By Barb Arland-Fye
Sheri Wohlfert found a place to nestle in my heart. It happened last month during a Saturday workshop on Radical Catholic Hospitality that I attended at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport. She told a story about herself that stilled my sense of restlessness about devoting a sunny mild Saturday to a daylong workshop.
As a 12-year-old from a strong Catholic family, Sheri decided to ease God’s workload by laying out the plan for her life in a journal. She wrote down where she’d go to college, when she would marry and what her husband’s occupation would be, the names of the children they would have and where she would teach school.
I could relate to Sheri’s story, having dreamed up a life’s plan in my mind at the same age. Then her story took a turn I didn’t expect but, once again, could relate to.
Fifteen years after preparing her life’s plan, Sheri found herself sitting on the porch with her grandmother, feeling sad and wondering why things hadn’t worked out the way she intended. Her grandmother asked to see Sheri’s journal. After reading it, she asked Sheri why her life’s plan didn’t include the drowning death of her older brother, the death of her mother at age 46 from brain cancer or other losses.
No, the plan didn’t include those tragedies or the loss of a teaching job because the largest employer in town shut down. Sheri knew pain. She had suffered. A lump formed in my throat; no one is immune to loss and suffering during our pilgrim journey on earth. But 12-year-old girls don’t think about including that in their life’s plan.
Sheri’s grandmother advised her to begin relying on God’s plan and to discern that plan through prayer. Grandmother and granddaughter took the journal to the burn barrel and Sheri began to lean into God to try to understand God’s plan for her. Surrender leads to trust in God, Sheri said, and trust in God has led to many blessings she couldn’t have imagined for her life’s plan. Sheri has been married to a dairy farmer in Michigan for 28 years, they have three grown children who are thriving, Sheri teaches sixth-grade in a Catholic school and gives talks around the country about our Catholic faith.
Trusting in God doesn’t mean that life becomes perfect, but it changes our perspective and helps us to surrender to God, Sheri said. My life’s plan was to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, writing books on the sea shore in Cape Cod.
I did not envision a career as editor of a Catholic newspaper, marrying a locomotive engineer, raising two sons (one of whom has autism) and overcoming illness.
But on a bicycle ride the other day, I savored the blessings of my life, the companions on the journey, the ability to tell and share stories that help readers to see God at work in our lives. I called Sheri the other day to ask permission to include her story in my column. She, too, is a writer for a variety of publications and writes a blog titled “Joyful Words.”
“Our stories of what Christ has done in our brokenness, those stories draw people in,” Sheri said.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)