Monday, June 01, 2009


On Stages of Life ( this week I read a question from a twenty-something woman asking for advice on whether she should move to a distant state to take a good job opportunity or stay home, close to family and lifelong friends. I immediately felt myself tumbling through a mental time tunnel back some years when I faced a similar dilemma. All over again, I felt the swirl of conflicting emotions, the flood of pros and cons, and the competing voices of would-be counselors buzzing in my head. It gave me empathy and excitement for this young woman, and I started to fish through my head and heart for wisdom I could pass along to her. And I believe I found some.

In my own story, I was pushing forty, had a life I loved, and a secure congressional job in Washington, DC, the place I love more than anywhere else on earth. But there was a competing dream in my heart, to be a missionary and a nation re-builder in the former USSR. That’s when I got invited to do just that in the Republic of Latvia.

The dreamer and the practical in me suddenly clashed in sharp conflict. This was the kind of thing one does during one’s college summers, not in mid-career. I would have to raise my own financial support, which means I would actually have to ask people for money. Lots of people. I would be 8,000 miles from home in a land I’d only visited twice, briefly. My mother, a widow, was getting up in years. Would I go so far from her, not knowing how much time she might have left? It all rolled around in my head through many sleepless nights.

After a few weeks of this misery, I phoned my wise and dear friend, Dolly Gilbert. It was she and her minister and Renaissance-man husband, Jim, who had first taken me to Latvia with a mission team. Dolly solved the dilemma for me with one question: “Betsy, if you don’t go, you’ll always wonder, ‘What if . . . ?’ Can you live the rest of your life with that?”

No, I realized, I could not. For me, it would be better to make a mistake and come home, short a little time and money, than to wonder what might have been. My decision was made. The result was ten exciting, enriching, scary, stretching, delightful, hard, fun, and wonderful years in a land and with a people I grew to love like my own. (See photos of Latvia with this post.)

Of course, not every decision comes out so well. Every person has a different set of circumstances and priorities, as well as a different temperament and tolerance for risk. And, of course, for the Christian believers among us, discerning God’s will is Factor No. 1. But I’ve found that making the “what if” question part of my criteria for making big life decisions is a good and useful thing.

There’s more to come. Stay tuned for Part II. Also, share your own big-decision stories. Leave a comment!


  1. Great Post Betsy and the photos are gorgeous. I saw you on!! I am so glad you decided to join. I hope you enjoy the site and I cannot wait to see your essays on there.Love, Ange

  2. Anonymous08:37

    Regarding Dolly's advice, looking back when it comes to sin I regret the things I did. But for things that are good I regret the things I did NOT do. I look forward to part two.

  3. can't wait for part 2!