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Time and regret

I mentioned a couple of issues that were brought to my mind by a survey I completed for a friend's daughters. Here are my thoughts on one of those issues:

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked if I would be willing to answer a survey for her daughters. They were doing a project for their home school about missionaries, particularly about missionaries who are young women. Several of the questions were typical “What’s it like to be a missionary?” type questions, but there were a couple that really made me pause and mull a few things over.

The first question they asked that really got my attention was “what were some of your goals while there and did you accomplish any of them?” What were my goals? I don’t think I went into the experience in Yaoundé thinking that I had anything to accomplish. I was just going to Africa to teach at a school. Once I was a little more settled there, I really wanted to learn French and become comfortable being self-sufficient in such a different culture. Also, a very important goal for me was to build relationships.
Was I able to accomplish those goals? Partially. And that’s a regret of mine. I could have worked harder to learn French and not just enough to scrape by in the market or around town. I could have put myself out there more and gone to Rafael’s village to visit his family when I was invited, or talked to the people around me more. Why didn’t I do those things? I really don’t know. Selfishness? Pride? Insecurity? Fear? Really now when I look back there are times I want to kick myself for some of the “weak” choices I made.

Was I self-sufficient? In some ways, absolutely. I could walk to and from school with no problems, get toilet paper and lettuce from the little hole-in-the-wall shop on my road, hail a taxi and ride in it by myself (well, I mean without people I knew. Taxis were always full of 5 or 6 other people), go to the tiny church down the road where they sang and preached in French and sit by myself, and handle pegging my own laundry on the line to dry. But I couldn’t change the gas bottle by myself, hated going to the market without a friend, couldn't carry on conversations with those people at church because I didn’t know enough French to say more than “hello, how are you?”, and a bunch of other little things like that where I leaned on the people around me to make decisions and take care of things. When I got sick and needed some antibiotics, my friend Liz had to take me to the pharmacy, ask the pharmacist for the drugs I needed, and pay for it for me because I was too intimidated to do it by myself.

In my head, while I was there, one of the worst ways I felt “dependent” on others was because of my support. Since I wasn’t being paid to be there, I had to rely on people back in the States to send money every month. When that all started falling apart (people had family problems, medical issues, etc. that made it to where they couldn’t help anymore), and it became clear that I would probably have to leave, I just stopped trying to learn anything, become independent, build new relationships. I withdrew from anything but my dearest friends and my students and work. Looking back, that is one of my biggest regrets, that I drew back when I should have been digging in deeper and sucking the marrow out of every moment. There were times when I was invited to do things, travel, experience something new, and I said no. I sat in my house and let opportunities pass me by. I regret that so much; in fact, I mourn over that sometimes, that I would hold myself back from the full experience available to me and miss out on so much.

I know there’s nothing I can do about that now. I can’t go back 3 years and have a re-do. There’s no amazing time machine that can help me change the past. What I can do is never allow myself to do that again. A good
friend of mine asked me the other day how I do it all. I didn’t know what she meant, so I asked what she was talking about. She said I do so much – work, take care of a house single-handedly, am on a softball team, spend time with family, help with the AV ministry at church, and volunteer for things like youth retreats (I’m helping with one this weekend). Listed like that, it looks like I’m constantly busy. I know in reality that I have a lot of free time. So there’s still this little niggling voice in the back of my head saying, “Do more, Anna. Don’t let it pass you by. Don’t let regret happen again.” So I push and find more to do and feel disappointed in myself when I realize I’ve spent a whole day doing nothing. Why am I given these days if I’m not supposed to use them, seize every opportunity, be used to my fullest? But not just use my time - make it worth something, make it count.

So here I am, learning from my past, hoping to make my future count. It’s not a matter of busy-ness, but of building value into my every hour. How can I be useful, how can I make a difference? Lord, help me to see and seize every opportunity to instill value in the moment, to learn from everything, to grow more each day.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 9th, 2011 04:48 am (UTC)
This is really beautiful. :)
Mar. 9th, 2011 12:54 pm (UTC)
I'm not much older than you, so I can't very well say my experiences trump yours... all I can do is share my experience. I've found that for me, being busy is disappointing. Amount of activity does not equate to significance of activity. But then, all I've known since being out of college (forced activity) is being married with children. I don't say that negatively, only that mine is a very different life from yours.
Mar. 9th, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC)
I feel like you kind of missed the point I was making, but maybe I just misunderstood your comment. It's not just about being busy. It's about instilling value into my days, and personally, I find value by using my time for something that helps others or accomplishes something. I don't want to be "busy for busy's sake". When my time is taken up with just busyness, I agree, it's very disappointing.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )