Michelle Martin

Second chances

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Life is nothing but an endless opportunity for second chances.

I’ve used that line on all my kids, starting when my oldest was getting ready to apply to colleges. She and her friends were all stressed out over the decision; they seemed to think that if they made the wrong choice, their lives would be derailed and then … well, they didn’t exactly know what would happen if their lives didn’t go according to plan.

For my oldest, the importance of this choice seemed to lead to some avoidance until the deadline for making a decision loomed. For my second, it led to multiple college visit trips and probably more than a few spreadsheets.

For my youngest, now going through the ordeal that is the high school admissions process for eighth graders in Chicago, it’s meant trying to keep her own anxiety in check while calming down friends, bright, friendly, normally level-headed kids who seem to think their entire future rides on where they go to high school.

Who knows? Maybe it does, but probably not in the way they think. Where I went to college did seem to determine much of the course of my life so far, but not because of any academic experiences. I met my husband while I was in college; he was not a fellow student but a fellow staff member where I worked. We were married 31 years last month and have raised the three wonderful human beings who still seem to think that they can predict their own futures.

They also would laugh at me writing this; in our house, I’m the planner. I didn’t get a Girl Scout Gold Award for nothing; I believe in being prepared. But I have enough life experience to know that “be prepared” means being ready for the curveballs you weren’t expecting to come in high and tight, and to know that sometimes, it’s not a pitch you weren’t expecting; it’s finding out that you’re playing Australian-rules football when you showed up with baseball bat and glove. And maybe you got yourself there by making poor choices, maybe what looked like good choices didn’t turn out the way you expected or maybe you made plans and God laughed.

It doesn’t really matter. All you can do is look around, see where you are and figure out what to do next. Start over.

Need an example? As we approach All Saints Day, I say look to the saints. Look to St. Matthew, the tax collector turned apostle; St. Paul, who may not have fallen from his horse but did have an epiphany on the road to Damascus and turned from persecuting Christians to evangelizing them; St. Augustine, who famously prayed for “chastity and temperance, but not yet!” in his confessions.

Look also to holy women like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who married and had five children before being widowed, converting to Catholicism and starting the Sisters of Charity and the Catholic parochial school system.

God had very different plans for all of them than they had for themselves. So yes, do your best to discern God’s plan for you, but don’t be surprised if things don’t happen the way you expect. Just look around, decide which way is forward and start again.


  • family life