Perhaps it was that one drink or hit too many, that rueful one night stand, that punishing word in an argument, that right turn instead of left, that one decision or act that led to a mountain of shame and regret. If you could turn back the clock how far would you go? Would you return to that very minute when choice reared its head? Perhaps go back years and take a completely different path from the one that was tread. Following that train of thought you might as well rewind all the way back to the original sin and prevented Eve from taking that fateful bite.
Yet time continues its merciless march onwards and its followers are left to endure a relentless series of ‘if I hadn’t’s – ‘If I hadn’t gone to the club…’, ‘If I hadn’t gone to that school…’, ‘If I hadn’t met him…’ and so on; a sequence of seemingly controllable if-then statements that would have made all the difference. However speculation is the privilege of hindsight so we’ll never know what could have been. And if we consider the millions of minuscule things that needed to occur for our present circumstances to come about, perhaps this ignorance is more a blessing than a curse. I was humbly reminded of this lesson not too recently, thousands of miles away from home in a little place called Italy.
Italy had always held a romantic allure with its promises of historical marvel, beautiful scenery, and culinary sensation. Ours was a girls trip long in the making with stops across Milan, Rome, Florence, and Cinque Terre. Countless memories were shared but one truly stands out as a lesson in how all the wrong beginnings can lead to the most wondrous endings.
It began in Florence, as most things do. Now for anyone who’s traveled or even taken a trip to the grocery store, you’ll know that such journeys require thoughtful coordination, often dependent on perfect timing. However that morning, mere hours before heading to Cinque Terre, we made a spontaneous stop at a farmers market, almost missing our bus to the train station…only to miss our train when we missed our bus stop. Fruitless hand waving, failure to hail a cab, and a walk to the train station later, we arrived at the station to discover that our pre-paid tickets to Cinque Terre were the only ones we’d purchased with unassigned seats and a grace period of 3 hours, and if we ran to the platform across the station we could take another train with a detour to Pisa in, oh, 5 minutes. The trip would take a little longer than expected but was better than sitting around a station for a few hours. 6 minutes later the four of us were sweating profusely on a train and on our way, quite unexpectedly through the countryside of Pisa, the picturesque vineyards and lush hillsides more than making up for the morning’s debacle.
Upon finally arriving in Cinque Terre, we decided to hike to a church that boasted breathtaking views of the islands. Other hikers had pointed us in the general upward direction, informing us that there was a wedding taking place at the church that afternoon so we couldn’t miss it. Apparently we could. After walking fruitlessly in the hot summer sun, eventually trespassing and getting lost in a vineyard that was off the beaten path, we decided to surrender, listening wistfully to the church bells in the distance.
As we picked our way down the vineyard in disappointment, we encountered Isabelle and her husband stepping out of a car on the edge of the hilltop. What prompted them to help four wayward women we’ll never know. But upon explaining our situation, the couple kindly told us (in broken English) that they would lead us, because well, this was their vineyard that we were trespassing in and they were on their way to the church anyway to attend the wedding! We were stunned by this divine providence and generosity of strangers thousands of miles away from home. Instead of making our way back down the mountain in defeat, we toured the vineyard and the couple’s delightful home and took the private path to the church where we were rewarded with stunning views of the sparkling sea where one could easily make out each of the islands with their colorful locales and gorgeous natural undulations. After drinking in this precious moment we reluctantly bid our farewells to Isabelle and her husband and ended the day on a high note, as wedding crashers!
That night over pasta and wine we marveled in gratitude at the consequences of a series of ‘if we hadn’t’s’: If we hadn’t gone to the farmers market on a whim, if we hadn’t missed our train and taken a longer detour through Pisa, if we hadn’t gotten lost, if Isabelle and her husband hadn’t helped us, if there hadn’t been a wedding, if the four of us had never met…if a thousand known and millions more unknown details hadn’t occurred just so…well who knows what would have happened, and who cares. For that beautiful experience made us appreciate, ever more powerfully, that there are no matters left to chance, that the one who had set all things into motion had been sovereign over our lives the entire time.
For Christ made the most consequential decision of all to willingly surrender his life on behalf of those who would never fully comprehend the gravity of his choice. Upon being nailed to the cross and taking our sin upon his shoulders, Jesus’s sacrifice contained the greatest promise and redemption for mankind.
If He hadn’t…
lived the perfectly sinless life that we could never live…
unconditionally loved a fallen, broken people…
been wholly known and loved by the Father…
given his life on the cross to be the light of the world…
If He hadn’t.
At any given moment in time we are the amalgamation of all our decisions and choices. Many of these may not be ‘right’ ones in society’s eyes, some will have been made consciously, others mistakenly. Perhaps we’ll never know the why behind it all and perhaps that’s not the point. Yet if we acknowledge that our circumstances are not so much defined by the ‘if I hadn’t’ moments, so much as the ‘if He hadn’t’ moments, then perhaps we are exactly where we need to be.
So, if you had the ability to turn back the clock and change course, would you do it? Would you go back to that very minute? Go back a few years? Or would you realize that all the paths you’ve ever taken, the people in your life, the places journeyed to and from, were all completely necessary and good in the Father’s eyes? Though not all paths are straight and smooth and some wind through dark terrain, let us take heart and march forward diligently knowing that Christ did, and that has made all the difference.
Kathryn is the founder of That’s What She. After years spent roaming through the wilderness she met Christ in adulthood and hasn’t looked back. An avid lover of music, storytelling, and prone to run-ons, she hopes to embark on this journey with all of you and learn quite a few things along the way.