Destiny—wow! What a loaded topic! I can write all kinds of deep philosophical, theological and even emotional discussions on this topic. Discussions that are sure to raise the ire of some and the agreement of others. But, that’s for another time. In this forum, I’d rather just stick to keeping it simple, from my vantage point.
When my mother was 7 years old, she lived with her Mom and Dad, two brothers and a sister. The year was 1924, they were not well-off, but doing ok; making it together as a family. She was secure and safe. One morning, as told to me by my aunt, their mother was making her daily family breakfast. She stepped into a back vestibule area leading to the outside from the kitchen to grab some potatoes stored there. A bolt of lightning struck the outside door jam, and the current traveled across the floor, striking her in her right foot, traveling up her body and exiting out of her shoulder, while her children looked on. She lived for about a week before infection set into her paralyzed right lung. She succumbed to her injuries and died, leaving her kids and husband behind.
My mother was 7 when she witnessed her mother be felled by a freak lightning strike. She was 7 when she lay in her bed, listening all night to the “whir-shuk” sound of a pump in the bathroom on the other side of her bedroom wall. A pump whose purpose was to empty the blood from her mother’s body and fill it again with embalming fluid. She was 7 as her mother lie “in state” in the parlor of the house where they lived, never left unattended, for 3 days, as was the custom of that time. She was 7 when she had to “take her turn” and sit alone in the living room with her mother’s body which was lying in a simple casket. She was 7 when the family buried her mother. She was 7 a few months later when her brother fell backwards off the front porch, breaking his neck, killing him instantly. She 7 when she re-lived the rituals of preparing a body in the house for burial, attending yet another funeral of one she loved so much . She was still 7 when her father abandoned them, overcome with grief, leaving his other 3 children to be raised by their grandparents. She was 7 when she moved to her grandparent’s house a few blocks away—a house that already contained 8 other inhabitants, 3 of them male borders. In 1924, my mother was 7.
Some would say that surely, she was destined to live a miserable life. The notes of her lifesong were already recorded: tragedy and unhappiness the chords to be played over and over. As if it was so, she dropped out of school in 10th grade (not unusual during the depression years for a woman), she married a man she loved dearly, but who didn’t have the capacity to return it. She had a son who died at age 9 months, a “crib death”. The dirge of her destiny resounded louder in her soul which each passing and painful year. She gave birth to two more sons, but lived a life of fear and unspeakable pain as she was repeatedly and brutally beaten by the man who fathered them. She told me that he convinced her she deserved the beatings—she knew no better than to expect misery. Her destiny was playing out in her life, and she dare not hope or believe for anything better. Until one day, she did know better. One day, her husband took out his anger on one of her boys, kicking him in the head with a steel-toed boot.
“Keep safe that which is entrusted to your care” 1Tim.6:20
Something from deep within rose up in my mother that day: she knew she had to fight—she could no longer accept this destiny. While her husband was at work, she took her boys and went into hiding with them. No one in her family would take her in. She rented a room in a stranger’s house (It was during WWII, and many women took in borders as their men were off to war). She could not support her boys, she of little education and no marketable skills, the scarlet letter of divorce branding her every move. Eventually, she made an agreement with her husband that the boys should go to live with his aunt and uncle, who were willing to take them in. In order, to save them, to change the course of their lives, my mother gave up custody of her boys. Of course she visited them constantly and took them when she could, but she never thought she would recover from the guilt and shame of leaving them with someone else. There is so much more of her life in those years, bad decisions and good ones, but to keep this blog manageable, I’ll just skip ahead: She eventually met my father and married him. Giving birth to three girls, we all lived very happily together. I was not from a broken home and had a very safe and secure life.
“Why?” That is a question we all seem to ask ourselves when faced with circumstances for which we have no explanation. The pursuit of knowledge, to know the reason, is an unquenchable thirst in our soul. That very thing can skew our destiny and set a crooked path. It is a question that my mother asked herself with every fist that landed on her small body. The answer never came, so she gave up asking. Until that day. It’s funny how things come into our minds at odd times. ”Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, This is the way; walk in it.” Isa. 30:21
As a child my mother’s grandparents made sure their charges were raised in church and Sunday school. That day, when that steel-toed boot landed on a tiny skull, she knew what she had to do: ”Keep safe that which is entrusted to your care…” 1Tim 6:20. She knew it was up to her to keep these boys safe, so she did what she had to do, breaking the curse of a hopeless destiny, and set her sights on a new destination for herself and her boys. She made hard choices, and yes, my brothers were from a broken home, didn’t understand it all, and suffered some scars along the way. But she kept them safe. She made sure they knew they had choices and value and could live happy, productive lives. Her life got better, and she lived it out as a generous, albeit toughened, woman. She cared for people. She didn’t sit in judgment on people’s lives; she knew that everyone had a back story. She helped people when she could, she worked hard and loved unconditionally. The lament of her lifesong was restructured into a symphonic hymn, setting her life on a trajectory to her destination: to provide safety, love and security for her children; to live a life that was well-lived.
