Mt. Kinabalu

Mt. Kinabalu

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Birthday Blog: On Turning 23

On an island in Pitas, Sabah celebrating friendships and time together before I leave Malaysia
(photo credit: teacher Nelson)

I know it’s been awhile since I have posted but I figured a birthday is as good a reason as ever to do some reflection. 

I have never liked the idea of growing up and this year is no different.  Turning 23 does not have quite the same ring to it as 22 (I mean there’s no Taylor Swift song for it yet…so it can’t be cool).  My students were asking my age today and I was stumbling all over it.  There’s just something nice sounding about dua puluh dua…..dua puluh tiga?  What is that?  I proceeded to tell my students I feel old and they rebuked with “Kamu masih mudah Teacher!”  (You’re still young Teacher!)  and in all kinds of ways I am.  However, I experienced so much growth this past year!  There are times when I even surprise myself with mature ideas or reactions.  Perhaps this is part of being a twenty something...still being quite young and immature while simultaneously experiencing exponential growth.  I read one of those blogs posted about a thirty something writing a letter to her twenty year old self and one part in particular stuck out to me.  I can’t quote it directly anymore but the idea was that as a twenty something we should be embracing the unknown.  Let me tell you a little something about the unknown.  It’s starting to scare me a little less.

A year ago today I was sitting in a small café in Assissi, Italy celebrating with friends and knowing I was headed to Malaysia in just a few months.  I had a location for the next year of my life but no idea what that would mean.  At that point I probably would have still had a hard time locating Malaysia on a map honestly.  This year I spent the day with friends and students in Malaysia and I have no idea where I’m going next.  There is just this big wall of misty gray ambiguity in my future staring back at me the same way a blank canvas just stares at me when I begin a painting.  Its daunting pale white skin dares me to make a wrong move and expects insurmountable perfection from its creator.  What’s the only way to overcome this fearsome obstacle?  Put some paint on that canvas.  When I finally make that ugly first mark and the serenity of white perfection is broken, suddenly I feel like it must get better from there and can continue working.

About a week ago I interviewed for what I thought was my dream job and could not believe the possibility of getting it in my first year teaching in the states.  Last night I found out I did not get the job.  It was disappointing and a little heartbreaking but it did not crush me the way disappointing things might have in the past.  I think this year has had enough unknowns and even disappointments that somewhere in the misty gray ambiguity of unknowing I stumbled upon deeper meanings of my values and a much deeper faith.  You could say there wasn’t a lot of constant in my life this year with moving to a new country, having three country coordinators, hearing we would be the last country group here for a while, having our program end early, and traveling all over in between.  However, I have realized along the way that even in the mist I have been walking alongside an incredible international support system including family, friends, all kinds of people who are part of the YAGM or global ELCA family, and sometimes even strangers.

With the help of this support system I have seemingly stumbled out on the other side of the mist and am looking at the beautiful creation that was this past year.  It wasn't all rainbows and sunshine nor was it all difficult and challenging.  However, somewhere in the great deal of both sadness and happiness great beauty was made.  I have found a place of "knowing" here and I am about to be leaving it.  Now that’s scary.  All of that hard work stumbling around in the gray and now I have to leave the safety of this little piece of knowing?  At this point I really cannot think about it too hard.  However, it is comforting knowing that amidst the gray unknown ahead there is something beautiful inside and a little piece of knowing waiting for me on the other side.  I could have never imagined all the beauty in store for me sitting in that café in Asssisi last year.  So I cannot imagine that sitting here in Malaysia I will ever be able to conceive the beauty awaiting me in this next year.  Only time and a lot more stumbling around in the unknown will tell. 

Those ugly first marks on next year's canvas were made probably before I even realized I had made them.  It’s time to start throwing color at this messy beautiful yet to be created future that is mine.  I wonder where I will be sitting this time next year when I turn 24.

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