Between the asterisks below are some words I wrote my last semester of college, over two years ago. Following the passage are new comments on what has transpired since.

***

Today I am twenty-two years old. I do not feel very different from how I felt a short time ago, back when I was twenty-one and not twenty-two. I still have a zit on my chin, still don’t know how to do my taxes, and I still can’t decide if I like seafood or not. I thought that life would actually be quite different from what it actually is by the time I turned twenty-two. I imagined that I would feel much more grown up, much more capable, much more ready to “become an adult.” That my tastes would be refined, my opinions decided, my wardrobe sophisticated, my sense of humor witty and winsome. In reality, I am neither refined nor sophisticated, and most days I feel like I’m simply masquerading as an adult.

Sometimes I convince myself that I’m the only one who feels this way. But in my conversations over the years, as more candles get added to the cake and more of my friends become tax-payers, too, I’m finding that I was (am often am) wrong. All of us are still growing up. Me included. At each age I come to, I am finding that components of my childhood self never really left me.

Within me exist all my past selves, like traditional nesting dolls pilling one within the other. Within me nest: the creative self I discovered at age eight, the funny self I discovered at age ten, the independent self I discovered at fifteen, and the resilient self I found at sixteen. Year upon year, experience after experience, together they stack together, building one on top of another to make me into the image, thinker, sister, worker, daughter, friend, and woman that exists today.

So who am I today? I guess I am only able to answer that question through the lens and layers of my identity that have been building up while I’ve been growing up. Much of my present self who sits here and writes is the way she is because of the stories of my childhood. Things like catch and brothers and skinned knees and neighborhood football games and high school car ride conversations have come together, layer-by-layer, nesting doll by nesting doll, to make me into who I am today and help me figure out who I want to be. They are the stories of my past that will inevitably shape my future.

Writing has helped me uncover these stories. I’ve discovered parts within me that I forgot about, blocked from my memory, or didn’t take the time to appreciate. Writing has a way of not only teaching me things about my past self, but things about my present self — things that will inform my future self as she grows up, too. I am being taken part and put back together with a greater understanding of why I am the way I am, of who I am and why I was made to be this way. Though I may feel the same as I did yesterday, I know that — as Marilynne Robinson writes — “somehow at the end of it I will be so utterly changed.” Today’s present self is becoming tomorrow’s past self, that new layers will be added inside of me, nesting one within the the other, exerting influence and shaping me into the person I am becoming. I am growing up.

Question marks remain, anticipation is in the air. This year I will start a new job, move to a new place, meet new people, make new mistakes. I have no idea how things will unfold from here, what stories like ahead. But as I’ve said before, what I do know is that is I don’t want my life story to be a set of blank pages about all the things I could have done, but never did. So with that in mind, I begin. I begin with a mindfulness about the past, an appreciation for the present, and a hope for the future. Ahead are all kinds of ups and downs. Ahead are stories set in kitchens, told in car rides to the grocery story, set in my own postage stamp of native soil. Ahead are stories that will make me laugh, to the stories that will make my cry.

Somehow at the end of it, I will be so utterly changed. 

***

In the two years that have passed since I wrote the words above, God truly has taken me apart and put me back together again — revealing the selfish, bitter, and belligerent parts that abounds within me and the justice, mercy, and grace that abounds in Him. It’s funny how spot-on some of the words above are to where I am today: this year I did start a new job (actually, two new jobs), I moved to a new place (again, 2 new places), I’ve met new people and am meeting new people, and I’ve made so. many. mistakes.

I never saw any of it coming. I mean it! The moves. The changes. The conversations. None. of. it. If everything would’ve turned out how I thought it would’ve, I’d be living on the North Side of Pittsburgh working for a nonprofit and *gasp* without TESS! Unimaginable. All jokes aside, nothing has turned out how I thought it would. It’s a bit funny, to be honest.

And as I said above, I didn’t want my life story to be a set of blank pages about all the things I could have done, but never did. That desire within me has certainly played out in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. In the past two years from college, God sent me on a journey that included more risks and change and vulnerability and tears of both sadness and joy than I ever would’ve guessed. I’ve soared high on days filled with fun and laughter and exhilarating experiences and sat in deep sadness and loneliness and disappointment, too. I was right — ahead WERE all kinds of ups and downs. And here, two years later, I am so utterly changed. But only by the grace of God.

Only by Him would I be surrounded by a supportive family and friends who would rally around me, encourage me, and send me from Pittsburgh to Nashville to Kent and places in between with words and actions of kindness and love. Only by Him would I be given the time and space and skills to wander to new places and meet new people. Only by Him would anything good ever come of this life I’m living, the ways I’m participating.

In the years that have passed, God has shown me how hard my heart was to Him and His people — how stubborn I was and how unwilling I was to relinquish control. How judgmental and uncompromising I could be. Here on the other side, my heart has broken more times in the last two years than it did ever before, but that’s because it was able to break — nothing short of a miracle when I consider how guarded and insecure my past self could be. There’s a widely shared quote by C.S. Lewis about this: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

Since graduating from college and embarking on this adulthood thing, God truly has taken part and put back together with a greater understanding of why I am the way I am, but more importantly, who HE is. Here on the other side, question marks still remain and anticipation is always the air. This life is vulnerable. This life isn’t safe…but it’s not supposed to be. My story is in the hands of a Creator who spoke everything out of nothing. So with that in mind, as I have in the past and will continue to do, I begin. I move forward.

I continue to travel down the road He has before me. Who knows where it will go next? What a grace it is to be able to have Him guide my steps. Glory be.

As long as we know what it’s about, then we can have the courage to go wherever we are asked to go, even if we fear that the road may take us through danger and pain. Madeleine L’Engle

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