My most treasured college graduation gift is a beautifully restored antique card catalog that I received from my parents.
They hid it under flowered bedsheets in our garage until graduation day when they led me by hand to the dark corner of the garage and pulled the sheet from the top with the same fanfare as a magician yanking a tablecloth from a perfectly set table.
“Ta-da!” they yelled, and I screamed in delight.
It had everything I’d ever wanted. Sturdy legs. Gorgeous brass pulls. Fifty-four identical drawers divided into six columns like soldiers standing at attention.
I immediately began imagining all of the miscellaneous items I’d organize, sort, and store in the generous compartments once my new treasure and I moved into our first home. Batteries. Pens. Light bulbs. Craft supplies. The possibilities were endless.
My card catalog was the first thing I thought of during a corporate training event when the career coach asked us to name the one inanimate object that we most valued in our lives.
My hand shot up. “That’s easy. Mine is an antique card catalog I received from parents,” I shared with the affection of a new mother describing her firstborn.
“Interesting,” she said. “You must not like surprises.”
I disagreed, “No. I love surprises. My card catalog was a surprise.”
“I don’t mean surprises as gifts. I mean surprises in life.”
I’d never considered that before.
She elaborated, “A card catalog is something that helps create order from chaos. It keeps things predictable instead of surprising. A place for everything and everything in its place. I would guess that your ultimate goal is to have your life as well organized as you have your card catalog.”
I’d never realized my general disdain for the unknown until that day, and I’m still amazed at how much my card catalog still mirrors my insecurities regarding all of life’s many surprises.
In my twenties, when everyone was getting married before me and all I had were bridesmaid dresses lining up in my closet, I longed for the predictable patterns of my expectations to manifest themselves.
Okay, God, I have my degree and my career. Next on the list is marriage and family. Why aren’t You sticking to the agenda?
In my thirties, when I finally did marry a godly man but suffered devastating miscarriages in our journey to complete our family, I wished for a supernatural card catalog drawer I could open at will to find comfort for my broken heart.
Okay, God, this isn’t the way things are supposed to unfold. I don’t know where to file this pain and grief.
In my forties, when I was blindsided by unemployment and faced financial and professional struggles I was not prepared to handle, I prayed that God would connect the dots with abundant provisions and easy answers.
This wasn’t the plan, God. I don’t have room for this surprise setback in the order I’ve created. Why are You cluttering my life with so many obstacles?
We may never have the audacity to demand that God execute the details of our lives’ agendas, but how often does our disappointment reflect that very expectation?
On one hand, I’ve learned that many of God’s greatest blessings come from those surprising moments of struggle and tension.
But on the other hand, I’m still taking those moments, walking to my trusty old card catalog, and trying to stuff them neatly into one of my fifty-four prearranged compartments.
When will I learn that God doesn’t fit into any of my boxes?
He can’t be labeled. He can’t be filed. He can’t be organized, explained, or predicted.
The prophet Isaiah reminds us of this in Isaiah 55, but I always seem to forget.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)
I may wrestle with God’s surprises for the rest of my life, but I’m slowly understanding the joy of worshiping a God that doesn’t fit into my boxes, drawers, or compartments.
His provisions are more abundant than our most pressing needs. His blessings are greater than our most active imaginations. His goals are loftier than our most ambitious intentions.
Now, when I look at my card catalog, I no longer feel disappointment that God refuses to confine Himself to my small-minded parameters. Instead, I feel relieved because His ways always prove to be so much better.
And I can’t wait for the next surprise.