Our son Chris was six years old.   Slimy pumpkin guts and seeds smeared his little hands and mine.  What wasn’t on us was somewhat piled onto old newspaper in the middle of the kitchen floor.  A goofy-looking face stared at us from the pumpkin shell we had just carved.

It was Halloween 15 years ago, and that pumpkin-carving tradition remains a strong, happy memory.  But so does the incident that occurred there on the floor among the innards of the kooky Halloween icon, an episode that came to define for me how life works.

Sticky hands gripped mine and Chris’ panicked voice wailed from my lap, “My legs hurt! I’m paralyzed!”

I thought perhaps it was one of those days when he needed a bit of extra attention, so I hugged him to me and asked calmly, “What kind of hurt?  Did something happen at school?  Do you have a bruise?”

“No.  It’s different.  They hurt all over!” he whined more than cried.

Suddenly, I heard my mom’s voice in my head years ago during my own 6-ish-year-old experience, and I repeated her words to Chris.  “That means you’re growing!  Your legs are growing right this minute.”

Chris promptly went quiet.   I could feel him pondering as the pain took on a positive meaning for him.  He was the little brother who worried until he was a young teen that he would never get tall like the big guys he so admired.  That night with the pumpkin, he decided if growing pains were required to be tall, he could handle it.  He never complained about growing pains again, except that tall wasn’t happening fast enough.  But it did happen eventually.  And we laugh at the memory now, he looking down at me from his six-foot height.

Growing hurts.  No doubt about it.  Growing forces change.  Sometimes, like Chris, we can’t wait to get growing.  Other times, we see it coming from a long way off, and we dread how growing will feel.  Yet it comes.  And, ready or not, growth inflicts pain as it starts, often hurting awhile until we adjust.

In my column last week, I referred to a TED Talk I saw recently on You Tube by Rick Warren on being relevant in this rapidly changing world.  His presentation aimed at leaders focused on change as the only constant.  He said the biggest obstacle to accepting change is that it hurts.  It grieves us.  We are forced to step from what is comfortable into new and untried territory.  And every time we do this, which is realistically an almost daily challenge, we feel the pain.  In some indefinable way, it simply hurts.

Warren says a major aspect of our discomfort is grief.  We miss “the good ’ole days” (yesterday) and assume angst about what we will deal with in new circumstances (today, tomorrow).  This is a normal human response to change.  Understanding and acknowledging it just helps us balance through the process.

Warren stated four grief realities:

  • There is no growth without change.
  • There is no change without loss.
  • There is no loss without pain.
  • There is no pain without grief.

Denton, this is where we are.  Growth is happening.  It is exponential, unstoppable, and forcing change.  Without thinking very hard you can identify some clear manifestations of this phenomenon.  The I-35 E expansion is one example.  The infrastructural bolstering underway downtown and in other areas of Denton is another.  The convention center is still another.  Many changes are underway simultaneously because growth is happening so quickly, demanding change to accommodate the quality of life we love in Denton.

In the long run, these changes will become our norm.  In fact, these will be “the good ’ole days” as we face what challenge waits around the next corner.  It’s the circle of life.

Chris caught a vision that Halloween night in the kitchen.  While he grappled with real, live growing pains for the first time, he saw himself in the future.  He glimpsed the tall, fine man he would be, not in spite of, but because of the fact that he was growing.

And so it is with us.  Denton is growing, changing.  To be the masters of our destiny, we must embrace all of what that means, even the part that hurts and grieves us.  Change will happen regardless.  Will it happen to us?  Or will we shape it according to how we see ourselves on the other side of growing up?