When Life Doesn’t Go According to Plan: Guest Post by Writer & Cartoonist Dave Hamlin

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 eighth 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 and brother-in-the Lord, Dave Hamlin.

Up In Flames by Dave Hamlin

Planning has never been my strength.

I’ve spent most of my life drifting, only changing course when pressed with the recurring question, “Now what?”

I’ve always wanted to serve God, but finding His particular will for me seemed like an unsolvable puzzle. Not knowing where God was leading specifically, I followed Him generally through college, marriage, a few kids, and a few jobs.

A decade ago, I began attending seminary while serving as a minister-in-training at a church in the Midwest. Then a crisis arose in the form of a leadership conflict, and the sparks ignited a powder keg. There was an explosion. And my life caught fire.

The place that my wife and I had called home for 20 years was suddenly engulfed in flames. We sold our house, packed up our seven kids, and drove our van out of town over burning bridges.

“Now what?”

I discerned that God was moving us from the Midwest to Colorado Springs. But that’s all I knew.

So, I worked hard at making new plans. I labored at finding, not just the next thing, but the right thing, the thing that I was supposed to do with my life.

But the wildfire kept burning—unemployment, underemployment, business failure, loss after loss, year after year.

Yet through all the pain and loss, the Spirit was quietly doing a work of internal transformation in my heart. I was changing. God also formed wonderful new relationships that I might encounter Him in healthy spiritual community. In January of 2012, God visited me in a powerful healing encounter; for the first time in my life I knew my Heavenly Father loved me.

Life was new and different now. But circumstances were the same.

One morning, as I was driving a borrowed car from a rented house to a low-wage job, I thought about the wildfire. I was grieved that it was still burning. I thought to myself, “Every dream and every vague hope we brought with us to Colorado has gone up in flames.”

At that moment–as if in response to my private thoughts–the flickering flames in my imagination became a vision of a blazing wall of fire. My mourning was overwhelmed by a glowing warmth in my spirit. Somehow I understood the vision to be the fire of God’s holy, jealous love for me. It was as if God was saying to me, “I burned it all. In my holy love, I have consumed all of your dreams, all of your hopes, and all of your plans, so that I might give You my dream and fulfill My plans for you.”

Months later, on the first of January, God spoke to me through a passage in Isaiah. He declared that He is doing a new thing in my life. “Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?”

“Watch what I will do.”

So, I’m watching. Smoke continues to rise from the wildfire, but I’m watching, and waiting, for God’s new thing to unfold.

In Your Words: How do you respond when your plans and dreams go up in smoke? What offers you hope in the waiting?  

 Finding God when when plans fail … again and again and again. Click to Tweet

When life is different … but circumstances are the same. Click to Tweet

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Dave Hamlin lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, Shari, and their eight children. Dave’s second language is cartoon, and he speaks it fluently on his blog Drawing From Experience. Dave is waiting on God to write the words to the rest of his bio (sometimes patiently, sometimes not).
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  1. May 29, 2013, 1:09 am   /  Reply

    I knew your post would be good, Dave, and I figured it’d hit home since, so far, all of yours have. I was right. It reminds me of a quote by Joseph Campbell. In fact, it’s one of my favorite quotes, “We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

    I’m a lot older than you and a lot more of a control freak, so I think God needs to hurry up and move things along. However, I have no doubt (well, almost no doubt) he’s behind all those flames and the smoke, ash, and long-gone bridges. I just need to be reminded, oh, I don’t know, DAILY.

    Thanks for today’s message. I’m taking this as a sign that watching and waiting are not being wasted – that I’m right where I’m supposed to be and in good company.

    • May 29, 2013, 9:59 am   /  Reply

      Thank you for your encouragement and your valuable input, Kim. I love the Campbell quote. We’ll keep watching and waiting and trusting through all the fire, smoke and ash 🙂

  2. May 29, 2013, 6:56 am   /  Reply

    This great post (& art work) speaks truth well. Interesting, Dave, that in scripture the sign that sacrifices and offerings were accepted was when they went up in fire and smoke. And then usually in the midst or after, they saw God or encountered His representatives and given instruction. Many blessings on your fruitful forward journey. And definitely keep up this art/truth blog.

