Destiny or Decision? Pre-destined experiences? Does God already know what your life will be like? These are questions about which most people have a pretty set notion.
Once upon a time, I really thought that what happened simply happened. I didn’t feel that anything was pre-destined. In fact, I guess as I thought about God, I felt he was more an observer than anything else. (Well, of course, in addition to being a Creator, but that’s not the subject of this text.) I thought he was like a really great engineer and scientist of sorts, that he made something that worked (you know, mankind and a bunch of other living, breathing stuff) and then sat back and watched what it could do. I couldn’t perceive any great plan going on around me, stuff just seemed to happen and then folks dealt with it. Interamente fatto, tutto l’attraverso. (Altavista Babelfish translation: “All done, all through.”)
As I have matured, the common-sense, free-thinking me has learned to go through each life experience evaluating “Why?” and “What am I supposed to learn from this experience?” That’s because I’ve had a wide boat load of tough times and I don’t want to repeat ANY of them in order to learn a life lesson I missed the first time around. And sometimes it takes literally YEARS for me to understand why I made certain choices. For example, when I was 18 years old, I decided to become a volunteer at a Crisis Center. You know the kind, the call-in phone center where trained volunteers talk with folks who are suicidal, sometimes homicidal, depressed, lonely, or facing any of a hundred different crises.
At the time, I was the youngest person ever trained at that particular crisis line to man the phones. The training was pretty rigorous, and included some 40+ hours of seminar-type didactic presentations, 12 to 16 hours of on-the-job training, and then an extensive evaluation and monitoring period before you were cut loose to answer calls without an advisor at your elbow. We learned crisis theory and crisis intervention techniques, developed listening skills, and became very well acquainted with the availability of and access to community resources. I originally assumed that I went to the Crisis Center to volunteer because, as a teenager, I had had two friends to commit suicide. But that was only a tiny part of the reason. You see, God knew (and I certainly didn’t) that down the pike, I was in for the ride of my life: a child born with an open spine and tethered spinal cord. A husband who couldn’t deal with that particular challenge. A team of doctors whose services would create financial difficulties for the Rockefellers (or Vanderbilts). At 26 years old, I had to face decisions that I was way too young and inexperienced to handle. Had it not been for my Crisis Center training, I could never have gotten through that situation with my sanity intact. Let me explain.
My daughter was 18 months old when she lost her knee-jerk reflexes. She was exhibiting physical symptoms that told us much more was going on insider her little body than any outpatient testing could determine, so she went into Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital for a BUNCH of testing. And right off the bat, I was faced with a true dilemma. The doctors needed to do a myleogram (injecting dye into her spinal column). The problem was that the dye that had been approved by the FDA for use in babies had a much higher incident of allergic reactions than the dye they wanted to use. An allergic reaction could mean she could die, or a host of other things, from kidney failure to mental retardation. The dye they wanted to use had a much lower incident of allergic reactions in babies but was not approved by the FDA. The doctors explained that it was used extensively in Canada and England. So there I was, 26 years old and making a decision that could potentially injure or kill my child–against the advice of the FDA. Get the picture? There was but one thing in my life that had trained me to make rational, non-emotional decisions, and that was my training at the Crisis Center. So I sat down and did my own casework: I made a list of all the possible questions I had about the procedure and process; I evaluated the pros and cons of each; I solicited advice from those trained to make this kind of decision; and I talked it out until I heard myself reach a decision. We used the dye not approved by the FDA.
And in the 26 years since my daughter’s birth, I have, time and time again, faced similar crises. I fought with the school system to mainstream her a full 9 years before the government mandated mainstreaming special (“handicapped” was the politically correct word when I was doing through it) children. I fought with the Social Security Administration to change the deeming laws for children, and prevailed in Federal Court (though I still have not gotten a dime from them from her and they should have provided financial assistance from the time of her birth to 18th birthday-I figure they owe me somewhere in the neighborhood of $110,000—hey, Mr. Bush, how about my money???? In fact, Mr. Bush, give me a call, we’ll talk about how the local/Nashville Social Security Office “lost her file” and refused to make a determination of the benefits she was due. It’s a GREAT story!)
What it all boils down to is this: I went to the Crisis Center years before I needed the skills I had to have in order to raise my daughter. I believe that God knew what was coming down the pike for me, and wanted to make sure I was ready for it, so I became a Crisis Center volunteer. Not only did I learn management techniques, but I also met so many wonderful people who were extremely supportive and loving during my hardest, loneliest times.
In evaluating whether our lives are pre-determined, I have talked with dozens of people, both online and offline. The breakdown of what people think is pretty interesting. I have broken down the numbers in male/female, by Southern/non-Southern, and under 30/over 30, and here’s how it all breaks down. Men overall feel that we make decisions and that little is predetermined (84.3% for decision). Southern men who believe in decision, 90%. In men over 30, 68.6% feel that decision influences our lives; in men under 30, 70%. Women overall believe in destiny (73.5%), but Southern women believe in destiny at a much higher rate (86.7%). In women, 92% of the over 30 crowd feels destiny guides our lives, while women under 30 only 56.5% believe we are ruled by destiny.
So… take a look back at your own life. Is there a time when you chose to do something that seemed illogical or out of character, and that something turned out to drastically influence your life? Are there things you learned growing up or early in adulthood that have made your life easier or more manageable as you have matured? Are there people who were put into your life to make a difference, a connection, a “hook-up,” that made a huge difference to you? Are there times when you have wondered why you have done something and then found that you were meant to be there for a reason? What do you believe? I’d love to know what you think: are our lives predetermined or do we live by decision alone?