I was recently confronted with a former version of myself. I spent last weekend at a reunion of former staff and campers at the Bible camp I attended for nine years and worked at for six. This camp is the place where I learned how to live out my faith. It's the place where I developed most of my most enduring friendships. It's the place where I discovered that I could lead people. More than any other experience in my life, my years at camp made me the person I am today. It is a place so dear to my heart that it physically hurts when I leave.
It was fantastic to spend a couple of days with people I hadn't seen in years. People I'd known as young children were there with young children of their own. I introduced my wonderful husband to the guy I had crush on when I was 17. A woman who had been one of my former campers told me she had gone into full-time youth ministry in part because she wanted to impact students the way I had impacted her. With every hug and remembered story, I kept thinking, This was me at my best - funny, confident, creative.
But in the days since, as I've replayed my conversations with old friends, I've been struck by something:
We didn't really talk much about what we do now, about our jobs or our accomplishments. We didn't fill in the gaps of the years that had passed. Instead, we told camp stories, we laughed at our wonderful memories, we met each other's families, we shared our mutual feelings of affection for a time and place that meant so much to us. And in the midst of those conversations I felt known and loved and connected to others in a way I haven't for a very long time.
And I realized that what made those years so much fun, what made them such an important part of who I am, wasn't just that I was a carefree college student with my whole life ahead of me. It's that I hadn't yet started hiding behind a role. I wasn't anyone's mother or wife or editor or boss. I was just me.
But now, well now I have fallen prey to the false belief that I am what I do, that it is my work as a mother, a wife, and editor that gives my life meaning. I have learned to present myself as a woman who is completed, who knows what she's doing at all times. And I have lost something precious.
I've lost the ability to listen to my gut and do what I know is right even if it makes me look bad. I've lost the sense of myself as a ready-for-anything goofball who inspires others to play. And I've lost the confidence I once had to lead with warmth and integrity, not just knowledge and bossiness.
For the most part, we get better as we get older. But my weekend in the woods with the people who knew me before I knew much of anything reminded me of just how important it is for all of us to hang on to a bit of our past. I'll never be a camp counselor again, but I can still bring the gifts that I discovered all those summers ago to the life I have today.