The Winding Paths That Lead Us Home

It all seemed so clear…until it didn’t anymore. I had a vision and a plan and I believed it was all from God. As circumstances lined up, I  became even more assured that it must be true.

I hear it all the time when something unexplainably good happens: “It was such a God thing.” It’s our way of saying, God ordained this; it must have been the will of the Lord. That’s why it all worked out, right?

But then, it doesn’t work out. Something that seemed so clear gets fuzzy. Dreams die. Plans change. Life smacks us around and derails what looked like a path set out for us. Wasn’t that God’s plan, too? Could our detours and our suffering be part of the perfect plan for us? We don’t like to claim that one.

I remember it like yesterday, a conversation that seemed innocent enough; not like one that would change my entire life. I had stopped by an old friend’s house to meet him for lunch. We had known each other since middle school and went to the same church as teenagers. We had reconnected in the past few weeks when we both moved back to our hometown after college. When his dad walked into the kitchen he reacted the way most people did upon hearing my plans. “What can we do to keep you from moving to India?” he said.

I raised my head with the confidence of someone following the way intended by God alone. “Nothing,” I insisted, “I am going.”

I had followed the breadcrumbs that led me to this place of kismet. I knew in my bones since college I would live in a foreign land but I wasn’t sure where. I chased that dream to seminary to get a stronger foundation under my feet before I launched out into the world.

I met a visiting lecturer who talked about his work in Northern India. He was supporting local artists who were seeing Hindus and Christians work together to create amazing art. I jumped at the opening to use my dance training and my faith together. When I started studying classical Indian dance, I became infatuated with all things Indian culture. I devoured the food, Bollywood movies, and the thumping bhangra beats.

I felt elegant in my sari the night of my first Bharata Natyam performance. My teacher said I took to the dance style so naturally I must have been a temple dancer in a past life. I found a job in which I could study dance in India and build relationships with college students in a big city. Clearly, this was a God thing.

Until…I fell quickly and madly in love with that old friend I said I was having a harmless lunch with. I weighed this perfect vision I had of what my life should look like with what also seemed like a perfect fit between the two of us. Wait, was I wrong? How could two paths be the right ones? Was India all my dream and not God’s? 

Spoiler—that man who asked about keeping me from India became my father-in-law. I did make it to India that year but only for a summer program. The day after I got back that friend asked me to marry him and we said “I do” before the year was over. He said, “you aren’t leaving me again.” I did, indeed, leave again for a month the year after we married to visit some possible places for us to work in the Middle East. We moved there together later that year. 

We recently celebrated our fourteenth anniversary. Our life together has been full of detours, dead-ends, and changing directions. We’ve had moments when the path ahead looked God-determined (like when everything came together at the ideal time for us to move to Egypt). We’ve had others when it seemed God’s plan was to crush us (like when we moved home from Egypt only six months later because of a family crisis).

We chased the dream again a few years ago and followed another winding road. We thought it was leading to India (at last), only to have it detour to Bangladesh. We sold our house and bought one-way tickets hoping to stay for a long time. 

We are back in the U.S. again after less than two years living in South Asia. Some days living in the midst of broken dreams hurts but we don’t have any anger or doubt. All the roads led to one place, and its the only one that matters. 

Through it all, I’ve met Jesus far more in the messy, tumbling path that seems to lead away from “God things” than I have on those perfectly manicured roads that look God-ordained. “Maybe all of life is just a journey back to the heart of God,” says Alia Joy, “back to the garden where we saw his face all he called us good.”

I’m not asking God for a vision anymore. I am not searching for doors that swing wide open and calling them good. I’m embracing this winding path that leads to places that are hard and hurt, that are good and beautiful, and that lead me home.

Nicole T. Walters

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