Last week, one of my readers commented on my blog post, saying, “We all take different paths in our lives and those paths lead us to this exact moment, this exact place, for the reasons God has planned.” Each weekly installment in this Word Doc entitled “I Used to Be” (simply because those were the first words I typed in it) has served as an attempt to map out those paths and see the journey that brought me to this moment.
This moment, on my front porch, evening glories climbing the slats to my right, a bluebird picking at the tea kettle feeder to my right, dim porch light spilling over into twilight. It’s calm and still in stark contrast to the organized chaos of circumstances surrounding last week’s entry. Amidst the bustle of ten adults and six kids sharing a lake house vacation, I struggled to find an inward peace to write.
Though I’d thought it some of my worst writing, I was proud of delving into some psychoanalysis despite feeling dehydrated and spent. My gym mentor Chuck promptly texted the affirmation, “Your blog was by far the BEST yet.” Alright, so it wasn’t a waste of time. Then, Deb posted her comment, and I’ve been mulling over it ever since.
See, Deb has a different insight on my blog than most of my Facebook friendships which were born in adulthood. We attended the same church when I was a little girl. Her mother was my AWANA leader. As a teen, Deb invested time in me, taking me on outings. I thought of her like the perfect big sister. Though our lives took us on different paths and we haven’t spoken in over a decade, we reconnected on Facebook, and now she has daughters about the age I best remember her from my childhood.
Deb’s comment also included some advice: “I think it’s time for you to close the first volume in this book of life. Put it on the shelf for reference, but you’ve come way too far to keep looking back at earlier, more painful chapters.” She’s seen these chapters only through the eyes of seventy WordPress posts, and yet I feel she “gets” me. So what would it mean to close this first volume?
Back in my gym with my workout buddy yesterday after ten days absent, all was finally right with my world. Chuck gave me some of his thoughts one what it would look like to close the volume and stop looking back at my past. He gives me advice some days, but most of the time, he’s like a shrink, asking me questions that get me to come to my own owned conclusions. It’s a lot like my life – I don’t see how things relate, but when the dots are connected, it all makes sense.
As we chatted, I remembered a poster project I had made at school when I was five or six. In a home movie, Mom filmed me doing a little show and tell of my all about me poster. I’d drawn my family: six varying sized triangles with stick figure legs and arms. I’d listed three wishes, my favorite colors and foods, and there was a box for a picture. I’d included a photograph of Deb and me. In that season of my life, when I was surrounded by boys and competing for attention, Deb made a lasting impact on my life.
She wasn’t family, but she felt like family, and so Deb needed to be on that poster. Like my blog, that poster was a little snapshot of my current paradigm, the way that I take in and see life. In the bottom left hand corner, I’d drawn a smiling woman with outstretched arms. In the video I read aloud, “When I grow up, I want to be… TEACHER!” That part of my journey, God had set me on early.
When I was at Belmont studying education, I took under my wing two little Hispanic girls. For five years, I brought them to church with me, bought them clothes, and spent time with them. We’d go to the pool or the park in the summers, and I’d attend their soccer games during the year. Their mother and I had a falling out that brought our friendships to an end. The older girl recently found me on Facebook. She’s a mother now, and it surprised me that she wanted to connect at all.
Looking at that picture of Deb and me on that childhood poster, I realize that God had used her greatly in my life for a season. She’d modeled for me the same investment I’d made in those little girls. There were times in the years after those relationships ended that I’d wondered if it had all been a waste, if the conclusion would sour the rest of the chapter. It took almost a decade before social media allowed me the chance to learn that one of these girls felt I had positively impacted her life.
I’m not sure I’m ready to stop writing about the past. It’s on the written page that I make sense of it, learn lessons from it, find clarity, peace, and answers in it. These weekly entries have been plotting points on a map that makes more sense with each connected dot. In a way, my writing time is when I take the past off the shelf to reference most frequently. When I reflect, I regenerate a memory with relevance and purpose.
I started blogging by recounting everything I used to be. My metamorphosis has been catalogued. I’ve seen the themes change. Hope conquered fear. Grace conquered shame. Perspective conquered regret. Where I once identified with the dead old oak in my back yard, I now identify with the vegetable garden that the absence of its shade allows to thrive.
I agree with Deb that this volume of my life is over – the one before “I Do” and after “Happily Ever After”. Those little Hispanic girls were part of that volume. I was a part of their family for years, and I’m grateful to have a Facebook window into their lives now. Time changes the conception of a memory. I don’t remember their faces the night I walked out of their lives… I see them smiling on the swings behind the public library my first summer in Nashville.
I’m living the new volume, the one where I’m like my vegetable garden. I came home from vacation to find all forms of new life in the herbs, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, garlic, carrots, and lettuce. Chuck had watered them for me while I was away, and he even sent me photo updates. He knew I was feeling a bit like a mother away from her newborn for the first time.
I’d hoped to bring a fresh cucumber to my sister-in-law’s tonight, but I can’t really control the ripening process. Each plant seems to be maturing at different rates. You can’t rush progress. They’ll be ready when they’re ready. And, I suppose, I will be, too.
I can’t say that I’m ready to stop writing about the past because I’ve found that, every week, without fail, when I task myself to return my consciousness to painful past memories, that they’re not so painful anymore. That they always teach me something now that makes revisiting them worth my time.
I am ready, however, to change the name of this Word document from “I Used to Be” to “I Am”. It’s a new volume now, representative of a different paradigm. Just as New York and Tennessee had an abundance of pins on my life map in the first volume, Virginia started with a new map entirely. I hope, as Deb suggests, that Charming will play a leading role. Like my writing, he helps me see routes I didn’t know were there.
Regardless of the number of volumes featuring Charming, my life will have been better for his influence. God used him to help redeem me. Deb invested in me. I invested in those two Hispanic girls. Decades pass, and those acts of love and service are not forgotten.
I’m delighted to be in this exact moment, in this exact place. My garden will yield bounty; I don’t know how much or when, but it happens a little every day, and that’s enough for me to see that volume two of my life is going to make for an inspiring read.