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Cathi Kennedy contemplates a year when it seemed that all her plans went sideways, sharing a few lessons she learned about planning and surrender.

Seven impossible years ago, my mom died on my husband's birthday. Ever since, I have felt responsible for making all his birthdays spectacular celebrations to somehow make up for the sad occasion that will forever be associated with that day. I'm aware that this is unrealistic, but here we are.   

In 2023, I started planning early for his December birthday—eight months earlier, in fact—and it was going to be Spectacular with a capital S. I researched and budgeted, and it was all set. Then, five days before leaving for his Big Spectacular Birthday Extravaganza, I got very sick and couldn't go. I was heartbroken. And it was not the first time in 2023 that plans were upended.   

If I had to sum up my 2023, it would be "plan but don't count on it." The year held big transitions for our family as our youngest graduated from college and moved away to start his job. Up to the day that he drove the U-Haul away from our house, things played out as planned. After that date, nothing seemed to work out the way I had thought it would. 

These changes left me feeling defeated, frustrated, and helpless. The reasons for the change in plans were out of my control, primarily short-term health issues, which made it no less disheartening.   




When 2024 rolled around, I thought long and hard about what plans to make for the year. Part of me thought, "Why even bother?" I have planning PTSD, apparently. 

But I know that's how life is. We work toward something, and then it all goes sideways out of the blue. And it's rarely because of poor planning. In my experience, when things don't work out, it's because there was a variable that—wait for it—I CAN'T CONTROL, like the weather, an illness, or someone else's work schedule.   

We spend $50 on a planner for the year: all the possibilities are in those blank pages. We plan vacations around school and work. We plan parties. We plan outings with friends. We schedule dentist appointments and sports physicals. We design and arrange our lives and our families' lives to the minute. All so that we can pretend that it's under control. That we can get it all done. Writing it on the calendar is so satisfying—in ink, no less.  




There is a Yiddish saying, "Man plans, and God laughs." It's so accurate. He had a good, long laugh watching my life last year. And I'm still figuring out the lesson to be learned from my "year of upended plans," aka 2023. Not everything is a lesson; sometimes, things just happen. But I do have a few takeaways: 

  • No one else knows if it doesn't look the way you planned it in your head. A party may not have all the Pinterest-inspired decorations, but if your people are there and a good time is had, that's what matters.
  • Always get the refundable airfare. A-L-W-A-Y-S.
  • If plans change at the last minute, give those concert tickets away—at least someone will have a night to remember.
  • Take care of yourself. That back strain or cold is your body saying you need to rest and start prioritizing your health.
  • If the intent of the plan can still play out—let it. Although I couldn't go on my husband's Big Spectacular Birthday Extravaganza, he went with our son. It turned into a great weekend for them that they'll never forget. That's a spectacular birthday indeed. 


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There is a Yiddish saying, "Man plans, and God laughs." It's so accurate. #CatholicMom


On January 1 of this year, I took a walk in a nearby park, and then ducked into my church to say a prayer of thanks for all that had been in 2023 and a prayer of surrender for what is to come in 2024. Because, at the end of the day, we must surrender our plans and our lives. Jesus, I trust in you.  



Copyright 2024 Cathi Kennedy
Images: Canva