Do you remember the pick-a-path books many children read all those years ago? You proceeded through the book and read instructions at the bottom of the pages that told you to skip to a particular page number, based on the choice you had made. I also loved the movie, Sliding Doors, where two parallel lives were being lived, at the same time by the same woman. The outcomes of her life were very different because of the train she missed. And didn’t miss as well. This film fascinated me because I have often wondered about our choices and which direction they take us. How much do we allow God to speak to us and direct our decisions, and then we ultimately bear consequences (good or not so good) for the remainder of our time here on earth?
I remember having a lengthy conversation with an employer of mine - a mission’s director and passionate theologian. We talked about some mind-bending stuff, like can there be parallel worlds, depending on choices made? And yet God is still sovereign over it all?
Recently I went to a lunch and caught up with some people I go way back with. Spending time with them and praying together was wonderful, but over the next day or so, I felt sadness weigh heavily upon me. I can now name that sadness ‘grief’. I was experiencing the loss of something. The loss of a dream, or ‘calling’ if you will.
Let me explain this to you further.
I moved cities (even islands!) to work for an international mission’s organisation. I sensed the call to work in the mission field, and by moving to work for the ‘home’ office, this was the beginning of that journey. After just over a year of serving for the organisation, I believed God was preparing me to go. About a month after I had begun to name these plans to others, I met my husband-to-be. Dating him soon began, and my dreams to work overseas began to get pushed to the back of my mind. The day he asked me to marry him, I couldn’t say yes. I was in a quandary. I didn’t know how to answer. Was I to let go of what God had for me? Over the next two weeks, I received encouragement and wisdom from several people, including our own families. I finally said yes, and our wedding day was filled with much peace and joy.
As a newly married couple, we went on a short-term mission. It was challenging, fun and raised a lot of questions for us. Immediately following this time, I got pregnant so quickly - and right when my role at the home office had been changed to what I wanted it to be. I had to somehow grasp the excitement of impending birth and losing my ‘ideal’ job at the same time. Then, when we were considering ‘one and done’, I became pregnant again - and had to seek help with my inner stress and anxieties of having a newborn and toddler.
This was all completely different to the ‘original plan’.
Roll on into latter years and my husband and I (with children in tow) were beginning to prepare for a longer overseas placement with the same organisation.
And then COVID arrived. For many of us, those well-prepared plans all fell apart.
I had this notion that we were best to stay in our own country. I can see reasons why that was and still is now. Different family dynamics and conflicts of interest. They were all going to make life difficult had we gone on the mission field.
Funnily enough, I have ended up moving back to my home city (on the other island). Our reasons for moving have never eventuated (not yet anyway). But we can see other things God has been doing in our lives. And we never would have been able to plan those.
So, I look at what I thought God wanted me to do. Is it that I just didn’t listen hard enough? Did I not walk in obedience, and therefore am destined to walk around in the wilderness and never see the promised land? Or is His purpose for me still what I imagined, but the journey to get there is quite different?
We can make our plans, but God’s purpose always prevails. He knows the bigger picture; we only see in part:
“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” (Proverbs Chapter 16, verse 9).
I know He is growing me in ways I would have never thought of, had I remained single. And that is what I cling to when I grope for the dreams I once had. His ways are so very different to ours.
Fiona Murray has a passion for telling stories, both real and fictional, to engage the reader in the greatest hope of all, Jesus Christ. She has been a primary school teacher, teacher aide, personnel administrator for a mission organization and financial assistant for a community trust, all of which has grown her love for detail and creativity. Fiona is also undertaking further theology study to enhance her writing. She is married to Alan, and they live in Selwyn, Canterbury (NZ) with their children.