What Now? | When Life Doesn’t Turn Out Like You Planned

Single way older than you ever imagined? Failed marriage? Dead-end job? Shattered dreams?

In 2008, I joined a missions organization and moved across the globe to the land of population overload: China. I envisioned a year that was challenging, but overall filled with joy and fun times with my team and our Chinese friends.

But nothing turned out the way I planned. My dream of pedaling around the crowded streets, serving those damaged by the severe earthquake and sharing Jesus with college students was quickly shattered when our missions team fell apart. And not just over a small argument or minor misunderstanding either.

I felt my entire world came crumbling down and I was in the wake of the fallout. I had planned to move to China for years. God led me every step of the way. I was trusting and walking with Him. Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. I was in a foreign country–alone–with a lot of why questions about  the door slammed in my face.

“What now?” Have you been there before?  When you head in a direction and nothing turns out like you planned?

With no prospect of joining back up with my team, most people suggested I come home and figure out something to do in the US of A. Heading home was the most logical solution at the time, but not the path I chose.

I am a Christian and have a relationship with God, which means I try to consult Him on every big decision I make. Why? Because I’ve tried to live life according to my own plans before and the result was disaster. When I prayed about what to do, it quickly became clear what God wanted for me. I was supposed to stay in China. Even when my circumstances seemed to speak the opposite.

I stayed in China, without an organization, and continue to study Chinese. That was as far as the plan took me. The rest would be up to the big man upstairs I was very disillusioned with at the time.

Emotionally? I was angry. I was confused. I was full of bitterness towards my former team members and if I was honest, towards God. I felt I deserved a good year in China. I had many conversations with God that sounded something like this: “Hello? Yeah, it’s me, Ruthie. The one who moved across the world to tell people about you. The one who gave up a career to be a minister of the Gospel. Did I do something to offend you? How could you allow this to happen? Am I missing something?” I wondered if maybe I wasn’t supposed to move to China in the first place and misheard.

Despite all my confusing emotions, I knew God’s plan was better than my own. I knew if He was telling me to stay in China — even if most advised against it  & even if I didn’t have a clue what was coming next– I needed to stay.

The first few months, nothing monumental happened. I dreamed about going home and giving up all-together. I looked at plane tickets. I tried all sorts of ways to convince myself it was ok to leave. But the conviction that I MUST stay was still ever-present — on my daily bus ride to class, on my prayer walks around the city, and in my two apartment moves. It was one of the darkest periods of my life {only highlighted by the fact it was winter and our city was the ‘city of stinky pollution and no sunshine’}. Not true, but it does turn your snot black. Ask my sister.

What is the point of this, God? I’m miserable, I’m in a foreign country without a team, I barely know the language. Why would you want me to stay here? Do you even care about me?

Silence. No answer. Not a word.

But — eventually — after all that silence, God led me on the greatest adventure my life had ever seen. He used my life to change the lives of a generation of others–starting with a dying woman in small, countryside town in China. To be continued…

Has a door recently been slammed in  your face? Have your dreams been shattered? What do you do when life doesn’t turn out like you planned?

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18 Responses to “What Now? | When Life Doesn’t Turn Out Like You Planned”
  1. Anna Kaye says:

    Thank you for posting this Ruthie! Such a great post. It’s definitely hard when those times of silence come and you’re waiting on confirmation in a yes or no to the unanswered questions our your life.

  2. A very similar thing happened to us while we were in Scotland this past year doing our missionary training. We were there because it was the first step in a long-term plan, and when the plan was snatched away we were devastated. However, God showed us that we were there for a reason (even though there was a lot of heartache in the process), and He ultimately redeemed that experience.

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Hi Charlotte!

      I am saddened to hear you had a similar experience on the mission field. I’d love to hear more if you want to share/need someone to talk to over email. I can’t wait for you to read “the rest of my story” because God worked miracles that would have never happened had I been where I originally intended. More to come:)

      We’re praying for y’all!

