Isabella’s* Story: 

Growing up, my dad’s incredible ability to plan made me feel safe. He held deeply to a philosophy which he called Jim’s 5%: “Dear, you spend 95% of the time planning for the 5% of bad things that could happen so that you can prevent them, or if one DOES happen anyway, you are ready!”

And ready he was! 1800-mile road trip? No problem. He tightly packed the car including stocking it with delicious snacks and more water than we could drink so that even if we were to have a flat tire in the middle of the Arizona desert, we would be “all set!” He planned every road trip down to the detail—which roads we take, where we stop for gas. On every journey, he made mental note of details he might need later.

Even after I married and had children, my dad’s watchful eye kept us safe including hurricane season. He reminded me each year to make sure our trees were trimmed. To prepare for the “big one,” he bought extra ice chests, and found a place that sold dry ice. When everyone else’s meat rotted, we grilled steaks and ate fruits and vegetables out of our ice chests (we lived just around the corner). He had a stockpile of candles, so we never sat in the dark. And his bathtubs (and ours) had been filled with water, so if water lines became contaminated, we had fresh water. He and my husband built plywood covers for our large windows and for his. We felt cozy and safe when a storm barreled toward the gulf.

Being “daughters of Jim,” as my sister and I say, we absorbed his cheerful and preventive mindset. Although he spent much time thinking about possible catastrophes, he possessed a force for optimism in my life unlike any other. He had a deeply held belief in his ability to figure it out, and a deep belief I was worth all the effort. He also wanted me to know how to protect myself, so he relentlessly taught me how to live a preventive life. When explaining how to drive defensively, I can still hear his commentary on parking, “Don’t park near the car with a cracked headlight, dear, he clearly isn’t a good driver!”

This mindset carried me into adulthood, marriage, and parenthood. When I considered being a stay-at-home mom vs. working outside our home, it wasn’t even a choice. I mean, think what might happen to my children in daycare! I would have sent them to private school to protect them from all sorts of evils, but our finances limited us. I even considered homeschooling, but it was clear early on that some of the sons God blessed us with were strong-willed, and we needed to outsource parts of their education.

We went to church. We prayed. We prepared. I would hear about calamities happening to others, but not to us. Because we were prepared. Until we weren’t.

A decade ago, things started happening. Overwhelming and painful things. For the first time, I felt all my planning was for naught. These storms were coming from distant and unknown lands. My dad offered even more support during this time. We turned to him for strategy regularly. He was there through all of it, but he couldn’t make it go away. The problems were not OUTSIDE of our family, but WITHIN it. These were problems I had no way to protect against.

Then the most unexpected thing of all happened and my dad died suddenly in his sleep. I was undone. I felt unprotected. We all did. He had planned, of course, and all his finances were in order, but he was gone.

A year later, I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Just like the hurricanes, these storms seemed to be increasing in frequency and intensity. I felt breathless.

And less than a year later, an explosive, irreparable conflict with a much beloved family member threatened to ruin our relationships with my husband’s extended family.

We just couldn’t catch a break. So, I did what anyone would do. I broke down and cried often.  I felt directionless, nauseated, and very anxious. Who could I turn to with my dad gone?

The contributions of my faithful and loving husband, other close family members, and my remarkable friends were real and significant. These relationships kept me afloat. But in some very real way, my dad had been my cornerstone, and without him, my inner structure felt permanently weakened.

In the midst of this, I was trying to start a business. Not a big or ambitious one, just something to distract me from my problems and give me an outlet to serve others. My friend, Ruth, suggested I take a coaching class at Rice University to help me in my work with high school students applying to college.

When I mentioned the expense, Ruth asked about the financial investments I had made in myself in the last 20 years. The answer was ZERO. “What kind of investments have you made in your kids? Tens of thousands of dollars in music lessons, tutoring, sports, etc. Why not in yourself?” The question undid me. I realized I had a deeply held belief that the time for investing in myself was in college. I had gotten my allotted share. From that point, money was to be saved to prevent financial ruin in old age. I had never verbalized it, but this is where the prevention mindset had limited my growth.

I ended up investing several thousand dollars, and the course changed my life. We learned how to ask our clients questions to get to their deepest aspirations and goals, I realized these were questions I needed to ask myself. I realized I didn’t have any goals. My only goals were around my kids’ success and preventing bad things.

A couple of years after the class, I am grateful my college admissions coaching business is thriving. I’m learning to allow myself to dream of what COULD happen. I am retraining myself to think of the positive things that are possible, instead of a worst-case scenario. The mindset shift has been so empowering.

When my dad departed this earth, I felt like he left me an orphan. He was such a good father; I didn’t feel much need for a heavenly one. Though I was a Christian, I do think I counted on my dad more than the Lord. Today, I feel my father living on in my memories, my strategic planning, and my desire for a beautiful holiday meal. But I am learning to accept that not everything he taught me was exactly right. In his eagerness to protect me from the 5%, he didn’t show me how to fly. It’s as though I couldn’t even see the 95% of the amazing possibilities life offers. I believe God wants me to live differently now—to embrace 100% of the purposes He has for me.

The past years have taken a real toll on my spiritual life. 2020 and all its difficulties have left me feeling disconnected from the church. I’m not sure how that will all work out, but I am reminded of the words Jesus gave me to pray:

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever.  Amen.”

Today, I rest in this knowledge my heavenly Father is infinitely generous as King, infinitely powerful as Lord of the Universe, and infinitely good as the God of all glory.

*The author’s name is pseudonym