She was not a “religious” woman; far from it. She was seasoned and wizened in a harsh world. But His Word was hidden in her heart. How do I know? When my mother was 76 and in the hospital from a heart attack, I had the unique privilege of spending some time alone with her. Visiting hours were over in ICU for the night, and every night the security guard would come around and make sure all visitors were gone. I went to see my mother that day right from work, so I was wearing scrubs. My mother was not really a “touchy-feely” type of woman, but that evening my sister left when I got there, so I was the only one there with her. She told me she was just so darn uncomfortable and she wanted to sit up so she was not leaning against anything. She was also furious that she couldn’t smoke and that OJ was being chased down the highway all day in that white SUV, which totally interrupted her stories and game shows! J I asked her if she wanted me to rub her back and she said “oh, yeah—that would be nice” (very unusual for her). So, I was standing by her bed giving her a back rub when the security guard came around. I guess because I was in my scrubs he just assumed I was a nurse and didn’t ask me to leave. I got to stay an extra hour with her that night, undisturbed. It was then that I asked her outright if she was afraid. In her usual stalwart manner, she said “oh, no—I figure when your number’s up, it’s up, nothing anyone can do about it”. We had a really nice conversation about life and “religion” and heaven. She said that she knew she was going to heaven because when she was 12 she answered an altar call and accepted Jesus, so that meant she was going to heaven, right? I was shocked to hear her even say that. We had a few discussions over the years about religion and God, but I never heard her say anything so blunt. She went on to say that she tried to be a good person, even though she made a lot of mistakes along the way. She said when she was young she always read her Bible (because her grandparents made them), and knew what it said, even though she rarely went to church as an adult. And then she said that she did have some questions to ask God, because some things in her life she just didn’t understand, but all in all, she was ok with it. She was proud of all of us (her kids and grandkids), and was ok with the way things turned out. Of course, she let me know in no uncertain terms that she was not expecting to die anytime soon! She died the next night. I am so grateful to have spent that time with her!
The dictionaries define the word “destiny” as a state in the future that seems to have been decided before-hand. A future out of one’s control. I don’t agree with that. We are born with free will. Yes, things happen at times in our lives that are out of our control, but how we walk out our lives is within our will. In Jer. 29 God tells us “I know the plans I have for you, to prosper and not harm you, a plan for hope and a future”. When I read that, I put the emphasis on the second “I”: “I know the plans I have for you…” Like God is saying He has a plan for us all, but it is up to us to choose to walk in His ways or our own. If you are like me, you miss it more than you make it. But the Lord says that all things work together for good for those who love Him. And “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, lean not on your own understanding, and He will make your path straight”. Prov. 3:5&6
The path—to me that is the key to understanding destiny. In the dictionary according to Peggy (:)), destiny means the path that we take to arrive at our chosen destination. My mother didn’t know what path to take, but she knew she had to get off the one she was on. She stopped thinking about her present state of circumstances, and instead set her eyes on a new destination. What did she want? She wanted to make a safe environment for her children. She wanted to be a wife and a mother. She wanted to be a good person. She wanted to provide a home for her family that contained all of the things that were removed when she was 7. She wanted to end her life knowing that she instilled love and independence in her children. She took a step towards it and purposed to follow a new path.
This is the choice we have: stay in a place whereby circumstances define our life, or set our eyes on a destination and purpose to get there. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. Josh. 24:15 I choose to serve the Lord, and let Him make my paths straight. I choose to see what His plans are for me, rather than taking my chances with whatever life would throw at me. My destination is to end my life in this world, and to have God say “Well done, my good and faithful servant”. He will not say I am perfect, he will surely roll His eyes as He reviews some things in my life, He may even “LOL” at the ridiculousness of me, but I have chosen to live my life seeking His direction. He is my final destination.
Think about it, consider it: Destiny or destination? How do you define your life right now?