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TITLE: Perfect Plans revision
By Libby East

"Come on Jo!" Leslie hollered up the stairs. "We're gonna be late."

Jo finished brushing her hair and ran out of her room and down the stairs. Leslie met her at the bottom and helped her put on her jacket. The girls hurried out to the car where their parents John and Carla waited. Joanna was almost in when she remembered something.

"I forgot my Bible," She said and jumped away from the car and toward the front door of their house. John and Carla smiled and rolled their eyes at each other.

"I'll go," John said as he got out. He met Joanna at the door with a key. "Hurry sweetie," He said.

As he watched her run up the stairs, he thought about how blessed they were to have Joanna in their family. He and Carla had already had one child when the news came. Leslie had been a dream. She was sweet and loving and brilliant as a young child and the couple thought their family was perfect. He closed his eyes and remembered the day Carla came home from a routine doctor's visit with the news. "I'm pregnant." she said as the tears puddled in her eyes. John knew how difficult this was for his wife. She was very happy with Leslie and was convinced that she would be an only child.

John held her and let her cry. "Honey, that's wonderful news."

Carla wasn't so sure. "How will we ever love another child like we do Leslie?" She sobbed. "I don't know how I'll make it through the diapers and feedings again. I just can't do it."

"Don't you see? God has given us this child for a reason. He has a perfect plan." As John said this Carla smiled a little. she remembered a verse she had heard a thousand times before about God's perfect plan for her life. It came from Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. She knew right then that everything would be fine. John prayed over them and Carla spent the next few months preparing for the birth of her second daughter.

When Carla was just six months along she began hemorrhaging. She lost a lot of blood and all eyes were on the baby. The doctors stopped the bleeding and the baby was saved. At seven and a half months Carla went into labor. John was panicked as he drove her to the hospital – certain that it was too soon for a safe delivery. When they arrived at the hospital the doctor met them in the hall.

“It’s still pretty early. We’ll see how the baby’s doing and if at all possible we’ll try to stop the contractions and hold off for at least two more weeks. But if we have to deliver now the baby we’ll be okay.”

The doctor went to work and after watching the baby for a while he concluded that Joanna was under stress due to an irregular heartbeat. He stopped the contractions and ordered Carla to stay off her feet at all costs. He wanted to see Carla every other day until delivery and he informed them that a vaginal delivery was out of the question. Carla would have a caesarian section and the later the better to give Joanna more time to develop. They chose a date three weeks away to deliver the newest member of the Lawrence family.

But a week later, Carla’s water broke and in three hours time, after much sweat and tears, Joanna Marie Lawrence was born. Her heart rate was too rapid and she was immediately hooked to machines to regulate it and give her a fighting chance at life.

Watching his tiny daughter in her incubator with so many wires attached to her was more than he could handle and he almost lost his faith in God. How could He create this little life to be in so much pain and never know the touch of her own parents. John was sure they would lose her before ever bringing her into their home. Carla reminded him of Jeremiah 29:11. John worked the verse over in his mind and decided to never doubt God’s plan again. A month later, when they finally got to take their daughter home, problem free, there was not doubt that God was in control.

All through Joanna’s life God’s control was evident. Because of her difficult delivery she had trouble paying attention and sitting still in class. She was diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder about two years ago. John and Carla worked hard at not using that as an excuse for misbehavior but helping Joanna learn to work through her problems and in the process exceed everyone’s expectations.

“Dad, I can’t find it!” Joanna yelled down at her dad, snapping him back to reality. John ran up the stairs to find her digging through a pile of laundry under her bed. He glanced around the room and spotted her pink Bible on her dresser.

“Here it is.” He held it out to her and the two of them hurried back to the car.

The Lawrence family arrived at church ten minutes late and all four of them hurried off to their Sunday school classes. John and Carla lead a class for newly wed and engaged couples. They enjoyed the experience and cherished the opportunities they got to share all that God had taught them over the past twenty years of being married.

Today’s lesson is on trials that arise in marriage and how to handle them God’s way. John led the group in an opening prayer and then began the lesson by asking if anyone had gone through a difficult situation lately. Jan and David Brown, the newest couple in the group shared about the difficult times they were having planning their upcoming wedding and finding a place to live. Renee and Paul Bradshaw, who had gotten married a year ago shared about the frustrations of trying to have a baby. Several other couples shared about family illnesses and lost jobs.

John reminded them of James 1:2-3 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”

Carla stepped in and talked about the trials of carrying and giving birth to Joanna. “It was the most difficult time of my life. But it was also the best time. God taught me so much and drew me closer to his side as well as to John. I just clung to the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 that he has a plan for me and for my family.”

John shared several more scriptures and closed in prayer.

