Last night, I was in a lovely conversation with a person who has had to make difficult decisions in the past few months. To leave a particular path in life, to take a job or not, to figure out what happens if a particular job doesn’t come through. . . as we talked, it became clear that each of these choices had been carefully wrought and that each had been the best decision that could be made at the time and that each decision was painful, heartbreaking even.

It does seem that any important choice comes with the vastness of human experience within it. Possibility, danger, glory, risk, profound beauty. As I sit here and think about it, it seems to me like our most important decisions in life are like the ocean at sunrise, shimmering, glorious and daunting. Some of most powerful and beautiful things in creation sit in the ocean: whales, dolphins, anemones, deadly eels, tiny plankton that glow in the dark, the waves themselves. Yet, most of us do not see these things – the ocean is unreachable to many of us, too scary for some. For the few that venture out, they will find themselves reshaped and recreated by what they witness. These journeys – on the ocean and in life – come with so much risk and then, so much reward. We must weigh the price – journeys require leaving friendships or losing income – while considering the rewards – new experience or the fulfillment of a goal. Sometimes the price is not enough; sometimes it is everything.

A few years ago I went whale watching. I would rank it up as one of the most powerful experiences of my life. I rode out with a group from San Francisco on a tiny fishing boat (many, many people got sick) to the Farrallon Islands. We circled around the islands for a while, not seeing any whales but hearing great stories about the time a mother Orca and her baby were approached by a great white shark just in the cove of the islands; this mother was having none of that and bit the shark in half and fed the shark’s liver to her baby. That story alone would have made the trip worth it – as would have the feel of being in the ocean, my first time, and the vastness of it around me.

On our way back, still whaleless, someone caught sight of a splash off the side of the boat. We all turned and just then a humpback whale fluked. I started to cry. It was truly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. As we watched, another whale came up and began to spout and fluke with this one – they were playing and showing off for us. I tried to snap pictures but eventually gave up, deciding instead to simply watch them dive and surface, their skin mottled with barnacles – it reminded me of the trunk of a tree in an Appalachian forest. They played, and we watched. And I sighed – this moment had made the whole journey spectacular. I still cry just thinking about it.

It seems to me that this is the way of decisions. You step out in faith having discerned, with God’s help, the best choice you can make at the time. You get on the boat and try not to get sick; you ride for a while, look at the glorious scenery, hear some great tales – and then, just when you think that’s enough, a whale tail lifts below the surface and you are forever changed. The experience breaks your heart every time you think about it.

So as I leave my job, I feel that bit of heartbreak over a dream lost, over another ideal chipped a bit – but I know that on the rise and swell of the next phase of life, there were will be glorious moments – whales playing in the distance – and that the whole journey will be blessed with grace.

May your paths be clear and may you always be reminded of the glorious in your decisions.

Humpback Whale