From Pool to Garden: The Gifts of Reflecting

From Pool to Garden: The Gifts of Reflecting

30 years ago I’m swimming in our neighbour’s pool. We aren’t very close with these neighbours but we’re friendly enough. We ride the bus together, skate on their rink in the winter and, well, swim in their pool. Their house is about 500m down the road from ours and they have a big property, 1.62 acres to be exact. The pool is massive, as far as home pools go, situated in a super warm greenhouse with a strong smell of chlorine. The air in the greenhouse is thick. We’re having a lot fun jumping and splashing around.

Today, that pool is filled with dirt and has been repurposed as a garden. I know this because last summer we purchased that property and this past winter we turned it into a skating rink. Sometimes I’ll stand in that garden and reflect back 30 years to that care-free childhood, swimming precisely in that same spot. It’s a very odd feeling.

So many iterations of that kid-now-adult have existed between those swim strokes and me standing there. I’ve grabbed a hold of all sorts of things that define me for a season only to let them go a few years later. I’ve got it all figured out at one point and then life throws a curveball and I’m back to the drawing board, trying to make sense of it all. My outlook on the world, the framework I see reality through, is constantly evolving and, with it, my values, convictions and other forces that dictate what the day-to-day life actually looks like.

Yet if you were to ask me in that moment how it “is” I would tell you and I would be very, very confident.

It’s 2000 and I’m a few weeks from high school graduation, living on Baffin Island and spending my days lifeguarding and trying to figure out the future. I’m not sure what I want to do with life but university is intimidating and the persona of confidence I wear is masking the deep insecurities and poor self-esteem that says I can’t handle university. I’m passionate about Creation Science, of all things, convinced of the need for the world to repent of its belief in evolution. The Left Behind Series is having a far bigger influence in my life than I care to admit, even at the time.

5 years later and I’ve now lost a brother, moved out of the arctic, finished my degree, and am married. I have legitimate self-confidence now and an evolved faith and worldview that is actually life-giving as I employ it in this new world of teaching in the Bahamas. We live in a pink exterior house with stark white interior that we end up painting sage green in the living room and brown in the kitchen, just so it feels a bit homier. Our main stressors are our punk students who disrupt our teaching efforts and the felt dissonance of being embedded in a Christian culture more aligned with “2000 Steve.” There are no kids, no business, no mortgage. Adulting is still a far-off reality we don’t yet need to consider. There is a growing sense of restlessness though, spurred on by books we’re reading and a nagging sense to “do more.” The future looks fuzzy but we’re confident it involves missions and so we set our sails for Bolivia.

5 years later and adulting has officially set in. We’ve finished renovating our home and have 2 kids under our belt and another on the way. Rhonda’s catering business is well established and I’ve completed graduate studies in Communications. I’m working full-time in workforce planning, a job I landed almost as soon as we returned to Canada. We’ve discovered a new church community that resonates deeply with where we’re at in our faith and helps us feel at home. That said, a betting man would wager that the forces of restless nature and insatiable thirst for newness will yield an imminent move to some foreign shores in our near future.

5 years forward and life is barreling along. Three kids, a career move, a successful catering business in full swing. Our house has officially become our home. The betting man lost as we’re still in Thunder Bay, content, in fact, with the life we’ve created.  Our kids are growing faster than we’d like and we’re learning to roll with the punches that parenting each of them brings. The word “settling” has entered our conversations more as of late and no longer as this idea we’re bristling at… as much. It’s humbling and yet comforting. Despite the contentment with settling, there is a hint of restlessness and yearning that still persists, just beneath the surface. My faith and worldview today is different from “2005 Steve” and almost completely unrecognizable from “2000 Steve.”  All in all, the road of life has for now straightened out and trying to determine what’s next seems simple enough.

A year later we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, entering its second year. Everything as we know it has been turned upside down and that’s not being dramatic. Rhonda’s business has grounded to a halt. My work in public health has become exponentially more thrilling and yet challenging. The kids are schooling from home. We’ve sold our house and moved into what we *think* will be our forever home, spending months ripping it down to studs and rebuilding. Oh, and we’re robbed in the middle of the night. Stressors are everywhere we turn and yet in the midst of it, we’re well, all things considered. There’s peace.

If you were to ask me at any juncture along the way where I was headed, I would tell you and I would be very, very confident.

Yet, reflecting on the big picture of the past 30+ years, who could predict that the acne-riddled high school kid obsessed with creation science would end up… here?

There are two gifts that come to mind reflection like this offers. The first is to love the iterations of who we are as we look back, and the second is to learn to hold our futures with an open hand and open heart.

I actually think it’s good to spend time cringing over who we were “way back then.” I think it’s appropriate and worth a short season of life doing. It keeps us grounded and humble and points us in the direction we need to keep moving. But I also think maybe I have a tendency to do that too much, and sure, maybe that’s because I was particularly cringeworthy, but regardless, learning to love each of those iterations of me, no matter how misdirected he was, is really necessary. All of them – even the Creation-Science-Left-Behind-inspired-mission-to-save-the-world-and-convince-others-how-right-I-am version. Shudder. I have compassion for that know-it-all teen me. He was filled with insecurities and uncertainties about himself and life and clung to anything that would help prove himself to the world. Same goes with the track pants sporting me who was too ignorant to see the faith journeys of others as valid and wrote them off as heretics. Or the self-righteous me that told off his parents for not being good enough Christians. Sigh.

As I reflect on these versions, my love for each of them is formed most through considering how they’ve contributed to shaping the latest iteration of me. Each version plays a key role in making me who I am today and I’m grateful for them, really. We grow and change and discover new truths based not just on the influences of those around us or our new experiences but also by reflecting on who we were and the sometimes ugliness and awkwardness of those past versions. It’s kind of beautiful.

And the other gift of reflection is the lesson it offers in learning to approach our futures with a new posture. It’s great to have plans and hopes and dreams and for sure we should establish these things and pursue them. But when I consider the twisty, convoluted road that brought me from my childhood home to standing on this pool-turned-garden, a distance of 400m as the crow flies, I’m humbled at how many unexpected turns and detours it took to get here and just how little I could actually foresee along the way. And when the majority of our expectations don’t come to pass and where we end up is nowhere near where we’d envisioned we’d end up, the disappointment and disillusion can be a very debilitating force in our lives. This has certainly been true in mine. Reflection teaches us the art of holding the future with an open hand and heart. This is true with everything, by the way, not just our experiences and what we end up “doing” but also our relationships, our worldviews, our beliefs and all the things that bring us to the latest iteration of us now.

Today, I am not as confident that my best laid plans will come to pass as expected or that my worldview and faith will not undergo major transformation. It’s all good, though, because as long as I don’t revert back to track pants, I think I’ll be just fine.

This post is part of a series in the #2021WritingChallenge started by Krista Ewert. This week’s word was “Reflect.”

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