As 2019 turned to 2020, I read many posts by people recapping their decade. I have been feeling a bit meh this holiday season and frankly, didn’t feel like I had much to recap. But as I thought about it more, this has really been a decade of growth and change for me.
As the decade began, I was very active in church as a youth leader. That was my niche and, in many ways, my identity, and it had been for many years. I didn’t grow up in the church and had only come to it in my late twenties but I dove in to serving with my whole heart.
I was settled in a nice duplex that I had lived in longer than I had lived anywhere besides my childhood home. I was rooted.
But I was restless.
I meandered from job to job every few years, usually because of threats of layoffs. It was my goal to never get laid off but instead find something new before that happened. Looking back, I guess this was simply fear driving me – because while it wouldn’t be great, I know now that I’d survive.
I went on my first international missions trip to Romania and came back changed. My heart was broken for the gypsy children we met. I can still see them as vividly today as then, dirty and neglected and so in need of love and care. The image of toddlers covered in filth with no pants or even a diaper, clamoring for our attention while the gypsy “king” of the camp – in clean clothes, very overweight – stood nearby, quietly trying to sell young girls to the youth pastor we were traveling with.
I remember coming home and telling a friend how desperately I wanted to return. Very gently, he reminded me that there were children here who needed me as well. I didn’t know what that would eventually mean, and wouldn’t for a few more years.
It was after that trip and some changes in church leadership that I started to feel discontent. I had already left one church due to issues with leadership and still felt the sting of that. I started to see things differently. I was no longer okay with the status quo of the megachurch setting. It came to a head one year on Easter, when my church was highlighted in the local paper for having pretty cakes on display. Meanwhile, my former youth pastor was handing out Easter meals from the back of a rental truck in the city to those in need.
I was also feeling discontent rise in my job. Our company was sold and the executives all headed off to new lives, leaving the others to adjust. It seemed like another layoff was in the offing, so I started looking and landed a position at the University of Virginia. I’d never left my home state – not for college; not for grad school. It seemed like a crazy idea but then…why not?
I spent three years there and to say it was not what I expected was an understatement. But it was time of great introspection and growth for me, and I wouldn’t trade that.
It was there, too, that I finally connected with what my friend had said to me after I returned from Romania – there were kids here, too, that needed me. In what originally was an effort to meet new people, I found my calling as a Court Appointed Special Advocate. After 30+ hours of intensive training, I was a CASA – the voice for children in foster care who otherwise had none. My first case was complex and I learned so much, not only about the foster care system and the children I worked with, but about myself.
Not in my timing but in the best, I connected with two folks from my hometown who just happened to have an opening in their department. A few months later, I moved back to PA and started life anew in a place I hadn’t lived since I was 18. I reconnected with old friends and made new ones, and met the man I love. We’ve been through a lot in our time together, but again – I wouldn’t change it.
I’ve lost people and pets that I loved so dearly in this decade. But I also gained some, including the pup that I’ve always wanted in my life. He’s a handful, for sure, but not a day goes by that he doesn’t bring a smile to my face.
I don’t know what this next decade holds. I don’t even know what next week will bring. But I’m encouraged when I look back. It brings to mind one of my favorite quotes, that fits and feels so right for here and now:
Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.