The better part of two decades ago, my high school religion teacher made the statement: “there’s no such thing as an unanswered prayer, it’s just that sometimes the answer is ‘no’.” At the time this statement didn’t have a huge impact on me, except to ruin one of my favorite Garth Brooks songs. I don’t remember the context, so I don’t know if it was part of a larger lesson that she had planned or if it was just something said in the moment, but all these years later it means something to me.
Over the past 8 months numerous people have looked at our situation and commented on how strange, funny, amazing, remarkable etc…, it is that we always seem to find ourselves in the right place for whatever we are facing. And it’s true, while there’s never a good time to battle brain cancer, Travis and I are in a better position right now to take on the fight than we ever would have been before.
In all of my obsessing about why this is happening, I’ve looked back at the past 10 years and thought several times–what if it happened then? What if it happened while Travis was a full time student? What if it happened while we were living in an even more remote area, nowhere near a major research hospital or cancer center? What if he’d been uninsured? What if… I could go on and on with the “what ifs,” but “what is” is more than enough to deal with, and “what is” is that we’re exactly where we need to be right now to deal with what we’ve been dealt. Whether through fate, chance or divine intervention, every decision we’ve made and the decisions made by those around us, have all been leading to this moment.
But I didn’t just come to this realization over the past 8 months. My deeper understanding of my high school teacher’s “unanswered prayers” remark actually came a few years ago. I was still settling into a job that I wasn’t sure I loved, after leaving a job that I definitely loved. I’d run up against a wall with my previous employer who had chosen to look outside rather than promote from within for a position that I desperately wanted. I left my job in a bit of a huff. I pretended that I was okay with how things had gone down. I had not one, but three job offers, all of which included a higher salary and greater responsibilities, so clearly someone recognized my professional capabilities. But the truth is that it wasn’t the way I wanted it to go. It’s not what I planned, it’s not what I prayed for.
The person who got the job, ultimately, was, and continues to be, very well suited for the position. She’s doing great things for an organization that I greatly admire and respect, and I’m doing great things as well. But professional success aside, this all goes much deeper. You see, about two years ago as I was still settling into my “new” job, and as the person who got the job I really wanted was likely still settling into hers, her life was turned upside down in a way that I could not imagine at the time. Her husband was diagnosed with cancer.
I watched from afar on social media as he fought through surgery, radiation and chemo at the Wilmot Cancer Institute in Rochester, NY. I thanked God for my health and the health of my husband as I thought about the pain of uncertainty that must come with such a devastating diagnosis. And I found a much deeper understanding in why my prayers had been seemingly ignored, and why my plans had been rejected by whoever it is that controls our individual destinies.
You see, by the other person getting the job that I wanted, their family was able to return from out of state to their hometown. It meant rather than being halfway across the country when the cancer struck, they were close to the family members and friends that they would need to fight their fight. They were exactly where they needed to be to take on the challenges they were facing.
It was quite the revelation for a newly minted 30 year old who previously thought she had it all figured out. Sometimes things happen, or don’t happen, in your life. Sometimes you figure out why they happened, and sometimes you don’t. And sometimes when you do, you realize that the reason you didn’t get what you thought you wanted had nothing to do with you in the first place.
I won’t pretend to understand the complexities of destiny vs. choice. I don’t truly grasp why it is that we must suffer pain, loss and uncertainty, and my faith in something greater than us has never been more shaken than it is right now. But I do know that there is meaning and purpose in the life that I’m living. There is fate and there is free will, and the harmony in which those two concepts live create the road map of our lives. I pray for wisdom and enough understanding to make it through each day. And when I am left wondering why my life has taken a particular turn, I pause and remind myself that it may not be about me.