Friday, October 30, 2009

An Exercise in Remembering

I have yet to meet a person who claims to be unchanged from a ten years ago. In even a year -- a span of time both incredibly long on the morning of January 1st and then shockingly short the evening of December 31st -- or less, most people would probably agree that they are not the same as they were before. It kind of goes without saying.

But lately I've really been thinking about how I have changed, especially over the past year. It seems like college has really concentrated the maturing juices that I'm marinating in. Nothing really happened to start this period of introspection, exactly, but I began to notice little things in my everyday life that caused me to step back and think for a second.

I didn't used to pay much attention to people around me when I'm walking. I tend to get into this zone when I'm on my way somewhere; you'll notice that I sort of snap out of a trance if you get my attention while I'm en route. My eyes are usually glued to the path I'm taking. In fact, people kind of make fun of how I walk pretty fast and appear to be on a mission at all times. What can I say? I don't waste time!

At some point, though, I started to look at people that pass me by. I realize that most people do this, and that I am some kind of oddball, because they are all looking at me when I'm looking at them, haha. I wouldn't say that I've ever been afraid of people I don't know, exactly, but I sure was not interested in really getting to know anyone new. I felt like they all had to be on their own missions, interested in things that I wouldn't understand or care about, just like I was zoned in on my own unique stuff.

In a nutshell, I was content sharing those little parts of my life with only a few other people, and letting the rest of the world alone on my part.

Now, before I continue on this tangent, I need to backtrack a bit, so bear with me. Clean the little slate in your head before reading on so you can be fresh for this prelude.

Wipe it off!

I don't think I've ever told any version of my life's story on here, so let me paint for you an image of where I come from. I was born in Fairhope, Alabama to a preacher. Sounds like the beginning of something like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, doesn't it? It's all true, though. I am blessed enough to have been born into a family that was founded on Christ, so that I would be brought up knowing God. I was quite a scholar of tales from the big fun color illustration bible (the translation is also known as the BFCIV). There are home videos of my parents trying to get me to recite the books of the bible in order on video tape for the camera, which I wouldn't do, but rest assured that I knew those things backwards and forwards.

However, this isn't one of those stories where a kid at six years old walks down to the front of the church to be saved. I don't remember a time where I didn't know who God was, and have a list of things in my head that I believed about Him, but there are many years in my memory where all of that was in a little box in my brain that had absolutely nothing to do with how I acted or lived. I was a well-behaved kid for the most part, but for the selfish reason of not wanting to get into trouble or be a disappointment. More than anything, I wanted people to be happy with me, and predicated all my satisfaction on that goal.

Circumstances did not really help change this way of thinking as I grew up. The church we went to when I was in elementary school began to feel a lot less like a place of fellowship and a lot more like a place of condemnation. I was too young to be filled in on the details of what was really going on, but suffice it to say that it was bad enough for my family to leave. We were without a church that felt like a home for quite a while. My parents would do a lesson and such in our living room on Sunday mornings, but to be honest, I was not very interested in hearing them teach me when video games and TV shows were on in just the next room.

Not being invested in anything spiritual really set me up for a bad time in middle school. I was such a people-pleaser. I blindly agreed with friends on almost anything, backing them up when I knew they were wrong, siding with some of them in arguments only to go sympathize with the people they were arguing with! I didn't get too extreme with the whole pressure to fit in, but I would cuss like nobody's business and make lewd jokes -- habits that unfortunately haven't gone completely away. If someone I wanted to impress was gossiping or making fun of someone else, of course I would join in.

I just wanted people to like me.

Even after finding a church that I loved (and still do!), this whole mindset dominated my life. My day-to-day existence was focused solely on how I could be pleasing to others. This sounds good -- who would object to a nice person? -- but it was far more than that. I bent over way backwards to the point of despair, if only to be temporarily quenched by a smile or a nod. I obsessed over my appearance, picking myself to pieces in the mirror every morning so that I would be attractive to someone. I slaved over homework and studied to get A's so that I would be intelligent to someone. I laughed at this and enjoyed that so that I would be agreeable to someone. You get the picture. I put my happiness in guys, friends, teachers, whoever would look at all my stress and toil to give me three words of affirmation. That would be enough.

Until I needed more.

It's an addiction like any other, but it takes the shape of so many different things that they pile up, one on top of the other, until you are absolutely buried in expectations that you feel the compulsive need to meet. I didn't understand that no one could ever show me my own worth enough for my satisfaction. I struggled with this for years and it left me with crippling moments of loneliness and worthlessness at times. Sometimes I wonder if it's actual depression or not. That isn't really the point. I just knew that this was not how life was meant to be lived. It's a broken record.

A lot more angst and prayer and thinking went into this, but suffice it to say that the summer before my freshman year of college, I did make the conscious decision to follow the cross. All that was just an interesting little shelf of ideas in my brain became my daily reality. Besides truly wanting to learn more about God and grow constantly in understanding, I found myself in a whole new community of believers, one that is not satisfied with skin-deep friendships where you're asked how life is going with the expectation of a one word answer. That's not enough. You really get to know other people's hearts. The more I learned about everyone's pasts, lives, personalities, struggles, I did find a common denominator that I had not really acknowledged before: we all go through that search for love.

We're all the same deep inside, and while that need manifests itself in different ways, you bet that we all turn to things other than God for the same reasons.

If you can stand it, this is where the story comes back to my original point. I had chosen before my walk with Christ not to care so much about other people's lives. People I didn't know were not very important or interesting to me, and I didn't even care to delve much deeper than the surface with people I'd known for years, really. I think I just didn't believe that we all had something in common throbbing in our innermost beings.

But I dare you to find someone who isn't quietly, desperately pursuing love and acceptance. Ask a girl who wears almost nothing in hopes that someone will gawk at her body, showing her some iota of value. Ask a guy who is lying on the bathroom floor, having drunk way too much in order to impress some friends that don't really care about him. Ask even a quiet guy sitting in the library, dutifully reading book after book to get an A on a test so that he can hold that up as proof that he means something in a world as big as this. Anything that we are so attentive to -- idols, dreams, ambitions -- is to prove to ourselves that we have value and that we can earn love with this value.

Realizing that everyone experiences that put them in an entirely new light. Instead of seeing person after person walking past me on the sidewalk, I see individuals who are thirsting for evidence that they're loved. It goes without saying that I believe they are, and would be thrilled by nothing more than being able to share the source of the love I know.

A simple smile at strangers passing by is a start.

Having prayed for a soft heart, the Lord's hands feel more gentle as they reshape my heart every day. My appreciation for what He has done for me grows, and my desire to share that with others becomes more passionate and joyful.

If he can do all this in a year, I can find no words to show how excited I am to see His handiwork in a lifetime.

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