Embracing Risk

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The door to the plane rolls up, and a blast of air hits my face. Everyone comes to life, securing safety googles, straightening harnessing, checking straps. Twelve thousand some odd feet below and sixty miles away, my family is going about their Sunday afternoon routine without me, because I’m sitting on a bench, rattling my teeth in the smallest airplane I’ve ever set foot in, strapped to a stranger I’m about to trust with my life.

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My tandem jump guide straightens up. The four pairs of jumpers ahead of us scoot their way down the bench to the front and launch themselves out of the plane. My friend Katie and I high-five each other like amped up high school football players, and I take a deep breath. Katie’s videographer, (all photos courtesy of Katie Folkestad and Sky Dive Twin Cities, Baldwin WI) Katie, and her tandem guide slide to the front, barely pausing before disappearing into the patchwork green landscape below.

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Katie’s jump

Somehow, it’s my turn. My guide and I awkwardly move off the bench and crouch in front of the open door. This is the part I assume everyone pictures in their mind – eyes frantically searching the unfamiliar horizon, hands clutching the overhead bar, calculating the risk, making that final decision whether or not to jump – except it doesn’t go that way. We face the open door for all of two seconds. I can’t tell you if my guide said ready, set, go, or if he counted 1…2…3… because somehow we just lean forward and tip ourselves out in the open air.

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Katie’s free fall. Phenomenal.

When Chris, my friend and youth pastor at church messaged me with the question, “Ready to jump?”, I didn’t know how to respond. He was putting together a sermon illustration and promotional material for taking faith-filled risks in the month of July, and wanted to know if I’d be interesting in skydiving with my friend, his wife Katie. I was standing in my kitchen, surrounded by dirty dishes and the chatter of my children finishing their breakfast. The idea of jumping out of an airplane seemed alien, so different and strange in the context of my normal life.

Jason and I had talked about it briefly over a cup of coffee before he took off for work, but with no real decisions or clarity.

Was I ready to jump?

Are we ever ready to hold hands with that kind of risk?

It seems to me that risk is something I try to steer clear of at this stage of life. I carry the weight of responsibility for my children, who are all still in various stages of physical and cognitive development, and it’s up to my husband and I to know what our kids are capable of – when to protect, when to push, when to maintain status quo. Risks are taken in a calculated, padded sort of way.

But this wasn’t about my children. This was about me and my faith. (Well, I mean, if I died it would be about my children and my husband, *laugh/cry*, but the likelihood of that happening was 0.0007%, much less than the risk of dying while driving a car, which I do every day.)

This was about my willingness to take a risk for something beyond myself.

The whole idea of taking risks is complicated. To be perfectly honest, it’s not often I see the need.  I enjoy wrapping myself in comfort – a solid family, close friends, good food, a snug home surrounded by nature. I like soft clothes and strong coffee and books with hundreds of pages. I revel in hot showers, clean sheets, and the smell of my favorite Aveda lotion.

But life isn’t about comfort. In fact, because I’ve decided to be a follower of Jesus, building a static, easy life built on maintaining my own comfort should be the least of my concerns.

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”               John 12:24-25

But was I really, ready to jump?

***

Katie said I should scream, and she was right, because the cold crush of wind roaring in my ears and tangling my hair rips my breath away, and the best way to fight it is to roar a raw mix of fear and exhilaration into the wideness of the sky.

I know I’m falling, but strangely, it doesn’t feel like falling. The ground is so far away that the free fall loses any sense of urgency and instead, I find myself able to believe I’m flying, arms wide spread, screams turning into shouts of astonishment and adrenaline. After sixty seconds, my guide taps my shoulders, alerting me to the parachute that’s just opened above us.

We shift to an upright position as the parachute pulls up on our harnesses, and suddenly me and the stranger on my back are masters of the sky. I can’t help but kick my feet out wide like a baby does when his legs are submerged in water for the first time, excitement coursing through every inch of my limbs. We continue to descend, the air growing warmer around us. The guide asks if I’d like to do some maneuvering, which involves leaning and swirling one direction, then the other. This isn’t my favorite, and I’m thankful when the pressure of the turning subsides.

 

The drop zone is now in sight, and even though I shout that I could stay up here all day, my guide laughs and tells me I better just come back and jump again. We glide through the air, turn gently, and position ourselves to land on the drop zone of green grass at Sky Dive Twin Cities in Baldwin, WI. I lift my feet forward so that they’re parallel with the ground, which is steadily getting closer and closer. I try to savor the last few seconds as we come into land, my guide touching down and leaning back, pulling us down into a controlled slide on our rears.

