We dream. We make plans. We work hard. We knock on doors and walk through the ones that open. Sometimes, everything falls in place and it is a beautiful thing. Other times, everything falls apart and we’re left staring at something we never intended to see.
Last August, my son, Harrison, auditioned for American Idol. The whole process looked different this year because of Covid, so the first few rounds were conducted online. The first day took several hours. One producer, then another, then another. Questions. Interviews. One song, then another, and yet another. More questions. More interviews. Uploading videos. Another producer. By the time the first audition day was done, he was pretty sure he was moving on to the next round, whatever that was to look like.
A few weeks later, we found out he was indeed moving on, which meant they would be flying him and a guest (that would be me) to California in November to audition before the judges. Yes, those judges. They would fly us out, put us up in a resort for up to 2 weeks, where he would audition, conduct interviews, and be available for any additional filming. Covid restrictions were enforced at every step. We tested negative before we left, and were scheduled to test immediately upon arrival in California on a Friday afternoon, then quarantine until our results came in. Harrison’s interviews and audition were scheduled to begin Monday morning. Everything went according to plan. Until it didn’t.
We were watching a movie in our hotel room late Sunday night when Harrison checked his email on his phone. He then reached down to his computer, paused the movie, turned to me and said, “Mom, I’m positive.” Within the hour, we were told he was being released from the show and they were making arrangements to get us to a hotel in Los Angeles the next morning where we would quarantine for two weeks. That’s when this mama said, “Uh, heck no. We will be getting in a car tomorrow morning and driving the 24 hours home, thank you very much.” The Idol staff (who were kind and compassionate and awesome at every turn) made it clear that was not possible unless my results came back negative. Thankfully, about 15 minutes later, my results arrived in an email. Negative. We would drive home the next day. (A few days later, Perry, Houston and I all tested positive.)
After learning his Idol adventure was over, Harrison and I stayed up late talking about everything that had transpired. We were obviously very sad and a bit angry, but mostly we were shocked at how everything had fallen apart just hours from what should have been an amazing experience, regardless of what the outcome would have been. We had a plan. And things didn’t go according to plan.
The next morning we got up early and headed toward LAX to return our rental car and pick up a different car for the long drive home. On our way, I asked Harrison if there was anything he wanted to do in California before we headed east.
“No,” he said. “I just want to get home.” He leaned his seat back and closed his eyes.
”We’re pretty close to the ocean. Do you want to stop?” I asked.
He kept his eyes closed and replied, “I didn’t come here to see the ocean.”
I kept driving south toward the airport. About 45 minutes later, I saw an exit sign. I don’t remember what town the sign was directing us to; I only saw the word “beach.” I took the exit.
”What are you doing?” Harrison asked.
”We’re going to see the ocean.” I don’t know why, but I felt strongly it would be good for him. Maybe I thought I needed it too.
Ten minutes later, we parked the car and walked about 100 yards to the beach. For the next 20 minutes or so, we walked the beach a little, but mostly we just stood on the sand and stared out over the water. We stood there feeling small, weary, discouraged, and with a whole lot of questions. And yet, we also stood there in awe, overwhelmed by power and beauty, and certain we were looking at the handiwork of God. We didn’t have answers, explanations, or any clue what the new plan was, but somehow we knew it was going to be okay. Sometimes you just need an ocean in front of you.
About two and a half years ago, I put myself on a three-year plan. It was mostly about some professional goals I had, but it was very personal too. I dreamed, I made plans, and I worked hard. For just over two years, everything was going according to plan. Until it wasn’t. Last fall, the company I had contracted with to write musicals for the past ten years, went bankrupt. I learned of this development just days before winning a Dove award for one of the projects I wrote for the company. Talk about the highs and lows of the music business. A couple months later, my cancer diagnosis. None of those developments were a part of my three-year plan.
I came into 2021 thinking I would see the completion of my plan. I didn’t come here to see the ocean.
And yet, here I stand, feeling small, weary, discouraged, and with a whole lot of questions. But I also stand here in awe, overwhelmed by power and beauty, and certain I am looking at the handiwork of God. I don’t have answers or explanations, but it’s okay, because I’m pretty sure I am looking at something more beautiful than I could have ever planned on my own.
The ocean has always been a bit scary to me. It’s massive. Powerful. Uncontrollable. I can’t see to the other side. I’m well aware it could take me under in a split second unless I have something strong enough to keep me afloat. But because I do have something to keep me afloat, I can look at the ocean in all its fury and say, “It is well with my soul.”
The new season of American Idol starts next week. I’ll watch with mixed emotions. I might recognize names and faces and locations. But mostly, I’ll remember when it all fell apart and I watched my kid stand on the beach and look out over the water, as I thought to myself, “God, we didn’t come here to see the ocean, but WOW. You did good. And I still believe there are better things to come.”