I had plans. God knows, I had them.
Back when I was a boy, I used to collect baseball cards. I would sit sprawled out in the floor for hours, it seemed, systematically arranging sets of Topps into stacks of teams. The Cardinals were in this pile, the Red Sox were in that one, over there were the Mariners. Exercises in futility, now.
When I wasn’t collecting baseball, I was either watching it or playing it. We had several cable options, in Jasper. The Braves played on TBS, the Cubs on WGN, and, most importantly, the Mets on station WOR out of New York.
Shea Stadium was the first coliseum that lured my imagination. My favorite player was Darryl Strawberry. The best days were when Darryl put one in orbit, over the right field wall, and trotted those bases like Secretariat shined on her victory lap.
Many Saturdays I spent in my back yard, mimicking Darryl’s swing. Many of you may remember his herky-jerky stance, knees and wrists and bat wagging, but what uncoiled—oh my— the beauty that uncoiled! Poetry could have been written about that swing.
My mind imagined what it would feel like to step to that plate and sink my feet in that red earth, pound the front of the plate with my bat, adjust my batting helmet and wait as the loose-armed pitcher unleashed mortal hell. I would crush that little pill into the teeming outfield fans, jumping up and down, trying to balance a frothy beer and their bodies in all of the celebratory mayhem. What I’m trying to say is that I wanted to be Darryl Strawberry.
The curveball changed all that.
After that befuddling pitch rocked my world, I laid down my cleats and my bat, forever. Walking away from that game that so intimately drenched my boyhood still haunts me. And I wonder if I’ll ever get over it.
But back then, new plans had to be made—and quickly.
I turned my attention to basketball. It was a natural choice, really. I played for two seasons at Walker College under the seemingly immortal Glen R. Clem, the scion of the junior college basketball world and the master of tutelage. I started only two games, conciliatory starts at that, and decided that I didn’t stand much chance of basketball one day paying the light bill.
So, I turned to architecture. There was nobility in designing things and I could draw, a little. Three weeks later, sitting in the second pew at First Methodist Church in Starkville, Mississippi, I had an epiphany: God didn’t have in his plans for me to be an architect.
At that point, history seemed to be the logical choice. It was always something that had captivated me. For three years, I enjoyed the study of history as much as I have enjoyed any other regimented scholarship in my life. I didn’t mind the reading. No, as a matter of fact, I loved it.
Deciding not to pursue history as a graduate student is one of the great regrets of my life. Maybe the only. Instead, I chose a profession based on the potential for monetary rewards and the prestige that went along with it. Those sidekicks should never be a reason to do something. That I learned the hard way, by going to law school.
While I was doing the thing that I didn’t want to do, law school, I often daydreamed of things that might give me happiness in life. I thought of moving to New York or Beverly Hills and becoming an actor. I thought of being the basketball coach at the University of Kentucky. I thought of being a talk-show host or maybe a politician. Not once did I think about becoming a writer.
There were times, many times, that I developed hair-brained ideas for achieving success. They all fell like small trees, before they fully sprouted. As I think back now, I remember how I was going to do this thing, and how that thing sounded like such a good idea, at the time. I wondered then why they didn’t work.
But now I know.
I always had plans. They were my plans.
They were the things I thought, I surmised, that would satisfy some urge, some resonating need within myself. They were things I thought would make me happy. They were places that promised greater success, greater happiness, abundance.
There were many times that I could have escaped from the South. Times that I wanted to. But for some reason, God kept me here. Now I know why.
While I was walking through the thicket of life, I never considered that God might have brought me here. To the Black Belt. To be a writer. Surely that was the furthest thing from my mind as I went to law school, coached basketball, practiced law, worked in a men’s clothing store, and dreamed of a thousand other ideas.
But the greatness of God is that He used for my benefit all of those convoluted journeys to prepare me for the thing that was waiting for me in the distant horizon. I couldn’t have gotten here without it. And I wouldn’t have been ready.
He took the lessons and the mistakes and the sins and the flaws and all of the other mess of my life that balled up into one gorgeous disaster, and funneled it. He took the talents and abilities and hopes and skills that rolled up into one beautiful bright core, and sharpened it. He gave me the wisdom to say no and the courage to say yes, and forgave me when I went astray, for a long time.
He pulled me back and gave me rope and nudges and discipline, when I needed it. He sent grace and mercy in bountiful bouquets, even when I didn’t deserve it.
I realize now that when my plans got selfish, God loved me enough to say “No, Al. Let me show you a better way.”
God, how I wish I could have made things simpler.
The Bible says, “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.”
Listen to the King James Version of that verse: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”
Plans. Peace. Hope. Future. Expected end.
I always knew God had a plan for my life; my problem was always having the courage to follow it. The Bible says “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” Lord, what a fool I have been!
I have learned that God didn’t want me to use my own roadmap in the journeys of life. He didn’t want me to plan much of anything.
He just wanted me to ride.