We’ve all been there before – dazed and confused and all alone while standing at one of life’s many dead end roads. I’m not talking about asphalt, dirt or concrete roads, but situations where all of a sudden out of left field we’re hit out of the blue with the shocking news that we’re at the end of our rope on one of life’s many dead ends. Been there, done that, and got the t-shirt – more than once. The pink slip on a Friday afternoon at work. Broke and down on your luck. A relationship that is no more. Been done wrong by someone. Questioning your faith because you just don’t see it working in your life. There are many instructive truths or lessons in life, and none as valuable as finding yourself on a path in life that turns into a dead end.
Life by definition isn’t easy, routine or spelled out for us in nice easy steps that we can understand. Much of life is experience based trial and error. The smarter we are, the more we go to school on other people’s mistakes and experiences and learn as much as we can from them so we don’t have to repeat them ourselves. But no matter how clever we are, we find ourselves from time to time at the end of one of life’s dead ends. Since I retired from the Air Force I’ve had four different jobs in eight years – and one ended with a layoff notice just before Thanksgiving. When my family called over the holidays the question was asked, “How’s work?” I answered that I was just laid off. Sometimes life sucks. But life goes on and there are silver linings to dark clouds just when everything looks the bleakest and darkest. It is in these moments that we are able to learn the most valuable lessons that life has to teach us. We change directions, make better choices, chalk one up to experience and are all the wiser because of it. By the way, my current job – which is two jobs past the layoff notice – is a hundred times better than the one I got the pink slip from, so good things do happen – you just have to work the situation as best as you can.
The most important thing to know and carry with you everyday of your life is that you are not defined by your circumstances – ever. You, and your family, are a standalone entity of priceless worth and endless value that has nothing to do with any physical event or appearance that surrounds you – not your job title, not your salary or paycheck, not your car or home, not the clothes you wear, not the vacations you take, not the friends you have and not the bank accounts in your name. If you strip everything away, or someone takes it all from you – you are the same despite your physical situation – and your value hasn’t changed. Never value yourself based on any external factor. In the eyes of God, if everyone in the entire world has forsaken you, you are a precious child of His and never forget it. If God is on your side – what worries do you have? Even the birds and grass are taken care of – and of course you will be too – but you have to do your part to allow God to assist you – as an active participant in His game plan that He has designed specifically for you.
When I’m facing a decision in life, I use a technique that I call, “puttin’ it all out on the table.” I have an imaginary table in my mind that I put all of my choices on and lay them all out face up – like a deck of cards. The first rule of thumb when using this technique is that no decision can be made until, “it’s the last one standing.” In other words, every idea is a “player” as long as it is legal and moral. As you brainstorm ideas and solutions to whatever predicament you’re in, you place each and every alternative face up on your imaginary table and sort through them. Of course you can do this with pencil and paper, but ruminating over choices and pondering all of the assorted details in your mind mentally brings an intangible “something” into the equation and mix called – serendipity.
I was going to use the topic of serendipity in another context, but this is where it fits – it popped in there unexpectedly as I typed the word mix – and that’s really what serendipity is all about. Serendipity is an amazing part of life that never seems to get the billing it deserves. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, defines serendipity as, “The effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely.” It’s part faith, part science, part coincidence, part dumb luck, part simply amazing and part Wow! More things have happened in my life that just simply came in out of the blue – and they were the perfect and most unexpected moments in my life. Serendipity happens at times when you never see it coming and is such a perfect fit or solution to your situation – just like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle falling into place. And the most amazing thing of all is it often comes when you need it the very most.
In the Air Force I traded F-4 assignments with another officer, and accepted an assignment to Korea instead (I was single at the time), so he could bring his wife on an assignment to Germany with him. On the morning we were to sign the assignment paperwork in class, he walked in and said his wife was now going back to school, and that I could have the Germany assignment and he would go to Korea instead. Of course I was happy, I always wanted to go to Germany, but the decision of his came out of the blue. On my very first day in Germany for the new assignment, having flown in directly from the states, I met my future wife to be. I was introduced by an Air Force member who was assigned as my “sponsor” – someone to get you situated into your new duty station. He picked me up at the airport in Frankfurt, and after a long drive to my hotel, invited me over to his house for dinner with his family. After dinner he brought me next door to meet a “nice German family.” It was my wife’s family. How unexpected was that? I had been traveling since the day before, lost a night’s sleep in between the changing time zones, and really just needed to crash.
