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  • Writer's pictureVanessa Ryerse

Hello, 19 Year Old Me ... And Goodbye

This morning, I stopped at my local coffee shop for a bracing cup of coffee and a small bite to eat. The truth is, I had just had my first mammogram, and I was feeling a little shaky. I was pretty sure it was all fine and I had nothing to worry about, but life is nothing if not unpredictable.

While I was waiting, I turned to see a group of young, beautiful people. They had small tattoos tastefully applied to various parts of their strong, healthy bodies, and unnecessarily-large glasses framing their bright, shiny faces. And under their strong arms were thick, leather-bound Bibles. It was clear that they were meeting together for Bible study, like dozens of other people who frequent this coffee shop. In fact, it is so overtly Christian there that I leave my laptop and purse when I use the bathroom or fetch a re-fill because the chances of theft are slightly less likely than snow in Arkansas in June. If the coffee wasn't so dang good, I would choose a different coffee shop just to get out of the baptized oxygen of that place.

As I watched them gather up, earnestly greeting each other, watching the door for later arrivals, with their intentionality fairly spilling on the floor, I half expected to see my 19 year old self among them. Truly, if a tan and toned, long-haired brunette had come through the door with a giant Study Bible wearing a leather ankle bracelet which I made at Bible camp, that said "Robb Jesus Vanessa" (because Jesus is between us, and others before myself) ... I would not have been surprised.

Because I was that girl. But I am not anymore. I have become a completely different person.

It's easy to see all the ways I am different from her. Some things happened because of the passing of time and the birthing of babies. Some things happened from the entwining of my life with other people, which softened and slowed me down in the best possible ways. And some of the most shocking changes happened because I determined years ago to completely devote my life to reflecting the love of God to other people. When I started down that path more than twenty years ago, I thought the road would take me to a secure place, where I wanted to go. I never dreamed it would keep me far from family and childhood home. If I had seen then where I would go in my theology and my daily concerns, I wouldn't have gone because I would have been too scared. 

I would have said "No, thanks. That's too hard. That will cost me too much. I don't feel comfortable with that. My family and friends will never understand why I am doing that."

Thank God for bends in the road that keep the future a bit hidden from us, lest we be completely overwhelmed. Thank God for time and the way it gently holds us. Thank God for a sense of humor and the penetrating drip of skepticism that gives us a chance to balance ourselves.

Sometimes, on a bad day, I am jealous of that girl. Not just her skinny thighs but her discipline. Her strength. Her focus. It would be easy to think, based on what people say or the uncreative negativity in my own imagination, that I was better then than I am now.

But in my wiser moments, I am glad that part of my life is done. Youth is only beautiful when it has parameters. It gets really ugly and pathetic when you chase the stuff of youth for too long. I want to believe that God finds this present time of my life just as beautiful and important now as I felt for those kids in the coffee shop today. The truth is that it wasn't a lack of commitment to Jesus that brought me to where I am today. It wasn't a demand that things be easier. It wasn't a relaxing of my respect for the Bible that brought me here. It was a determination to keep going. To be all in. To follow the principles of Christianity into the farthest conclusions and applications.

My life is changing as I write. I don't know everything, but I know this much:

  1. I'm growing into really enjoying my kids and giving them my attention in ways I never did before, because my time with them all at home is pretty short.  

  2. I am phasing out my vintage Etsy shop. It will take a while to close it, but after it was on vacation for a month or so, I realized that I just didn't care as much about it as I once did. I cut most of the prices way down and things are selling rapidly with few replacements. And it makes me feel free.

  3. I will continue to make mosaics, but not in the same way. I have turned down upcoming shows.  It's not my season for that. It's partly because of the kids, but it's also partly because... 

  4. I am trying to capture my beliefs in words in an ordination paper that I will defend later this year so that I can be ordained by my church formally as a pastor, minister, spiritual nurturer, guide/cleric (I will have to settle on a word that fits eventually too!) The larger truth is that I need to craft my life around the call I've felt for most of my life: To love people. To hear and help them. To give them a safe place to heal from their hurts. To help them know themselves. To be with them. To care for their spiritual health. To find expression for what it is to be human and to recognize the spiritual thing about every human thing. For a long time, I needed money or the chance to express myself, or the space to be creative and I did that through making mosaics. I know there are some new ways of doing that on the horizon for me now; I'm coming back to where I started in the first place. 

Sometimes change happens gradually as you are exposed to a new idea or attempt a new practice.  But sometimes change is a full-on season known as Liminal Space.

“Participants "stand at the threshold" between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way. Continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt. - Wikipedia

It occurs to me as I have thought about my reaction to those young people in the coffee shop that I feel a kinship as much as I feel different from them. They too are in a liminal space, trying to launch their lives, dreaming of what they will do in the world and who they will become. I am so tenderhearted to this stage of their lives. It is ridiculously hard and almost impossible to prepare for.

The only way I know how to say it is this: Those kids are there, inviting God along for their adventure. And I am here, inviting MYSELF along for the adventure. I wasn't a better person 20 years ago. I was just a different person. She was great in her time. I feel nothing but fondness for her.

But really, I am just wildly curious about what comes next.

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