Monday, May 6, 2019

twenty-six



Twenty-six.

I never liked the number. Two evens, right in a row, joined by a hyphen. They even added to another even.

But maybe what I liked even less was what they represented.

I remember, back in sixth grade, the thought of being seventeen: the summit of coolness. Then, as a high school freshman, I remember thinking beyond: to college and the ripe-ancient graduation age of twenty-two. Anything out of the teens seemed incomprehensible, incomprehensibly old and hopefully incomprehensibly sophisticated. But, I’m pretty sure that to my high school freshman self, life ended after college. You pretty much were ready for the grave.

But one thought I did know: twenty-six. I remember sitting in the grey suede mini-van seats during the twenty-hour car ride to Florida. My cousin was with, and with her being older than me, we naturally discussed age, me championing my year-mark of eleven. I remember sincerely blurting it: “Twenty-six?! At that point, you’re over the hill!” Which is funny because I’m convinced I didn’t even know what over the hill meant. All I knew was it represented the point of no-return. By twenty-six? Past the tipping point of twenty-five and crashing into your late twenties. Golly, you’d lived and quite possibly were speeding towards the end of life.

But now, there’s four of them.

I’ve entered the post-college abyss but entered it two years earlier than most say I should have, cheating the system and pulling one on time.

And, I didn’t recognize it at first.

“Jab, cross, uppercut, lead hook, rear hook, roundhouse kick!” I could barely hear the pounding of her gloves on the heavy bag next to mine over the strong voice of the trainers and the dully loud Cardi B song. To me, she was a fellow boxer, fellow spontaneity-chaser, a fellow schedule-sinking-up-on-the-weekly-because-we-do-so-much-together-roommate. Twenty-six.

“Ooh yes let’s do that! I think the girls will really love it.” She sat across from me at the cool egg-white yet somewhere warm feeling table at the coffee shop where her tattoo-sleeved fresh-recent boyfriend had left us free tea. To me, she was an artsily kind, softly unexpected fellow leader of the high school girls at the church we both attended. Twenty-six.

“Let’s be sure we finalize our action steps for the use-case of the different paginations.” She stood by the grey-tall conference room table, laptop in hand and excel sheet still spread on the screen. To me, she was the diamond ring-fingered, sandal-wedge wearing, gel nailed, hair bobbed enneagram two, the detail whiz who had opened the gateway for me into this job and seemed to be standing in many gateways of her own, of where she hoped to take herself. Twenty-six.

“Can you watch him for me?” She’d gotten up from the deep-blue cushion to place her order, leaving me at 7:55am with our Bible study open and her little baby boy just opening his eyes besides me. To me, she was the deep-forest-brown haired matronly-in the best way-fount of wisdom pastor’s wife, leaving everything she touched a little more well-cared for. Twenty-six.

One single. One dating. One married. One with a mini-human. One switching jobs from small start-ups. One being recruited for a national broadcasting network. One aspiring to ascend the corporate ladder. One staying at home. One boss, one co-worker, one roommate, one mentor-friend.

When I’d left my little Infinity sedan and walked over the cold speckled stones to our doorway, it hit me. They, chasemed by their vast differences, were all that cold, looming number: twenty-six.

I’d actually mapped out to that age, a few months prior. I’d have finished my world travels, have completed my masters, mastered three languages, and really lived by then.

You see, age is the one question I perpetually avoid. I hate it. It’s one of my biggest insecurities because I’ve cheated time, you see: being older than I sometimes think I am but much younger than I so very often feel. I ferociously try to hide my age. When I was in my first post-college job interview, my now boss asked point blank how old I was, and I thought as I uttered the number that I’d uttered my closed-door-to-this-job sentence. When now friends talk about how much they’ve changed since “yeah, back when I was ___” I gulp and try to be invisible. Because, I’m there. As I walk into my future I’m living their past.

I hate my age. But, I’ve come to realize, that secretly, I love it. Because twenty-six feels like death, and I have years of life cushioning me from that number. There’s so much chance for me to do something great by then. To have finally figured it out. To have finally dug deep with something instead of flipping to the next thing. It’s a source of pride and an excuse. “You’ve done what and you’re only __?!” or “Hey, I’m only ___, what do you expect.” I can flip to either extreme. Feeling self-condemning for having done so very little or feeling apathetic stagnation because I’ve done so much.

I get lost in the expectations.

Sixth grade Deborah: by twenty-six, you’ll have traveled to every single country as a global speaker and quite possibly philanthropist/entrepreneur/persecuted church advocate.
Other people’s moms: by twenty-six, you’ll have three cars, two kids and one white picket fence.
Relatives: by twenty-six, you’ll be a pro soccer player heading to the Olympics while also being the first French Horn super-star.
Friends: by twenty-six, you’ll be the most intense lawyer known to humankind
School teachers: by twenty-six, you’ll be the lead chemist involved in ground-breaking technology while maintaining art as a side-hobby
Professors: by twenty-six, you’ll be a CEO (or at least, a millionaire)
Me to me: … Idk, maybe all of it?

But really, I'm scared.

Scared to reach twenty-six and not feel like I’ve made it: that I hadn’t lived up to not only people’s expectations of me but also those of myself and those I thought God had of me.
Scared to reach twenty-six and feel like I am still spinning my wheels, that I’d missed some great plan of God’s for my life, that some sin had kept me from where God wanted me to be.
Scared to reach twenty-six and still be searching, hungrily restless, unhappy.
Scared to reach twenty-six and, if I didn’t think I’d lived, be hit with a looming reality that maybe I would never live at all.

Because, having cheated time, I hoard time as my safety net. I still have more years to spend. I can still be happy, later. I can still chase my dreams, later. I can still be an obedient child of God, later. I’ve convinced myself that I have time without recognizing that time really has me.

I can’t manipulate it. Pull an upswing. Suddenly find more. It goes. What’s scared me the most lately is fearing to become numb to its force.

Because, you see, I think I’m beginning to see the lie.

Twenty-six doesn’t scare me.
The thought of dying without living does.

I’ve expected that twenty-six is a hard stop, but I’m hard stopping to realize that maybe I shouldn’t be propelled by chasing what I expect of myself but chase expectancy: expectancy of what God will do in each moment, or maybe more importantly, what God is already doing, now.

Here.

I actually told them, this week. The feeling like 6’6 basketball spanning, laugher-quick-coming friend and his blue-eyed engineering accomplice. They’d double taken, not realizing I was actually their age. I’d volunteered the information, and actually felt the twinge that I’d done well to do this.

Here.

I was sitting, here with them. Bare-aged and barely able to feel like I have hope of outrunning my fear: my fear that, if none of the expectations come true, it’s okay. That living so afraid, pent-up and restless will keep me from real rest. That living from anything except rest in Christ will leave me frantically convincing the clock, the days, the years that I’ve done it right. That the only real right is to live, live through Christ in the here. That the here is all we have, and that the biggest miss is to be so concerned about pleasing Him just right that we outright miss Him.

I’m still afraid of twenty-six, and hey, I know that I actually can’t fight that fear. I’m pretty powerless to my frantic, hamster ball running flesh. But I know the One who can and does fight it for me: Christ. And I know that living each day in the power of the Cross that doesn’t only save but also sanctifies me, is the way to go.

I’m not twenty-six yet, but one day I will be, and that’s okay. Because I know that what I have then, I have now: Christ. And that settles my restless soul.

(And guess what? Many of our clocks don’t end ticking on an even number. Twenty-seven comes after twenty-six. And that sounds a whole lot better.)

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