Saturday, April 21, 2012

Still Breathing: 21

I think that we human hearts want milestones. We like to have a road marker where we can stand and look back, mentally flipping through the pages of our story thus far, reviewing the highs and flinching as the lows come back to light. Sometimes I think that it can be unhealthy, if we look too intently for too long. Other times I think it can be helpful.

They tell me that 21 means that I will be an adult. My driver’s license will lose the “under 21” caution, my insurance will change, I’ll have more choices opened up to me, and (most importantly for me) I’ll never again get my hands marked with big black sharpie Xs at club shows. And maybe it is fitting that I take on this new status in society so soon before I graduate from college and move out on my own for the first time. I am, in simple terms, labeled as “grown up.”

And yet, this birthday of all birthdays, I feel like life is incredibly fragile. I feel no self-assured acceptance of this new status, no looking back and feeling like the world is finally starting to make sense. In fact, in some ways-- in many ways-- I feel like I am still a 16-year-old trapped in 21-year-old skin.

I have had so much to reflect on lately-- maybe too much. As I get ready to graduate college I look back over my years here. As I get ready to move away from Texas I have a whole lifetime here to reflect on. And as I prepare to move away from my family I have so many relationships to think back on and analyze and pick apart. The result is inevitable for me: regret. I look at the person I have been and the days that were wasted and I wonder if it could have been different. I ask myself over and over again “did I love well?” Often, the only answer my past has to offer me is an uncomfortable silence. My life embarasses me. It’s embarrassing because I could have done so much more and yet I haven’t, and it’s embarrassing because I seem to be so incapable of moving on anyway.

A little over two years ago, a friend of mine stood on stage at a concert and screamed out into a dark, crowded room “if you woke up this morning and you were breathing, then that means that God is not finished with you yet, and He has a purpose for your life. He's not done yet!” It’s a simple thought that I have remembered often. I do not believe that any life is a mistake or chance or coincidence. My life has a purpose beyond myself. And if that is the case, then it’s not a mistake or a coincidence that I wake up still breathing on the morning that marks 21 years since I first drew in this tired air. My mistakes and my regrets haven’t disqualified me yet. We’re only getting started.

There may be times when the air tastes awfully bitter every morning. There are times when I am asked to leave things behind, times when I am asked to bow in obedience to suffering, times when I am called to sacrifice. There will be many of these times. I am only a story barely begun. But the reality I am having to learn to cling to as I survey this narrative of my life is that none of that is the whole picture. Essentially, the imperfect is not the end. I can be little more than a soul-sick cynic at times, but this cynic still believes in the light at the end of the tunnel.

I don’t know yet why I was born or what I am meant to do. I’ve come up with a lot of answers to those questions over my lifetime, but I am continually finding that it is better to live with the questions open than to try to force my own answers. One step at a time, I learn more of love, of hope, of faith. One step at a time, I wake up and see another chance. I may not really know who I am yet or why I have lived my story, but I believe wholeheartedly that it will be worthwhile. Our lives are miracles. We hear them like whispers when they should be screaming like the most piercing song ever sung. I am still breathing. This is a miracle. I get to know you, to write words you will read and maybe even connect to-- this is a miracle. There is beauty still.

Maybe this is all to say that I am hopeful. More hopeful than I ever have been on my birthday, I think, since it is usually the day where I choose to focus in on a new year’s worth of failures. I am not denying that I fail-- I fail to love, I fail to be faithful, I fail to hope, I fail to recognize joy. What I’m beginning to focus on is not that I do not fail, but rather that failure is not all there is. There is breath in my lungs. There is reason to believe that God is not finished writing my story.

For those of you reading this, thank you for being part of my story. Thank you for sticking around through some of the more confusing chapters. Thank you for offering me kindness and grace.

21 might not really mean that I’ve got my life together or that I’m all the way “grown up.” But it does mean that I’ve made it through another year, and maybe if I’ve come this far, there is hope for the days to come...

- Elraen -


Kate said...

I feel similarly to a lot of this. 21 has been the hardest birthday for me. But this is a nice reminder I still have time.

Eclectic Elegance said...

Wow. Good post. And now I feel old, being almost 23. :P

About "It’s embarrassing because I could have done so much more and yet I haven’t, and it’s embarrassing because I seem to be so incapable of moving on anyway." : Me too! I'm often frustrated about being stuck feeling in a pre-teen version of myself when I know that's not who I am anymore...but I don't know how to properly molt and emerge as a grownup, either.

On "I am only a story barely begun." : Wow. I needed to hear that. :) That there is hope, that there are still rainbows after the storm. Thank you for writing this. :)

Elya said...

Thanks for sharing this, Elraen. I really needed it today.