Serendipity arrives when you least expect it. But in order for serendipity to work, you have to be someone that is receptive to change and embrace it. Not some political slogan – but hard, tumultuous, life changing change – and not get discourage by it but look at it as an adventure to an unknown destination. Approach this change, whatever it is, with the same attitude as you would to go backpacking through Europe, graduating from college or leaving home for the first time – as if this was a choice of your own making to launch into something new and possibly fantastic. It doesn’t matter what instigated the change – divorce, foreclosure, bankruptcy, loss of a loved one, dumped by a significant other, lost a job, had an accident, was given a bad diagnosis, etc. – but now that the event has occurred, press ahead with a sense of newfound adventure and expect serendipity to happen around each and every corner you turn.
When I was living in Seattle, I needed a new job. So I walked into a stereo store across the street from my apartment and everyone I talked to said, before I could say anything myself, “You must be here for the warehouse job.” I didn’t see an advertisement, didn’t say I was looking for a job, my timing was simply amazing – and it had nothing to do with me – and I got the job. Not only was it a job, but it became a foundational episode in my life that was instrumental in influencing much of what I would go on to do and become. I have had so many amazing things happen in my life, unexpected things, undeserved things, things that I couldn’t have even dreamed up if given a choice – that I have come to believe in serendipity as a total Life Philosophy – I expect, look for and anticipate good things to happen to and for me and my family. I’m not judgmental or bitter when something doesn’t happen, but I’m actually expecting something good to happen – every day! These are the things that are never taught in school, but you just learn on your own – if you’re lucky. But serendipity really doesn’t have anything to do with luck. I expect good things to happen because I know of, believe in and trust that God has my best interests at heart – and if he’s pullin’ for me – who am I to argue with His plan?
I try to look at life like God does – sort of a God’s eye perspective. You are probably familiar with a chess board, and might know that there are even three dimensional chess boards that stack three separate chess boards vertically – one above the other. Chess pieces can have complicated moves, like the Knight which looks like a horse as chess piece – and moves two spaces forward and one space over, or one forward and two over – in any direction at all. Now if you’re playing on three dimensional boards, the Knight can simply show up from two boards above the bottom board – like a bolt out of the blue. That’s what serendipity is – something that is so unexpected and out of the picture that its sudden appearance as a life choice really blows you away.
Now I think that this three dimensional chess board is how God views life, our life and everyone else’s life. He loves us and has given us free will – to make our own choices in life. But God’s rooting for everyone all the time – because He loves us unconditionally and will never give up on us. So we are all individual pieces on God’s chess board of life – billions and billions of us – and we are all Kings and Queens on His board. But God’s chess board is the entire universe, and it is multi-dimensional – way beyond our three physical dimensions plus time. The board we maneuver on from God’s perspective is a flat plane that goes infinitely in all directions. Instead of a single chess board or the more complex three dimensional chess concept, God has an infinite number of boards stacked one above the other and each one goes in all directions without stopping.
God doesn’t stop there. Somehow time intersects all of these boards and wraps their infinite edges into each other so they merge in ways we can’t understand. God in His created universe has many dimensions, of which we are usually aware of only our three physical dimensions and time. But there are angelic dimensions, heavenly dimensions and demonic dimensions that are as real as the corner of the bed post that we stub our toe on. We just normally don’t perceive them – but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t there or that we can’t catch glimpses of them from time to time – or that we aren’t affected by them knowingly or unknowingly. These heavenly, angelic and demonic dimensions are all woven through these infinite chess boards that we all are players on – but not as pawns in God’s plan – but as Kings and Queens.