Leslie walked into the college and career Sunday school class just as everyone was finishing their coffee and doughnuts. The group had decided a few months ago to create a coffee house atmosphere with small round tables to sit at and proved coffee and doughnuts for every week. The weekly visitation that the class had been doing was working. The class of ten and grown to twenty and the room was barely big enough to hold them all. There was one empty chair in the whole room and it was at the table of three guys whom Leslie had not yet met. She walked over and sat down next to a tall handsome blond with athletic build and a brunette with glasses.

“Hi, I’m Leslie.” She said to the blond as she held out her hand. “I’m glad you could visit with us today.” She continued as she shook his hand.

“I’m Tom.” That man said as he took in the sight of Leslie’s beautiful face and bright green eyes and brown hair. She was tall and thin and looked stunning in the pale pink dress she wore. “I just started at Southern University a few weeks ago and I’ve heard a lot about the college group here. I decide to check it out and I brought my roommates. This is Jeremy.” He pointed to the brunette. “and this is Chris.” He pointed to the redhead across from her. “You been going here long?” He asked her.

“All my life.” She smiled and the four of them turned their attention to the man at the front of the room.

“Today we’re gonna talk about God’s plan for your life.” Leslie realized that she must have missed the opening announcements that came at the beginning of each class. She glanced around the room and spotted Amanda her friend from high school. She would call her this week and see what she missed. She turned her attention back to Mark, the teacher, in time to hear the verse that her family had come to love. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Leslie thought about her plans for the future. She never really wanted to work outside of the home that she dreamed she’d share with her husband – the prince charming that would sweep her off her feet. She planned on being a stay at home mom and maybe doing something creative like writing or painting or sewing to bring in some extra money. Because her plans did not require a college degree she was currently enrolled in the local community college with an undeclared major. This was her second and final year there and she would receive an associates degree in general studies in May. She had no idea what she would do after graduation. What are your plans for me? She prayed. “For my ways are not your ways.” Mark quoted another verse. Leslie closed her eyes and let the words sink in. God you’re getting ready to show me you plans. I can feel it. A peace filled her heart as she continued to listen to the lesson.

When Joanna made her grand entrance into the fourth grade Sunday school room the class was just beginning to play a game.

“Good Morning!” she sang as she did her princess wave and strolled over to her friend Alyssa. Alyssa showed her the newest keychain pet she had gotten for her birthday. The two of them giggled and whispered for a few minutes before they were stopped by their teachers Rob and Beth.

“Girls, if you’re ready we’ll get started with our game.” Beth said kindly but firm. “Let’s review the rules for Joanna.” She pointed to a map of the room on the wall and said. “You will look at this map of the room and follow the marked path to the treats we’ve hidden. You will work alone and the first one to find the treats will get an extra prize.” The kids all ran to the map and one by one went to find the treats. After a few minutes Alyssa found them in the piano bench. Her prize was one that she picked from the treasure box full of toys and gadgets. Everyone finished off the treats a box of doughnut holes and then Rob began the lesson.

“Did you know that God has a map for your life?” He asked and the kids all nodded. He continued, “God has you life all planned out. He knows what you’ll do tomorrow and the next day and ten years from now and when you’re all grown up.” He imagined these children as adults. Joanna and Alyssa the movie stars. He swallowed and continued. “Because of that, we never have to be afraid of what’s gonna happen. Mrs. Beth is going to read us a verse about God’s plan for us. It’s from Jeremiah 29:11” Beth read the verse and then led the group in some more games. At the end of class Rob led the class in prayer. “Father, we thank you right now that you have plans for us. We know that no matter what happens next in our lives you are in control. I ask your blessings on each one of these children and I ask you to help them to always remember the verses you’ve given us about you plans. Amen.”

Joanna and Alyssa were out the door and headed to the sanctuary as soon as the class was over. “Jo do you want to come home with me after church?” Alyssa asked.

“I’ll have to ask my mom.” She said as she spotted her family. “I’ll see you after.” She walked over and sat right in between Leslie and Carla. “Mom, can I go home with Alyssa today?” She asked.

“We’ll have to ask your dad after the service.” Carla replied as the minister of education approached the pulpit for today’s announcements.

As soon as the service was over, Alyssa ran over to where the Lawrence family was standing. “Jo can you come?”

“I forgot to ask my dad hold on.” She turned to her father. “Daddy, can I go home with Alyssa?” Before that man could answer, Marcy Jones, Alyssa’s mother, came over the where the group was standing.

“Hi John.” She nodded in his direction. “Alyssa wanted to know if Joanna could come play this afternoon. She can change into some of Alyssa’s clothes and we’ll haven her back in time for children’s choir practice tonight.”

Alyssa and Joanna waited patiently while John thought about it. “Go ahead.” He told his daughter. “But mind your manners.”

Joanna and Alyssa squealed with delight. And Joanna hugged her father. “Thank you.” She said and skipped off with Alyssa’s hand in hers.

