In January 2005, in one of the bravest moments of my life, I boarded a plane alone, with a back injury from falling a few days before, and flew 21 hours across the globe to Chennai, India. When I finally arrived there at 2 am local time, without even a cell phone, I waited to be retrieved by Pastor Samson and his wife Prabhukumari, both of whom I had only ever seen in photos.
Anxiously, I scanned the crowd for Samson and a sign with my name on it. Dozens of empty, foreign eyes stared back at me at the baggage claim as I became more and more desperate – why on earth had I come here alone? Relieved, I finally found Samson and then proceeded to violate every cultural rule in the book by flinging myself at him for a hug. The blessed man forgave me quickly, and we entered the taxi. My eyes were wide as I took in the first sights of India…people living in shacks on the side of the road, cows crossing the street with the cars, wild boars feeding on trash, and the smells, oh, the smells. This was going to be an adventure…
We traveled another 5 hours by train to their small town, where I was fitted for saris from a local tailor and stayed for the next 10 days working with the organization Peace Gospel International. When I think about that trip now, I can’t believe I did it. If it hadn’t been for my encouraging and optimistic then-fiancé/now-husband, I might not have gotten on the plane. The night before leaving, I cried to him over the phone, wanting to back out of the whole thing. He listened and sympathized, but he didn’t give me a way out. The next morning he drove me to the airport, said everything was going to be okay, and sent me on my way.
Turns out the India trip was absolutely watershed – a shattering, humbling, encouraging, emotional experience in which I saw for the first time just how much Christ could sustain me, how selfish I was, how much I cling to my luxuries of everyday life, how in the minority I am. And how far, far-reaching the love of God is, all the way to a concrete single-room church in the tiniest Indian village.
During those 10 days in India, I went to the farthest corners of the earth, was in the most physical discomfort, was more hungry, saw more beautiful people, experienced more joy. I stood in a grass hut village of people who lost husbands and fathers to the tsunami, and still, these new barefoot friends of mine could only think of one thing: proudly showing me the new church they’d built for their village which was literally a concrete room the size of a closet, the ceiling strewn with colorful paper lanterns. I prayed with children at the orphanage and held their hands and touched their little, skinny legs. I played ball with them and laughed with them, the whole time floored by the realization that if I hadn’t said yes to this adventure, I would have missed it all.
Since that India trip, I’ve done a few other risky and adventurous things, like spontaneously deciding to drive 7 hours with my roommate to the beach on a Friday morning with nowhere to stay for the next two nights. Or uprooting my whole family and moving to a new state without a house or a job. Or starting a business from scratch with zero money or other job to fall back on.
However, through each of these big life changes and completely unpredictable experiences, I’ve been paralyzed by one huge elephant in the room.
You see, I love adventures, but more the “let’s go explore a waterfall today” variety than “let’s change your entire life in an instant with no notice.” I prefer predictability and neatness. When risk arrives on my doorstep, I tend to clam up, shut down and retreat inside myself to process it all. Flight mode! Self-protect! Find a way to feel safe again.
But that’s not really how I want to live.
And that’s why when I recently read Maria Goff’s new, inspiring book Love Lives Here, I was moved to tears. It lit a fire in me to embrace more risk in my life, to say yes to unpredictability and whimsy and adventure.
Without the fear holding me back this time.
Love Lives Here is a collection of stories that includes the ways Maria Goff and her husband, Bob, navigated family their way, without clear instructions or a road map. You may have also read her husband’s groundbreaking book, Love Does, or heard the story of their uniquely intentional family. The Goffs have said a lifetime of “yeses” to adventure with Jesus, doing things like inviting complete strangers to their Lodge in a remote inlet in Canada, freeing throngs of enslaved children in Africa, empowering young people in America to build schools for kids overseas, and radically loving their real-life neighbors. Recently their beloved Lodge was destroyed by fire, and while they mourned the loss, they quickly dusted themselves off and got back up again to rebuild. It hasn’t stopped them from living their big dreams with God.
