Saturday, June 28, 2008

Growing Up

It's never easy growing up. I don't know why that it is. Maybe, like the butterfly, the struggle is what gives us the strength to fly.

My parents are Bible translators with Wycliffe in Papua New Guinea (I grew up on the beach in the South Pacific - hence the name of my blog). Last year they completed what they call the first of a series of 100%'s. They finished the rough draft translations of the entire New Testament. It's taken them 35 years to do that. Now it has to go through an entire slew of tests, back translations, revisions, etc. until it's in final publishable form. This takes a while, so they're planning on having the dedication of the New Testament in Sursurunga in 2010.

Here's the rub. I grew up until my early teen years as part of the Sursurunga. I first went out to the village when I was 5 months old. They immediately adopted me (and my parents) and I've been one of them ever since. I spoke their language without an accent. Lived their culture. Grew up with many of their values. Almost all of my best and truest friends were Sursurunga. Almost all of my favourite people were Sursurunga. Then, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to go back to the village or the people after about 7th grade. I've now lived more than half of my life outside of PNG, and even more than that away from the people of my heart. To them I still belong to them - they ask my parents about me, send greetings through them, keep track of my life.

The truth is, I'm terrified of going back. Because I don't feel like I fully belong to them anymore.
I haven't spoken Sursurunga (except for the occasional spurt here and there) for probably 20 or more years and have lost most of it. I've been through so much since I last saw them and I'm no longer the person I was, the person they remember. I have grown in very different directions, and while they are still a part of me, they are a much smaller part of me than they used to be. What will they think? Will they recognize me? Will they even believe that I'm the one who used to be their friend/son/nephew/brother?

I haven't been back to PNG since I left in 1991, and I've always told people that it was because I couldn't afford it. Granted, it's very expensive. But the truth of the matter is that if I had really wanted to, I could have made it happen at some point. But I realized recently, faced with the reality that I will be going back in 2010 for the dedication, that not only am I scared of going back now, but I've lived for so long scared of going back at all.

Why? Not because I'm different - but because I'm afraid they'll reject me because I'm different. I've faced so much rejection in my life - and internalized too much of it. But these are my family - a truer extended family in many ways than my biological one. They have always loved me and accepted me no matter what. And I am afraid that they won't anymore. I'm not the person they once knew, the one they remember. I have faced struggles and challenges that on one level they couldn't ever imagine. I have seen things and experienced things that they've never heard of. I am no longer one of them. And I am afraid that they will turn me out because of that.

Is that fear grounded? Probably not. Does that make it go away? I'm sure you can guess the answer to that one. I realized, though, today that I've been thinking this experience is unique to me, that nobody else has ever experienced it and won't be able to sympathize. I just have to laugh at myself sometimes. I suppose it's something that we all have to go through at some point or another. None of us are the person we were when we were in 6th or 7th grade (except those of us who are there right now :). We (almost) all take paths that are different than our parents, our friends, our hometown - we pull away, we change, we grow - and then we come back unrecognizable. Just because I happened to move 10,000 miles away doesn't make it any worse or harder for me than anybody else. On the other hand, it doesn't make it any better or easier for me, either.

And, from my parents descriptions, I think it works the other way, too. When I go back I probably won't recognize much that has changed and is new. I mean they have schools and flushing toilets and electricity now! Go figure.

So, yes, growing up is hard. But some day, sooner rather than later, I need to face my fears and trust that my people, my family will love and accept me no matter what. That love isn't based on differences or similarities, agreements, or growth. They love me simply because I am who I am. I am Andam and I am theirs. Now and forever. No matter how much I change.