mourning the path not taken

two paths

My future was decided early on. I was going to spend my days cuddling African babies under an African sun. I felt the blood of my great great aunt and her missionary life running in my veins and my young passionate spirit wanted to follow in her footsteps. I spent my teen years reading the memoirs of great Christians of the 20th century who’d gone out in boldness and faith to new frontiers. I was going to be like them.

Those dreams matured and gained some perspective as I grew older, but they remained strong. I aimed at a career in international development work. I spent a gap year and then every spare week I had in the beautiful countryside of KwaZulu Natal. I picked a degree that I thought would get me there, then picked an internship that would introduce me to the policy world of development work and the fantastic organisations on the cutting edge of that sector, working with impressive professionalism and boundless compassion.

And then I met a man who I didn’t get tired of spending long hours talking with. Who made me laugh. Who made me feel secure. Who loved me well. And I chose to marry him.

We’ve re-imagined our path together multiple times since the day we met. We’ve moved to the US for three months, then moved to Luxembourg. We’ve made the decision to start a family. We dream about our future plans, we discuss our priorities and our values, and how we can best live them out. In our conversations we’ve already moved ourselves to multiple countries, travelled the world, launched a hundred businesses, renovated dozens of houses, named tens of children. We love to daydream together.

But our path, so far, has not taken me into a developing country. Instead, I am living in the country with the highest GDP in the world, where you can well believe no one lives in poverty (it’s here but it’s deeply hidden), where the biggest concern seems to be whether it’s worth the drive over the border to buy cheaper groceries in the German supermarkets.

It’s a far cry from the place I imagined myself when I dreamt of my future at twelve, at sixteen, at twenty-two. Some days I read about the people there, in the midst of it all, sleeves rolled up, hands dirty, wrestling with the hardship and the beauty in it all, and I feel an immense sadness at the path not taken. I see in my mind the faces of the people I’d have met, the children I’d have held, the lives I might have been blessed to see change. And it hurts that that dream didn’t come true.

And yet. And yet. I don’t regret this path I am on. I don’t regret for a single second choosing this man, choosing this life. It’s a full life. It’s joyful and hard and new and stretching and exciting and terrifying and very full of love.

I am so glad I am on this path.

And I am so sad I didn’t get to take that path.

The lesson of my year (if I’m allowed to say that at just month nine) is that emotions and feelings are never clear cut. Joy mixes in with the pain, contentment walks hand in hand with frustration, trust is the bedfellow of doubt. And so I can mourn the path not taken even while I celebrate that God brought me down this one.

And maybe there’s another lesson emerging. That nothing is wasted. No dream unfulfilled, no idea imagined, no effort put in, no tears cried, no struggle, no hope, no loss. Nothing is wasted. All of these things, all of my life experience, is being shaped into something good, something lasting.