Leslie turned her head just in time to see the trio of guys headed in her direction. Jeremy and Chris stopped while Tom continued towards her. This was Leslie’s first full frontal view of him. He was tall and very handsome wearing Khaki pants and a blue button down shirt with a yellow tie. He stopped right in front of her and her heart beat quickened. Be still. She said to herself as she glanced at his blue eyes and forced herself not to blush.

”Nice service.” He said shyly as he stared at her eyes and noticed her own nervousness. It was enough to make him forget why he was talking to her.

“It was.” she agreed and waited for him to add something else.

Tom took a deep breath and remembered that his friends where waiting. “Listen, I don’t know if you already have plans but we were going to O’neils for lunch and were hoping you could join us.” He searched her face and felt a hint of relief. What he saw on her face was a subtle excitement.

“I’d love to.” She said. “But I rode with my parents.”

“We can take you home after lunch.”

“That’s awfully nice of you. Just let me check with them.” She turned to find her parents watching intently with amused smiles on the their faces. “What?” she asked.

“He looks friendly.” Carla said with raised eyebrows.

“His name’s Tom. He’s visiting today.” She watched her parents nod but their expressions didn’t change. “Anyway, he and his friends,” she looked over her shoulder and smiled, “invited me to lunch and then they’ll bring me home.” She looked to her dad and checked his expression for approval. He winked at her as he reached for his wallet.

“Well Carla, it looks like we get the afternoon to ourselves.” He smiled at this wife as he handed Leslie a twenty-dollar bill. “In case you need it.” He answered the unspoken question written on his daughter’s face.

“Dad I have money.” She said as she slid the bill into her purse.

“I know.” He said and smiled lovingly at the joy he saw on her face. “They’re waiting.” He glanced over her shoulder. “Have a good time.” She waived over her shoulder as she walked away.

“Let’s go” she said and fell in beside Tom as they walked out the double doors at the back of the sanctuary.

“Do you have plans for lunch Miss Carla or may I escort you?” John turned to his wife and winked at her.

“Well, I’ll have to check my social calendar but I believe I’m free for the day.” She batted her eyes playfully.

“Shall we?” He offered his elbow and she took hold. When they were in the car, John asked, “So, where to?”

“How ‘bout the Edward’s Diner?” she spoke softly and john nodded as he backed out of the parking space.

As the couple drove across town, John thought back through the Sunday school lesson that he and Carla had taught that morning. “I wonder what God has in store for Leslie.”

“I was just thinking of that.” Carla closed her eyes as she often did when she tried to imagine her children’s future. She imagined Leslie in a backyard playing with her children and her husband grilling hamburgers. She could see the joy on her daughters face as he pushed the kids on the swing. She couldn’t see the faces of the children or Leslie’s husband but she knew her daughter was happy.

“Well, whatever his plan, I know that it will be as special as she is.” John said breaking into Carla’s dreams of her daughter’s future.

“I worry about her not having a major. I don’t know how she’ll support herself. What if she can’t find a job?” Carla’s eyes puddled with tears as she felt the burden of Leslie’s further.

“I worry about who she’ll marry or that she won’t marry at all. She doesn’t have many guy friends. And she never dates.” The couple grew quiet for a moment. Each lost in thoughts of Leslie’s uncertain future. Suddenly John remembered what started conversation.

“You know, we just taught a lesson on God’s perfect plan for everyone and here we are worrying about his plan for Leslie.” Carla let out a sigh as her husband spoke.

“You’re right. We should pray for her instead of worrying.”

The couple had a habit of praying on the road. Whichever one was not driving voiced the prayer. In this case Carla was it. “Father we thank you for Leslie and how special she is to us. We thank you for our love for her and for the assurance that you love her more than we do. We pray for her future that you would keep her in your hands. We know that you have a plan for her life and pray that you would reveal that plan to her so that she will stay on the right path. We thank you for the continued blessings on her life and our family. In you heavenly name we pray. Amen.”

Carla looked up just in time to see the car pull out in front of them. John tried to stop but there was no time.

“God help us!” Carla yelled just as they slammed into the side of the green SUV. The airbags didn’t deploy and Carla’s head hit the dash with a fatal force. She would never see if the images of her children’s future would come true. John’s head hit the steering wheel and busted his forehead open. Blood trickled down his face.

“Carla?” he tried with excruciating pain from his chest. The driver of the other vehicle got out and ran over to John’s window. The front end of the car was smashed all the way into the dash and caused the door to not open. John was trapped.

“Hey, we called an ambulance. They’re on the way. They’ll get you out. Is there anyone else we need to call for you?” the driver of the other car tried not to let the panic show.

John felt the pain in his chest and lungs with every breath. He turned and looked at his wife and new immediately that his beautiful bride was with her savior. The loss he felt was too much and he sobbed causing the pain to worsen. He struggled to breathe and found that it was impossible to move. As the minutes passed until the paramedics arrived he felt the live drain from his body. What about the girls God? What will happen to them?

I know the plans I have for them.

John felt a sense of peace surround him as he faded into darkness.
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