This Thing You Call A Risk

You know that girl who lives the charmed life? She has every detail of her future peacefully and perfectly planned, and rightfully so, as it was all thoughtfully stacked in a tidy pile before she was born. Between her college fund and her trust fund, she has no need for exploration or finding her passions. Her life is mapped out before her, and she easily journeys along to the finish like a game piece in a friendly game of Candyland but without those infuriating cherry pitfalls (you know, the stuck spots in the game.) No offense to this charmed individual who glides effortlessly through life following the unwritten instruction manual, but I am beyond thankful I am not her. I feel certain she is more a facade than a real girl with a real life anyway. Life is full of mountain and valleys, twists and turns, dead ends and open highways regardless genetic fortune or socioeconomic status. Without life’s ups and downs, there’s no reason to take risks. Without risks, we never learn to fearlessly pursue our hearts’ desires. My adult journey looks much more like bidding blind nil in a game of spades than dominating a whimsical child’s game. The past decade of my life has been speckled with risky decisions due to a tug on my heart that always turns into a beautiful mess of expression and self-discovery. We all battle feelings of mediocrity. Why not bust out of our feelings with boldness?

At 21 years old, my fiancé had earned his title by explaining that he believed when you’re ready to be with someone, you know, and waiting to marry me was a waste of time. I, in my education and career focused state of mind, had planned to complete my PhD before even considering marriage (still waiting for that opportunity to be dropped on my doorstep), but I figured when you find a charming, daring, and handsome redhead, you don’t tell him “no” to forever. As I researched and pursued graduate programs, my heart’s desires led to fixation and certainty of an out of state program. I knew it was the fit for me, even with the out of state tuition. I remember the panicked look on my young finance’s face when I showed him my tuition statement. Nonetheless, I was unshaken. In my heart, I knew where I was meant to be when the fall semester blew in with the changing leaves. Only hours after opening my hefty tuition statement, I received a call from the department head of my graduate program who offered me a graduate assistantship for which I had not applied. This position included part time pay and 100% tuition compensation, including out of state fees. This is how I began to free fall into adulthood in good faith.

Halfway into my graduate school journey in that program my heart so desired, just in time to begin my first clinical semester, my husband was called to interview for a job position back in our home state. This position would allow him to work alongside staff he already knew, respected, and trusted and with students both of us believed in deeply. After thoughtfully weighing pros and cons, it was clear making that major life change would not be a logical move for us. I was at the point of no return in a graduate program where I was growing and thriving. Beyond that, the move would mean a significant pay cut for our household (not that it was impressive as it was). Prayerfully, we took the risk anyway because our hearts were bent in an unreasonable way. Shortly after moving into our old, fixer-upper small-town Mississippi house and completing significant cosmetic renovations but with many more costly renovations to come, we left for a fundraiser not knowing that as we turned the key, our feet were walking out of our home as we had known it for the last time. An EF4 tornado literally opened, crushed, and ripped our home and belongings into chaotic tidbits. Moving across states was a huge risk, and there we sat, broke (I still laugh in disbelief about how little money we had to our names), exposed, and homeless. It only took moments for us to pull ourselves together in trust that we made the right decision to move to this state, this city, this neighborhood, and this house. Days later, we sat down with a dear friend of ours who happens to be a phenomenal architect. We planned to rebuild because we felt in our hearts we were in the right place, even when people made hasty comments about how we could choose to move to a “better neighborhood.” Later that week, we were called by a new HGTV television program who wanted to help us rebuild our house. Exactly two months after losing our little fixer upper to a natural disaster, my husband and I moved back into our home except this time it held the functionality necessary to eventually provide shelter and stability for our growing family. Our hearts said, “go,” and though no part of taking those steps was painless, I have no regrets. This move gave us our home which is a lot more important than the walls and roof of our house.

Only a few years later, I had just completed my M.Ed. where I was named most outstanding by my faculty. I had served as an officer in my program’s honor society chapter, and I had built important connections and relationships… in that state. Here I sat in my rebuilt house in a state and area where I would have to start over professionally. While diligently completing job applications and trying to find balance in living in only one state and home again, a friend announced that he needed a couple to take on the role of exchange parents for a teenage Belgian female. Everyone told me I was crazy to consider bringing a stranger so close to our age into my home and under my supervision, but I had this stirring in my heart that assured me this beautiful new home wasn’t simply for my comfort. Responding to the call of my heart is how my husband and I became possibly the youngest, most nontraditional exchange parents in history. The result of this risk was a lifelong best friend who has become, is, and will remain our companion in international travels. She is my soul sister, and I can’t imagine a life without knowing her calm spirit and adventurous passion for life.

Taking chances has been a part of our story since long before our young marriage whether we realized it or not. My husband and I have had a stirring in our hearts independently and as a couple to the adoption cause for more than ten years. As I slaved away ceaselessly as a community mental health counselor over the years, my heart was bent toward the issue of sibling separation. More than 5 years ago, my husband and I vowed to adopt siblings before attempting to conceive biologically. This choice lost momentum and simplicity as the years passed, and we experienced major hardships, namely a parent undergoing a liver transplant (donate life, friends) and another parent suddenly and unexpectedly dying at a young age. People have expressed question, disbelief, and judgements over our risky decision to begin our parenting journey as a foster to adopt household rather than taking the more obvious path to building a family. The result of this risk has been a lot of hard life lessons, a lot of pain, and immeasurably more beauty and blessings. My daughters were the missing pieces to our family’s puzzle.

Before I began this risky journey, I was owned by anxiety. Every choice I made was primarily influenced by fear of failure, fear of judgment, and fear of mediocrity. The secret is this thing you call a risk, I call faith. I take risks in good faith that the stirring in my heart is more than a feeling. Playing it safe and following the rules and basic social protocol may produce success, but taking risks produces freedom, confidence, and fiercely fulfilling relationships. I watch my daughters trust fearlessly when they enter novel situations, such as starting a new school mid semester or jumping off a 20 ft. ledge into the river. I admire and aspire to such fearlessness and faithfulness. Friends, if you’re feeling the weight of your mediocrity today, I challenge you to take a risk. Create your own reality in a world full of pain and destruction. Do not let fear and anxiety own you. To reach a destination of happiness and fulfillment, we must first own the courage to take a leap even if the free fall feels scary rather than thrilling. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

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