I haven’t lived long, but I’ve lived through a lot. I haven’t had a normal life. Most people are born and planted in one town as they grow up, perhaps continuing to live in that same town whenever they marry or start their career. Most people don’t move much, but instead have one house that holds the memories of their childhood and adolescence. Most people become adults alongside classmates from elementary school and raise their children with friends they’ve known for years. For me, transition was branded upon my story like a tattoo, and since, I have breathed the air of change. Goodness, am I thankful for it. But everything comes with a cost.
Six months ago, I embarked on a journey that challenged every cell within me. I applied to Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Colorado Springs to be a part of a 22-week school where I would be discipled and trained as a missionary to the least reached people groups of the world. Being acquainted with the way of change, I had anticipated that YWAM would be an easy transition and that I would adjust as I had learned how to. I was wrong. I wasn’t ready to leave my community and the life that I had built for myself here in North Carolina – and I knew that I wasn’t. What I didn’t know was the extent of it; but how could I? When these things come, you jump in with both feet and trust that you’ll come back up for air. So I did. It was one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made, and I’m still swimming. I made friendships that will brave the years and miles, faced fears that have since died, and came to love Jesus deeper and more authentically. God met me and loved me into healing, out of my insecurities, and through the process. I stood upon craggy mountainsides and let the view steal my breath away. I let others into my mess and vulnerably wept before them. I looked into the eyes of my shame and told it to leave. I conquered. And I’m better for it. But I wasn’t ready to leave.
Less than a month ago, I was in the Himalayas, plunging into ice-cold rivers with bare-butt littles in the rural valleys of Nepal. I awoke at five a.m. to the sounds of women running water over vegetables and children doing their chores before school. I trekked through mountains that kissed the clouds and hiked over hanging bridges that slowly broke below our feet. I saw joy in the midst of poverty and brokenness, abuse and heavy labor. I held babies that could have been sold into human trafficking had someone not extended their hand in help. I watched as mothers bent over the fields, plowing away as their husbands drank liquor with their friends. I laid beneath the stars with my best friends and talked about the good things, the hard things, the worrisome things. I sat on rooftops at sunrise with Jesus and drank deep of His love as I was moved into tears by the wonder of it all. I saw so many things that broke me, softened me, refined me. I will never be the same. I was not prepared to come home. But I did.
Now, as I bask in the glory of Southern summer, I am ok. Two weeks ago, when I came home, I was ok and I anticipate that I’ll be just ok for awhile. For that is the way of change. Like a passport, each transition marks me. I am not the same person I was six months or two weeks ago, nor am I the same person that I was seven years and seventeen moves ago. Every season has become a friend that I have had to say goodbye to. And more, every season has held real people with real goodbyes. They say goodbyes make you stronger, but I believe there’s a catch: you’ll only get stronger if you mourn them properly. You can’t ignore them or pretend they didn’t happen. You can’t just choose to be happy about them or put on a smile and feel better. You also can’t let them own you and steal from you. You must look them in the eyes and hug them. Embrace them. Acknowledge them. If you want maximum growth, you must thank them for the role they’ve played in your story and walk with them until they turn the corner or board the train. It’s harder to watch as the goodbyes carry your memories away, but it’s brave and it teaches you something.
You see, though most people have a “normal life” with minimal transition, seasons change for everyone. I think most people are robbed of an important aspect of growth because most refuse to concede to goodbyes in a healthy way. They bury them in a box and throw them in the attic of their souls and wait until they kick themselves out and run away. Trust me, that hurts way worse. I want to challenge you – Look into your past. Find those memories that hurt to touch. There’s probably a goodbye to something that you never said. To an object, to a feeling, to a season. Innocence. A favorite toy that was sold in a yard-sale. A family member or friend that passed away. A place you wish to return to. Whatever it may be, I believe that you are brave enough to mourn it’s goodbye. I believe that you are brave enough to sit in it, feel it, and come out of it. I believe that you are brave enough to overcome it. Most importantly, I believe that you are brave enough to grow from it. Open the box, grab a friend or a tissue, and walk through it. I’m rooting for you and God is walking with you. Let Him usher you into a new season that He has designed for you, full of joy and beauty, and live in it. Day by day, moment by moment, unafraid of when it will pass, because you know that you can say goodbye well. Goodbyes lead to hellos, anyways.
words by Olivia Douglas and photo by Sara Beth Pritchard