    • May 29, 2013, 10:04 am   /  Reply

      I think you are on to something there. Without the fire and the smoke and the continual offering up of my life to God through the pain and confusion, there would be know transformational encounters or deepening relational intimacy or growth. Thank you for your blessings on a fruitful forward journey.

  3. May 29, 2013, 7:38 am   /  Reply

    Oh, how well I understand when life doesn’t go according to plan, Dave! And sometimes, I’ve had to step back as God gently reminds me, “But MY plan is best.”

    What inspirational, power-packed thoughts this morning! Loved this post!

    • May 29, 2013, 10:06 am   /  Reply

      Thank you, Cynthia! It helps greatly to know there are others out there with similar experiences. Thank you for your kind words.

  4. May 29, 2013, 8:05 am   /  Reply

    Dave, I’m so happy to have “stumbled” onto your ministry through words and art. You communicated so much through the illustration. And your story, too. Thank you for spelling it out in your uniquely gifted way. I will not only think on this but share it with others I know will find its truth reverberates in their own hearts.

    • May 29, 2013, 10:09 am   /  Reply

      I’m so happy you stumbled onto the blog site, and you are always welcome to read about how I am stumbling forward in my walk with God. I am also happy to think about my story might just be an encouragement to someone else. Thank you for your compliments

  5. May 29, 2013, 8:08 am   /  Reply

    Amazing and inspiring… thank you so much, Dave!

    • May 29, 2013, 10:13 am   /  Reply

      It is my pleasure to recount the story of the last decade or so. Writing helps me process and helps me see some coherence in a story that can feel so random at times. Thank you for your encouragement.

  6. Katie Beth
    May 29, 2013, 8:28 am   /  Reply

    Goosebumps! I have goosebumps from reading your post. It is so honest and transparent. Thank you for sharing!
    I for one (of MANY) am so eternally grateful that God let y’all to Colorado Springs in midst of the life fires. Love you and your wonderful family! 🙂

    • May 29, 2013, 10:15 am   /  Reply

      KB, if getting to know your family was the only reason for coming to Colorado, that’s enough of a reason for me. We love you too!

  7. May 29, 2013, 9:20 am   /  Reply

    Dave, this is an especially poignant and touching post. I love the verse you mentioned from Isaiah–the one about God doing a new thing. It always comes to my mind around New Years, but oh, the newness God has for us is soooo NOT confined to dates on a calendar…

    Thanks so much for sharing with us. And I’m hoping and praying God reveals his new thing (and the rest of that bio!) for you soon! 🙂

    • May 29, 2013, 10:18 am   /  Reply

      Thanks, Melissa. You are right about how God is doing new things regardless of the calendar date. One of the things I am beginning to learn is to quiet my spirit and open my eyes to see more of what God is doing as my life unfolds. The first few years of the wildfire, I’m not sure I’d even qualify as a credible witness. I missed a lot!!

  8. Kathy Dobyns
    May 29, 2013, 9:27 am   /  Reply

    I realize that God usually has a better way–and only the very best for me in His plan, but I just keep working the my flesh to think I’ve found it. I never do, but this article lifted the veil a little higher, that I might recognize more of Him and less of me. Thanks

    • May 29, 2013, 10:20 am   /  Reply

      “More of him and less of me”–I’m with you on that one. I need to learn to fix my gaze upon Him. Thank you for your valuable input.

  9. May 29, 2013, 9:35 am   /  Reply

    Hi Dave! Thanks for sharing your story with us. As devastating as it is to have your dreams burned up like that, God does have the blueprints to your life, and He’s right in the middle of leading you down the path He’s created just for you.

    When I struggle with not knowing what the future holds (or when it will arrive), I try my best to remember that God’s plans are bigger and better than my own. He’s got fabulous plans for me! I just have to learn to wait for the right timing. He’s got bucketloads of blessings stored up for me. Again, patience is a necessary thing.

    Have a wonderful day!

    • May 29, 2013, 10:23 am   /  Reply

      I’d like a peek at the blueprints 🙂 Actually, that’s a good word for me. God has blueprints, detailed plans, and His chosen means to His very good ends. Patience for God’s timing is a big part of resting in the waiting. Thank you so much for your good comments.

      • Andrea Cox
        May 30, 2013, 1:39 pm   /  Reply

        You’re welcome, Dave! I know what you mean about wanting a peek at the blueprints. Thinking of the big plan as the blueprints God has in hand has helped me be more patient over the last few years. No, I haven’t perfected it yet (of course). But it helps sometimes to get out of my own head and think of the One who does see the big picture plan.


  10. May 29, 2013, 9:59 am   /  Reply

    I am so thankful you joined us for the blog tour and shared your insights with us. I’ve had the pleasure — yes, pleasure — of watching you (and your wife) walk out this journey through flames. Among many things you’ve said, one of the phrases that has stuck with me is how you want to “lean into God” during the process. I love that word picture.

    • May 29, 2013, 10:26 am   /  Reply

      Thanks so much for walking with us, sister Beth! I can’t imagine what this journey would have been like without you and Rob. My time’s up. I have to get back to my low-wage job! 🙂 Thanks again, Beth!!!

  11. May 29, 2013, 10:46 am   /  Reply

    What an inspiring post. I’ve learned that God doesn’t always answer prayer the way I want it answered nor as fast. But I’ve also learned like the little girl who wouldn’t give her dad the fake pearls she’d gotten in a vending machine so he could give her real ones, that when I do let go, God has something so much better in mind than what I thought I wanted.

    • May 29, 2013, 2:05 pm   /  Reply

      I agree. Maturity is trusting God completely for the when, the what and the how. I’m working on that. I won’t kid you. God had to pry my fingers off those plastic pearls and several other vending machine trinkets. I am sure I will–one day–be very happy with what God exchanges for what I thought I wanted. Thank you for your good insights!

  12. May 29, 2013, 11:37 am   /  Reply

    I’m sorry the past few years have been so challenging for you, Dave, but I trust that when the smoke clears, God will blow you away with what He has in store for you.

    I’ve found that I experience the greatest growth as a direct result of the tough times. Those trials definitely lead to a greater sense of appreciation when good things come my way.

    • May 29, 2013, 2:16 pm   /  Reply

      I must acknowledge that the deepest joys have come out of the deepest sorrows and that the greatest transformation has come through the most pain. Endurance has come by waiting in difficult times. Sometimes I’ve thought myself wiser and more compassionate than God by asking Him to spare my wife and children from the trials and testing. I’ll volunteer to live in a van down by the river if God would allow my family to be comfortable. But that is my folly. God loves my family more than I do and He has good designs for the difficulty He allows them to pass through. I am anticipating with great eagerness that day when “the smoke clears” 🙂 Thank you for your comments.

  13. Rachel
    May 29, 2013, 12:16 pm   /  Reply

    Wow, Dave, what an amazing journey! I am so aware in my own life of God giving me His dreams and funny… they are similar to mine only better.

    But really, He’s after whole hearted lovers and if that means fire and smoke, then come, Lord, come!

    Can’t wait to see all He has in store for you!!


    • May 29, 2013, 2:27 pm   /  Reply

      “He’s after whole-hearted lovers and if that means fire and smoke, then come, Lord, come.” Very well said. I have a confession to make. I believe I grew up thinking that serving Jesus meant doing what I didn’t want to do for His sake. The idea that God gives me gifts AND desires, and that His will for me encompasses both–that is a very recent discovery. Thank you so much for your comments.

  14. May 29, 2013, 3:27 pm   /  Reply

    Dave, it’s so nice to get to know you a bit better over here on Beth’s blog. Your picture—with pencil and with words—is beautiful. That whole “dying to self” thing that is the only way to see the true beauty God has for us.

    I think the biggest area I died to self was in the area of mothering. Giving my desire, craving to be a mom to God after years of struggling with infertility and grief opened the door to the adoption of our two amazing boys. Leaning into Him during the heart ache, the difficult times is the only path I’ve found to real peace.

    May the Lord continue to reveal His all to you.

  15. May 29, 2013, 4:42 pm   /  Reply

    I am touched and honored that you would share from your own experience such a deeply personal desire–a desire that you offered up to God in order to receive His best for you. I am encouraged by your example to keep leaning into God as I wait upon Him. And thank you for your very meaningful blessing, “may the Lord reveal.” Thank you, Jeanne.

