The day after my second daughter’s birth—the day after we discovered our baby had Down syndrome—my sister flew from Michigan to Florida and arrived at the hospital carrying a small bag.
She had only one day before she’d need to head back home, and I felt the weight of that time constraint the moment she walked in the door of the postpartum room where I both welcomed my new daughter and grieved the loss of the one I had expected.
My sister had only eighteen hours to make her mark. “Say something to make this better,” I thought. Say anything to make the hurt go away.
Because of my sister’s recent divorce and the way she graciously overcame the multitude of trials that followed, I knew she was equipped with the powerful perspective I needed—the same perspective that she needed and had acquired just a year before Nella was born. The one that says life goes on.
How I treasure the words she shared with me that day—words that I’ll never forget. And, while the truths my sister shared were articulated in response to comforting the pain of a new mama who faced a challenging diagnosis and grieved the loss of a life she had envisioned, they apply to just about every other challenge we face when life doesn’t go exactly as planned.
“Life is like a choose-your-own-adventure book,” my sister shared that day. “I thought I’d be on page 68 today, but look…I’m not. I’m divorced and starting over. And you thought you’d be at page 71 today, but you’re on page 49 instead. And it’s a whole different ending than you thought it would be, but you get to take it from here. It will still end well—you’ll just take a little bit of a different route.”
Choose Your Own Adventure. I remember reading those books in grade school, thrilled with the opportunity of being able to make the main character’s choices, thus changing the outcome.
I, of course, cheated when I read, going back and attempting every possible combination of story lines, some more adventurous than others.
Knowing I could go back and change my decision, many times I took the interesting route—the one that veered away from the highly desired resolution. Surprisingly, those were often the most fulfilling stories.
While I did not choose the fate of raising a child with special needs, the day my story veered off from my highly desired resolution—the predictable white picket fence—was the day I became brave, the day I owned the route to my happiness rather than letting it pivot on perfection, image or what I’m expected to be.
The presence of challenge in my life has awakened my awareness of the ability to choose my own adventure in other aspects of my life as well—pursuing dreams, trying new hobbies, establishing new relationships, traveling, confidently raising my girls and giving them new opportunities as well.
In The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck states, “Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
Perhaps it is all about fear and freedom.
When life is easy and challenge-free, the fear of losing that comfort naturally subconsciously dwells. In avoiding the risk of shattering everything we’ve worked so hard to maintain, I think sometimes we don’t truly choose our own adventure as wildly and as passionately as we should.
But when life becomes difficult and we ultimately prove to ourselves that we are equipped to handle it— that the world does not end with challenge but maybe rather expands to include new opportunities, further fulfillment and a purer happiness, we overcome our fear and embrace a spectacular motivating freedom.
I’ve asked myself so many times since Nella was born, “What else am I capable of?” and when challenge presents itself, I remind myself “you can do this; you know you can do this.”
Slowly, fear is being replaced by the courage not just to embrace life with all its complexities, but to unabashedly chase opportunities—to truly choose my own adventure.