  3. Edward says:

    I’m somewhat curious about how you felt so certain that staying was God’s will for you. Please elaborate with me sometimes. :)

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Hi Edward, long story…but after meditating on scripture & praying my heart out I found verse after verse that talked about “staying in the land”. I just had to act on faith & after months God showed me I had heard correctly:)

  4. quiet observer says:

    Divorced at 36 – because of domestic violence, my husband’s countless affairs (without remorse), and his sexual assault of my teenage daughter. Still single after 4 years, raising two kids on my own. Dealing with yet another non-malignant, but this time inoperable, brain tumor for over 3 years. Been working with the same employer for almost 12 years, but haven’t received an increase in salary for over 3 ½ years. Recently lost my vehicle in an automobile collision that was not my fault… Continuously praying, asking the Lord what His plan is for my life… Asking if I’ve mis-stepped somewhere… It’s easy to give in to the “What’s the point of this?” mentality. It’s easy to watch the joy drain from one’s heart. It’s easy to be angry with God in His silence. We’ve become accustomed to instantaneous response to our inquiries – faxes, emails, IM, cell phones, text messages; the silence begs the question “am I being ignored?!” A glimmer of hope: notice that when children in a classroom are taking a test, the teacher is always silent.

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Wow. I’m saddened by your story. First thing–I would recommend your daughter read Wounded Heart by Dan Allendar & Shame Off You. How tragic for her! And how excruciating for you to endure all of that tragedy.

      I will say suffering is all about perspective. I do not believe God is in any way testing you. My perspective of trauma and suffering changed as soon as I saw Jesus as weeping with me–instead of seeing if I passed “the test”. I do not believe God will suffering; rather suffering is a product of sin entering the world.

      The ONLY hope you and I have is in the Cross. Pray you see the monumental event that Jesus’ death and resurrection is on humankind. Death was conquered. Eternal life without suffering. It is only by gazing on the Cross that my circumstances became small. I used to ask, “God why have you taken everything away?” And after many years He finally responded. “You don’t deserve anything. I have given you everything.” That everything being no condemnation & eternal life.

      Thanks for reaching out. My heart breaks at the heartbreak that is your life. But there is Hope. There is always Hope.

      • quiet observer says:

        Don’t get me wrong – I am not without hope! And to say that we go without “testing”??? How can we aspire to become more like Christ without enduring the rite of sanctification? How can precious metals become purified without going through the heat of the refiner’s fire? We all go through the fires! Psalm 66:10 “For You, O God, tested us; You refined us like silver.” Isaiah 48:10 “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” However, I KNOW that I have a Savior that will not abandon me nor forsake me; one that has fashioned me in His likeness and has breathed life into me, for a purpose. I’m not saying that He takes pleasure in afflicting pain and suffering on His children. To the contrary, it is through such trials that our faith and dependence on the Lord is deepened, and we develop perseverance and maturity. (James 1:2-4) In our human frailty, however, we can fall victim to the “woe-is-me” syndrome from time to time, and forget that the Lord’s plan is so much more than we can comprehend – so much more than we ARE. And that our trials and challenges reach far beyond even our own feeble understanding, and sometimes our own lives. Oftentimes ministry opportunities spring forth because of the roads we are asked to walk, and the challenges we face on those roads, which otherwise never would have occurred. I KNOW that the Lord is bigger than all of this; if I had no hope beyond myself, I would have given up a long time ago! However, I am, and will always be, a flawed human… and therefore, reliant on an all-powerful and grace-giving Lord.

      • Rob says:

        My boyfriend and I just broke up after datnig for 6 months. I know it’s not the end of the world, but sometimes it feels like it!!!! It wasn’t a bad relationship. We didn’t sin sexually. We didn’t have lots of fights. We just figured out that we weren’t compatiable long term. Our lives were going to 2 different places.How do you handle break ups?

  5. DAVID LATIL says:

    You know there aren’t many things in life that turn out the way we want them.It’s how you react to them that matters.I come from a pretty abusive up bringing and a drugged filled life,not how I imagined my life.BUT with the help of family,friend,my pasto and especially God help I have come full circle and things are great.
    I guess what I am saying is never give up hope because through prayer and a little hard work anything is possible.

  6. a says:

    Yep. I thought i was giving up a relationship to b a missionary. I left ppl behind my while life to move to an obscure town near my birth. Crime ridden and very foriegn to me after living in large international cities, i have seen my father pass, argued with preachers, been accused, thrown out of my church, and am still not married OR in africa living as a missionary which i thought was the whole point. But i guess im learning alot about suffering and doing Gods will even if it looks nothing like your own

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