Beyond Room 119

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Taking risks

Around my birthday every year, I tend to reflect on the past and think about the future. This particular time around, I’ve been thinking a good bit about the idea of taking risks. This is fresh on my brain right now because in six days, I get to wear a funny looking hood, walk across a stage, and put three fancy letters after my name. Where do I go from here? Do I stay where I am? Do I apply for other jobs? Do I stay here or look at other states? There are a lot of questions, without many answers so far. What risks do I want to take? Being comfortable isn’t necessarily bad, but I never want the desire for comfort to prevent me from growth.

I think about some of the risks I’ve taken in the past few years. Moving across the continent to a state where I knew no one. Leaving a comfortable job and taking a pay cut in hopes of finding a more fulfilling job. Challenging myself physically in ways I had never before thought I would do. Being vulnerable in sharing my feelings with a loved one.

We never know if any particular risk will work out. We can’t run models and simulations to see if we’ll be compatible with a partner or if we’ll like a new job. We can do our research, talk with trusted friends, and critically reflect, but at the end of the day, we’re often faced with a choice: Do we turn away from the cliff and head back to the life we know? Or do we choose to leap, and in leaping, see if we soar?

I’ve told a few friends recently that I think God’s been speaking to me in whispers lately. He’s been nudging me here or there or putting things in my heart, piece by piece. Well, the other day, God sent me a carrier pigeon. It was a bit more direct than his usual way of talking to me, and I appreciated it. This particular message came in the form of Allen, a Navy veteran and 54-year-old student who found his way into my office the other day. To be honest, I don’t remember why Allen came in, but I do know that we spent quite a bit of time talking about his life. Allen shared that every time he tried to do something that he already knew wasn’t a good move, he eventually found his way stumbling back to God. When he had patience and kept moving forward, he said he could feel that God always had his back. He shared the immense gratitude he had in his heart that his wife was a cancer survivor. He told me how he hadn’t gotten married until he was 40, but man, did God bring him just the right woman. In his own words, he told me of the power of trusting God to work in his life.

Fast forward to today, when my school had our December graduation ceremonies. The student speaker was Muhammad, an engineering student who I’ve known for the past year and a half. Muhammad gave a killer speech, and in it, he asked the graduating class three questions: Who are you? Where are you? Where are you going?

Who are you?

Where are you?

Where are you going?

It’s as applicable to me and you as it was to the graduates this morning.

Who am I? What do I stand for? What do I value? What do I believe?

Where am I? How did I get to this point? Why did I get to this point? What does this space mean to me?

Where am I going? Where do I feel called? What is my path? What do I hope to do with my life? What legacy do I want to leave?

It’s that last one that I’ve been wondering about, in both my personal and professional life. There are a lot of uncertainties and many possibilities in my life right now. But to be completely honest, I’m not terribly worried about it this time around. I look back at the different risks I’ve taken in my life. Was it always easy? Nope, sure wasn’t. But in every risk I’ve ever taken, good has come from it, and I can see the God’s hand through it all. And so, I have hope. I have hope for the future, hope for my life, and hope for the world around me.

A friend of mine is in a trail running program, and he sent me a tip from the program’s newsletter: when running trails, you are supposed to look not where you don’t want your feet to go (like rocks and roots), but rather, where you want them to go. Similarly, one of my favorite quotations is from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” I figure that as long as I keep stepping out in faith, I’ll be moving in the right direction – and I trust that that’s just where I need to be right now.