Yearly Reflections

If you had told me that this fall would begin as a season of reflection, I would have given you a sideways glance and followed it with a vaguely condescending remark about how September and October were full of travel and kick-offs and deadlines, and I would just as soon save my introspection for a more appropriate season like midwinter. February was made for introspection.

What I failed to consider were the milestones that steadily filed past, paying no attention to my desire to limit my contemplations to gloomier months.

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The first arrived right on schedule on the first of September. I have never been one to hold onto vivid memories. That’s always been Laura’s job. But sometimes I think that my brain knew it had limit capacity for such things and therefore waited until college to kick in. Labor Day weekend, 2003 was, for those of you keeping score at home, ten years ago. It was ten years ago that I sat outside on the chapel steps at Grove City College, facing the chapel gardens, having the first deep, authentic conversations about faith, life, relationships and struggle. I can’t tell you everyone who was there that afternoon, or the full list of subjects that were discussed. But a full decade has not been enough to erase my memory of the feelings of safety and comfort that welled up inside of me on those steps.

There was no way to know then that many of the men and women on the steps that day would continue speaking those hard truths into my life for the next decade. I think if I had been able to be that honest, I would have told you that the kinds of relationships we would go on to have were beyond my wildest expectations. That I would walk alongside these men and women as they moved across the country (or out of the country), fell in love, changed professions, doubted God’s love, entered marriages and prayerfully planned families was too much for my heart to hope for at the age of 18. That we would celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and plain old Wednesdays together from across the country, or from the same living room did not enter my mind ten years ago. And yet as I look back now, these are many of the richest relationships of my life. When I stop and think about these friends ten years later, even hoping for another decade of laughter and accountability and joy that matches this one is hard for me to imagine. But we serve a God who, by His power at work within us, is able to do infinitely more than we could ever dare to ask or imagine. And so I dream boldly.

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Closely related to arriving at college was graduating from high school ten years ago. And so last weekend, I dutifully made my way back home, to be reunited with people who were by my side for the first 18 years of my life. In living rooms, dimly lit bars, church pews and brightly colored ice cream parlors, I talked about life with people who have known me for more than twenty years. There is so much that doesn’t need to be said or explained that it’s hard to know where to start. So we drag out old jokes, laugh at the rolling slideshow of formerly embarrassing photos and confirm major life updates that danced across our newsfeed. Everyone seems happy, confident. We talked to those we had kept up with, or those we wished we had, and then with the curiosities – people who we had forgotten about or simply lost contact with. And in all these conversations, people seemed less tied to the groups I associated them with from high school. Instead, some had stepped forward and some had stayed put.

The first group had expanded their worlds through experiences or education or relationships. They thought about the world around them and wanted to have real, life-giving conversations. The second group may have also had new experiences, more education or different relationships, but they had not been allowed to impact them. And so, these people seemed stuck. Stuck in comparison and gossip and keeping up appearances. This stopped me in my place and caused me to ask which group I belonged to. Have I been open to new experiences? Have I let people not just enter my life but impact it as well? Have I learned more so that I appear more educated or to become more thoughtful, more compassionate, more understanding? These are the questions that define a decade, and I want to be certain in my answers to them.

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The most looming introspections have been on my horizon for quite some time, creeping slowly, almost imperceptibly closer. And yet, it has arrived. My kiddos are seniors this year. Never would I have imagined the impact these girls would have on my life. I know their Starbucks orders, the boys they’ve liked, the girls they’ve fought with, the sadness behind the tears they’ve cried. But more than that, I know their hearts and their lives. I have gladly given up sleep, evenings home alone, and healthy eating to spend time with these dear girls. Six years is a long time to know anybody. But 12-18 feels like a lifetime. And I have one year left with them. Just one.

I want to follow them around, shouting the lessons that I’ve learned since I was in their shoes, hoping that they will trust my advice. I want every hug to be a running one and every conversation to be deep and meaningful. But even then, there wouldn’t be enough time. It’s moving too quickly. College applications are due and now they’re straddling two worlds, eager for what the Lord has for them next. So what will I leave them with? What will my legacy be? I pray that these girls will remember being heard, loved, and directed to Christ. That they will remember laughter and hands intertwined in prayer. And that later on down the road, when life is different than expected, they would remember the examples of men and women who walked alongside them, seeking to faithfully follow Christ, and that they would continue on that long road of obedience.

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If September has taught me nothing else, it’s that the years will fly by and that all we are promised is today. May we all use it well.

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