I often forget that I’m not yet thirty. In fact, this year I was surprised to realize that I was turning only twenty-nine, or as I tend to think of it, “almost-thirty.” My husband is thirty-one, and most of the friends I spend time with regularly have already reached their thirties. That plus the fact that I’m a bit of an old soul leads me to associate myself with an age I haven’t actually reached yet.
I think my twenty-seventh birthday was the most difficult because it launched me into my upper twenties, which was close to turning thirty, which at the time meant “no longer youthful or fun, but bogged down by the details of life; often marked by wrinkles and sagging skin around the knees.” Is anyone ever really ready for saggy knees and crow’s feet? Thanks in part to my mom, who always made me wear sunscreen, my skin looks pretty good for almost-thirty.
But now as begin my final descent out of the mostly blue, sometimes-turbulent skies of my twenties into my thirties, I find that the view is more welcoming that I initially imagined it would be.
I made the most of my twenties.
I still have a year left to go, but I don’t feel the need to fill this year to the brim with bucket-list achievements. I’ve worked hard at my jobs, and I’ve played a fair amount. I graduated from college standing beside my dearest friends, and I traveled to their weddings as they committed their lives to men who are the very best I could dream up for them. I ran marathons and ran from God and then ran back to him and flung my arms around his Daddy-neck.
I read countless books, switched to a new career working with books, and took steps toward my childhood dream of writing a book. I ate a lot and then stopped eating and then started eating differently. I drank too much at times, and in doing all this I developed healthier relationships with alcohol, food, and my body. I traveled and dreamed and took scary next steps. I had good days and ugly moments; I ugly-cried and laughed until I cried. My schedule and heart and belly were sometimes too full and sometimes too empty; these days were long and these years were short, but the time was sweet.
I wrecked and renewed relationships.
I loved my friends, and I failed them. I wondered where all my friends had gone and then learned to be a friend first. I built friendships and resurrected relationships I thought were dead. I pushed my family away and ran back to them, clinging tightly to what’s left of our once-close unit. I sought meaning and love and value where these were never meant to be sought, and I was broken and emptied before I was slowly patched up and filled again. I questioned my motives and questioned God.
I said goodbye to destructive relationships with people, money, and stuff, and left a trail of broken and imperfect steps behind me as I did so. I left an abusive relationship and became content in my single season, and then I met and married a man who is more than I ever thought existed and certainly more than I ever thought I deserved. I poured into others and let them pour their lives into mine, and even though I can’t say “I wouldn’t do anything differently” (because there are things I would change in a heartbeat), I look back and call it redeemed.
I’ve changed, mostly for the better.
In the past nine years, I’ve worked hard, taken risks, changed my major, changed jobs and careers. I’ve changed my hair — no longer hiding behind it the way I used to — I’ve changed my mind, and I’ve changed my philosophies and perspectives. I’ve been changed by my faith and my faith has changed. I’ve left behind a lot of the misconceptions I once took for gospel, and I dropped and picked up and dropped again the baggage I collected in college.
I’ve found new joy in the same-old spiritual disciplines. I’ve been stagnant and I’ve been stretched, quite literally as I grew another human over the course of forty-one weeks and as she continued to stretch out my body with her eating habits and my nerves with her crying and my heart with her love and unreserved trust.
I’ve broken out of my shell and retreated to long-time comforts. I’ve held the titles student, teacher, manager, copyeditor, writer, friend, daughter, sister, girlfriend, fiancée, wife, mom-to-be, new mom, learner, wanderer, beloved. I’ve evolved into a person my twenty-year-old self wouldn’t recognize, but whom I think she would like a whole lot.
My almost-thirty life looks at a basic level how I imagined it would when I was twenty—career, marriage, baby—but many details are far from what I pictured. I thought I’d be living overseas and changing the world through politics or education reform. I didn’t think I’d be living in the suburbs or working in publishing or enjoying such a quiet life, changing the world instead in tiny ways through the words I speak and write and pray.
I didn’t think I’d be so ready, so happy to turn almost-thirty. I certainly don’t expect to wake up feeling different on my twenty-ninth or thirtieth birthdays. If my twenties taught me anything, it’s that change is slow and often imperceptible, but when I look back at the whole of a period — be it one year or ten years or thirty years — I can see the tiny moments collected and propelling forward and bursting open to create the new life, and I can see that this view is still such a small part of the big picture.