Our parable on the vagaries of life begins with the opening stanza of A Franciscan Blessing.
It goes like this: May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your own heart.
Which brings us to Jen.
Twenty years ago last month, Jennifer McHugh started a ministry for young women like herself stay-at-home, 20-something, Christian moms who wanted to build their lives around their marriages, their children and their faith.
She called it Proverbs 31 in which King Solomon honors a wife of noble character.
She and her two partners printed a newsletter that reached 35 states. She appeared on Sally Jessy Raphael. All three were children of divorce. So while millions of peers were making the two-income household a cultural norm, Proverbs 31 found its niche in women whose career choice was creating stable families.
But Jennifers own life quickly diverted to a series of Plan Bs.
First, she had to get a job. She eventually got a divorce. For a while, she lost her faith.
And what did she discover?
That at 24, she knew very little about a lot of things, including herself. That as one life ends in pain and disappointment, another one invisibly begins. Different, maybe something more.
A life thats fantastic, she says.
Jen is now 44.
Shes happily married to Terry Tolbert, T she calls him, a guy she met at a camp when she was 16. Theyll celebrate their fourth anniversary on Thanksgiving.
She looks back at Jennifer with a sigh. How naïve to think she had it all figured out. How odd that life, as with human nature, had led her to the very things she tried so hard to avoid.
She began working outside the home in 1997 to help her family make ends meet.
As with her ministry, she spotted a ripple before it became a wave. She started a business helping firms enter the computer age.
As successful as it became, her new career forced an abrupt and painful break with Proverbs 31, and with many of her relationships there. She felt hurt and alone, cut off from friends, cut off from God, too. I was done, she says.
God, however, wasnt done with her.
In keeping with our opening prayer, well avoid easy answers. But a turning point might be found in the failure of her first marriage. It lasted 17 years, but Jen says it had long been buried in day-to-day routine.
When she asked for a divorce, she acted in her own behalf as strongly as she ever had. She needed something better. Slowly, painfully, the better began to take shape.
She reconnected with T.
She reconnected with God. Thats a different relationship, too. Its built on a New Testament point of view to love/not judge those around her, to use any opportunity to help.
Twenty years ago, Jennifer McHugh reached out to those who were walking her same path.
Today, Jen Tolbert is walking a different path. A life she never saw coming has helped teach her who she is and where she needs to go.
I havent lost my faith. But it looks very different today, she says, and I like this version much better.