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high five

The whole process took less than five minutes, and as I shake my arm and legs loose in the harness, I can’t quite believe it’s over. I am flooded with adrenaline, so loose and light in the warmth of the afternoon sun. Katie and I hug and high five again, and I find myself repeating the words amazing and awesome over and over again to anyone who will listen. And then, somehow, I climb back into the 4-runner and drive off down the road, back into normalcy and, in a split minute decision, the Dairy Queen drive-thru.

***

A week later, I’m under no delusion that I did something earth-shattering for my faith. Yes, I took a controlled risk. I conquered my uneasiness and got to jump out of an airplane, which was an incredible life experience gifted to me by my church. Did I change the world? No.

But what if, by practicing taking a non-essential risk, I was preparing myself for something bigger later? What if saying yes this time meant I’d have more faith, and be more ready to say yes to whatever came next?

What if being willing to jump gave me the opportunity to build my trust in One who’s never failed me yet?

That, my friends, is a risk I’d take all over again.

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When “Some” Becomes “Enough”

A couple of weekends back, my brother and sister in law’s family of six came rumbling up our sun-dappled driveway, camper in tow. Almost as soon as the diesel truck engine killed, three eager bodies bounded out of the back seat, excited to join their cousins in play. Hugs were given, backs were slapped, baby cheeks kissed. And with the first slam of the screen door, the weekend began.

There were giggles and arguments. There were summer suntanned legs jumping circles around the trampoline. There were endless pushes on the swings underneath the maple tree, bodies sailing through the humid August air. There were acts of generosity scattered about like the water cups we left everywhere.

The adults rested best we knew how – simple meals, paper plates, life unscheduled. A beach day. A farm day. A meal out. Ice cream so blue it matched Ellis’s eyes. Late at night after the children were in bed, we sunk into the cushions of my worn-in sectional and had uninterrupted conversation, and it felt like luxury.IMG_20160813_173743967 (1280x720)

I love gatherings. I love the connection that flows through the compilation of people and shared experience. Somehow the hours that pass in the presence of others are like in-season blueberries – they taste sweeter, fuller than than the hours alone.

I also want to be honest. Planning, hosting, or attending gatherings with my four children is work. Capital W. O. R. K. work. Our house is in a constant state of flux. Entering it means the likely chance of sitting on rogue My Little Ponies or stepping on hidden legos that blend in with my rug. The sink is usually full of dishes, the fridge is half empty, and the bathroom never has toilet paper.

On the other hand, leaving home requires half a day’s packing and the Spanish Armada to carry all the bags, clothes, and supplies each child needs (or thinks they need) at this stage of life. Case in point: Sunday, we brought no less than two stuffed horses, one stuffed pig, four My Little Ponies, three miniature backpacks, two packages of kinetic sand, one ziplock bag of wikistix, one car seat carrying one infant, a diaper bag, a purse, and a jumbo pack of gum to a one hour church service.

You see what I’m saying.

Gathering with people in any fashion is suddenly like doing the limbo; it requires lots of “just do it” attitude and a fair amount of back-bending in order to get to the cheering on the other side.

That bugs me. I’m already paranoid that people won’t want to hang out with us because big families of small children are overwhelming. I wonder if my constantly distracted (hey stop eating that) demeanor is making me a bad friend. I worry that even when I try to connect with people, my imperfect efforts are not enough.

The other day, we were driving in the van and listening to an audio book of bible stories. Most of the time, I move all the sound to the back of the van (brilliant feature, Toyota) when the kids are watching a movie or listening to audio books, because let’s be honest. Even if it’s not silence, it’s at least a little bit more quiet, or a chance to catch up on a few phone calls, and every parent needs more of that.

But that day I forgot, and ended up listening along to the tale where Jesus feeds five thousand people. In the story, a huge crowd met up on a hillside to hear Jesus teach, but apparently no one had brought lunch. Clearly not in the days of McDonalds, and nowhere near their own homes, the people were starting to get hungry. So Jesus asked his friends to go find whatever food they could.

Just then, up walks a little boy. He has five loaves of bread and two fish in his lunch. I’m sure he knew it wasn’t enough to feed everyone. He probably questioned if it would be enough to feed himself for the whole day. Here the CD narrator pauses for a moment, and then the little boy’s voice pipes up.

“I have some.”

