The Next Right Choice

A week or so ago my daughter and I took a road trip with my dad. We traveled the (longer than I remembered) trip to Alabama for the homecoming celebration of a tiny country church my great-great-great-great grandparents planted in 1835.

It was an incredible trip, full of eye-opening stories and insights to the power of legacy and time with family we rarely get to see. It was also an exhausting trip; we introverts don’t handle long periods of time being “on” and the road trip itself drained the last drops from our energy reserves.

So by the time we got home late on Sunday night, I had already made the decision that my daughter wouldn’t be going to school the next day. She’d get an unexcused absence so she could stay home and rest and recuperate before jumping into her week. I felt pretty good about that decision…

…until Monday morning, when the guilt set in. When school had already started and she was still in bed, I wondered if I had made the right call. When I looked at the clock and realized her class was at lunch and she was still lounging in her pajamas, I felt a pang of regret over what I worried was a bad choice on my part.

Because she had been extraordinarily patient during a weekend that wasn’t very kid-friendly, I had promised her a trip to the mall. I wanted to make good on my promise, so even though I was still exhausted myself, off we went.

And y’all? We had an amazing afternoon. I’m not ashamed to tell you that while she “should” have been in school, we ate at ChicFilA, she rode a motorized panda bear around the mall (seriously), and we leisurely strolled from one store to another looking at kid jewelry and clothes we can’t afford (and probably wouldn’t wear, anyway).

It was fantastic. On the way home, after she had thanked me for the hundredth time for her panda ride, it hit me.

Keeping her out of school that day wasn’t necessarily what every mom would have done. A lot of moms might have disagreed with that choice, and I’m sure some of the people who saw us at the mall wondered why she wasn’t in school. Even now, I’m a little bit scared of what you might think of me. I’m a little worried you might judge me. I’m a little worried that you’re raising your eyebrows and questioning my decision.

But for us? On that day? That was the right choice.

For my daughter, on that day, I had made the right choice.

And really, that’s all any of us can do. Be it in motherhood, marriage, work, friendship, or even making changes in our diets, all we can do is make the next right choice. Take the next right step. Do the next right thing.

On our trip that weekend, I was able to look back on nearly 200 years of my family’s history. I heard stories and saw pictures and walked where they walked and even stood at the original pulpit where my great-great-great-great grandfather once stood. I saw a vast overview of generation upon generation of my heritage – one of faith and hard work and service to God – but what I didn’t see were the countless small choices that led their lives where they eventually ended up.

A destination is reached one step at a time. A legacy is built one right choice at a time.

Looking back, we see the big picture. But on this side of time, we don’t have that benefit. We can only see the moment in which we stand right now, and no further.

We can’t predict our next breath or anticipate what tomorrow will hold. We can’t see how things will be a week, six months, or fifteen years from now. We just can’t know.

I think we all know where we want to end up, though, in at least a general sense. We fool ourselves sometimes into thinking that the outcome of it all hinges on today, as though the trajectory of the whole journey will be forever altered by one decision. We act like we’re driving jet skis, able to turn on a dime and speeding toward an ever-approaching end point. Actually, though, we’re making this journey on something akin to a cruise ship. It’s a leisurely trip, with a planned destination that’s eventually only reached by a million small adjustments along the way. It doesn’t turn quickly, so none of its movements are irreversible. It takes time. A thousand daily decisions. A hundred million judgment calls. Infinite choices.

We’re not reaching the port today, friends. We’re on this journey for the long haul, and all we’re responsible for is the next right choice. Today, right now, the next right choice. And tomorrow? The right choice for tomorrow. We’ll make mistakes, of course. What we think is the right choice at the time may prove otherwise; sometimes we’ll forget to think altogether and forge ahead anyway.

It’s all right. Grace upon grace. We’re all doing the best we can, one right choice at a time.

On this journey with you,

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