Saturday, July 27, 2013

Is That Really Me??

A few weeks ago, I had a bit of an unexpected nostalgia trip.  We were making a quick overnight visit to my parent’s farm.  Our kids love to visit their grandparents and run around the farm, and frankly that place is a fundamental part of me too, so it’s nice to get back and visit.  When we visit, our family sleeps in the same room where I slept as a boy. There is still a fair amount of "my old stuff" in my bedroom: dusty books, school notes, photos, etc.  Much of it could probably be thrown away, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened yet.

As I was getting ready for bed, I happened to open the top drawers of the dresser and found various old items. I discovered an old pocket watch that I had been given at some point, commemorative coins, and a smattering foreign currency collected during trips we took. I found a couple of cassingles (remember those?) and an old tobacco spear (do you know what that is?). I came across a couple of post cards that I had received from my dad and brother back in 1988 that sparked memories of the year I graduated high school. I found couple two-dollar bills; I even found $100 cash! Not sure why I had left it stashed at my parent’s house all these years, but when I found it, it went straight in my wallet.  Cha-Ching! 

The most intriguing find in my dresser drawer was some old ID cards from 1997 and 2000. Upon seeing the images from over a decade ago, my comment was: "Gosh, I look like a different person."

My wife Laurie was also struck by the difference.  She compared the old ID cards to a recent picture of me taken for our church directory. The difference between the photos was quite striking. I think she summed up it up well when she said:

Is this really me?!
"In the old photos you look like a boy; now, you look like a grown man."

While the simple fact that I have aged 13 years accounts for some of the difference (e.g., my hair is a little more gray around the edges) I think it's much more than that... I haven't just aged physically—I've matured spiritually.

Even more than with physical growth, you don't always notice spiritual growth when you are "mucking through the middle of it". In fact, some days it seems like it's one step forward and two steps back. Some things that were "issues" for me back when those photos were taken are still are issues today—and, frankly, they probably always will be. It can be discouraging to realize that there are certain things about me that are so fundamentally linked to who I am as a person that they very likely will NEVER change.  Though I can modify them, they’ll never “go away.”

As I mature, I begin to realize that those very weaknesses I so loathe at times are part of what makes me, well, me.  To have the positive side of my unique God-given gifts, I must also accept and embrace the negative side. 

I think the other night I was permitted a rare glimpse at the Bigger Picture—a mere fraction of the perspective God always enjoys.  As I looked back at that old photo from 13 years ago, I was undone.  I saw a "different person" looking back at me

Indeed, that was me once, but it is NOT me today...  

I can only conclude one thing: Somewhere along the way, when I wasn’t paying attention, I must have done some growing and changing.  By God’s grace, I have matured spiritually.

The me of 2000 had a rather pale complexion compared to the me of 2013. I'm not sure why that was... but it probably wasn’t purely physical.  I don't really look very happy or healthy in the photo—looking back, I probably wasn’t.

In 2000, I was physically “grown up” but not all that mature.

Like the Apostle Paul, at that time in my life, in many ways, I had not really put away childish things.  Though I was almost 30, I was still more my parent’s son than a mature man confident in his own identity in Christ—and I think the photo reflected that lack of confidence.  Although I longed to be married, at that time I wasn’t, and even after a fair number of frustrated attempts at dating, didn’t have much of any prospects.  Even though I had lived away from my parent’s farm for several years by then, I always lived in rental properties.   I still thought of the place where I grew up as home and returned there frequently to visit friends and family.  In 2000, I was “playing at” living on my own and “being a man”, but I had not yet completely severed the apron strings to my parents.

I was also searching for my career identity in that timeframe.  I had held a couple of full-time jobs at NASA since finishing graduate school in 1997, but each only lasted a little over a year.  I still hadn’t really settled into my current job as a writer/editor—that happened in 2001.

I also was struggling with my spiritual identity at that time— really trying to figure out where I belonged.  I didn’t really feel that I fit in the United Methodist church I grew up in anymore.  There were precious few people my age, so I couldn’t really study or fellowship with people my own age. I had experienced some other ways of worshipping in college (InterVarsity) and wanted to find a better fit for me. 

Up until then I had “gone to church” where my parents had worshipped.  I had not given it much thought—but now was the time when “the faith needed to become my faith.” 

That separation from my parents was necessary; in the long-run it has been good, but the short-term result was much spiritual searching and restlessness.  During graduate school, I got involved in a very conservative and exclusive group for a time—not the best experience.  After that I bounced around some, returning to my parent’s church, and worshipping at several other places.  Ultimately, I ended up at Cedar Ridge Community Church, which is where I was when I met my wife in 2002. 

My family today—Spring 2013.
Since that 2000 photo, a whole bunch has changed; my whole life has been reoriented.  On July 5, 2003, I embarked on the adventure called marriage and I now have two children this side of eternity—Brady (7) and Becca (5).   They are “my family” now, and home is wherever they are.  

I've surely done a lot of living in the past decade. Along the way, there have times to rejoice and times to mourn—and a whole lot of "ordinary times" in between. The process of living through all those days has changed me—I hope ultimately for the better.

It's not just getting older that turns a boy into a man nor is it simply the act of getting married or having children. No, true maturity comes as we pass through the "crucible of life" and choose to allow God to use our circumstances to transform us.

Many things have changed in the intervening years since those old photos were taken.  My journey has had many twists and turns that I could not have predicted and never would have imagined. There have been many wonderful friends throughout the years that have come and gone.  My family has been and continues to be wonderful gift to me.  Through them I learn much about the person God has created me to be.  But I dare not confuse the gift with the Giver.  It is God who I ultimately look to as my source of strength, comfort, and guidance.  I give thanks to God for bringing me safely to this point and for all those who accompany me on my journey. 

God gets all the glory for the “grown man” that looks at me in the mirror today.  I am challenged every day to more fully embrace that person, believe in that God-given potential, and work to release it for the good of the world.

I am sure that just as a photo of the me of 2000 looks so very different from the me of 2013, were I to flash forward ten years, I would hardly recognize the me of 2023Of course, we usually aren’t permitted more than a fleeting glimpse of the future—viewed through a mirror dimly.  (Always in motion the future is. J)  I think maybe that’s because a tease of what might be is all we can stand.   If the me of 2013 actually saw all that the next decade would bring all at once it would overwhelm me. (I look back on ten years of marriage, and it’s hard to believe all we’ve lived through!) 

Instead, I must trust that in due time, all things are possible with God, believe in the good future that God has planned for me, and commit myself to walking with God each and every day I am given and doing my utmost to make that promised future a radiant reality.

Pondering the Patterns of God's Garden

Creation is messy… Creation sometimes appears random. Until you look more closely… I have the largest flower bed on our cul de sac—ma...