Forever

Forever is such a long time.

No, this isn't going to be a post about a wedding or a marriage or any big announcement like that. I've just been thinking about a lot of things lately that seem to circle back to the idea of how we think about time, how we imagine "forever."

You know how once you hit a certain age the way you think about time changes, but in a way you never really thought it would? Suddenly (or, rather over years...) you have experiences under your belt that you can truly look back at. They're behind you, in the past-tense, as things that happened. The other day I was telling a co-worker, a week before his retirement, that for some time I volunteered in Peru when I was in my twenties, in 2013. When I went back in my mind for the specific number of years ago that was, I had to count it out in my brain: it was April... 2013... "gosh, five years ago... has it really been that long?" 

Laughing, he said, "You think five years is a long time? Your sense of a long time and my sense of a long time are different."

And it's true. "Five years in your twenties" holds totally different kinds of growth, experiences, failures, disappointments, let-downs, triumphs, joys, etc. than "five years at one job" or "five years in your marriage" or "five years living in this city" or "five years into parenthood." 

But something else I'm learning about time right now is that it's happening, always the same, no matter what you think about it or how you narrate it. No matter what season you are in, or how old you are, it is this changeless thing, ever pacing along.

And 1,000 years from now it will press on as it did 100,000 years ago, no matter how I look at it, and it's sort of crazy to think about how each individual life, including mine, is subject to face it. 

When I was in Peru, it was temporary: I knew I'd be there for four months, then leave (it was a teach abroad program). It's kind of like how you feel a different kind of excitement when you go on vacation versus when you move. The former obviously has a greater sense of escape, and also safety; release, adventure; you are permitted to have a more spontaneous, less heavy, no-strings-attached attitude towards it, naturally, because it's literally just for fun. Then, you come back.

When I moved home to Illinois after Peru, in Summer 2013, it was the same thing. Temporary. I knew I wanted to go somewhere new. In my own life during these years, between coming back to the States and leaving home again (for Colorado, which I decided to pursue in Summer of 2015), was my initial experience of spiritual growth (as a Christ follower). It was a season I can now look back at, and say, "okay, that's when life turned around. On the inside, in the important ways." Those years changed what I decided to seek. What I wanted, valued, in life. And that changes everything.

When I moved to Colorado in January 2016, it was the same thing. A nine month job contract. Going in knowing the temporarilty of something changes the way you approach it, of course. You have to do a good job - but honestly, you don't really have to build anything from the ground up. You have to connect and make friends - but you also know you have to leave. You don't set down roots because the end is on the horizon from the beginning. You'll leave, and so will the people around you. Maybe that's kind of like college too, although college is a little more immersive than nine months.

But it's similar in that seasons like that are just that: a suspension of your real life, a little bubble of a time period; yours,  your experience, but an experience that you're always aware will eventually lead on to something else.

Which brings me to now. In my own life (don't ask me why I didn't think of this sooner...), I realize that Asheville (where I currently am) is the first place I've chosen to come to without an exit strategy of any kind. And I'm learning a lot. When you're used to moving around on your own accord, you're in a kind of safety net. As travel or adventure enthusiasts in any regard can tell you, there are beautiful benefits and freedoms in moving around, just you. Coming and going. Reveling in the things you love: dreaming, adventure-chasing, relishing in all the romance of this life. And maybe even some joys in avoiding the things you're not crazy about: dealing with people getting to know you deeply, for real; or like those more 'adult responsibilities' you'd prefer not to have to face; or getting to know yourself outside of a certain identity you think you've picked. 

But it's a balance. Which means stopping and settling may do something you didn't foresee it doing. You're never stuck, or really truly tied to any place forever - I don't mean that - but you may be forced to change a bit how you interact with where you are, when you make a decision to come somewhere and 'stay.'  

It's only been very recently that I feel I am able to reflect and say things like this, because my time in this season, in this place of life, has so far been used to teach me this.

It's funny that even more so than moving and adventuring all the time, settling down has taught me more about what it really means to let go of control and trust God. 

One thing I'm learning is that there are lessons for us in this life that we think we'd prefer not to learn, or face, and they often come in the form of unforeseen circumstances. Who's ever said or heard someone say, 'it wouldn't have been what I would have picked for myself, but in the end I'm glad it happened." I say, having been humbled by this reality myself, that it's easy to have a perceived sense of control over your life when you're pursuing your dreams or doing your thing and things are generally going to your liking. But harder when there are detours - that don't seem to pertain specifically to the growth trajectory you put yourself on - which will inevitably come. 

