It’s the Detours that Tell the Story


Diana T June 2016My entire adult life consists of a series of detours. Following my mother’s careful instructions, both verbal and non-verbal, I headed into adulthood with two primary goals: graduate from college and find a husband.

I think my mother imagined a life for me that looked a lot like hers: early marriage, children, caring for a home, volunteering at church and in the community. And that’s the direction I was heading when I married my husband at the tender age of twenty, midway through my senior year of university.

But, what the heck?

This guy came from a very different denominational space than I did, having been raised in an historic peace church. He was registered as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. So, instead of moving into a neighborhood near my mother and replicating her life, I found myself on a freighter, headed to Africa after eight months of marriage, fulfilling his two years of alternate military service.

Well, okay then.

I’ll adjust. I’ll just take those same ideas I inhaled from my family and my church and transplant them to this new continent. Easy, right? And I suppose in some ways, I did. I kept our home tidy (most of the time). I got to know my neighbors. I went to Bible study and church. But I also taught secondary school, something that had never been on my radar. Ever. And I had fun doing it, too. Maybe this little detour could be a good thing?

And then I began to feel kind of funny—nauseous and tired and basically not like myself at all. I described my symptoms in a letter home and my mother burst out laughing when she received it. “You’re pregnant!” she wrote back to me.

What the heck?

I was young and incredibly naïve. I saw my “doctor,”(a missionary friend who lived out in the bush, forty miles away) exactly three times during that pregnancy. I gathered what information I could from another friend’s old nursing textbook on pregnancy. I do not recommend this kind of reading to young, impressionable soon-to-be mamas. Not only were there written descriptions of every single thing that could go wrong with pregnancy and delivery, but photos!

Six months later, we returned home and over the course of the next 18 years, my life began to fall into familiar patterns, given my particular family and faith tradition. I had two more babies, close together. I volunteered at their schools, I worked at our church in any way they would let me, I found a community organization I enjoyed.

And then my eldest daughter fell in love with a good friend’s fine son, a man who endured a second round of childhood cancer just weeks after the start of their burgeoning romance. Midway through her freshman year of college, she came to us and said they wanted to be married that next summer. She was barely 19.

What the heck?

We loved this young man but believed her to be too young, with too much living still to do before making such a huge commitment. But their love was strong and true and determined. So we gave her a wedding, and to help make that happen, I opened a small business in our home doing flowers! It was a BIG surprise to all of us, but a fun, good thing for the next seven years.

Somewhere in there, our second daughter graduated from high school and began college life. Two years later, when our son was a senior in high school, I began taking classes at our local seminary, encouraged by our pastors and a large group of friends/students in a Bible study I led at our church. Seminary was most definitely not on my mother’s radar, or mine.

What the heck?

The rest, as they say, is history. I experienced a clear call to ministry while in seminary, and graduated with an MDiv in four years. I took extra classes to be ordained in our denomination and then did parish work for the next 17 years, much of it difficult and complicated. ALL of it good.

All through those years, there were multiple, “what the heck?” moments, both personally and professionally. There were huge changes in staff, a major building campaign, the deaths of my father and father-in-law, one of my brothers, and that lovely young man who married our daughter. There was cancer surgery for my husband, and serious blood-clotting disorders for both of us.

There were also some detours that carried a very different kind of emotional freight—the marriages of our other two children, the births of our eight grandchildren, the re-marriage of our eldest daughter to a good and loving man, the celebration of fifty years with my husband. Professionally, I enjoyed working with gifted colleagues, watching loved parishioners flourish, walking closely with dear ones through both trauma and celebration, and then beginning two new ministries AFTER I retired from parish work.

At this point in the journey, I’m thinking the detours pretty much tell the story of my entire life. Weaving in, around and through every single one of them is this truth: not one was wasted. Not one. Each and every detour brought with it sweet evidence of God’s grace, even the painful ones. Each and every one taught me about God, about myself, about work, about life, about faith.

Maybe, just maybe, going straight ahead is not all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe it’s the sudden and unexpected twists that help us tell a richer, more interesting story. Maybe it’s the detours that make the life.