When Life Doesn’t Go According to Plan: Guest Post by Author Susan May Warren

My novel, Catch a Falling Star, asks the question: Is life about accomplishing plans … or wishes coming true … or something more?

Today’s post is the final entry in the “When Life Doesn’t Go According to Plan” Wednesday blog series, 11 guest posts by authors and writers, including Deborah Raney, Rachel Hauck, and  Susan May Warren,  who explore the question: What do you do when life doesn’t go according to plan? Today’s post is by my friend & mentor, best-selling author Susan May Warren.





It was my husband Andrew’s idea. We were missionaries in Far East Russia, and we’d experienced an endless winter against a pane of cheerless Siberian skies. My four children and I all felt the restlessness that creeps under the skin after a monotonous schedule and needed a change of scenery – something to brighten our landscape as we plodded into March.

Andrew sensed our needs, (the children crying into their corn kasha each morning alerted him) and suggested we accompany him on a weekend trip to see some friends.

“You can stay with Sveta while Vadeem and I work on the summer building project!”  He smiled; my grin quivered. Our friends and their three little children lived in an 8ft by 12ft single-story house. No running water – and … outhouse!

But I donned my adventurer’s cap.  Two nights on the train and one night on their sofa … it could be fun.

The train ride was fun: We brought a picnic, the kids bounced from bunk to bunk, we watched the sun set from their train windows.

At seven the next morning, Vadeem met us and raced us along rutted alleys and flimsy green fences until we pulled into his yard.  A friendly spiral of black smoke curled from the chimney of his brightly lit home. Sveta was boiling fresh palmeni, and she greeted us like long-lost relatives.

When Andrew left, I wondered what Sveta and I could talk about. She was so quiet, I so … well, not quiet … but a bit undone by the language barrier. I sat in the kitchen. The seven children watching Simba’s Pride on the only sofa. I pulled out some sewing and started to chat.

For eight hours I sewed, (in between running the kids to the outhouse and dressing them for outside twice) fumbled with my Russian and watched my friend.

Sveta never sat. She pumped water into a big barrel, her delicate arms bulging. She peeled about 300 potatoes. She swept her entire house, three times. She made a cake. She went out to the coal pile and hauled in a big bucket and then started her enormous coal stove, which heated the house, twice. She fitted a neighbor in a housedress and sewed up the hem. She cleaned fish. She wore a skirt and looked comfortable in it … and then that night, as she sat by her husband, she rubbed his shoulders and let him poke fun at her. And she smiled the entire time.

Not once did I hear her complain, raise her voice to her children or collapse at the table, drop her head into her hands and sigh, “I just can’t go on.” No, she seemed happy, despite the challenges of her living conditions.

After our three-day visit, I imagine that Sveta dissolved into a puddle of exhaustion, cried and served her kids ramen noodles every meal for a week … but I doubt it. Sveta, at 27, had something that most women (or men for that matter) spend a lifetime trying to find: Contentment. Peace with her lot.  Perhaps even fulfillment as she tended the field the Lord had given her.

We returned home on the train, a sauna with the heaters turned on full. I tossed and turned all night, but it was my conscience that kept me awake. How many times did I wish for cold water, or even a backyard for the children to play in? How many times had I melted into gloominess when our schedule overwhelmed us? I think the difference between Sveta’s smile and my frown was attitude and vision. Longing for things I didn’t have – in Russia it was running cold water, boxed convenience food. Today it might be faster Internet access – even a lighter schedule. Regardless, my complaining is a bit like acid, corroding my thankfulness.

“But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me. If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God.” ( Psalm  50:23 NLT ) Could part of that salvation be contentedness?

I went to Sveta’s to brighten the colorless landscape of my tedious daily schedule. I returned to the same palatte … but with the hue of thanksgiving and a vivid determination to never let complaints paint my world gray. Each day is mine to shade how I want … and it starts with contentment.

When Life Doesn’t Go According to Plan: Author Susan May Warren talks about contentment Click to Tweet

Contentment and the “acid” of Complaining Click to Tweet

Susan May Warren is the founder of My Book Therapy, a writing community to help novelists get published. An award-winning, best-selling author, Susie has published over 40 novels. Her most recent book is Take a Chance on Me, which released in March 2013.

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  1. June 19, 2013, 6:22 am   /  Reply

    Sounds like you had some fascinating experiences that truly challenged contentment for the whole family. As a mom, it can be even tougher, when you’re trying to pull your kids out of the dump as well. Thanks for sharing!

    • June 19, 2013, 11:42 am   /  Reply

      Thanks, Ginger! It sure did grow me as a mom! 🙂

  2. June 19, 2013, 7:30 am   /  Reply

    Susie, thank you for this powerful window into a transforming time. You’ve again captured it so well and we all appreciate where such insights have brought you and all the riches you share in your books 🙂

    • June 19, 2013, 11:42 am   /  Reply

      Thanks, Dee!! XO!

  3. June 19, 2013, 7:38 am   /  Reply

    I so agree with you, Susie. Most of the time we don’t have control of our circumstances, but we do have control of how we react to them. You make me think of Sveta, how you roll with whatever happens, always smiling. And you are such an encourager, it’s hard to be down around you.

    • June 19, 2013, 11:44 am   /  Reply

      Thanks! Wow. Maybe Sveta DID rub off on me – because I know grumbling is too often my “go-to!” 🙁 But, long ago I started every morning, the first thing as I opened my eyes, saying, “This is the day the Lord has made -let us rejoice and be glad in it!” And that’s changed the way I enter my days. 🙂 Maybe that has helped.

  4. June 19, 2013, 7:51 am   /  Reply

    Thank you so much for this reminder! It’s far too easy to focus on the things we think we want, when really we have everything we need (and most of what we want too.) Sveta is an inspiring example!

