When thinking about where we grew up, our mind quickly goes to a specific home, an address, or a city. Sure, I could tell you where my childhood home was or the state I am from, but growing up somewhere is so much more than that. There are a few places that I believe have shaped me into the person I am today and I am so very thankful for them.
The first of these places seems rather simple, my schools. Throughout my life I have attended 5 different schools and had very different experiences at them all. In my first elementary school I fell in love with my imagination; I loved to pretend and to create. My second elementary school taught me to be unafraid of new experiences and to face my difficulties head-on. In middle school, I simply learned that I was different. I knew then that I wanted to make a difference and stand out in a crowd. High school taught me how to love and serve others with more compassion that I even thought I had. So far, college has taught me how to be alone. I have learned how to be in silence and not become paranoid.
The second, and saddest place I grew up was the funeral home. Not one specific funeral home but the environment. I have been to more funerals than I can even count, some for people I have never even met. But there is two lessons that I will always keep with me through my experience. The first is that the best way to grieve is to have people who love you around as much as possible. The people that really care about you are the ones that know you best and know what will make you smile again. The second lesson is that everyone dies and there is no need to be afraid of your own death. There is a reason for everything and death is just a part of life.
The stage is another place where I believe I grew up. I did not perform my entire life, but I did feel like I had a purpose when I walked out in front of that crowd. I was proud of myself, I knew that I was making someone smile. I made friends because of theatre and I learned how to deal with conflict. I learned that I was someone who could make people feel calm and worth more than they knew. I found that I loved to take care of people and that I was worried about everyone. I knew that being a performer was not my calling but I had the opportunity to see others find it to be their path in life.
Church, the most impactful place I grew up. I found true love through those doors and in those groups. I learned that I loved others and wanted them to find the relationship I did with Christ. The church is more than a building, but a group of people, and I have found the people who support me and love me through all of my mistakes and hard times. I have found a place of no judgement and I found my real passion in life.
What seems like the complete opposite of church is the bar, another place where I grew up. From a young age I knew what alcohol was and I knew people who were alcoholics. I am thankful for these people and those experiences because I see how much an addiction can hurt not only the addict but the people around them. On the other hand, I have seen responsible alcohol consumption and know how to maintain a healthy relationship with such a fickle subject.
I grew up with clowns and animals at the circus. On a rainy and cold day every year, I would sit in a chair and watch a three-ring circus. I was absolutely taken away by the tricks and thrills of what seemed like the greatest place on Earth. Here I learned that it is okay to laugh and be happy. I learned that clowns are not scary, they're actually pretty dumb. I learned that memories are something to be cherished, because some things don't last forever. I saw the joy in children's eyes and knew that I wanted to see that look in the face of my own child one day.
Another place I feel has been one where I have grown up is the other end of a paint brush. My art and creativity is something that has been constant in my life. I have found comfort in the colors and the feeling of making something that is all my own. I found a place that I was finally proud of myself. I learned that I could never be perfect and that I am my own biggest critic. I have expressed myself in ways that others may not be able to understand but I have found more joy in a flick of the wrist than any other activity.
Although this is not a place, the faces of homeless people is something that has been a part of my growing up. Through serving and talking with people who just happened to not have a home, I learned about the love of Christ. I learned that the homeless are just people looking for love just like everyone else. I have become unafraid of them and have begun to trust them. Of course there are many reasons why people become homeless (some worse than others), but I know that they are hurting and appreciate any help they could get.
The final place where I have grown up is in the kitchen. When I was young, I would bake and make food with my grandmother almost every weekend. I was elated to learn the craft of preparing something other people could enjoy. Here I learned how to be patient and take my time. I learned that practice makes perfect and I can make whatever I wanted. I found even more joy in people's faces as they took a bite of something I had created.