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F or many of us, a new year brings moments to reflect backward and simultaneously project forward. We pause just long enough to ponder, wonder, and dream.

For me, however, serious “pondering” occurred with my last birthday as this one landed me squarely on the downside of a decade. I found myself contemplating those moments where my thinking had noticeably shifted and my perspective had altogether changed.

While I want to share some of these personal, light-hearted stories that led to personal change, I also want to extrapolate that thinking onto a bigger scale. I live in the United States, which is currently experiencing a radical paradigm shift, and we’re struggling. Yet, just as I remain grateful for my own life-changing, transferent moments, so too, might this national narrative mature, expand, and grow. With that in mind, please allow me to share some vignettes that have contributed to my learning as an ever-growing and morphing human being.

Hiawatha. As a kid, I stumbled upon a book: The Story of Hiawatha, beautifully illustrated and adapted from Longfellow’s epic poem. I was mesmerized! I wanted to BE Hiawatha. I practiced walking in the woods without snapping a twig, talking to animals, reading the sky and the wind, etc. This began a lifelong respect for people of color, people that aren’t like me. Shift.

Maps. From the time I was 15 years old, until recently, I have had maps on the walls of my house. Maps lead us on adventures; physically demonstrate the planet’s size; and remind us of other cultures, literally worlds away. Then, I discovered an upside-down map that shattered my teenage mind! Who determines “proper” orientation? Which continent claims the center space? Why? Another shift.

Jesus. At 18, this became the greatest transformation of all. My mother assumed my zeal would simply be a passing phase. Clearly, it’s not a phase. Tectonic shift.

America is aging, just like I am. Points of view change, and should, as we age. If you live in the U.S. like I do, try hard to not get so locked up in what you think our national story is. Stay curious, and learn from others. (If you live elsewhere, your national story may be different. For you, too, I encourage staying curious and learning from others.) A nimble, soft heart will take you so much farther than a hard, stubborn one will. Who knows, a true paradigm shift just might happen!

This article was also published in RCA Today, the Reformed Church in America’s denominational magazine.

Tammy DeRuyter

Tammy J. DeRuyter is a Reformed Church in America member from Midland, Michigan, with a master’s degree in theology and a master’s degree in American history.