It’s my birthday today – I turn 29. Writing this, it’s a little shocking, even for me. 29, really? am I REALLY that old? Am I sure I haven’t missed a couple years somewhere?
I have never known what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’ – which I guess I have done, now. twenty years ago, when I was turning nine, I had absolutely no clue. I don’t remember much about being nine, but I do remember that I never wanted to be a fireman or a policeman or astronaut or any of those normal things that kids want to be when they grow up. I was too busy pretending to be a ninja turtle and creating ‘time machine gas’ in an old oil drum behind my best friends’ house. It would have worked, too. Too bad his mom caught us before we could put it in the car.
Fifteen years ago I turned fourteen. I didn’t like myself very much. I was a little overweight, very self-conscious, and a bit withdrawn. I didn’t have a lot of friends, and I still didn’t have any idea what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’. Around this time I played with the idea of being a chef, but lost interest fairly quickly. I enjoyed using the computer, but wasn’t confident about my writing (or anything else, really). This is why whenever I talk with a teen ager, one of the first things I try and tell them is that ‘it gets better’. It does. I think the early teens are a lonely time for a lot of people.
Ten years ago I turned nineteen. I had just finished a being away from home for the first time, having spent nine months traveling across Canada and back with a bunch of strangers while doing a now-defunct volunteer exchange program called Katimavik. I grew a lot during that year. During that year I finally started feeling like I was finding myself, and was happy with what I found. I was sure of my faith (perhaps a little too sure), happy-ish with the way I looked, and made friends from a radically diverse group of people. I also, for the first time, had an inkling of something I would like to do for a career – photography. While that plan would never come to fruition in quite the way I expected, it was exciting to finally realize that there was something out there that I was competent at. This is why, when I sometimes hear parents worrying about the directionless nature of their teenage children, I try and tell some of my story. Teens need to be nurtured, they need to be encouraged, and they need to be given options – but they do not need to be pushed. sometimes it takes time. I was almost out of my teens before I had any idea what I was going to do with myself.
five years ago I turned twenty-four. I can’t believe that was five years ago. A lot changed between turning nineteen and turning twenty four. No longer heading towards photography, I had completed a two-year certificate in Applied Communications (a program which is also now defunct, and included some photography, among other things) fished for three seasons (two tuna, one herring), traveled to Europe for three months, had my life completely turned upside down over the course of a couple weeks, worked two summers at a summer camp, and started Bible school. Whew. That was a busy, and eventful five years. It was if all the growth and change that most people expect to happen in their teens happened to me, all at once, in my early twenties. I went from a young man just starting to come out of his shell to someone willing to take chances, to dive into something without having any idea where it would lead.
Somewhere over the course of those five years I developed a strong passion for the marginalized as well. My mom would tell you that I have always had a protective instinct, but it was in those five years that I started to find an outlet for that. I think it started while I was living in Victoria, where I somehow gravitated towards the homeless community. Maybe I just thought it was an interesting story at the time, I don’t know. But over the course of several months I would spend time speaking with the homeless guys in Victoria and just hanging out with them. I learned a lot, and developed a great deal of compassion for them.
I also refound my position in the church. When I was nineteen, while I was sure of my faith, I was done with organized church. I thought it was completely dysfunctional, and I never wanted to be a pastor because I ‘didn’t want my kids to hate me’. That was my view of the church. In my early twenties, however, I was brought to The Place Community Church in Victoria, and found a church that seemed to actually attempt to live what it preached. Through the people I met there my faith was rekindled, and I started on a road towards where I am now.
And now, I am twenty nine. These past five years have been incredibly busy as well. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans, graduate from college, meet my wife, get married, find a real trajectory, move into one of the poorest communities in Canada, and…. what? we’ll see!
What a ride it’s been. The past five years were dominated by a radical shift in direction for me. My beliefs and faith have been centered and strengthened by my introduction to Anabaptist Theology and by my introduction to the Downtown East Side of Vancouver. I’m stronger in my faith now than I have ever been. This new journey in Vancouver is just starting, and I have no idea where it’s heading – in a very real way, I still ‘don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up.’ But strangely, I’m completely ok with that now. If there is anything that my life has taught me so far, it is that I need to enjoy the adventure in the moment, and let God take care of the future.
What an adventure!