On a recent trip to Wisconsin I fully realized just how much things change while staying the same.

Where once there was one bridge to link the Door Peninsula to the mainland there were now three, the last completed only the week before I arrived. But its original predecessor stood patiently waiting for the state to roll in and begin repairs that would bring it back to full use.

Where Peterson Builders, Inc., once stood was now virtually open ground with a bay view for the cluster of condos that had sprung up. No more ships were going to be constructed at a company that once employed hundreds of people. Even the Fred J. Peterson Memorial Pool right next door was in the middle of demolition the day I arrived. Mr. Peterson had donated the indoor facility to the city at least forty years ago and many of us had learned to swim there.

Where Draeb's Jewelers, the Bank of Sturgeon Bay, Woerley's Bookstore and Boehn's Pharmacy once resided now found another jewelry store, Harmann's Photo Studio, Book World, Inc. and the Inn at Cedar Crossing, the last a beautiful combination restaurant/bed and breakfast. Online pictures I had seen hadn't done it justice.

Where other shops, restaurants and local businesses had been new ones had taken their place as if they had been there all along. Despite the enormity of turnover the transition still felt seamless, a convincing portrayal of small town life from then to now. Enough was still left to make me feel I had been a part of things, but enough had changed and improved to keep up with the times, such that they were. The town was still recognizable.

But some of the people weren't. And I wasn't to them.

Take. for example, the three people who approached me while I was sitting outside the Kick Cafe, sipping my fresh, strong coffee on a gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon. Their question: Are you a tourist or a native? Of all the questions I anticipated on this trip that was not on the list. And it was a tough one to answer, especially when the people asking it were looking for answers to touristy questions like where the nearest bathroom was located and how to get back to the highway out of town. I was dumfounded. All I had was a garbled version of, "I'm from here, but I don't live here anymore, blah, blah, blah.

Then there was church, a place that hadn't moved in the shuffle and still contained a whole lot of people that I knew and who would know me. Or so I thought. Although I don't look much different than I have for the last thirty-five years, many people haven't experienced that sort of luxury or are simply further along in their lives and have still weathered the time with grace and just a few more wrinkles. Not having daily or consistent contact with people over the course of time and all kinds of confusing moments can arise. It wasn't easy, searching faces for a spark of former knowing, only to realize I was looking at people I never knew in the first place. There were, however, some wonderful reunions with people I had known literally forever. They had aged, but didn't seem to look any different to me. This is the simple grace of heart connections that never fade. As I wandered around the church that had been a second home to me growing up old stories and memories walked up to me to say hello too. These were instantly familiar because we had stayed acquainted even in my absence.

The whole experience reminded me that we all expect to recognize each other, no matter what the circumstances. Of course, anyone who has attended high school reunions in the double digits knows better. After a certain point our lives become too divergent and our waistlines too expansive to pretend that life doesn't change us as we engage its joys and demands.

Jesus' own disciples didn't recognize him after the resurrection. Mark tells us in his gospel that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene and then to two of the remaining eleven disciples. They all went back to the larger group, sharing their wonderful story of Jesus' raising from the dead, but were not believed. "Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen (Mark 16: 14)."

Perhaps seeing is believing, but I also suspect having an open heart, mind and soul clarifies some of life's deepest mysteries. Some people recognize God's spirit more easily, more readily than others, not because God doesn't choose to be revealed to those who struggle more with seeing, but because they don't make the choice to see look with faith instead of sight. Our whole lives can be shaped by these individual choices of perceived reality over faith, placing emphasis on what people tell us instead of what our hearts know from believing in a God whose promises are always kept, no matter what.

It would make sense, then, that if we look to our surroundings or the people who once occupied them with more than our eyes we would see them as we remember them, and hopefully also see who they have become along the way. Equally wonderful is being seen in the same light through their eyes, both physical and spiritual.

Author's Bio: 

The Rev. Cory L. Kemp, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay with a double major in Communication and the Arts and Social Change and Development and a minor in Women's Studies, was ordained into the ministry of the Moravian Church in North America after completing her Master of Divinity degree studies through Moravian Theological Seminary. Over twenty-five years of experience in individual and community ministries gives Rev. Kemp an informed perception about faith, its implications and struggles in everyday life. Rev. Kemp focuses her work on helping people understand their faith and how faith can become transformational in their lives. Bring authentic, meaningful faith into your daily life by visiting www.creatingwomenministries.com and downloading your complimentary copy of the new Special Report, "7 Ways To Bring Authentic, Meaningful Faith Into Your Daily Life."