“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.” –Henry David Thoreau
In the process of doing my annual clean-out and goal-setting, I found a half-filled journal from 2007. It is rare that I would leave blank pages in a journal—I fill at least one each year—but this one was large, and since we moved aboard during its short lifetime, it got placed on the only shelf it fit on, then forgotten in the whirlwind of cleaning and fixing and learning to sail with four small children. I’ve moved it to clean the shelf several times, but it always got put back, “out of sight, out of mind.” Like the wooden box that holds my unused sextant, it hasn’t been opened in years. When I finally blew the dust off and looked inside, I found a time capsule from my life before Take Two. These are the words I read (edited for brevity):
“November 4, 2007
It’s been a year since Katie Rose sailed away, and I’m still whining about it. I hate regret. It is one of my greatest fears that I will die with regret, not having lived the life I desired to live, not having lived fully, but merely “existed.”
The morning of the St. Pete boat show last November, I stood in the shower and cried. Whatever excuses we used for not risking it all and buying that boat, I know in my heart that it was our destiny and we—at least the “I” part of “we”—chickened out. But thank God for his grace! So many times when I have screwed up, he’s given me a second chance, a replay, another opportunity to get it right. Will he do the same this time? What if our literal ship never comes in?
In any case, as I tell myself again and again, even if we never set sail, our lives will have been better for having dreamt and attempted to make the dream happen. We have made progress: our vision for our boat and our journey has crystallized. We know more and more clearly what we want in a boat, so we will recognize her when we meet her. We’ve realized that family size isn’t really the limiting factor; when Sam came along, it changed nothing, and that was a huge relief. We have changed our diet and lifestyle drastically so that a transition to living aboard as a family will be easier. We continue to simplify.
I am asking new questions: what are the next steps? Are there sacrifices we could be making, but aren’t? What in our characters needs to be refined so we will be ready? How are we to live in the waiting time—so that we are neither regretting the past nor pining for the future, but simply enjoying the part of life we’re in now? What does it mean to be content but also to never give up dreaming?
For now, while we wait for who-knows-what, we’ll continue to get an education in all things dream-sustaining, reading up on survival-at-sea, weather patterns, diesel engine repair, food preservation and storage, homeschooling, world cruising routes, and sailing adventure stories to inspire us.
Our sense of urgency is mounting, so it is a struggle to remain patient. I want to go before it is “too late.” The fear of financial downturns, destruction of wilderness, political instability at home or in other countries, the rapid growth of our children, and the unstoppable clock and approach of middle age—these are the things that drive us onward and say, “Go! Go now! Sell everything you don’t need, throw off all encumbrances, and go! Be free!”
Perhaps that’s where this begins and ends: I want to go to be more free. But, in a sense, I must be free in order to go. Free of fear—of what other people think, of discomfort, of feeling out of control, of failure. For me, that kind of freedom comes from knowing and loving God, and being loved and accepted by him, and in a sense, made invincible by his love. While we wait, we must become good at praying—asking, seeking, and knocking—until heaven answers with peace, love, joy, and divine freedom. Let me be completely free, Lord, from fear that holds me back, from the pits I dig for myself and fall into, from fretting over the past, complaining about the present, or worrying about the future. I want to be free to enjoy my life so that I will be content no matter what happens, whether we stay or go, and that I will rest easy in the life I’m in now while I wait and work for whatever comes next.
A mere month after I wrote that entry, we drove to Fort Lauderdale to look at a 48’ custom wooden catamaran called Take Two, a boat aptly named, as it was to be our second chance at success. That was sixteen years ago, and these thoughts, now in the rearview mirror, still resonate. I still want to live in contentment now while pursuing dreams for the future. I still want to live free from fear, full of joy and hope. I still want to learn and grow and try new things. I still ask big questions and pray big prayers.
But one thing has changed: I no longer fear death-bed regrets. I have gone confidently in the direction of my dreams; I have lived the life I imagined. We not only raised our kids aboard and traveled adventurously, but we even told our story and inspired others to boldly go. And we’re not done yet! There are new dreams, new goals, and new fears to be conquered. What I have learned since I wrote this journal entry is that the remedy for regret is living with intention, moving forward even if it’s just baby-steps, course-correcting when you get off-track, and offering yourself grace when you fail, and, most importantly, never giving up. Even if you never reach your original destination (we had once dreamed of circumnavigating), you will look back at the journey with satisfaction and know that every effort was worthwhile.
My new year’s resolutions this year look a little different. Rather than making a vision board, or creating a Happiness Project (a la Gretchen Rubin), both of which have helped me achieve goals in the past, this year I wrote down the things I want most out of life, the whys behind my goal-setting. I am assessing whether my daily activities line up with what I say I want—for example, if I say I want to keep writing and finish the books I’ve started, am I using my time wisely or wasting it? If I say I want to be healthy (mind-body-spirit), am I eating the way I should? Exercising regularly? Taking the time to fill my cup so I can give out of the overflow? If I want to love well, am I spending my time and energy serving others? If I want to leave a legacy, am I living now so that I will look back with satisfaction? If I want to live adventurously, am I choosing the safe path, or continuing to challenge myself? Like Paul urged in his letter to the church in Ephesus, ultimately, I want to “live a life worthy of the calling I have received” (Ephesians 4:1). Since none of us knows our departure date, I want to live every day as if it were my last, a day without regret.