Ten Years or a Million Dollars

My 14-year-old, philosophy-loving son (ENFP) came upstairs the other night and asked me a question that had been on his mind ever since he heard it asked on TikTok. “If you had the choice between getting a million dollars right now or going back in time 10 years with the knowledge you have now, which would you choose?”

I considered it briefly before answering, “A million dollars.” Then we discussed it further. I laughingly told him that Barry Allen taught us why it is such a bad idea to go back in time and change things. He laughed and said, “Well, yeah, but he was a superhero.” I went on to explain to him that 2012 was really hard and that his little sister’s birth was the only good thing that came from that year. I told him I would never want to do that year over again.

There was a reason this question was so easy for me to answer. If you are on Facebook, you probably saw the ten-year challenge that had been going around earlier this year. Every time someone posted a photo of themselves from 10 years ago and a photo of themselves now, it sent me back to 2012 and the heartache that I was experiencing at that time.

This photograph from Christmas Eve 2011 is the closest that I could find to 10 years ago but I never followed through with the challenge. There were many reasons. I tend to hate current pictures of myself so I could not find a recent photo that I was comfortable posting. Because of what was going on in my life at the time and in subsequent months, looking at this picture brings up a lot of painful memories and the emotions that go along with them (what psychologists call triggering). My grandma is in the background wearing a wig and relying on oxygen because of the radiation treatments she was undergoing for the lung cancer that would claim her life 11 days before Mother’s Day 2012.

I look at my smile and the smile on my son’s face that seem to contradict the pain that we had already been through and the trials that we would all experience in the coming years – the pain that my children and I are still trying to heal from. I consider all of the things that I would do differently if I knew then what I know now. But then I think, how would I know what I know now if I had never been through the things I’ve been through? My stomach knots up and I get teary, depressed, and anxious when I think about those things. But I would not go back and change them. The simple truth is, there is so much I would have never learned without those hard times.

No matter how hard we try, regardless of whether our intentions are pure, there is no way to understand the pain that another person carries without going through difficult things ourselves. It is human nature to sit on the sidelines of something we have never experienced ourselves and make all sorts of accusations. My opinions and attitudes about a lot of things have changed as a result of my experiences. I have grown closer to Jesus and seen Him through new eyes and a softer heart.

Who I am now is a direct result of God giving me the strength and the grace to learn from the injustice, abuse, pain, grief, rejection, and heartache that I have experienced. Who I will be in the future is dependent on whether I continue to learn compassion and grow in the love of Jesus rather than allowing self-righteousness to take root.

So, I could go back and change things and take away so much of the pain but without that pain, I would not know the love of God the way I do now. God would not have had the opportunity to strip away the self-righteousness and judgmental attitudes year after year.

On the other side, I would still be unable to see abuse and corruption for what it is. I would still be defensive of the really wrong ways that people who represent Jesus in our churches conduct business. I would still be unable to stand up for myself and my kids. I would still be accepting things that are unacceptable to God. And, I would still be engaging in idolatry that prioritizes institutions above people.

I still have so far to go, and so much to learn. I know that one day I will look back on this time in my life and realize the effects that the hard days and months and years will have had on who I am then and I believe that I will feel the same way I do now. Yes, the trauma, trials, and difficulties were nearly unbearable at times. Yet, despite the pain that I see reflected in my own eyes and that I feel deep in my heart, I would not trade the lessons and growth for anything.

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I am a writer, a mom, a follower of Christ, and an INFJ. I believe in freedom in Christ and that God's love, grace, and faithfulness are more than sufficient for anything we go through. C.S. Lewis said it best when he wrote, "The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation."

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