So I’ve said my good-byes to my 20’s. Tomorrow I turn 30.
I will begin this decade as a mother and wife. As a homeowner. With a stable job, and a side gig I really love. I have two dogs.
In one sense, none of that “external stuff” changes you or grows you up. You can still be a raving lunatic with all those boxes checked. Because who you are determines what kind of mother, wife, employee, neighbor you will be. The uptight kind? The scatter-brained kind? The generous kind? The faithful kind? That has a lot less to do with the hats you are wearing than the head underneath them.
However, in another sense. I do think that those things changed me. Getting married, strange as it sounds, made me more independent. Not independent of Lewis, but independent of all the people I’d looked to for approval. Someone trusts me with his life and his heart, and this has given me more confidence and determination than anything else I’ve ever done. Someone loves me for who I am, and the condemning world can kiss my well-loved ass.
Being a mother (of an unborn, at the moment) has, even more strangely, had the opposite effect. I’m terrified. I feel more aware of my own fragility and ignorance. I am more vulnerable because now my heart is wrapped up in this fragile, ignorant, vulnerable little body. It’s also made me insanely hopeful. Someone new and good is coming!
Work, homeowning, and dog-rearing have each changed me as well. I’m still the same person I was in my 20’s. But here’s how I hope that looks as I move forward.
In my 30’s I hope to be…
Patiently proactive. Going slower for the sake of doing it better (yes, like Lewis).
A couple of years ago I was deeply hurt by people I had greatly respected and trusted. We left one church, and began going to another. Once we arrived at the new church, I was really tempted to give them a short and sweet summary of all that I had learned, and let them know my approximate ETA for full healing, at which time I would be ready to fully commit to their church, and be a totally amazing worker-bee for Jesus.
But I didn’t. Because I’m not stitching up my own wounds here. I used to do that, and they made gnarly, oozing scars that were really unappealing later.
Meanwhile there are some major projects that need to be done in our neighborhood. Major. Like revitalized underpasses, renovated buildings, education reform, stray dog round ups. I find myself occasionally jumping in with both feet, only to paddle back over the side and hop out while I think a little longer. I don’t want to drown and take a bunch of people and projects down with me.
Darryl Byrd gave a TEDx talk about picking a cause and making a difference there. He said you can’t do it if you are the #1 volunteer for EVERYTHING. You have to pick. And that might mean a little more reconnaissance from the edge and a little less splashing around in the pool.
Grounded. When I think about being grounded, I think about a particular walk I took down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris (snicker snicker…irony). I was with my best friend, Lee, and it was absurdly cold, sleeting, and the wind was blowing our hair straight back. We were aiming to get to a show at the Comedie Francaise in time to take our seats, and we had quite a walk ahead of us. But it was totally worth it.
When I think about being grounded, I think about being able to trudge forward through the wind, rain, and cold without counting the night as ruined. I think of spending my commission check on labor and delivery bills instead of anthropologie dresses and not counting a penny lost.
I want to learn to take joy in the work that needs to be done, the re-routing on the way to my goals, and the million ways life does not go as planned. Being grounded means that I am not a product of all my perfect outcomes, and there’s never a need to panic for the sake of my identity.
Wise. There’s a part of wisdom that involves stunning insights and mind-blowing alternatives to long held “either/or” fallacies. That wisdom really dazzled me up to a certain point.
But that’s not the wisdom I’m looking for in this decade.
I’m looking forward to the wisdom that sees past the PR, egoism, blustering, and salesmanship. The wisdom that hears the small voice of truth in the middle of the carnival.
I want to hear that voice and follow it. And not feel the need to repackage it as an ultimatum and shout it through a megaphone. Instead, I’d like to learn how to read a situation and be able to speak plainly in a relevant way. Or just not speak. I’d really like to learn how to just not speak.
Underwhelming. My goal in the next decade is to impress absolutely no one. (The outcome may be no different from my 20’s, except that it will be an accomplishment, rather than a failure.)
When Lewis and I were still getting to know each other (we weren’t even dating), we went to the grocery store together. I picked up some break-n-bake cookies for a cookie swap. I knew every other woman there was going to have some homemade delight, packaged with festive ribbons. But I had a lot going on, and my kitchen was literally 4×6 feet. I confessed my domestic predicament to Lewis.
“I’ve gotten used to underwhelming people,” Lewis said.
That’s when I knew I was going to marry him. Anyone who could speak those words was going to offer me more freedom, security, and grace than I could find anywhere else. And that’s what I want to offer people. (Those who know Lewis will know that he is somehow both incredibly impressive, but never overwhelming. He’s the kind of great that makes you feel good.)
It would be commendable to be impressive. To do one’s job well, and to make great contributions to the world. But I don’t really want people to be overwhelmed in my presence. Overwhelmed by how much I can accomplish or how on-top-of-it I am. It doesn’t benefit anyone, it doesn’t make people love Jesus, and it eventually isolates the Overwhelmer.
That said, I don’t want to smash my failures in people’s faces either. Because “brokenness” can be the new way to be overwhelmingly impressive. Let’s all try to out-raw/real/vulnerable each other. Look, if you hang out with me long enough, you’ll see plenty of brokenness without me waving my little threadbare flag. But hopefully the break-n-bake cookies gave you a warning sign of what to expect on your way in the door.
Unscripted. I’d like to break out of the narrative structure I had placed on my life. Because, it turns out, that narrative structure was giving me anxiety.
If things have a beginning, a middle, and an end, then they need drama to keep them moving forward. They need big moments, hard lessons, and irony. I’ve lived my whole life expecting the great tragedy that will shape the narrative of my life.
“After she lost everything…”
“Everything she thought she knew turned out to be a sham…”
Sound familiar? That’s because I’ve watched too many movies, and somehow came to the conclusion that every life is built like the hero’s journey, and mine just hadn’t begun. Which is both terrifying (because there’s nothing I have right now that I particularly want to have tragically taken from me) and angsty (because all the parts of life that have not been contributing to the grand narrative seem wasted).
But in my 30’s, I’m hoping to take life as it comes, in the little tidbits. Letting themes wax and wane. Letting resolution evade me. God may be writing a beautiful story of redemption…but he’s not known for his brevity.
So there it is. If you want to stop being my friend for the next decade, I understand. But if you like new babies, clueless parents, dogs with boundary issues, break-n-bake cookies, stories without punchlines, and sitting on the edge of the pool, c’mon over.