“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller
Two and a half weeks before she heard her doctor say the words, “You’re in remission,” I listened to my mom tell her story. I would have never called her journey through cancer an adventure, but God is redefining adventure for me.
This is her story.
My mom describes her childhood as a time of searching. She finally found what she was chasing after at the age of fifteen. She always loved God, but one day someone explained to her how Jesus loved and died for her. That someone was my dad. Life didn’t become safer or more certain after that, but it certainly became more adventurous.
Just after she turned thirty-one, my mom flew across the Atlantic Ocean to Nairobi, Kenya, three little ones in tow. She and my dad joined a team called Wycliffe Bible Translators.
Terrified, she laid in bed the night before they left begging God to intervene and change their assignment. Everything seemed so scary and uncertain. In the end, God said no. He knew she would one day recognize this adventure as one of His very best gifts.
Her story is teaching me that adventure requires both courage and vulnerability.
My mom will tell you that her time in Africa was the most joyful and peaceful time of her entire life. She found joy in all God was teaching her and peace in how He provided for our family. Yet she also recalls the difficulty and the struggle. A season of suffering preceded the season of joy. Life in Africa was full of difficult decisions, inevitable risk, isolating realties, and unforeseen adjustments.
My six-year-old eyes could only see the adventure while living in Kenya. Yet when my mom received her cancer diagnosis almost a year ago, my thirty-six-year-old eyes couldn’t see adventure at all. Our family gathered together and begged God to intervene and change this impossible diagnosis. Though three decades separate these two narratives, God has woven them together in the most intricate and beautiful way.
Sometimes, we discover adventure when we aren’t even looking for it.
I remember the avocado tree in front of our flat in Nairobi where most of my own childhood adventure took place. Mom would ask my younger brother to climb high up into the thick branches to pluck an avocado for supper. We played all day long underneath its shade. It was so much more than a tree; it was an adventure waiting to be explored.
Banana trees lined the view out back, where our clothes hung with pegs on a line. My youngest brother—who learned Swahili right along with English—loved to launch their red petals down the drainage ditch. He sat hunched over watching little red speedboats chase their own daring adventure.
Twice a year we took the overnight train from Nairobi to Mombasa. Dad built elaborate sand castles all day long, with intricate towers and a working moat. Mom helped us spot shells hidden in the sand.
In the midst of beauty and simplicity were the realities of loss and uncertainty.
Getting lost was a prerequisite to finding our way. My parents had to grieve the loss of their old community before they found a new one. Family was redefined as an entire ocean separated loved ones.
God gave my Mom many opportunities to trust Him. The matatu that took me to school each day—about forty-five minutes away—drove right past the coffee plantation that saddled up next to the campus grounds.
I grew to anticipate the evenly spaced rows of coffee plants. My world was small and seemingly predictable. The trip never seemed that long when I was six years old. Mom whispered prayers of protection as she kissed me good-bye each morning. As a mother of two six-year-olds, I now have an entirely new perspective of the trust my mom must have possessed.
At a stop light once, a man reached into our car and tried to grab the gold chain right off Mom’s neck. Instinctively, she rolled up her window as he yanked his hand out through the tiny slit at the top. He stretched her chain about two inches, but it never broke. She kept right on wearing that gold chain that held a pendant in the shape of Africa.
She, too, was stretched but not broken.
Sometimes, God invites us into adventure so that we discover our need for Him. My mom’s specific cancer and circumstances prevented her from being in large groups of people for the duration of her treatment. For an extrovert who thrives among people, this was extremely difficult and costly for her, but God provided in such unexpected and loving ways.
Just as God blessed our family with a special community in a foreign country, He provided this year as well. Mom has embraced a new kind of community during her battle with cancer. She’s had more one-on-one conversations this past year than in the last ten. An overwhelmingly warm online community emerged as well to support and rally behind her as she shared prayer requests and updates.
I remember struggling to understand the beautiful hymns sung in Swahili on Sunday mornings as a kid. Mom used to tell me that God didn’t care whether I knew the words or not; she said He only looked at my heart. I’ve noticed how having cancer has compelled my mom to discover brand new ways to worship God.
Adventure draws us into deeper communion with God.
Some days, weak and in pain, all she could do was cry out to God from her living room couch. She struggled most of the time just to come up with the words, but her inability to worship with words of clarity enhanced the humble posture of her heart.
My mom’s “thankful journal” from the past year is evidence that we can always find a reason to thank God. Scattered throughout the pages are names of friends, family members, strangers she met in Walmart, people she sat beside during chemotherapy, doctors and nurses who cared for her. Rain is tucked in here and there, and pancakes, too. Half a dozen times she wrote the word new. New places, new friends, new beginnings. A new assignment.
Even in the midst of loss, newness emerges.
The entries that stirred something deep within me were the ones she wrote about God. As I read each one, I realized that my mom’s adventure has given her so many opportunities to gaze into the face of God.
God never changes even if I do / God’s great love for me in spite of my tremendous sin / God created all things and sent Jesus so that we can all be redeemed and restored / God’s promise to be with me and go before me / the vastness of God / the tenderness of God / God’s timing / God’s voice
My mom possesses a peace I don’t recognize in myself. She has experienced how God is God even when health fails and safety slips away. Pain and beauty, suffering and growth, loss and gain—all have defined her adventure.
She would’ve never chosen this adventure, but she recognizes God’s gifts hidden within.
Adventure isn’t just traveling the globe or sky-diving out over a breath-taking view. Adventure is entering places of risk and potential danger. It’s thanking God for every glimpse of goodness today without being sure about tomorrow.
Adventure might be moving to a foreign country or receiving a cancer diagnosis. It could be not knowing how someone will respond to your story, but telling it anyway.
Every adventure also requires a certain level of loss; we must lose what we think we need in order to gain something we’ve never experienced. Sometimes, it’s safety and certainty. Sometimes, it’s our comfort.
Not every adventure involves the same risk, but each one requires our willingness to experience loss for the sake of God’s greater purpose. Being open to His will in our lives means we trust Him more than we fear the unknown. This is where courage and vulnerability unite.
Our greatest struggle has the potential to become our greatest adventure.
God created us to embrace the uncertainty, the unexpectedness, the risk and possible danger of pursuing Him. There is no control in adventure, only wonder and awe.
Mom said something that day she told me her story, and I’ll never forget her words. She said, “All I had left was God, and He is all that I need.” Her story would not be the same without His story. The greatest adventure of her life has been pursuing the One who pursued her first.
The word advent tucks itself neatly inside the word adventure. Advent means “coming into view.” It means to wait expectantly. Advent is the beginning of adventure. It marks the arrival of Jesus, who died our death, then rose three days later. It reminds us that He came and will come again, but in between those two comings is this precious opportunity to enter into adventure with Him.
Every adventure—filled with mystery, uncertainty, and beauty—poses a brand new opportunity to wait expectantly for Jesus to reveal Himself to us.