I was talking with someone the other day about our sabbatical plans and how much we were looking forward to experiencing living in a new culture and all the things we still needed to do before leaving and all the uncertainties about finances and jobs and insurance and kids schooling.  In the middle of the conversation the person asked me why I would want to take a risk at giving up a good job and the security of a steady paycheck and benefits, pull my kids out of good schools and basically uproot all that we currently enjoy to live in Indonesia for a year.

Why Stretching is GoodI’ll get to my answer in a bit but first I want to talk about an experience I had this week.  I actually had a full blown anxiety attack complete with heart palpitations and shortness of breath.  What brought on this sudden attack?  It was the realization that one day I was going to cease to exist on this planet.  I was going to die.  Have you ever thought about death and freaked yourself out?  One day we’ll close our eyes (if we’re lucky) and be no more.  I don’t know about you but more often than not I choose to ignore this fact.  When we are young we feel invincible.  Nothing can harm us, we can do anything we want and we’ll live forever.  As we get older we settle into life, get married, maybe have a few kids, work a steady job and basically have a routine we follow day after day.  But here is the thing that we put out of our mind, maybe because we don’t really want to think about it or maybe because we forget, our time in this world is limited.  None of us will ever outrun death.  It’s coming for each and every one of us whether we like it or not.

Then I realized there are a few ways we can take this fact of life.  We can struggle with it, have panic attacks over it and possibly slip into a depression. We can ignore it and carry on with our lives like there isn’t a ticking clock hanging over our head.  Or we can embrace this fact of life as the greatest motivational force for living the best life we possibly can.  If you know you only have one shot at doing something you’re going to make sure that you give it your best.  We’ve all heard the classic questions of ‘If you knew the hour of your death how would you live your life differently?’  But would we?  What is it that we really value?

I don’t want this to be a downer of a post so let me tell you something that I hope will be encouraging and inspirational.  I happened to catch an episode of Ice Road Truckers – Deadliest Roads the other night.  If you’ve never heard of this show it’s a spin-off of Ice Road Truckers but instead of driving on the Mackenzie River ice road in northern Canada, they drive one of the world’s deadliest roads in India.  Their job is to deliver needed goods to remote towns in the Himalayas. These drivers are literally living on the edge, with 1000 foot drop offs and their wheels hanging off the edge.  Reportedly there is an accident every 4 minutes on this road (if you can even call it that). With parts of the road having nicknames like ‘Freefall Freeway’, ‘The Cutouts’, ‘The Ledge’, ‘Angry Mountain’ and ‘Breakaway Bend’ I think you get the idea of how crazy these roads are.

You’ve gotta be stretched in order to grow.

One of the drivers, Lisa Kelly, was the only driver of the 3 that made the final run over the Rohtong pass without a spotter and carrying a load of jet fuel in leaking barrels in a truck whose cab frame was built out of wood.  The jet fuel was necessary for rescue operations in the area and so it was critical that they get it.  At the end when she was being interviewed about her experience she said something that really caught my attention.  It was the end of her time in India, she had just completed another solo run over this extreme road filled with life threatening dangers and had been the only driver to haul the leaky jet fuel over it all, and when asked why she did it she said “You’ve gotta be stretched in order to grow.”  Think about that for a bit. You’ve gotta be stretched in order to grow.

So what does it mean to be stretched?  For me it means stepping outside my comfort zone, doing things that challenge me and scare me, doing things that go against the standard norms of life.  Are you scared of being stretched?  I know I am.  I try and think about it like this though.  Have you ever been to one of those salt water taffy stores where they have that machine in the front window that is twisting and stretching that sweet taffy to great lengths?  You can stretch that stuff a long way over and over, again and again.  I like to think my life is a little like a piece of taffy (that sounds so Forrest Gump but stick with me) that can get stretched to great lengths over and over but yet still maintain that sweet taste and chewy consistency.  You can’t get that chewy consistency we all love without stretching the taffy.  As we stretch we learn to adapt and grow.  It’s the trials and tribulations, the heartaches, the worries, the adventures, the excitement that bring about personal growth.  Don’t be fearful of being stretched.

“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.”

So you might be wondering how I answered that persons question about how I could give up so much to take this 1 year sabbatical.  I told them I’m not giving up anything.  I’m just stretching.

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