This Ordinary Adventure, Christine Jeske and Adam Jeske. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012.
Summary: The Jeskes describe what happens when their quest to live a life of “amazing days” meets up with the realities of returning to suburban America, parenting, regular work–and routine.
Take a young man and woman dedicated to living out their faith in a way that leaves its mark in the world for good, who train to do development work in Majority World countries, and then do it. They live with the poor, contract malaria and dysentary, and fear for their daughter’s life when she runs a 105 degree fever. And they meet extraordinary people from the African host who ferries Christine to catch a crucial flight on his beat up old motorcycle, to the health care worker who diagnosed their daughter with tonsillitis and got her on the necessary antibiotics. They help a village close a coffee deal that was still paying dividends ten years later. They had resolved to live a life of faith that chose risk and living “amazing days” over safety.
And then they came home to pursue graduate studies and work with a national organization as a writer. They lived in several locations in Wisconsin, finally settling in midwestern Madison. They find themselves settling into the routines and realities of work, raising Phoebe and Zeke, and engaging and resisting suburban realities and trying to figure out what “amazing days” look like in this different setting.
The book is co-authored by Christine and Adam and they contribute alternate chapters, that describe both their adventures abroad, and the ordinary adventure of early twenty-first century life as people of faith with high ideals who don’t want to settle for ordinary and predictable lives. The book alternates between painful struggle, funny stories, and revelatory moments like watching a spider weave a web in a kitchen window. “Amazing” can be a day at the parks with the kids, or a community gathering, or Adam’s crazy jello creation. it doesn’t have to be a harrowing adventure in a country most people haven’t heard of. The big issue seems willing to be attentive to the form “amazing” comes in and how the amazing God wants to encounter us in different seasons.
I have to admit that there was part of me that wrestled with the “amazing days” thing. The people I knew in the blue collar neighborhood I grew up in would never have dreamed of “amazing days” and would probably have thought this couple a bit strange, running around the world, and then struggling with life here at home. Those I knew who lived lives of faith said their prayers before they went to work while their wives prayed they would return safely. You sought to raise your kids right, helped your neighbors when they were in need, remembered the bonds of extended family. You didn’t think about “amazing days”–just what doing right by God, family, work, and neighbor required. Running around the world, or traveling farther than Niagara Falls, or indulging in all the suburban conveniences (attached garages and whole house air conditioning or introspecting about living simply) were luxuries that seemed beyond us.
Yet I remember when my wife and I bought a home in suburban Columbus years later. We were walking around our neighborhood and asked ourselves if we had “sold out”. We were also committed to a vision of living out our faith that was different than the American dream, which confronted us in the form of the array of leagues and lessons our peers thought was the norm for any child. We somehow never made the obligatory pilgrimage to Disney World but discovered the “amazing” in wandering dusty bookstores and exploring small towns in out of the way places within an hour of our home.
And I think this is the point Adam and Christine make in this memoir of their first eleven years of life together. The temptation to settle down and sell out is real–to abandon the ideals of our faith and become more “realistic” about life. But to settle, to put roots down in a place, to love God, people, and that place doesn’t require a sellout. At the same time, I think we (at least I) continue to need voices like Christine and Adam who keep us attentive to God’s invitation to the adventure in the ordinary. I need the suggestions, both zany and practical, at the end of each chapter. I might just take them up on taking a photograph every day for the next month!