When the Plan Needs to Change

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This has been the summer of family change. In our own immediate family, I left a much-loved position to begin a new venture, and we happily opened our hearts and homes to a rescue dog, my first official “co-worker” in the home office. Family change doesn’t stop at our doorstep, however. There’s been a wedding, a college graduation, a nephew about to begin kindergarten, and, topping all of these in the preparation and work required, my in-laws’ move from the home they built nearly 45 years ago.

The story of the home and the move are theirs to tell, though of course I have my own special memories of my husband’s childhood bedroom where we argued, made up, and confessed to one another our hopes and our failings (picture bright turquoise walls!), or the grove of trees planted by my father-in-law where our children created a hide-away fort and carved their names for future children to discover. The story I can tell is what happened when the kids and I decided to stay on in the midst of the move and help sort, pack, organize, and otherwise “save the day!” (That rescue inclination runs deep and can look deceptively generous at first glance!)

Our family of four joined in a weekend effort of family and friends to move my in-laws’ desired belongings to a new home just a few miles away. There are a lot of memories stored in 45 years of house and home, so of course the moving of what they will keep in this next stage was only the first phase of the work. There’s also sorting and giving away, tossing and preparing for an auction. I’ve packed and left behind homes after the deaths of both my parents, so I consider myself uniquely equipped for such emotional tasks. My schedule is notably more flexible than my husband’s, and it seemed smart to all involved that I would stay on after he left. When I elected to remain there, kids and dog in tow, I likely imagined calling my siblings-in-law at the end of a week with the happy news that the house was ready for the market–rooms spotless, mementos saved!

For a couple of days, we really were helpful. The kids played in the aforementioned fort. The dog was content with a run or two at either end of the day. And we were making progress. Kitchen cupboards sorted and divided? Check! Special family dishes photographed and sent to relatives for decision-making? Check!

With little warning, though, the tides turned. Kids who had been self-reliant and entertained for days had finally had enough. There are only so many hours on iPods and in the woods that can keep them from needing parental attention. The dog I expected could serve as a bit of a therapy dog, easing the sadness of the move, peed one morning at the new house….and not outdoors. Her constant desire for attention shifted from, “Pat my soft fur, fine people,” to insistent nudges that were more grating than gratifying. I felt less and less able to be the one who could support the decision-making process as we entered rooms more associated with personal stories and losses. (The “in-law” clause has emotional limits, in reality, and I am generally wise enough to recognize them.)

Despite my best intentions to remain on through the second weekend and the return of my husband, I realized our helpfulness was hinging on a hindrance. It was time to head home. Amazingly, all our minds lined up on this. I called my husband and he said, in essence, “I was thinking just the same thing.” My in-laws seemed both appreciative of what we had done and grateful for the silence they would have with our departure. Siblings-in-law said, “Thank you for what you were able to do–we’ve got it from here!” And when the kids and I stepped into the car for a long, squished ride home, the bickering stopped, and the barking dog snuggled in between them, silent at last. Peace returned, all with a simple change of the plan.

Not every plan can be as quickly altered. I have known the need to leave jobs months before I could find the path out. I have recognized the “forever home” was the “for now home” years before we could envision where we would live next. But each of these experiences has helped me hone wisdom to sense when the tides have turned….to instinctively pay attention when some part of me says, “The plan needs to change.”

It can be hard to shift direction. We want so badly for our past decisions to have been right that we fight to hold on to what no longer works for us. A couple of years ago, when I became serious about losing some weight, one of the hardest things to reconcile was that I would have to leave behind a body I had lived in quite successfully for a number of years. Now, as I contemplate continuing that effort and gaining even greater health and well-being, I again realize there is a letting go that comes with new goals and new directions, however good they might be. Perhaps coming up with a new plan and determining to follow it is not an indictment on our past decisions at all. If we can accept that we did the best we could with what we had in that moment, we can allow that new information has entered in, a new plan is emerging, and we are preparing to do the best we can with what we have in this moment.

How about you? Have you wisely changed direction in the past, or are you thinking it’s time to do so? I’d love to hear your story.

 © 2014 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.

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7 thoughts on “When the Plan Needs to Change

  1. Even four years after a major change, I still struggle daily with “what if’s” and “I should have done…” Thank you for helping me remember that I did the best I could *at that time*…and that it’s okay to work with what new things my life has in THIS moment!

  2. Just lovely and just what I needed to read at just the right moment. Isn’t it nice when that happens?! Now, to ponder a bit… Thank you for sharing!

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