I did not go to the Pentagon, did not go to the CNO-IP offices where I often served. Instead I climbed aboard a plane in DC headed for Phoenix, where I was scheduled to give a speech.
My plane did not get hijacked. It left 45 minutes later than the plane that hit the Pentagon, penetrating the 4th ring, destroying the offices I would have been in, killing eight friends. Apparently, God did not want me there or on another plane. His plan intersected, and fundamentally redirected, mine.
In far away places and close to home, this happens more than we know. We are not where we might have been, are where we happen to be, or as a friend tells me: We are exactly where we are meant to be at any moment, even right now – me just writing, you just reading.
In the rough and tumble, distracted and disorienting, often deeply frustrating turn of the modern world, we sometimes think – where is this going? I thought I was in charge? Why is this all heaped on me? Is there still a Polaris, North Star? If so, where is it today? Why do so few see it? Can I still see it?
And the answer is yes: There is still a Polaris, still a North Star, still a loving God, and He still has a plan – even when your eyes blur with tears, your heart is weighed down, the dream you had is gone, new direction unfamiliar, and you can barely make sense of things.
As the poet wrote, “He is the still point in the turning world,” or as T.S. Elliot reminded us with a touch of whimsy, “Except for the point, the Still Point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”
And as another poet, Robert Frost, offered after a discovery in the woods: “Here are your waters and your watering place, drink and be whole again beyond confusion.” Again, borrowing on Frost, the road may be lonely, but God put you on it for a reason. That is my takeaway. It will have “forks,” some your choosing, some not, and…Frost had words on that, too. It is all good. So, onward!
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.