I identified deeply with Maria Goff’s perspective in the book. She always craved safe and quiet, held back by situations from her past. While her husband was off saving lives across the globe, she was called to stay back and keep doing the daily, faithful work of taking care of their people and home. Her story is a testament to the fact that God can use any and all personality types to do big things for him, if we’ll only say yes. No matter how we’re wired, we can live and raise our families against the grain of society, choosing the more fun, adventurous, unpredictable, sometimes risky way that leads to deeper experiences and opportunities.
At the end of the book, Maria asks each of her three grown children to write a few paragraphs to share with the readers. Her daughter Lindsey expresses, “I grew up in a home where practicality was frequently ignored in the name of whimsy, meaning, and legacy.”
Their son, Adam, says, “The reality is that we are all more capable than we realize of creating a life of whimsy and adventure. We’re not flying without a net because of the community we have and the opportunity to cultivate one (if we’ll take the time).” At one of the retreats their family hosted at the Lodge with everyone from writers to musicians to moviemakers to foreign officials, Adam adds, “I couldn’t help but think that every person in the room had been in my shoes at some point…but they each had said ‘yes’ to a bold idea. These people influenced the world because they had taken risks and had not been afraid of the big adventures with little certainty in outcomes.”
In the margins next to the above paragraph, I pressed my pen into the paper and slowly wrote the words “HOW I WANT TO BE.”
It’s time to start living this way and not just talking about it. But how? What does “a life of adventure with Jesus” really mean?
We can look at how Jesus lived. The Goffs felt they were modeling their lives after Jesus who lived “fully engaged, courageous, and immensely loving.” Everything we know about Jesus was against the grain of society, religion, and the safe way. Yet He was peacefully steadfast and driven, unwavering in His mission and willing to be all-in. Says Maria, “He didn’t give a lot of details when He invited people to come with Him. They either came or they didn’t. He didn’t talk about where they were staying, what they were eating or who else was coming either. The reason was simple. It wasn’t a business trip Jesus was inviting them on; it was an adventure.”
We can move forward in confidence, knowing that God is for us. Romans 8:31 says, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” We’re His. Ephesians 5 speaks of living “not unwise but wise,” as children of light having nothing to do with darkness, always giving thanks to the Lord. When we’re walking with him, fear of making the “wrong” decision can be eliminated and we can step out knowing that even if we fail, we’re safe with Him. It’s through adventure that we change and learn, and our experiences and struggles are never, ever wasted.
We can invite our children into lives of adventure. Our children are naturally adventurous. My older daughter has definitely inherited my tendencies to be more guarded and quiet until she’s evaluated a situation, but then she’s ready to jump in. My 3-year-old always wants to go bigger! higher! faster! I cannot squash that adventurousness with my own unaddressed fears and unnecessary practicality. That means playing along when they’ve just made the huge empty Amazon box into a car that’s driving to the moon or packed up every kitchen gadget into bags to take on their outdoor “camping” adventure. All these stirrings of their imaginations, believing anything is possible, can form them into adults who have the courage to step out and make a meaningful contribution to the world, saying yes to whatever God would call them.
~ ~ ~
Of all the adventures I’ve embarked on, I’ve learned one thing for sure: when you know the least amount of information in advance, the adventure ends up being that much better. This is God’s opportunity to teach us new, beautiful things about His character and His world.
I hardly think I changed the world by going to India in 2005 – but it changed me forever, and I hope it’ll change the lives of my children. I’m ready to reclaim some of that 20s version of myself who said yes to India, yes to risk, yes to uncertainty. I may never travel there again, but I can choose a daily life of adventure that emanates light to the world without fear holding me back anymore.
Will you join me in asking yourself these questions?
● How do I embrace a life of greater adventure and yes, even risk?
● What’s something in my normal day-to-day life that’s infected with fear? How can I move to a place of courage and open myself up to the adventure?
● What’s something I’ve always been too scared or uncomfortable or weak to do on my own?
● What are some desires/abilities/dreams God has given me that I haven’t acted upon out of fear? How can I make one step that direction today, this week, this month?