I had some wonderful experiences during our family vacation this past week when I decided to say "Yes" to things when my initial instinct was to say "No."
Before the trip, I was adamant with the rest of the family that if I just wanted to spend the vacation resting, reading, and relaxing while they went off and had adventures, they needed to be okay with it.
I was more concerned about the logistics of getting seven people through flight connections, rental car pickup, and a four-hour drive than I was about actually enjoying myself.
Additionally, I wasn't enthusiastic about hanging out at the beach or swimming in the ocean. I don't want to be attacked by sharks, and I watch too many videos of sharks swimming near beaches to be dissuaded from my fear.
I also get seasick easily, so going out on a boat didn't appeal to me either.
At this point, many of you are probably thinking, "Wow. I really want to hang out with Leon. He seems like a really fun guy to travel with."
Something shifted in me before we departed, though. I had spent several weeks thinking about how much of my life I spend trying to avoid things that I think will make me uncomfortable and how antithetical that is to who I want to be.
I remembered something I'd heard author Rob Bell say at the retreat I attended with him in July. He talked about how he'd had a similar kind of shift in his mind, and then he followed with this:
"If it's exciting and I'm slightly bewildered, I move in that direction."
When I wrote that line down at the event, I recall thinking, "That's how I want to live."
The thing about saying "Yes" to exciting and slightly bewildering things is that you have no idea what to expect. It can be simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating.
So I said "Yes" to everything. I went zip-lining and rappelling through the rainforest. I went on a boat to watch whales and dolphins, fishing and snorkeling. I took surfing lessons. I went to the beach. I drove a four-wheel ATV through rivers and up mountains.
And I saw great beauty, experienced wonder, laughed with my family, had adventures with my kids, and wrung the most out of every day with all of them.
I also had more than a few moments to reflect on how all of those wonderful memories I made with them were possible because I chose to live life instead of enduring it.
A wonderful line from a Mary Oliver poet comes to mind as I write this. She says this:
It is heaven itself to take what is given, to see what is plain...
When we take life as it comes, when we choose to live fully, when we step into things that bewilder us, and when we decide to try things that scare us, we learn more completely what it means to be truly human.
We can see what is plain, what is in front of us. We get the chance to be present with the people who matter most. We can let ourselves truly feel what it means to be connected to the world and with others.
And in so doing, we experience God. This is heaven, after all: To be fully alive and embrace the Divine presence within and around us means being where God is.
When we choose to live in dread of what comes next or worry incessantly about whether we're making the next right move, we can easily lose our joy and peace. We lose our passion for living.
God wants more for us. God desires us to live full and abundant lives, come what may. God's presence is with us and within us no matter what we face and is more fully felt when we let go of our need for control.
May you find ways to be fully alive today. May you move in a direction that slightly bewilders you. May you embrace joy.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.