For me right now, I'm going through a unique period of what I might call advancing other people's missions, something I am still getting used to as an independent, by-myself, do-my-thing kind of person. But... I am learning to love it. It really feels to me like serving: my time for your cause, not mine. Literally, this looks like letting go of my personal drive to focus on me (my art, my business, or what I want to do) and jumping in on other peoples' missions and causes - and most importantly. We often forget though that while our hands are trying to shape our lives, God's hand's are trying to shape us.

In giving up what I want - even with the best intentions - for my life, there's a journey of character change that God can take me through whose deep, for-my-own-good changes would be unreachable in any other way.

I now have a full-time job (for the first time since before I went to Peru five years ago. (Okay come on guys, I need you to recognize that that alone is big for me!)) in communications. My job is to advance the cause of where I work: to spend 40+ hours a week networking, storytelling, connecting where I am to the people around me. Getting people on board with what we offer, who we are, what we do. (It's not about me.)

I have picked up a second job managing communications for another local business, which further cuts into my time. For the first time in my life I am both "a believer" and "in the same place long enough" to have decided to join a church - which means fellowship and participation, engaging with people for real. That cuts into my time too.  I've been spending a lot of time on a charity project which has consumed my weekends. I really don't have a lot of time for things I used to pour into a lot more often. Taking photos for my own Instagram, or putting as many new things on my Etsy; even making art. 

Yeah, life is cutting into my time. But: here is what I know now. This is all so good.

Because no matter what form it comes in, there can be joy (though not without serious surrender, trust, and patience) in saying, "I will work as if working for You, Lord, no matter what assignment you give me.

In a culture that reminds us to focus much more on what we should be doing than on how we should be doing it, it's really easy to build a life on the idea that my life belongs to me, and should always be filled with the things that I choose for it. 

I could take an attitude that nothing is going the way I want it to go, which to be honest - between relationship struggles (never something I've had in my life before), chronic pain (also never something I've had in my life before), and having no place to live (also also something I've never had in my life before) - is how I had been looking at things for a while. It's been a hard season and I'll be honest, there were days this past year where I struggled to get out of bed, for reasons other that sometimes I didn't feel like I physically could. Feeling overwhelmed by the weight of a lot of things and asking God, "exactly why again is all this necessary? Couldn't You show me thriving in at least one area? Physical health, community/friendships, relationships, housing, a job, anything?" It was hard to learn what I think I'm starting to get now, which sounds different.

God has given me the opportunity to serve.

I have a full-time job at a place that shares my values and has chosen me to help advance their cause. It's exciting that not just me but my position is entirely new, so I can be creative in my role, and I feel like people value my creativity and approach to what I am doing. And, I can use my words to make an impact. I went to school for Journalism and writing is something I love, so to spend my days doing that is actually an honor, and enjoyable. I have a second job advancing the cause of something else I love too: not just seeing a local business do better but helping my friend, the owner, a fellow artist, adventurer, and mentor, and her family reach their goals. My back is feeling better now. I can't run a half marathon or really workout as I'd like but I can go outside and walk happily again.

I belong to a church, which I have been praying for for a year, which has filled my heart and life with just what it needs right now. It has reminded me not to 'get back to some former point in time where 'things were good,'' but to focus on God now. Not to make anything better or different, just to press, press, press into Him and man, there's nothing in this entire life, even over time, that can break you when you get that. 

Maybe sometimes the storms are there not to test the strength of the anchor, but to test us - our trust in relying on it.

I may not have exactly what I thought should be mine. For any of us, no matter where we are in life or what we struggle with, God will bless the humility not of admitting in shame but confessing authentically that we need Him more than anything else for our well-being. We're not meant to walk through life getting exactly what I want - most of us can see that in our lives - but do we know what we are meant to walk through life getting?

Forever is a long time. Some seasons are four months, nine months, one year, a decade - but forever is a lot different. It makes it easier to get through seasons when you have a right perspective on the whole. I often try to write these posts pointing back to a perspective other than belief of faith to be the ultimate fixture in my mind, to get 'right perspective' on life. But there's really nothing other than hope that seems to satisfy out need for longstanding, endure-anything, unchanging, always-safe-to-turn-to truth.

Press into that. I don't quite know yet but it seems this way the older and older I get: listen to no one who has not listened to God. Especially in this day and age where opinions can come at you from anywhere, remember the importance of your anchor and even when storms come, you may not be fine, or comfortable, or 'there yet,' or all good, but you are - in the most daring, well-equipped, bravest sense of the word - safe.

Lauren Younis