I’m still driving, but sudden tears blur the edges of my vision. Somehow I’ve stepped into the little boy’s sandals up on that hillside. I look down into his woven basket, taking in the meager amount. I look behind me and see crowd and their need. And then I lock eyes with Jesus, who reminds me of a simple truth.

Even if it doesn’t seem like enough, I always have some.

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image via pexels.com

Some means under-abundance. Some might require me to offer a messy, lived in home in lieu of a sparkling, well-managed house. Some means I usually leave the house with mismatched clothes and one wet wipe left in the diaper bag. Some means that right now, as mama of four, I work hard to do things most people don’t have to think twice about.

But Jesus says none of that matters. He wants my five small loaves and two stinky fish not because they’re enough, but because I’m willing to trust Him to work with the little I have.

Slowly, I’m relearning the value of offering myself within the context of getting together with people. Circumstances and surroundings don’t matter nearly as much as how I listen to and love the other person.

I’m finding that even though it’s work, or that it might be easier to hunker down alone with my kids, I’m blessed by the grace I find in others.

Imagine what could happen if we all pulled the real, crinkly some out of our back pockets. Imagine our personal offerings becoming a collective sum, with all of us feeling whole.

That’s a gathering I’d do almost anything to be a part of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The (pre)School Transition

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It’s the Tuesday after Labor Day, which means one thing. If life were a musical, summer’s starring role is about to end. Her arms have been wide with bright days and lingering sun. She’s thrown her head back and sung rain storms. She’s dazzled us with gardens and greenery and growth.

But somehow, we’ve reached curtain call.

This morning, buses and carpools are depositing eager children at the front steps of schools. A new round of kids with combed hair and new backpacks will pop up on my news feed (bless you, Minnesota, for starting school after Labor Day.) Parents everywhere will be shocked for a moment by the palpable presence of quiet, the rearrangement of family dynamics.

Tomorrow is our eldest’s first day of preschool. And like most days, I’m sure she’ll run down the sidewalk toward the van, sun-bleached hair swinging, and for a few minutes, it will feel like any other outing. Three sets of buckles. The usual haggling over watching a show. Keys. Air conditioning blasting from the vents. Some sort of phantom squeal from the hood of my van.

And then, somehow, we’ll be at the double doors of school. We’ll navigate the halls and stairs to the preschool room, where I’ll gently nudge my daughter, blinking and tentative, onto a new stage.

Thankfully, preschool is like a year or two of dress rehearsal for the real deal. We’ll practice stepping in and out of a new routine for a couple of afternoon hours, three days a week, but not much else will change. At least in theory.

By this time, I’m sure you’ve read your share of articles and blog posts about this, so I won’t bore you with the nostalgic/sad bits about how I remember my first fall with my infant daughter, how I carried her everywhere in a baby backpack so she could see the wild brilliance of September’s colors firsthand, and how now she’s all grown up and going to school. *Sniff*

What I will tell you is that during that season of transition, I had to fight off darkness every single day. I was on maternity leave and my deadline for going back to work was approaching too fast. And while I tried to make the most of my time with my firstborn, much of it was tinged with sad. With fear of leaving her. Of adjusting to parts of my life without her, and vice versa. It seemed that from the moment she was put in my arms, I had to start practicing how to let go.

But it wasn’t just about letting go. It was about trust. 

I had to trust that I wasn’t the only one that was supposed to raise my child.

That in her lifetime, there would be a series of caregivers, teachers, aides, helpers, leaders, and professors in charge of her well-being. That other people were meant to be a part of her development.

As much as I hated having to accept this new concept in the beginning, I’m now incredibly grateful for it. It’s not about shifting responsibility or shuffling childcare duties.

It’s the widening of my daughter’s knowledge and the deepening of her experience.

It’s faith that she’s meant to be a citizen at large in this world, and that each instance of my letting go is the broadening of her capability. When she walks into that classroom, she will get to practice being a person outside of the context of our family.

And I’ll find (yet another) instance to practice trust. To kiss her and tell her she’s strong, she’s smart, and that she’ll do great. To believe those things enough in my heart to convey them to her with words.

Starting school could be another transition filled with worry and fear, if I let it. I question my daughter’s ability to listen and obey classroom rules the first time, every time. I worry about her strong will and mischievous bent. I wonder how my younger daughters are going to get their full naps in. I already feel constricted by the new schedule that hasn’t even started yet. 

But trust says these things will work themselves out. That it’s no use to worry about tomorrow, or get worked up about what may or may not happen.

Each day has trouble. Each day has grace.

And like any good show, we simply must go on.