Sitting on the lanai of our lodging in Kihei, Hawaii, last month, I was immediately transported to 2010 when we lived here courtesy of the United States Air Force. I was tagging along with my husband who attends a conference here each year, and this is the first time I’ve been back since we called Hawaii home. Staring at the sea, I imagined my three young children inside chatting about Phineas and Ferb as they ate their breakfast of oatmeal and drank their cups of pog (passion fruit-orange-guava juice — YUM).
Later, while my husband was conferencing with folks, I drove down S. Kihei Rd. in search of a coffee shop where I could tackle my long list of work chores. As I approached Alanui Ke’ali’i St., I defaulted to the familiar pull to turn right towards the neighborhood we lived in years ago, but instead of turning left onto our old street, I glanced right at the kids’ former elementary school. And then my stomach dropped to my ankles as regret filled the space . . .
Every whipstitch, I hear someone say, “I have no regrets for my choices or how I’ve lived!” No regrets? I think to myself. You can honestly say that for every decision you’ve made, you wouldn’t like a redo here and there? An opportunity to go back and choose differently?
Let me say, your girl here has regrets. In particular, I have parenting regrets. I regret taking a hard stance on things that weren’t a big deal. On the other hand, I regret not taking a few things more seriously than I did at the time — or rather, not looking harder to see the full picture as it was. An example of this? Our last year we lived in Hawaii, our kids attended an elementary school I’ve come to regret — the one I drove by last month. While my daughter had a fantastic experience there, my sons were bullied terribly. Since I regularly volunteered my time teaching music to my kids’ classrooms in that school, I should’ve been more aware of what was going on. Alas, I didn’t know the full extent of the bullying until after we moved away.
This made finishing our season in Hawaii feel like a disastrous fumble at the end of a game that snatched a win right out of our hands. And it tasted like someone had spiked our pog juice with a good deal of vinegar, making an overall great experience land on a bitter note.
It’s important to add that today, my sons are doing phenomenally well. They give virtually no thought to that time and certainly don’t see themselves as victims. However, I do think about that year from time to time, and seeing that school again brought a fresh tidal wave of regret that my young sons put up with so much. So, there I sat in my car, floating around in an ocean of sadness over something that happened thirteen years ago.
And that’s when I felt the Lord tell my spirit, “Okay, Kristen, we’re gonna deal with this right now.”
Compelled to read Genesis, I looked up the verses where Joseph, years after being sold into slavery by his own brothers, tells these same men,
“Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Gen. 45:5 NIV).
In other words, Joseph tells his brothers not to grieve the choice they made years before because he could see now how God was working behind the scenes all along.
I responded out loud, “Okay, Lord. I believe this. But what do I do with the lingering regret that I can’t seem to shake?”
And that’s when I received a picture of swimming in the ocean as a particularly strong wave comes toward me. Instead of fighting the wave, I know from experience I must sink underwater to escape the wave breaking with me tangled in it. By diving below the crashing wave, I save myself from harm.
Likewise, when waves of regret come, I’m learning it’s better not to fight them. I picture myself sinking into the Lord’s grace and redemption. That means rather than letting the regret tangle me up, I let the love of Christ hold me and save me. Rather than fighting myself, I surrender to Jesus, allowing Him to move me from the regret of the past to the relief that He is always working to redeem, preserve, and grow things of value from difficulties and mistakes.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you and I should be thankful and happy about every trial or tragedy experienced or the consequences of our own poor choices or oversight. Of course not. But it does mean that while waves of regret may come, God won’t let the pain experienced go to waste.
If I could, I’d still choose to spare my sons the pain of that year by enrolling them in a different school. Yet, I’m thankful for the gift of time that lets me see now what I couldn’t see then: What the bullies meant for evil, God used for good. My sons are well-adjusted, kind young men full of character and integrity. Being bullied in the past has paved the way for greater compassion today.
The waves in all our lives are doing good work to mold and shape us into people that better reflect the love of our Creator — the One who is big enough to hold our regrets, hold us in the swirling sea, and eventually calm the storm.