  16. May 29, 2013, 5:01 pm   /  Reply

    Hi Dave. As soon as I began reading…you were a seminary student, conflict in the ministry, burning bridges…been there (my husband graduated from seminary and served in ministry for years). Refining fires indeed. But you’re all the stronger for it, and thank you for sharing your wonderful and uniquely personal insights. And eight kids? Wow… The Lord’s obviously working in and through you, and I can’t wait to see what He has in store for you next. I’ll be praying for you and I’m so glad Beth introduced us to her brother in the Lord. Many blessings to you!

    • May 29, 2013, 7:47 pm   /  Reply

      JoAnn, I appreciate your encouragement as someone with some common experiences along the road. You are right. The furnace of affliction is God’s refining fire. I am so pleased that Beth sent you my way. Thank you for your prayers and blessings!

  17. May 29, 2013, 5:37 pm   /  Reply

    Seems like nothing in my life is in plan to me. But I need to remember its what God’s plans are for my life. I have a hard time with that sometimes. I enjoyed reading about you and for what you stand. I plan on following you! 🙂
    [email protected]

    • May 29, 2013, 7:55 pm   /  Reply

      It looks like we have some things in common. As you can tell, not much has gone according to my plans either! And, like you, I have a hard time with that sometimes. But I readily acknowledge that God has done many good things within me through the bad things happening around me. He has been changing me from the inside out. My spiritual journey into deeper intimacy with Jesus is always making moving forward, even when it seems like my life circumstances are stuck and going nowhere. I am so glad that you are following along. Thank you for your comments!

  18. May 30, 2013, 12:38 am   /  Reply

    Apropos for me, as I’m watching my hopes and dreams go up in the flames of an illness that will kill me sooner rather than later, barring a miracle.

    Is God doing this to show me something else, something better? Perhaps, but perhaps not in this life.

    Anyone who’s gone through a week of Marine OCS realizes, quite quickly, that the individual rifleman under one’s command is a resource to be deployed. And, if necessary, expended in the attainment of mission objectives.

    God is not a softy, and we owe Him a death. Perhaps my destruction will bring something to the world, something wonderful…but I won’t be here to see it.

    Or perhaps it’s one of the unavoidable casualties, which only in the mass can be seen to reflect His Glory.

    Either way, God disposes, and while I may not appreciate nor understand His dispositions, I am content to accept them.

    • May 30, 2013, 4:23 pm   /  Reply

      Andrew, your heart is speaking the language of pain, and I want you to know, I hear you. It grieves me to learn that you are carrying a fatal disease in your body. I would never attempt to offer you explanations or speculations as to God’s reasons for the invasion of this tragedy into your life. I am grieved over what you are going through. In your reflections you alluded to the next life.Ultimately, that’s where we all have to look–the sure hope of our resurrection. Jesus purchased for us the complete redemption of our bodies, the comprehensive renewal of all things, and fulness of Life in the presence of God. Suffering is painful. I hate it–your suffering and mine–and I would never choose it. But the Scriptures tell me that there is a mysterious link between temporal suffering and eternal glory, so that even our pain is not wasted. Andrew, I hurt for you, and wait with you, for the resurrection.

  19. May 30, 2013, 2:17 am   /  Reply

    Dave, this post took me straight back to my childhood. We lived on 64 acres and the threat of a bushfire at certain times of the year was a real one. I remember when I was probably only about ten, having a conversation with my dad while he was chopping wood and I was swinging my legs sitting on the back of the trailer chewing on a piece of grass. I asked him about bushfires – why they happened, what did it mean when people said ‘the conditions are right’, what happened to all the rabbits and possums when a fire went through. His explained about the conditions saying that when there was a lot of grass and scrub around, a dry wind and some heat from the sun, it was a perfect recipe for a bushfire. We also talked about what happens after a fire – new growth. Growth that is sweeter and juicier than the grass and bush that was there before. He said it was called renewal and God’s way of cleaning the land. At my questioning face, he told me to go look up the word ‘renewal’ 🙂
    Seems to be that’s exactly what God does with us too. Fires sweep through our lives and for awhile everything is black and dead looking and the smell of smoke lingers in the air. But not long after, the green shoots appear and all of a sudden, we realise new life is upon us. And then we realise it’s even better than before.
    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – you have a gift. And I thank God you have it because it is such a blessing to people like lil ole me 🙂 Thank you for your transparency and willingness to share your wildfire experience. We are all richer and inspired for the telling.

