One of my favorite guilty-pleasure TV shows of all time is the cheesy British sci-if phenomenon Doctor Who. I am going to tell you what I told my wife when she first started watching it with me: “Don’t look for it to make any sense… that just ruins it.”
The series started way back, not much after TV itself became a thing. It’s a show about a time-traveling alien from a race called “The Time Lords;” he travels through time and space having adventures with different companions. Originally it was supposed to be an educational show, the kind that teaches you about history and different cultures without you ever realizing that you’re learning anything. Over the years, though, the show changed… much like the Doctor himself (and now, herself!).
If that last line left you scratching your head, there’s something you need to know about time lords. It is very hard to kill a time lord, because time lords have the ability to regenerate. That is, when they are dying, they can transform into a completely different person physically, while retaining their vast memory and so remaining the same person at their core. This is a very clever plot device for switching out the leading actors and is why, after a bit of a hiatus, the show can still be on the air after more than half a century. The Doctor is always still the Doctor, just with a different face.
So why all the sci-fi? Well, it got stuck in my head this week when my mother surprised me with a rare gift, a time-capsule of sorts. Apparently while going through some boxes, she stumbled upon a roll of 35mm film, shot but undeveloped. She knew it wasn’t hers, because she didn’t do much with photography until the digital age, so she had no idea whose memories might be on that roll.
She decided to take the film to get developed and then, a couple of days ago, she told me the story and gave me a packet of photographs. And I was stunned by the images – stunned, because as soon as I saw them, I remembered taking them and I was transported back in time. They were taken about 15 years ago; I was in my mid-twenties and had not yet met my wife.
They were pictures of a bunch of my friends at a cabin in the woods, on a river in northern Wisconsin. For sure, the pictures made me smile. They made me remember the fun that we all had together. A couple of them were of a dear friend, Clark, who passed away a few years ago. There is a really sweet picture of Clark, sitting in a lawn chair, reaching out and holding his wife’s hand. So the pictures also made me cry. And, they made me think a lot about who I was back then.
Back then I was utterly and completely different than who I am today. My physicality is the same (give or take), my memories are largely intact, but who I am, at my core, has completely transformed, regenerated if you will (hence all the Doctor Who references). Unlike the Doctor, whose face changes while his (or her) core identity stays the same, I’ve had the opposite experience: my face is still very much the same, but the rest of who I am – my core identity – is almost unrecognizable.
Fifteen years ago, I was on the tail end of being a single issue voter (read into that what you will). The world was very clear-cut into black-and-white, right-and-wrong. I knew all the answers and could quote them to you, chapter and verse. I thought only men could be pastors and that women didn’t have any business in the pulpit. Compared to who I am now, I was on the other side of most social justice issues!
Now, though, I am married to the best preacher I know… and she is a woman. Now I take a long time to weigh the issues before stepping into the voting booth. Now I find myself wanting to stand up against any and all injustice that I see. I proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ with confidence and humility, knowing just how wrong I can be, with an openness to hear another side and consider if my belief on an issue is correct or not.
If 2004 me and 2018 me where to stumble into each other, we would recognize each other physically (even though 2018 me has a few more tattoos and a bit less hair). But those two versions of myself would have trouble finding common ground… because they are not the same. I am not the same. And for that, I give thanks to God daily.
Today, the new year begins; 2017 quietly fades away and 2018 begins to pick up speed. Many of you have made a resolution to be better about something this year in the hopes that you will be a better version of yourself by the time the next year rolls around. It is my hope and prayer that you accomplish the good that you set out to do in your life and in the lives of others. But I also want to caution you. The year-to-year change in a person is not always noticeable; the evidence is not always clear. (Case in point: my children didn’t change dramatically from one day to the next this year, but looking at where they were a year ago – or even more! – the difference is astounding. Big change happens through tiny changes, a little bit at a time.)
The kind of change that happens over the course of a year is microscopic compared to the transformation of a life over several years. Sure, there are outliers, years that have dramatic change to them. This year, I lost 155 pounds, and that has given me a whole new lease on life – especially in the realms of being a husband and a father. But I cannot lose 155 pounds every year – nor should I hope to! For some the outliers, the years of dramatic change, come with new relationships, marriages, or the ending of one stage of life and the beginning of another… or sometimes the outlying years come from sicknesses or the loss of loved ones. But outliers don’t happen to us all every year, and even when they do, the change they bring is not always the change we want. And just because a year doesn’t bring one of those dramatic moments doesn’t mean we haven’t learned and grown along the way.
So make resolutions, stick to them if you can, but make them with a different time frame in mind – try not to think just about the next 12 months but the next 5 years, or 10 years, or 20.
Take a few moments to consider who you were 5, 10, or 20 years ago. Marvel at the change and growth that has occurred and resolve to not only be better a year from now, but resolve to be transformed 5 years from now. And while the first of January may be a good benchmark that a lot of people use, every single day is a new day to start again, to resolve to be better in the short and long term.
In those larger units, the change is dramatic. Changes in physicality and spirituality. Changes in how we view the world around us. Changes in how we interact with each other. Changes in all of the different facets of our existence, some of which we have yet to discover.
As for me? In 5 years, I want to have been able to keep the weight off. I want to be a more confident and consistent writer. I want to have a larger sphere of influence and be a better pastor. I want to still be a hero in the eyes of my children (even though my oldest will be a teenager, so I’m realistic about that one!). I want to still be madly in love with my wife.
Most of all, though, I want to grow and transform more and more into the person God has created me to be. I am not there yet. And I won’t be there in 5 years. But I can be closer, and closer is a good place to be.
So Happy New Year to you who managed to read this far! It is my hope and prayer that this year will be full of good things, full of changes and challenges that will transform you, so that in 5 or 10 years you will look back at pictures from today and marvel at how far you’ve come.
May the new year bring you all much peace,
A few more of the pictures from the 35mm roll: