Tomorrow I start my first day of the spring semester as a university student. This June marks a full year that I’ve been back in school, something that I never anticipated doing at this point. Reentering this world of academics at age 29 with two young children has been a major curve ball, but in the best way. I had no idea when I applied for a one-off course last spring that I would be half way through my social work degree a year later. I am so grateful for the support of friends and family, and ultimately a Good Father who is leading this wild journey. And here’s what I’ve learnt along the way.
1) Learning changes you.
I mean, duh. But really. Having the posture of a student is a really humbling and vulnerable experience, and I think it opens us up to really be changed. We don’t have to be in university to have this mindset though. The next time you watch a credible documentary, listen to a podcast from an expert in their field, or read a commentary, take the posture of someone who doesn’t know all the answers. Being in a room with 25 people from a variety of ages, genders, religions, races, nationalities last spring catapulted me into reality – a reality where I do not have all the answers. Their are so many people with so many different perspectives and experiences in the world and if we have an attitude of a student, we can learn from them and be changed. This leads to the next big lesson I’ve be learning…
2) Change can happen in a moment, and it can happen very, very slowly.
It’ hard to explain how dramatically changed and transformed I was coming home from that first intensive course last year. I felt like people must feel when they life in another part of the world for an extended period of time and then go back to their motherland. I felt jet lagged, like I was living on a different time zone from my family and friends. I felt resentful – I wanted to go back to school! I felt…seen, at school. But little by little, I realized that the changes that had happened in that beautiful and diverse classroom were changed that stuck with me. They’re still with me.
Some moments change you. I’ll never forget meeting a beautiful woman named Lorraine who had survived residential schools. I’ll never forget her compassion and quiet strength, and the way that she embodied what it means to be a S U R V I V O R. I’ll never forget meeting a two-spirit person who challenged my ideas of gender and race, and who showed more joy and spaciousness then I knew was possible. I was transformed just by sitting next to you Peta. I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget what it felt like to weep over my pain and trauma, next two survivors of unspeakable violence and suffering. People who had been chased from their own countries for fear that they would be slaughter. And they had compassion on me. That’s a moment that changes you instantly. When all you want to do is fix the pain of people around you, and stifle your own tears, and they warmly reassure you, “There is space for us all here. We see you.”
These moments changed me instantly. I will never be the same person I was before meeting people like this, in a setting where we all came to learn from each other. Muslim, Christian, Mennonite, Gay, Straight, Fluid, Black, White. I’ve seen so little of the world, and yet in that room I saw the world.
And yet. Change can happen s l o w l y.
I came home a new person, but with the same relationships, marriage, friendships, children, home, and lifestyle that I left behind. When we experience powerful moments – those ‘come to Jesus’ moments – where we know that we can’t live or see or be the same way that we were before, it can feel so disintegrating to realize that the rest of the world may not change, just because we have. Finding ways to integrate what I’ve learnt and what I’m learning has been…hard. Devastating, honesty, at times. I mostly feel like I’m fumbling around, making a lot of mistakes, and sometimes even like I’m not living as if I’ve been changed at all. Change takes time. We can’t let go of those moments that change us instantaneously. We need to reflect on them, hold onto them, and take every ounce of grace we can ring from them so that the lasting real life change will take hold in a way that changes our world, not just our hearts.
3) Change feels like grief.
Listen. I’m gonna be real. I came home from a long intensive at school last June and a part of my heart as like, “Dang. I’ve screwed my life up. I’m meant to be over there, doing this other thing, but now I’m stuck here with these kids and husband and a house. My life is over.”
Too real? I’m serious. I felt such an incredible…stuckness? Like somehow the things I was learning and the ways I wanted to BE were not compatible with motherhood, and married life, and being a regular person in my regular life. And I had to grievvvvvvee those feelings. Did my life go off the rails when I dropped out of school at 19, and again at 22? Was I a total failure who was never going to really achieve her dreams?
I grieved. I cried. I felt angry. My husband and I had to work through some STUFF. And this re-starting of my degree, going back to school thing, was not supposed to be a full time thing. Nonono, this was supposed to be a casual thing where I took one course A YEAR. And here I am now, a year later, having completed over a years worth of university credits… 😀 But that took change – change to the plan, change to my view of my motherhood, my marriage, my whole life. And change means grief.
In some ways, I feel like it’s been a whole year of grief. If you’re reading this, you know that I posted last summer about some very serious spiritual abuse in my story that ended up getting a lot of attention.
That post, that healing, that whole journey was a direct result of my schooling.
The result was a lot of grief, as well as a lot of healing.
That led to a lot of grieving of the faith that I’ve built my life on that was not built on solid ground, and needed to be dismantled brick by brick. And with each brick I take down, my world changes, and I have to grieve the world that I knew before. It’s so hard, and scary, and sometimes feels like the whole world is going to crumble too. What if I tear this all down and there is nothing left to rebuild, no hope, no “joy for your mourning”?
Learning changes you, and that change often starts as a seedling inside, growing outward, rooting down and taking shape as it matures.
True education, and growth, change our outside world as well as our inside world. As hard as it is to change, and evolve, I am much more fearful of being hardhearted, of never learning anything new, of having all the answers, of fearing change.
This has been an incredible year of growth and change, and also grief. As much as grief gets a bad wrap, I am so grateful for the newness it brings.
It’s like the rain that comes at the end of winter, when we’re waiting for the warmth of spring. The biting cold and dampness get into your bones and make you ache for the warmth of spring. And then the rain stops, and that sweet scent washed over you – the smell and the newness of life meet you in the moments before you see any buds on the tree, and you know: change is coming.
Here’s to another amazing year of learning (for me, and I hope for you too friend).
You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” Thomas Merton