    • May 30, 2013, 4:31 pm   /  Reply

      You have said it so well. The bushfire is a beautiful metaphor for the cleansing work God does in us and the renewal He brings with the cleansing. Thank you for sharing your Dad’s wisdom with me. I sincerely appreciate your encouraging words. It is so beneficial for me to meditate on truth in community. I am very thankful for your participation and your contribution to the discussion and application of truth.

  20. Graham Friis
    May 30, 2013, 2:46 am   /  Reply

    Hi Dave
    Another great post and thanks for the insight into your journey so far. I was reminded of a story that some friends of mine relayed to me a few years ago. They had gone for a walk through the Aussie bush and as they came through a clearing it was obvious that a fire had recently been through the area. However the track they were on had apparently acted as a fire break and so one side of the track was burnt while the other had been untouched. Interestingly, what they noticed was the burnt side was predominantly black but with some incredibly bright green new growth coming through. On the unburnt side, the trees looked old, worn out or overgrown.
    It was only through the regeneration of the fire that the new growth could come. I really wish there was another way! The fire in my life is intensifying, getting hotter by the day in fact, and yet I also can hear The Lord telling me to wait and see what He will do.
    It is so good to know that your wife and family have stuck by you in your journey. I know in my case, my wife is a huge source of strength and support.
    Please know that I will be keeping you and your family in my prayers. I seem to be praying a lot more lately as things get hotter 🙂
    God Bless.

    • May 30, 2013, 4:41 pm   /  Reply

      Graham, you have painted a beautiful word picture for me. I am picturing the bright, green new growth emerging from the blackened earth. Like you, I do wish there was another way, but I must concede that it has become quite evident that there was plenty of old growth that needed to be burned away in my life. One day I shall be as grateful as I should be for the cleansing and renewing bushfire that God has sent raging through my life. Your experience sounds a lot like mine. When I prayed for relief, it seems the fire just got hotter. You are right about my bride. She is an amazing lady. I am grateful for her beyond words. I am glad you are blessed with such a partner. Thank you so much for your prayers, Graham. May the cleansing fire of God do its renewing work in your life and may you see bright, new growth emerge. I am praying that you thrive. Thanks for your response.

  21. May 30, 2013, 4:04 pm   /  Reply

    I’m a bit late in commenting, though I read this yesterday when it was first published… the joys of thunderstorms! Beth, I really appreciate this series you’ve been hosting. I’ve found it not only encouraging but also motivating.

    Dave, it’s a pleasure to “meet” you. Your story is fascination: I admire your determination not to give up on God. What gripped me when I first read your words was the imagery of fire. That God perhaps burns the hopes we once had so that we may embrace His hopes and plans for us. Now, that’s powerful! Heartfelt thanks.

  22. May 30, 2013, 4:46 pm   /  Reply

    Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement. It is a pleasure to “meet” you too. I think you are right about the burning of our hopes and replacing them with His. Living through the hard times, the fires often seemed harsh and unnecessary. Looking back, I can see good and necessary purposes in the burning. Thank you again for your comments.

  23. June 1, 2013, 7:17 am   /  Reply

    Stories like this always make me think of Abraham being called out of Ur. Sometimes God calls us out and asks us to trust Him fully in the “where to” part. I keep wanting to ask, “Are we there yet?” and He shakes His head with a gentle grin and says, “Be patient, my child.” I’m not sure it’s the “where to” He’s after anyway. Maybe just the journey along the way–time spent with Him on the road.

    • June 1, 2013, 10:35 pm   /  Reply

      You have provided some good thoughts to ponder. God knows His appointed destination, and He is never in a hurry. And, yes, the journey is important. Every step along the way is important and I am learning to pay attention as I walk along this road. Thank you for your good comments.

  24. carrie
    June 4, 2013, 7:28 pm   /  Reply

    I am do glad Beth mentioned this blog series during the FB party tonight. I am looking forward to reading all the posts as I am in a season of change and broken plans.

    • June 5, 2013, 7:25 pm   /  Reply

      I am glad you are reading the guest posts in this series. I’ve certainly enjoyed reading what Beth’s friends have had to say on the subject. I am very sorry about your broken plans. May this difficult season of change yield multiplied benefits for you and, in time, reveal a glorious plan for your life.

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