  5. Andrea Cox
    June 19, 2013, 8:24 am   /  Reply

    Hi Susie May!
    I’m so glad Beth saved you for last. What a sweet way to end her blog series! Thanks for sharing your story of thanksgiving. It’s a lesson we’ve probably all had to learn at one point or another. In such a selfish society driven by the latest in electronics, a thankful attitude and a gracious spirit are like finding diamonds in the middle of the desert–practically impossible. Thanks for the reminder to smile and say thanks. God appreciates it so much when we do that. Have you noticed that people don’t always smile back like they used to? This time we live in is so stressful, people don’t remember how to smile anymore. This saddens me… and makes me smile at people more often. Maybe they’ll be reminded of what it looks like.

    Beth, thanks for being such a wonderful hostess (to your guest posters and us readers). This blog series has been so much fun, and I’ve met a lot of new-to-me authors. I look forward to the next adventure here on your blog.

    Blessings to you both!

  6. June 19, 2013, 8:25 am   /  Reply

    “Each day is mine to shade how I want … and it starts with contentment.” Love this!! It’s so true. We may not have a choice in our circumstances, but we do have a choice how we’ll react.

  7. June 19, 2013, 8:35 am   /  Reply

    Wonderful post, Susie! I felt like I was there. And I loved the reminder of what a gift contentment truly is.

  8. June 19, 2013, 8:42 am   /  Reply

    Beautifully written. (How could it not be? It’s Susie!) But yes, I love this. And yes, true contentment…gratefulness…those are things I want as constants in my life!

  9. June 19, 2013, 8:55 am   /  Reply

    Sveta—what a beautiful soul. Thanks for sharing her light with us. Blessings!

  10. June 19, 2013, 9:00 am   /  Reply

    Susie, your post comes on the heels of one I just read yesterday about the hopefulness of children in Africa. Since lessons often come in threes and at a time when I’m ready to listen, I’m pretty sure there’s another one on its way, but why wait? I’ve already spent too much of the past five years being discontent. Especially after reading, “Regardless, my complaining is a bit like acid, corroding my thankfulness,” I’m feeling a nudge (okay, more like a shove) to replace my dissatisfaction with hope and gratitude.

    Thank you for your powerful message.

  11. June 19, 2013, 9:04 am   /  Reply

    I loved this story, Susie. I’m with Deb. I felt like I was there. 🙂

    Choosing contentment every day can be a challenge. I go into grumble mode so easily when things begin to go wrong. I’ve been working on finding things to be grateful for each day and writing them down.

  12. June 19, 2013, 9:37 am   /  Reply

    “The acid that corrodes my thankfulness” got to me, too, Susie. Thank you for sharing your heart here. I’m going to go practice some thankfulness.

  13. June 19, 2013, 11:47 am   /  Reply

    Thanks all for your kind words! Sveta has 7 children now. 7! Seriously – and still no running water in her house. It’s all a matter of perspective, I think. Wow, remembering those times, I am I thankful for indoor plumbing, running hot water in my kitchen and internet (when it works!) Thanks for stopping by! XO!

  14. June 19, 2013, 3:20 pm   /  Reply

    My life didn’t go as planned and still doesn’t…we are in our late 50’s and should have an empty nest and go on trips to see our grandson at the spur of the moment..our daughter Hannah will be 18yo next week and should be graduating, worrying about college, dating and all the things an 18yo should be doing…but instead we are spending $1600 on a lawyer and filing to be her guardians…she was born with a rare chromosome deletion…she breathes through a trach, eats through a gtube, is on a special diet for seizure control (not working) and has to have 24/7 awake care…nurses care for her needs at night so I can sleep, she is the size of a 5yo and developmentally like a newborn…but she is our life and God blessed us by giving her to us…she is a blessing…like the song says, sometimes miracles hide…this is her facebook page

  15. Rachel Hauck
    June 19, 2013, 4:11 pm   /  Reply

    Such a great post Susie. So rich with truth and wisdom!! Oh that our hearts would be honoring and grateful for All We Have! And In ALL Things.


  16. June 19, 2013, 4:30 pm   /  Reply

    When you were painting your historical picture in cold grey tones the mood was so dreary that my heart stared sinking as I imaged it all. Then incredible Sveta appears. Then Susan’s heart responds to Sveta’s life. And I’m still thinking about a 10 x 12 space, no indoor plumbing, and long Russian winters. In difficult, trying times, my thanklessness has often been revealed. I’ve had to work at cultivating an attitude of thankfulness, and I thank you for assisting me in me in that process 🙂 Great post. I’m sincerely thankful for the message you delivered today.

  17. June 19, 2013, 8:58 pm   /  Reply

    Susie has been beyond influential in my writing career. She was the first person who helped me believe that I could write fiction. I am thrilled and honored that she wrote the final blog entry for this series. I knew she would do so with wisdom and heart.

  18. Tari Faris
    June 19, 2013, 10:11 pm   /  Reply

    Thanks, Susie!!! I needed that more than you’ll ever know!!

  19. June 20, 2013, 8:28 am   /  Reply

    Perspective is everything. When I found out we were expecting twins (talk about life not going to plan!) I had to tell myself to take one day at a time. When I lost that perspective, I became overwhelmed and terrified at the sheer responsibility before me. Somewhere around 6 months into parenting the boys, I lost that perspective and it took me another twelve months to find it! But I love that God doesn’t leave us in our pit to wallow alone. He brings us to others where we can see through their eyes. For you, Susie, it was Sveta, for me it was a mom who had 9 children BEFORE her set of twin boys. I’ve learned a lot from my friend–and perspective is the greatest gift she’s given me.

  20. June 20, 2013, 12:36 pm   /  Reply

    Beautiful encouragement.

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