Sunday, July 8, 2012

What It Means to Grow

I am the first person to admit I dwell on the past often, sometimes in good ways, sometimes not. My thirst to remember the good times is what drives so much of my photography and writing, hoping to capture the emotions of what it meant to make new friends, see new places, and experience new things. On the other hand, it is also the trait that often causes me to hold things against people, making it harder to forgive, forget old memories, and turn a new leaf sometimes.

A wise man once said that our past plays a large part in forming who we are. We can either let it define, make or break us, or we can find the courage to break free from it and begin anew.

Recently I was on a retreat for 5 days, in a time of praying, fellowship, and fun times with some brothers in Christ. Early on the first morning of the retreat, we were gathered in a chapel, in a time of quiet prayer and reflection. As we finished that time of quiet, peaceful prayer, the priest who was leading the retreat went up to the front of the room and handed us each a manila folder, pen, and piece of paper. He asked us to think about where we were, spiritually, physically, and emotionally, at that moment. He then asked us to think about where we were a year ago that time. In what ways had we progressed? Faltered? Grown? Changed?

As I began thinking about the past year, and all of the events that had occurred within it, my mind stretched far beyond the last year. I thought back to my younger teenage years. I thought about all of the growing I had done between then and now. I thought about all of the different ways life had changed.

A couple of things quickly became apparent. 1) for however "old" or "experienced" I might feel at the ripe old age of 17, I'm definitely neither sage nor saint, with plenty of growing and improving still to be done before God calls me home. 2) I've definitely had highs and lows. While they may not have been as harrowing or turbulent as others' trials have been, they've been enough to show me there are some times where you bring your troubles all on yourself, and there are some times where things get thrown at you. No matter what, though, it's up to you to decide whether you are crushed by it or let it make you a better person.

Finally, I realized something my mom had told me shortly before: The only constant in life is change. As life moves ever forward, the environment you live in changes. The people around you change. YOU change! And while it might not always "feel good" or seem like something you can handle, change can make us cling to whatever things aren't changing. More often than not, the only thing that isn't changing is God- the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And when we are at our weak points and He is our only constant, the only thing that will hold us up is His strength if we let it.

I can't say that if you had come up to me 1,2,3 years ago and told me where I'd be a year or so later I'd have believed you or how much things would change. If you had told me in late December of 2008 that a year from then I'd e-mail a total stranger on the opposite end of the country, and that they'd become one of my closest friends, I'd have thought you were nuts. If you had told me that exactly a year from the night I sent that e-mail I'd be sitting trapped in a German airport due to blizzards on the way to bring home my little sister from Ukraine who happened to have Down Syndrome (and that said friend would be e-mailing me to make sure I hadn't lost my sanity), I'd DEFINITELY have thought you were out of your mind.

Alas, that's what it means to grow up. You can't always see what's around the corner. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it'd bad, sometimes it tragic, sometimes its amazing, other times it's in between those. You never know what will happen to the people you have the joy of sharing the journey with, or where their journeys will lead them. But it is better to enjoy the times you have with them and love them no matter what, then it is to walk the journey alone. 

Throughout it all, He will lead us through our journeys. And in the end, isn't that all we'll ever really need?

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 23:4