Basel Weihnachtsmarkt

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”

James 4:13-15

But if we’re really honest with ourselves, our plans usually don’t work out as we had hoped. So instead of asking our young people “What are you plans? What do you plan to do with your life?” maybe we should tell them this: Plan to be surprised.

-Dan in Real Life

Basel in Winter

“Getting to Seattle is quite difficult right now,” a British Airways flight attendant sighs, looking down at a complicated itinerary.  “The next available flight is on the 22nd.”

A calendar floats in the front of my mind.  “So… Wednesday?”  The sun is just rising on Sunday morning, and my roommates and I have spent the last three nights on the phone with airlines, trying secure passages out of snowy Europe.  I count the days until I can get home.  Three.  The sun just rising on Day One, and I’m here until Wednesday.

With an airline-provided hotel room, I know there are worse ways to be stranded.  I’m not sleeping on a cot in Frankfurt or Heathrow, subsisting on airport snacks and espresso.  The three days will pass, as days are liable to do, and I’ll get home soon.  I hope.

On the Bodensee

I spend the next three days mostly in solitude.  Wandering the streets of Basel, weaving my way through the labyrinthine Weihnachtsmarkt, in and out and among the narrow stone streets of a foreign city.   At free concert in a cathedral, Heinrich Schütz’s Weihnachtshistorie (“Christmas story,” a sort of German Messiah), listening to voices that soar to the stone heights which once featured the likes of Calvin and Zwingli.  Riding the train two hours east, through the grey and browns of melting snow to Friedrichshafen, to visit old friends and bask in the warmth of family and community, even when I am detached from the ones I to which I most belong.  Dining alone and people watching, thinking about time and future and past and Christmas, the importance of family and home while I waited for my own to open up.  Eventually flying home, two flights that unfold with miraculous ease and simplicity, despite the raging storms on the continent I’ve been calling home.

I consider, these three extra days in Europe, what we mean by time and plans, thinking about the ways in which I present an itinerary to God and hope for a confirmation, only sigh, petulant and disappointed, when it all turns out so much differently.  Such a fitting end of a year when changes of plans, or the gradual uncurling of my fingers from everything but the simplicity of knowing Christ, have been the major places of growth in my life, in my heart.  How my time, my life, is not mine to begin with, and in the last twelve months God has been teaching me to let go of them, a few years or months or, on this journey, days at a time.

Sunset over the Swiss Alps across the Bodensee

What should I do today, Lord? I ask each of these three days, looking ahead at sixteen unscheduled waking hours.  If I have any resolutions for the coming year, still veiled in unpredictability, it is to live this way more often, hands and heart open to the plans that God has, strange and wonderful, beyond even the most vivid stretches of my own imagination.

Thank You for Your plans, God.  I give You mine, for keeping or changing or using.


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