Janet B. Villa
Plan B [noun]: An alternative plan of action for use if the original plan should fail (Merriam-Webster, m-w.com).
“Life,” says Suzy Toronto, “is all about how you handle Plan B.” My life, it turns out, has been pretty much about Plan B’s, about how the best-laid plans got waylaid and shuffled into “upside-down, inside-out versions.” I am grateful for how our second-best awakened us to God’s best.
1. My writing and my husband Jojo’s coaching
Plan A was for me to be a lawyer and for my husband to be a shaker and mover in the pharmaceutical industry. Jojo joined the biggest drug company in 1987, and I joined the biggest law firm in 1991. Money was easy to come by. The road to happily ever after was supposed to begin. The year we got married, Jojo said that he wanted to coach basketball. I was upset. I said bad things. My anger was rooted in fear. Perhaps to appease me, he didn’t leave his day job; he just took on assistant coaching duties: UP Maroons first, NU Bulldogs next, De La Salle Greenhills later, then a host of other teams in school and the pros. He was often tired, but he lived big, which meant later on finally ditching his day job for a “pray job.” Living out his passion meant achieving his finest moments, yet also entering into his biggest heartbreaks. There was no space for middling. “Buffy” creator Joss Whedon said, “[Passion] hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow.”
He knew that as a coach, he was only as good as his last game, and, as Coach Joe Lipa always said, coaches are hired to be fired. Players win games, coaches lose games—it was a tightrope walk, but to my husband there was just no other way to live. Life wasn’t a compromise. It was hard to live with a happy man. So I became crankier. I was jealous. But I also understood him, so a few months after he went into coaching, I sat him down before a computer, and we wrote a letter to Coach Roy Williams of the Kansas University Jayhawks. A few months after, we received a fax message. Jojo would become one of the first Filipino coaches who would train with an NCAA college: once in 1995, then again in 1997. And so began his training series (for what teacher isn’t first and always a learner?)—first with the Jayhawks and then with other teams, Chicago Bulls, Illinois University, University of Wisconsin in Madison, Stanford, UC Berkeley, George Washington University, Annapolis. He would form deep and lifelong friendships with some of the best coaches in the U.S., who has through the years sent him notes, books, DVDs, shirts.
Years later when I could no longer live my Plan A, my husband was my first and strongest supporter. He said, “Let’s follow your heart.” Except for my friend, Germaine, everyone else was wary. Really, why waste four years of law school and six years of practice? When I told my college friend, Benji, about it, he wondered, “Why are you so afraid to be rich?” (He later became a missionary; I should ask him the same thing.)
A few months before I could get promoted to partner (when it would become much harder to turn away from fortune), I went up to my mentor and confessed, “I’d rather be a bad writer than a good lawyer.” Brave words. I didn’t mean them. I just didn’t know what else to say. Lawyering was a noble profession, and the people I worked with was family. But it wasn’t my passion.
Life is too short to be doing something you’re not excited about. When my mother learned I wanted to write, she thought it was capricious. Writers write on weekends, she said. When I tried to sweeten the deal by saying I wanted to teach, she mourned.
“I didn’t raise you to be a teacher.” She had taught in a public school all her life while raising six children; she didn’t want me to go through the sacrifices that she had to. But passion is about sacrifice; it is when we bleed, when we tip over, that we come alive. Dr. Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
I like what Dr. Thurman says about praying for our work. “When we pray for our work, what we lay our hands and hearts to do, we think about coming alive. We aspire to be in that place were we are fully alive, being everything that God has destined us to be. May we not do work because we think we ought to. Rather, may we ‘come alive’ and see where that leads us.”
2. Our marriage
In the years and years that we have been partner to each other, my husband and I have threatened to call it quits a few times, and in some of those times we had “good” reason.
Quitting was easy; threatening even more so. You could say that our relationship now is our Plan B, several times over.
Early in our marriage, our mistake was to adopt the cinematic concept of “You complete me.” Each thought that the other one was “supposed to.” But if one is not happy alone, then he or she would not be happy with another. Each day I have to relearn that to love means that I do not find my happiness in Jojo, but to give that happiness to him. Marriage, like our relationship with God, wasn’t about comfort or convenience. It was about caring—for somebody else.
Two fallen natures, two inclined to sin and self-focus. Oh, the growing up we had to do! Yesterday afternoon Jojo called me from the gym. “Hi, Jan.” He sighed, deeply. “I look forward to going home,” he said. “Why?” I asked, worried that something was wrong with work, with a friend, with the outside world. “Because you are there. And Anna,” he said. Marriage does work—if we work at it seven times seven times seven times.
3. Our adoptive daughter, Anna
Is there a better Plan B than this lovely child? There was no way my husband and I could’ve dreamed up the vision of her. Some time ago, I wrote this to Anna: “Your father and I play a game. We ask, WHAT IF? What if God were to bargain with us to give us a birth child but it wouldn’t be you? We’d say, ‘No, thank you.’
You—Anna, no one else—make me a mother in every sense. Motherhood is very specific. Just as every child is. I am a mother because of you, and I bear that proudly.”
Anna lives out for us the truth in Ephesians 3:20, that ours is a God “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” As I write this, Anna burrows into my left side, hooking an arm over mine. There is no harder —yet lovelier—way to write.
(For over a year now, I’ve been doing the daily Joy Dares encouraged by Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. Whenever I can, I find three gifts that I am grateful for based on a list of prompts free for downloading at http://www.aholyexperience.com/joy-dares/.)