A few years ago I stopped at a cemetery in a town just like any other. The graveyard was small and most of the tombstones were dated before my great grandparents drew their first breath. The cemetery was deserted. No fresh flowers were scattered among the two dozen or so tombs, no fresh footprints marred the soil. I cannot recall what was inscribed on most of the headstones. I do not recollect anyone famous or any relatives resting in the ground. I do, however, remember one inscription that silenced the groaning gravel:
1845 – 1873
I do not know who Mary Fisher was. I have no knowledge of her life. For me her entire life is contained in the dash between those two numbers: fleeting, fragile, empty. I am not aware of the circumstances of her death. I only knew, in that moment, that I did not want that epitaph on my grave. I did not want my name and the words “deeply regretted” tagged onto the end.
I have often speculated whether Mary Fisher deeply regretted not doing something in her life, or whether her family grieved deeply over her death at twenty-eight. I can shed no light on the matter, but imagine having your entire life summed up by the words: “deeply regretted.” Not “intensely loved.” Not “dearly beloved” or “greatly missed.” Not “enthusiastically lived.” Not a whisper of a life embraced with vivacity and animation and love. Instead of life, regret is engraved, and remembered, as the final word on a woman’s life.
I walked away, questions agitating my pace. How to breathe life in and shout it out? How to keep a soul fertile to changes, places, people and God? How to laugh often and much, yet weep with strangers? How to face decisions that could change everything? How to stand beneath the weight of familiarity and truth; love and tragedy; birth and the ache of beauty, and not shrink back but stand, and enjoy the feeling of water awakening each skin cell? How to live and not regret?
Who am I?
So far, I have been a graphic designer. I have been the author of a travel guide. I have been a jewelry designer, an entrepreneur, a receptionist, a waitress, a published poet, a switchboard operator, a promoter, a cashier, and a computer instructor. I have been a photographic assistant, a book-keeper, a data capturer, and an events coordinator. I have been a paramedic, an outdoor education instructor, a life skills teacher and a pregnancy crisis counsellor. Last year I was an au pair, a television producer and a student.
“I’ve learned that God isn’t out to get us, trip us up and come down on us, rather He’ll do everything in His power to ensure that we take the best path for our lives.”
Since finishing school eight years ago, I have begun three different degrees, completed two different certificates and commenced another. I have lived in six different cities, in two different countries and once I moved home six times in fourteen months. I have travelled ten countries in eight years. I have friends in twenty one different countries and I own property in none.
Who am I? I am a wanderer, a gypsy, a nomad. My name is Wendy. I have breathed for 764,294,400 seconds and counting. My occupation is my life. In five years time I will probably be doing something I never dreamed I could. I would rather read a book than watch TV and I do not like tea or coffee. I only like rules if I make them and I rebelliously follow rules made by other people. I break off split ends instead of biting my nails. When I grow up I would like to be a travel writer, or a mom, or a project manager for a non-governmental organization, or a Sherpa in the Himalayas.
Follow, Love, Live
My chequered vocational history proves I don’t have a foolproof plan in my pocket about how to find your vocation in life, nor do I have some secret formula that will help you decide whether to pursue a certain career path or study this or marry her or whatever other choice you might need to make about your future. In fact, I am wholly unqualified to tell you how to find purpose in life, but I can point you towards the One who makes life worth living: Jesus.
Often I picture Jesus telling us to love others and not to judge. I forget that when he said, “Come follow me,” he wasn’t just inviting us to a strict set of rules but to a real and exciting life whether you turn out to be a pastor, a doctor, designer or simply “Dad.” Sometimes I forget one of his main messages was that he came to give us a better life than we could ever dream of—life to the fullest. Jesus wasn’t locking us down to a vocation or job title. It’s as if he was saying, “Real, vibrant life is available to you now. Following me, loving me and living like me is your real calling…the rest is just there to aid you in following, loving and living.”
When I was seventeen I read a book on theology. I don’t remember much of it, but I do remember this quote by Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” That’s where the following, loving and living like Jesus come in. If you want to find your purpose you have to be willing to follow the Lord when he says “come,” whether that is into a banking hall, a church rectory, or the African plain. And when you get there you will find that what he really wants you to do is to love like a crazy person and live like He exists. If you manage to do those things I think you’re living your purpose and I’m sure God is smiling and whispering the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
I remember standing at Mary Fisher’s grave, thinking about how I wanted to live with no regrets, thinking about how I did not want to miss what God had for me or be held accountable for the talents God gave me that I didn’t use. I’ve grown up a little since then, and learned a little more about God the Father. I’ve learned that God isn’t out to get us, trip us up and come down on us; rather he’ll do everything in his power to ensure that we take the best path for our lives. Realizing his love for us has allowed me to relax a lot, not worry so much about missing God’s purpose for my life and it has made me think a lot more about a man called Jonah.
Jonah encountered a rather large mammal one dark stormy night when he was thrown off a ship into the sea. A whale came up and swallowed him like plankton. Jonah stayed in the belly of the rather large mammal for three days and three nights until God ordered the whale to belch slimy Jonah onto a beach (in case you think I’m making all this up, grab a Bible and look for the book of Jonah. It’s all there in black and white). Now, the thing about the beach that Jonah found himself on was that it was the exact beach that had caused him to board the ship in the first place. It was the beach that he had been trying to avoid. The problem for Jonah was that it was the only beach in the world where God wanted him.
I like that story because it gives me hope—if Jonah, who was actively rebelling against God, could be guided by him to the exact place where God needed him to be, then if I actively seek God, he will put me where he wants me to be. It comforts me to know that even when our hearts aren’t a 100% in tune with God, if God wants us somewhere, he’ll take us there even if he has to call on his friend Moby Dick to do it.
I am learning that finding direction in life has more to do with momentum than with finding a career or vocation. Momentum requires movement. It is an energy, a drive, a force that a person possesses. If Jonah hadn’t decided to go somewhere (even if it wasn’t exactly where God had called him) would he ever have lived out his purpose? I have great confidence that if your heart is purposefully pursuing God, you will discover that it is very hard to miss his will for your life. You will realize that it is very hard to keep pursuing God and regret the way you lived your life.