To plan or not to plan, that is the question

jeremiah 29 11, plans, hope, future, god knows

Since my cancer diagnosis, just over three years ago now, my life seems to have taken on a bit of a rhythm: a three-month cycle, which begins and ends with blood work and appointments. (If you want, you can read about my diagnosis here.)

Though I haven’t had treatment yet, I do serial blood work—every 12 weeks—to monitor the progression of this disease in my body.

And, despite a relatively healthy outward appearance, it is indeed progressing. Most notably, my blood sample is teeming with immature, mutant white blood cells that are populating more prolifically than rabbits in spring.

So, we’re all watching and waiting—the aptly named approach to a Stage 0 CLL diagnosis. Watching the cancer cells propagate. Waiting to see how symptoms emerge and play out. And we do this every three months, until such a time that the balance between the two shifts and treatment (that is, chemotherapy) is needed.

One of the valuable lessons I’ve learned over the course of these last years and living within this three-month rhythm is that while my watching game is good, I am terrible at waiting.

And as the end of the waiting period creeps up, so does my anxiety.

The thing is this: I’m not usually an anxious person. And, to be quite honest, I’m not a fan of this whole freaking out every three months thing.

I give the upcoming tests way too much airtime in my head. I stop making plans for the future and instead start making contingency plans for the present. If chemo has to start, what have I got on the calendar that will have to go?

I’m a planner by nature, always looking ahead at the next big thing. So although the thought of letting some stuff go is hard for me, the thought of not planning things is even harder, I think.

Since last spring, I’ve been riding a wave of highs and lows around test time. As the cancer progresses, my doctors are more cautious about setting me free for the next three months; my freedom is issued with caveats hinged on increasing and decreasing numbers. Watching and waiting. This makes things difficult for my planning gene.

And so, I continue to make plans, but mostly only in three-month increments. Long-range stuff comes either with hesitation, disclaimers or cancellation insurance. And in my head, I scheme about how I can eke out more time from those 12-week periods; convince the doctors to hold off treatment for just a few more weeks, until I can accomplish this, or finish that.

That’s where I’m at right now: planning and not planning all at the same time.

And so when, after last week’s check-in at the cancer centre (at which I was given another three-month reprieve! Hallelujah!), I came across this verse…

 “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” ~Proverbs 16:9

…it occurred to me that the timing of it isn’t coincidental. But then, my experience with God is that nothing is coincidental. He places people and words and situations in my path exactly when I need them, never sooner, never later.

I’ve probably read this verse a hundred times in my life, glossing over it as a catchy phrase to keep in mind. (The proverbs are full of those; for obvious reasons, I’m particularly fond of the one about grey hair being a crown of wisdom.)

But for some reason I saw it differently last week. It jumped off the page as I was fretting about some plan or the other that might be impacted by something that may or may not happen three months down the road. I was considering NOT planning.

Apparently, God knew that this planner needed a reminder that I can fill my calendar to my heart’s content, but only God knows how this thing’s going to play out. And that’s what I need to rest in.

Look at these verses in The Message version:

“Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.”

~James 4:13-15(MSG)

Though that splash of reality from our friend James might be considered a little cold and wet, his point actually rests in the last sentence, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.”

He’s not saying we can’t make the plans. He’s saying that we need to hold them loosely. We need to be open to change if a change is what God’s got in the works. And, if the situation calls for it, we need to purchase cancellation insurance.

We need to trust that whatever God’s plan is for us it will be infinitely better than anything we could ask or imagine for ourselves, even if it doesn’t look like it on the surface. He promises it.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” ~Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” ~Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)

It’s likely that the majority of you reading this don’t have cancer, but there are all kinds of things that trip us up and stop us from moving forward… making plans, if you will. And often, on the surface, those things don’t always look like good things.

Health issues.

Marital/relationship problems.

A bad work environment or worse, no job.

Financial insecurity.

A difficult season of life.

But to stop making plans, looking ahead, moving forward…these, to me, look a lot like giving up.

We need to not give up, we need to simply give over.

“Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.” ~Psalm 55:22

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” ~1 Peter 5:7

We need to make room for God to work our HIS plans in our lives and situations. Watching. Waiting. Trusting that he knows exactly what we need when we need it. And when that time comes, whether it’s in three months or three years, He’ll also provide exactly what we need to move through it.

In the spirit of continuing to plan, I do have a few things in the works at the moment. Summer vacation is slowly being booked (with cancellation insurance in place). The things I can leave until the last minute, I will.

Perhaps more importantly though, this year my digits will roll over like one of those flip clock radios from the early 80s. I remember sitting in my mom and dad’s room as a kid, at 59 minutes after the hour, completely enthralled, hoping to catch the flip of the digits to mark the start of the next. Heaven forbid you’d blink and miss it!

And so, as much as I would like to blink and miss the flip of the digits—from 49 to 50—it’s happening whether I like it or not.

And all that is to say that I’m PLANNING, yes, TRAINING for a sprint triathlon to mark the occasion! (Maybe a party too, but I haven’t done any planning to that end. See all of the above…)

But, with the all clear from my doctor for the next three months, I will ramp up my training. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

I will guarantee that it won’t be pretty, it won’t be speedy, but it will keep me moving between now and early July! It’s too soon to tell whether or not I’ll be feeling my age because I know so many amazing 50+ year-olds out there doing incredible things. “Feeling my age” might actually be a really empowering thing.

On a related note, I will see my specialist about a month before the race, and we’ll re-evaluate whether I actually get to run the thing, so if you’re the praying kind, you can add that to your list on my behalf. Thank you in advance.

In the meantime, I’m holding the reins loosely.

In what ways do you need to do the same?

Sometimes it’s just nice to know there’s somebody walking the same road with you…

Before I go, don’t forget to check out iola magazine – you can click the link in my sidebar, or visit Digital copies are now available on the website. Although, between you and me, it’s beautiful and there’s just something about holding a copy in one hand and a mug of something warm in the other.

I’ve got a Giveaway going on my Instagram page until Friday, March 16, so hop over there and tag a friend for a chance TWO copies–one for each of you! There’s a link for that on my homepage too!

If you’ve enjoyed this little musing, it would mean the world to me if you subscribe to receive future blog posts. On the sidebar of my homepage, you’ll find a Subscribe button. Feel free to enter your email and use it!

I’m doing my best at navigating the twists and turns of this life with faith, hope and humour. I’d be so honoured to share the journey with you. Putting one foot in front of the other, and—hopefully—not in my mouth.

Based on my previous track record, I don’t promise that my posts will be consistent, or inconsistent, but I’ll try for amusing. At the very least, I hope you’ll come away feeling a little better about yourself.

Thanks for visiting,

5 thoughts on “To plan or not to plan, that is the question

  1. It is remarkable how one persons words about one subject can impact someone else in a different but yet similar way. “But to stop making plans, looking ahead, moving forward…these, to me, look a lot like giving up.” and with those words; what didn’t seem like something to put to prayer – I will. Thank you

    1. Thank you so much for these thoughtful words. I’m so grateful that they touched you in some way, it’s always my prayer when I hit “publish” that someone who needs them will receive them. I will be praying for you too in the coming days. Take care. J.

  2. Thank you Janine! Still one of the best writers I know and follow! Your post hit where I am – and in many ways where I have always been regarding “to plan or not to plan”! I like to know what is ahead, I like to plan what is ahead. Undergoing cancer tests right now myself this post was not just a happy circumstance or coincidental but when I exactly needed it! Thank you for your forever honesty and always writing about real stuff along with how God is working and moving in your life, this also being my great joy to observe over all these years! Much love!

    1. Thank you so much for your note Sharon! I’m sorry to hear that you’re going through tests now – this isn’t ever news we like to or want to hear. I will be praying for your tests and your outcomes. Praying for the peace that only our Heavenly Father can give in the midst of the storms of life. He really is good. And your encouragement of me is so appreciated always. Take care. Hugs! J.

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