When I was nine years old, I was in Florida with my family on the first non-National Park vacation we’d ever taken. While the theme parks that promised magical memories held up to their end of the bargain, it was something that I observed in the night sky (for free) that changed my life. NASA was to launch a space shuttle at 2:00am and, having recently seen E.T., I was not going to miss it. With baited breath and bare feet, I stood in my grandparents driveway and waited.
We were hundreds of miles away from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. Yet, when the boosters ignited, the pitch-black night sky lit up like a sun-scorched day. For nearly five minutes, I watched in wonder as a tiny ball of fire, the shuttle, accelerated out of our atmosphere and into the abyss of outer space. In my boyish naivete, I reasoned in that moment that I could be anything in the world that I wanted to be. The list that had previously included second baseman for the Chicago Cubs and Olympic hockey player now included, “Astronaut.”
In order to achieve one of these three destinations, not only does one require copious amounts of God-given ability, but also resources, connections, distinct opportunities, and a plan. Ask any astronaut, ball-player, or olympian and you’ll quickly discover that one does not become either by accident. There is a path that one walks toward that deistation that many travel and that few achieve. That said, the olympians and professional ball players that I’m acquainted with will also point to the less predictable, unexpected moments as equally potent especially with regard to their mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational formation.
Thus, the both/and of transformation. While it occurs within the disciplined, focused journey, it also happens, perhaps more poignantly, within the unexpected. Why do I offer the designation “perhaps more poignantly?” Because whenever I walk the path, the focused journey, the pilgrimage that another has plotted out for me, I quickly become reliant upon my own intuition and ability to achieve. The unexpected forces me out the predictable, opens the pours of my imagination, and invites me to risk into the unknown.
Today, I am neither a Chicago Cub, an olympic athlete, nor an Astronaut. The journey of my life that was once plotted out for me has meandered in and out of some very unusual spaces. It has often been the case that moments of my deepest transformation have occurred within the most unexpected locations, experiences, and relationships. Spirit has consistently invited me to take detours that both focus my calling and redirect my trajectory.
I’m curious. Which invitations into transformation have I accepted, which have I dismissed, and which have I missed altogether? Having penned this post, do I still think that my future is up to me to figure out or have I been reshaped into believing that I am not in charge? (Renner & D’Souza, Not Knowing, 131) The thoughtful leader understands that the future is shaped by how s/he responds to the present.