Photo by CoreForce
Sometimes life is like stepping out of the house in bold-colored tights: When you were in the safety of the moment—in your bedroom, where the light was sort of dim—they seemed like a good idea. They seemed somehow right, in a scary but exciting way, so you went with them. But the minute you step out into the bright light of day—where there are people who might look at you and question your judgment!—you feel a stab of regret that you followed that impulse. You can scold yourself for not playing it safe, but at this point there’s no turning back. All you can do is move forward boldly, with those tights, into the world.
Sometimes the risks we take are SO much bigger than a questionable fashion move. They’re the kind of risks that are outrageous and scary, in life-changing ways that impact multiple people. As I laughed this morning at my silly tights metaphor, I was also thinking about a much bigger story I want to tell—one that started with a small impulse.
It was a Sunday morning after church, about two years ago, and a couple who was temporarily fostering a six-month-old baby girl told me they needed to find a more permanent foster home for her. I was holding the baby at the time, talking all sweet to her, but no, the nudge I got wasn’t “you should foster this child.” An image of another couple at the church popped into my mind, and I turned, as if being manuevered by some remote control device, and walked that baby right over to my friend. “I just felt like I needed to tell you that this baby needs a home,” I said, looking apologetically into her deer-in-the-headlights face.
The whole incident—from the nudging to the return of the baby to her caregivers—lasted only about five minutes, but I can promise you that I’ve spent hours thinking and fretting about it in the two years since. What was I thinking?!?
Because these friends did end up fostering the baby, even though they had not previously discussed being foster parents (and had only just started talking about how, in a couple of years, they might start trying to get pregnant). They went through foster parent classes and legalities. They welcomed this baby into their home and loved her as their own, even though they knew she could one day be returned to her birth mom. Then, around the baby’s first birthday, they agreed to take in a newborn from the same birth mom, so the two girls could be together.
I heeded a small nudge, and these friends of mine went from having no children to caring for two, in less than a year! And it was terrifying. It was beautiful, too, seeing them happy and bonding and being a family, but the exhaustion of parenting young children and the extra stresses they faced during court hearings and interactions with the girls’ birth mom—not to mention the thought that this happy home might not be the girls’ forever home—weighed on me heavily.
Earlier this year, the court terminated the birth mother’s parental rights, and last Friday, our friends legally adopted the girls. A lot of celebrating happened over the weekend, and a pure joy continues to rise up in me. And then there’s relief, too. I can finally feel good about the risk I took, two long years ago.
Of course it’s so much easier when things “turn out” to embrace scary steps we’ve taken. It’s easier, in retrospect, to claim that following those inner nudgings of the spirit was the right thing to do. What I want to be able to say now is that going out on limbs is ultimately safer than it seems—that fruit is always out there, waiting to be claimed by those who have faith and courage. But is that always true? And does today’s hindsight really help us tomorrow, when we’re in some new version of that first moment again—when we’re sensing a nudge that feels reckless and scary and like a terrible mistake?
No, it can’t be the promise of branches that will hold or fruit that is ripe and sweet that motivates us to take risks. It can only be the promise of adventure—of some motion that wakes your life up and takes it from where it has been slumbering to some new place. And all the while, there are the promises of a loving God who is eager to journey on these adventures alongside us. That’s what I kept forgetting over the course of these past two years, and that’s what I’m determined to remember next time I decide to not play it safe.