So if God gave us all free will – which He did – we all make our own choices right? How does God get involved? My personal explanation is this. God loves us and wants the best for us, and at the same time He has set us free through free will to make our own choices and choose our own destiny. What we don’t realize is that God is constantly putting into motion an infinite number of events that involve the billions of us on the planet earth. For each and every one of us, God has a personal plan – which is His Will for our lives, and what I call our passion in life. He allows people to maneuver throughout these chess boards through their own personal choices, but God is constantly making choices “possible” or “available” to us because God is in control of the entire universe – which affects the outcomes of everyone and determines what choices that are available to us to make. So if God sees us taking a path that is headed away from His Will for our lives, He will allow other people and events – through the individual choices they make and through angelic interventions – to provide opportunities for us to make choices that will bring us back towards Him.
This is the same concept as a parent using all means available to them – family, friends and the greater community – to help keep and guide their children back to the “straight and narrow” when they begin to wander or stray into areas where they will get hurt. We use anyone that can influence our teenagers not to stray – family, friends, the school system, homework, part time jobs, community laws, the police and the court system – in teaching, persuading and correcting them to exercise proper civil and moral behavior. God does the same for us, which is why we call Him Father – except the tools that He has available to gently guide us in life are above our understanding. After all, He is the Author of the entire universe.
There is no supercomputer that could make all of the simultaneous computations for billions of people on an infinite number of chess boards and spaces, for the unlimited possible moves that every individual could make entirely of their own free will. So in my choosing to take the bus, perhaps someone else’s car breaks down and they cross my path in a very unexpected way. He happens to know something or someone that can help me in what I’m trying to do. We share a seat on the bus. It is still my choice to talk to this stranger, and my own free will to choose to do so. If I choose to have this conversation with him, the possibility exists that we’ll make a meaningful connection. Or we could talk about the weather and go our separate ways. But if I choose to converse with him, and if I’m honest and open as a person, and if he chooses to respond in kind – my life has the real possibility of changing forever. This is serendipity. If this connection doesn’t work out, God is always trillions of moves ahead of me, orchestrating the world around us – without making our individual decisions but making the seemingly impossible possible – for everyone, all at the same time.
You have to choose to embrace the unexpected and to expect serendipity to occur in order to take full advantage of God’s work in the background. You have to actually “work” with God. Every time I look at my son I ask myself, what were the odds that a boy from Michigan would ever meet a girl from a small German village, at just the right time and place for my son to be born? I think that God had a plan for my son from before the beginning of time – as He does for all of us. Imagine the events of the world and the choices people have made over the ages, and God makes it possible that our choices are available to us at a time a place of His choosing for events to unfold as they do – the result of our individual choices within a framework put into motion by God. It is when people make bad choices, against the Will of God, that bad things happen in the world. Our free will can be used to advance God’s Will or used against it – it’s our choice – and the history of the world is the result of the collective choices we’ve made.
Now we go back to the choices that we put on the imaginary table in our mind. All choices that you brainstorm go face up on the table. Only when you eliminate each specific choice as an option, through ruminating and pondering, does it come off the table. No decision to remove an option should ever be made hastily – because it would be based on incomplete information. The last option standing on the table is your choice. Somewhere in this decision making process, given enough serious contemplation, unexpected things can happen. Options appear in your mind that you never would have thought of. You may meet someone that is the answer to your prayers for example. Begin to expect serendipity to happen and it will – but at a time and place of it’s choosing. You always have to look and listen for it – to be an active participant with it. Expect it. Believe it. Work with it. When you’ve been dumped and you think there isn’t a living soul that you will ever meet, that special someone may just be beside you asking for advice about tomatoes in the grocery store – when you never expected it. Be open to these unexpected events in life. If he or she is a creep you’ll know it. If they’re Mr. or Ms. Right you may have to work it a little – but the entire world is out there and available for you to engage in, discover and explore. You never know when the unexpected will come your way – and from one of life’s dead ends…you may find your yellow brick road just waiting to show you the way to Oz! It is with child like faith that we believe God will take care of us and guide us along His pathways – and we call it serendipity.