Madeleine L’Engle said “I am still every age that I have been.” I like that idea, and there is a lot of truth I it. But as I look at turning 35, I’ve been thinking about how our cells replenish themselves every 7 years, so that every 7 years we are a new person.
I have been reborn 5 times.
As I look back on my previous selves, I realize I was a completely different person at each interval. And if they could all see me now, they would be judging me harshly, I’m sure. Except for the 7 year old. She would be fascinated by me. But I think we would both agree these intervening 28 years might not have been worth it.
Oh sure, there have been good things in there, like my husband and kids that I wouldn’t have gotten any other way. But you know how people often say ‘man that was terrible but it made me who I am now, so I wouldn’t change a thing’? Yeah, I’m not so sure that’s me. If I could redo years 7-21, or give them to someone else to live, I would in a heartbeat. I think that’s why I feel such relief, and even excitement at turning 35. Excitement over aging is not something I do. I’m terrified of death so each year up the ladder gets less and less appealing to me. But this year I am incredibly excited about being 35.
I’ve made it. I have overcome so many hard, hard, hard years. I have fought through and survived a lot of people who were mean, or afraid, or thought they knew best how I was supposed to think and be. I was buried for so many years, and the past few years have seen me cracking out of that shell and now I stand here, awake, alive, and excited about life in a way that I almost can’t remember ever feeling before.
As I stare down my past selves, the person who looms largest is 28 year old me. My goodness would she think I was marching straight to hell. But I think secretly she’d also be envious of me, that I am living a life that I’ve chosen. She never had that chance. She was the one who had just been on the verge of settling into conservative adult family life. She owned a house. She was done having kids. They were in a good church. Her husband had a good full time job with benefits and was finally done with college. But then the economy crashed, and not only did it take her house and 401k, but it took with it her entire worldview.
We were on food stamps, debating the merits of bankruptcy vs. foreclosure, and people in our church just wanted to prophesy over us on Sunday mornings……….like……why? What good is that going to do me?
It is not a far jump from that to what good is God, and there are so many well-meaning people who assure you that God provides. And while he did…there are also millions of people who die of starvation because he doesn’t. There is a lot of fear and faith involved with coming to terms with the fact that God might not provide, and will you follow him anyway, or do you follow him just for the stuff?
So when I got to the point where I was ok with not blaming God for our troubles, I still needed to blame someone for their apathy at least. That meant I was looking at the faces of people we ‘do life together’ with who weren’t showing us concern or even asking ‘how’s it going’.
And once you reach that point, it’s pretty easy to leave a church. You throw in a copy of Velvet Elvis, and you really set yourself up for some serious re-evaluations of your life.
If there are any years I wouldn’t choose to redo, it would be these last 7. This last cycle of my life has been so hard, so emotionally draining, exhausting, and filled with a lot of loss, but it has also been the most freeing, and now I feel the most free.
It feels as if I birthed and grew to adulthood an entire person in the past 7 years, as if I was a little Pokémon.
I have spent these years sorting through what I was taught vs. what I know to be true. I have been in situations and put myself in situations where I was literally shaking in my boots from terror, and I survived.
I painfully left one church for another, and then left that church and evangelicalism altogether, finding a home with the Episcopalians.
I’ve undergone 2 big moves.
Gone back to school.
Decided to be a writer – and then did it, (for almost 5 years now).
I got a job.
Walked around 5 capital cities alone, which was fairly terrifying.
Started exercising and lost weight.
Became decidedly more liberal.
Survived 6 months of single parenting.
Partially raised 5 really independent, capable kids.
I learned the power of having a voice and using it, and know that the cost of doing so is worth it.
I decided I wanted to be free, and I did it.
I am 35 and for the first time I know who I am, what’s important to me, and what I want out of life.
I’ve become someone who knows that I am smart, capable, and courageous and that it is powerful to own who you are, even if you’re absolutely terrified at the same time. But I also know I didn’t become braver, bolder, and more courageous on my own.
To get free I needed people who were already free or who were doing their own work of becoming. I found people who were smarter, braver, and bolder than me and I followed them, learned from them. I found people who were living the kind of lives I wanted to live and became inspired by them. If they can do it, so can I.
I owe my life and freedom to so many people, most of them are you who’s reading this.
I am so grateful.
Happy Birthday to me.