|I was obviously way too serious and busy in my student years.|
I've been experiencing bouts of nostalgia recently. You can blame it on the "I'm so [insert name of hometown]" meme that's going around Facebook, or the fact that I bought a new bookshelf and spent some time flipping through old yearbooks before stashing them on the shelves. There is my upcoming 15th homecoming at William and Mary this fall and my 20th high school reunion next year. Even better, I had the time to hang out with some college and seminary friends over the weekend. It's a gift to have those friendships that you can just fall back into even when years have passed. We can laugh at the same jokes, and a certain song takes us back to the memories we shared together.
I'm not one of those people for whom high school was the best time of my life. In spite of all the achievements displayed in the mementos pictured above and all of the friendly "let's keep in touch" messages penned in my yearbook, I often felt lonely and out of place. I did have friends and keep in touch with some of them still, but I was more comfortable in my studies and solitude than in sharing my true self with others. I found my role as an overachiever who was affirmed by striving for perfection (and feeling crushed by failure).
College was more of my element, when it was acceptable to enjoy classes and learning and when there was the ability to be whoever you wanted to be. As I've gotten older, I remember it as a golden time with much freedom and little responsibility. However, I think much of that perspective comes from looking back through the rosy glasses of nostalgia. When I really think about it, I remember the stress of balancing my schedule and assignments, and feeling very much in over my head. I don't remember the actual classes, though, or much of anything I learned (I was a biology major, but please don't ask me anything about anatomy, plants, or animals). I do remember late night walks to Denny's, hanging out talking in a friend's room, and Sunday lunches after church. I remember feeling like I had found my place.
Seminary was a time of finding community and discovering calling. I met my husband and developed friendships that still carry me through the ups and downs of ministry and life. I learned, too, that community is not always neat and easy, and love often means hard work. I've been confronted time and time again in my frustrations, realizing that I am the one who needs to change. I have learned over and over again the power of grace and forgiveness.
It has always been easier for me to look backward or forward instead of looking around me at where I currently am. That is starting to change, however. I think the difference is that as I near my 40s, I am finally growing comfortable with who I am. Although my surroundings and situation may change, I have learned that I have the strength and the gifts to handle the uncertainties of life. While my place may change, I have found myself.
As I work with college students, I get the gift of sharing my story, and the honor of hearing theirs. So many times I hear their regret that it isn't all they thought it would be, that they expected to have their lives "all figured out" by now. I smile in empathy because the older I get, the more I learn that we are all still figuring it out. We grab mementos from our experiences and try to piece together the memories to make up the Instagram roll of our lives. It may look good in the pictures, but it's often incomplete. We expect to feel as if we've "arrived", but the destination is still unknown. We want to feel successful, but the definition of success keeps changing. We expect to feel like an adult, but aging doesn't necessarily make us feel any more grown up. The thing that often screws us up the most is the picture we have in our head of how it's supposed to be. It takes courage to stop, see, and accept things as they truly are. There is mess and there is beauty, and both are always in tension and transition. But there are gifts in every stage as we seek to find our role, place, community, and sense of self. Each success and each failure brings us closer as we seek out what draws us. Every memory is just a page in the story of our life that continues to be written, and who knows what beauty is in store in the very next chapter?