I stayed in bed far too long yesterday morning. Excitement and fear paralyzed me as I looked forward to the lunch appointment I had on the University of Mary campus with someone who had intervened in one very specific moment in my life over 20 years ago.
When I was a freshman at Concordia College, my bipolar self was not diagnosed accurately. The highs and lows of energy that I still experience manifested themselves in those days in a variety of ways such as chaotic eating, concentrated exercise schedules, extended depressive episodes, odd sleep patterns, spurts of intense productivity, and general silliness. All of these things masked what truly bothers me – energy-based bipolar tendencies which a psychiatrist finally diagnosed correctly when I was 36 years old. During those college days, though, I spent a good amount of time “on the run” – something I still often feel tempted to do and have posted about in the past.
The church I attended during high school had a very active youth group. We went to camp, traveled on mission trips, and spent most Wednesday nights and weekends together. Every Christmas and Easter, our group joined other groups from around North and South Dakota for retreats. These were my good friends – the same friends that I found at camp. I married one of them, and I remain friends with most of the others to this day in some way or another (at the very least on Facebook). I also had the opportunity to meet other adults from around the state who spoke into my life at various points throughout high school, college, and into my adult life.
Several weeks ago, I sat in a meeting with University of Mary Student Support Services staff members. Each of my English 098 students has an advisor, and I wanted to share my thoughts, impressions, and concerns with the advisors as a group. I had emailed with many of them, but their supervisor and I thought it would be worthwhile for me to attend one of their meetings. When we went around the table and introduced ourselves, one name…and the face…seemed oddly familiar. I was completely caught off-guard but had to focus on my meeting.
After the meeting, I could not shake the impulse to contact her, so I did….by email…because that is the best way to find out information without exposing my soul to too much pain or rejection if I am wrong.
Ummm…were you, by chance, a youth leader from <<her church>> in the 90s?
I sat at my computer and waited for the reply. I refreshed my email several times, and then her response came – YES! I shared a few more details about who I was “back then,” and her reply came back again…she remembered me!
The next day, we were at an event together. When I saw her, I had mixed emotions about knowing that she knew that me…the me who left her dorm room in the middle of the night because the urge to run had overwhelmed her…the me who did not know how to deal with the thoughts that told her to run…the me who showed up in a driveway hundreds of miles away from college, slept in the car, and was found that way the next morning by the very woman standing in front of me…the me who this youth leader had encouraged to go back to school saying that I was fine.
“We should have lunch,” she said.
Yesterday, we had lunch. Throughout the morning, though, all of the parts of me that feels and experiences joy, anxiety, and fear held my body in a paralyzing force. The what ifs of how lunch could go raced through my mind and nearly kept me from going. To be honest, I left the house later than I had planned, I took the long way to the university, and I thought I might just keep driving south to miss the lunch appointment altogether. Eventually I put on my big girl pants, and I still arrived early. Strange how that works!
All morning, I felt like “that me” again…young, frightened, and ready to run. At the same time, I felt like the “this me” who is the dean of students of a new little online school in Minnesota, teaches classes at the University of Mary, is married to a pastor, and has two grown children attending Baylor University. This paradox of us being able to feel two ages at once is something that I need to explore more in another post.
When we sat down, she asked me to tell her about me. I was stunned and absolutely speechless. I know – me! speechless?? I had no idea where to start. There I was sitting in front of a woman who had found the eighteen year old me in her driveway after I had driven a few hundred miles and slept in my car…and she wanted to know about the “today” me – the forty year old pastor’s wife and mother of two freshmen in college. It dawned on me that my own children are now the age of “the me” who ended up in her driveway that night.
As I told her about me, I told her the raw stuff without going into the icky details of any of it. We both have master’s degrees in education, work as guidance counselor types, and are familiar with the lingo, so it was easy to be sort of clinical about it all.
Before I knew it, lunch was over. We parted ways as we each have jobs that need us. We waved goodbye in that way that we do when we know the person is in the same town or on the same college campus most days. The mood was light, and it became clear to me that all of my anxiety was silly.
Next week, I will drop off a book to the student success center where she works. The book is a compilation of essays written by my students. The title is Unexpected Giants and is a tribute to those who have carried my students (and me) on their shoulders so that we could see futures that we could not have seen alone.
When I mentioned the incident to her (as a point of reference for other incidents in my life), I used my favorite term – “crazy.” She sort of laughed it off and said, “I worked with teenagers, Stacy. I didn’t really think it was all that unusual.”
While my essay is not about this particular giant, it easily could be. One day, I hope to write the book that features all of my giants. I had good parents who did their best raising me. But sometimes we need other caring adults to impact our lives as well. This dear woman did that for me clearly – based on her comment to me yesterday – without judgement. I am thankful for the brief, yet powerful, role she played in my life.
I know that this season is busy, but can I challenge all who read this? Whose life can you briefly touch today, this week, this month, this year, or this lifetime? And…as you drive to work, put up the tree, or bake those cookies, consider who were giants in your life…and how you can let them know the powerful way that they impacted your life?