This the the last day that I’ll be a 20-something. Ever.
My 20s still seem to me to be more an extension of my teens than a separate entity, in many ways. They were a time of great growth, great progress, the death of dreams, the birth of dreams, the realization of dreams. I began them as a long-time college student, having started college early, and pursued it haphazardly and without conviction. I was also already a worker, having started regular employment a few years before college, and never being long without it since. I was beginning to make several friends who played an integral part in my maturation. I have no close friends that I knew before my very late teens and early 20s. I had friends back then, we just drifted apart since. It’s mostly my fault as I tend to maintain friendships best where I am at physically, and as I’ve been the one to move quite a bit, I make little effort to stay in touch in a significant way.
9/11 had already come and gone, and we were already at war with Iraq, which means the active hostilities of our War on Terror have lasted an entire third of my life.
It was in my 20s that I moved away from home. First to work for a year and a half at IBLP headquarters in their IT department. It was my first *real* IT job and I found I loved it and excelled at it. I also met my first serious girl friend, though looking back at how I pursued that relationship I can only shake my head at my naivete. I suppose that’s pretty normal. Living and working, as I was, at the headquarters of a very legalistic organization whose leadership teaches what often borders on (and sometimes crosses over into) heresy did little for my faith, my spiritual life. Not that I thought that then. I knew by then already that many of their teachings were suspect, and had theories supporting some of those feelings and facts supporting others, but I accepted that they were still doing “God’s work” and so enjoyed being a part of the group at HQ. Because we are each a single, consistent being, I suppose in one sense you could say I was still growing. I was maturing. Finding myself apart from others. Learning the baby steps towards the independence that I finally realized a few years later. It was not that I was being controlled externally, I was instead probably slightly co-dependent, relying on friends for validation, justification of my existence.
At the time my small grasp of independence, instead of being a positive thing for me, simply made me cocky, and being good at many things certainly helped cement my self-confidence in many ways. I could act independent very well before I actually felt it inside.
I also fell in love with Chicago and it’s surrounding areas, which was an important part of my life path.
After my time at IBLP, I returned to California and my parent’s home for 2 years, held a job in retail IT, and reconnected with several of those friends who I had begun connecting with before leaving. I went back to school too, but with probably even less conviction that before. Despite my cockiness, I was still very vulnerable and desired validation and acceptance from friends, and I had many good friends who I share many dear memories with. Recognizing my issues doesn’t in any way take away from the good times and growth we shared. Living back at home was comfortable but awkward. Understandably, I was used to being out and about at my whim. My parents didn’t make it difficult, just requiring a few simple chores which didn’t conflict with my schedule (or lack thereof) and it was good to be back among most of my brothers. But I knew that I wasn’t to be there long.
Dreams with friends, profligate spending and a high credit limit (remember those), allowed me to go to Italy for several weeks, which turned out to be an overwhelming period of growth for me. After being separated from my companions early on in the trip I spent two weeks in and around Venice, wandering the streets, thinking, writing, and paying too much for grilled sea bass. It was here that I recognized how dependent I’d become on friends and how it was really possible to exist apart from them. Not that friendships aren’t healthy, but that I needed to recognize I had a self that was the entirety of who I was, and that the self did not require validation and acceptance from others in order to continue to exist.
Returning from Italy, I packed my things and made the 1800 mile move to Chicago once again. It was January and the heater in my car broke less than an hour into the trip. It was freezing. Inside the car. Literally. A bottle of water froze solid the second and third days of the drive inside my car.
Good friends who had a spare bedroom put me up for a few months, and then I became the renter of their upstairs apartment when their other tenant moved out. I met the girl who became my wife just a few weeks after returning. Jobs came relatively easily after emailing out hundreds of resumes and filling out dozens of applications. A year and a half after moving to Chicago I married Grace and we settled down to married life.
With my wife being a student at a Christian school known for its rigorous academics (Moody Bible Institute), my circle of friends quickly filled with people who were as intellectually sharp as my brothers and I found my interest in theology growing. Grace and I found the church we had been attending was rather weak on theology and was, in fact, spinning it’s wheels rather than progressing and growing in knowledge and favor. People were having the same problems over and over. Significant discipline issues were not addressed and were instead left to fester. After discussing what we saw with our pastor at the time, and finding his goal was rather immovably set to evangelize rather than disciple, we left and sought fellowship elsewhere. At the encouragement of some good friends we visited their church and, while we found it daunting in size, we found it strong, very strong, in teaching, in balancing discipleship and evangelism, in not being relevant but in bringing glory to God. For the remainder of our time in Chicago we were fed and were allowed to feed others in this church.
For the last part of my 20s I have now moved to a new state, Oklahoma, after being hired into my dream job, Network Administrator. Moving with 2 young kids and a pregnant wife is no picnic, and I know I had it very easy compared to my wife, who had to pack and unpack for the 3rd time in just over a year while I worked, but we survived. I feel that we’ll be staying here in Oklahoma for some time. I still get the hankering to return to California eventually. For all it’s stupidity, it is a beautiful state and I love the people there. But such a move is some time in the far future, if ever. I’ll continue to grow where I am at. I miss the hustle of the big city at times as well. The intellectual stimulation of deviating viewpoints occurring everywhere around. But small towns have their charms, and I’m certain that my kids will love growing up where we are now.
I’m still a work in progress. Obviously. For all my introspection I still know I have issues. Big issues. But I also know that wherever I am, I am not alone, I am not purposeless, I am not without opportunity to help.
My 20s were good. Unmitigated, unqualified, good. I grew, changed, and became not a static thing that will now continue unchanged, but I became someone who is thriving because of many things, and in spite of others. Thriving by continuing to grow and change as the situations of my life call for it.
I thank God for my 20s and look forward to the wonders of the 30s. And yet, I doubt my perpetual sense of youth will ever go away.