my 20s: the good, the bad, and the beautiful.

Today is Saturday. I’m sitting in a coffee shop with an earl gray tea and a bunch of old journals by my side.

In less than three weeks I turn 30.

I came to this coffee shop this afternoon to “process my 20s.” Problem is I’ve never processed a decade of my life before. Seasons and years, yes, but never a DECADE. Where do you even begin?

~

A few days after my 20th birthday I took off for the mountains of California. I landed in the Ontario National Airport and found myself in awe. The West captivated me.

I spent that summer working as a camp counselor — everything was a high. Coworkers became family, camp norms became second nature. On weekends we drove down the mountain to explore the beaches & cities of Southern California.

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I’m on the left…

It was during that summer I decided I would get a tattoo one day. (Three years later, I did.)

It was also during that summer my heart began opening up to the oppressed in this world, changing the course of my entire life. Instead of an actress I would become an activist. My friend Erin had something to do with it – she was all about Africa and her call to do something rubbed off on me. I also distinctly remember being in a store, picking up ‘A Child Called It’, reading the back cover, and being forever changed. I called my mom and told her I wanted to go to a missions conference called Urbana later that year. She had been trying to get me to go, but until that point I hadn’t been interested. I went, and it was the first time I bathed out of a bucket. Even though I was staying in a hotel room.

I got my passport when I was 20. The reason? I was applying for The Amazing Race and needed one to apply. I didn’t get on the show, but the passport came in handy when I went on The World Race two and a half years later.

With the exception of my summer out west, I spent the first year of my 20s depressed. It started when I was 19 and lasted until the summer after I turned 21. There were many contributing factors, but the main reason had to do with my view of God. I wrestled with my faith, at times feeling like an atheist trapped in a Christian’s body. It was a dark time, but I’m glad I went through it because it’s how I made my faith my own.

I remember sitting on a blanket in the middle of campus with my BFF Chelsea, smoking cloves, eating chocolate, and talking about the Bible. Donald Miller inspired us; he seemed to really get it. (“I always thought the Bible was more of a salad thing, you know, but it isn’t. It’s a chocolate thing.” – Blue Like Jazz)

Chelsea and I began attending the LGBT group on campus instead of our usual Campus Crusade for Christ meetings. The two groups met at the same time in the Student Union and I didn’t like that we were segregated. The first time we went they asked if we were lesbians. When we told them no they said that’s a shame, you would have made a good looking couple. I took that as a compliment.

I turned 21 and didn’t drink. I was against the idea that people needed alcohol to have fun.

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it wouldn’t be college without an 80s party…

A few months later, in July, I got saved. I had been a Christian since childhood, but it wasn’t until I needed saving from something (depression) that I understood what that meant. Being saved felt like coming up for air after being underwater for too long.

In September, during the fall semester of my senior year, I went streaking on my college campus with Chelsea. Less than two years later we went on the World Race together. Clothes included.

To my own embarrassment, during my last semester of college I became a feminist. I was usually the one making sexist jokes. I didn’t want to be a feminist, but I couldn’t not be one after all the things I learned. (It wasn’t until 2014 that Emma Watson made being a feminist sexy.)

I took two of my favorite college classes that spring semester – Writing Fiction and Writing Nonfiction. I looked up to my teachers; I craved their approval. I’ll always remember when Jane Bradley told me I was a good writer in front of everyone. The most brilliant, interesting people were in my classes and we became like family as we shared our stories with each other.

Three weeks before graduation I published a column for the student newspaper about life after college. “Whatever I do, I want it to be an adventure,” I wrote.

I graduated and took off, not yet 22.

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First stop: California, to work at that camp again, this time as a head camp counselor. It was another three-month high, filled with mountains & beaches, sunsets & friendships.

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Then: a road trip from Los Angeles to Seattle and back.

I laughed at the characters in San Francisco and gasped when I saw the mountains in Yosemite.

In Portland I got drunk for the first (and only) time. Three Smirnoffs and a Mike’s Hard Lemonade on an empty stomach will do that to you.

I met Donald Miller and stayed at his house, I camped at Morro Bay, I slept in the car by the beach.

That road trip was my first taste of life outside of camp or college. At the end of it I wrote:

“Here are the truths I learned: my life is, and will remain, a challenge. More so than most of the people around me. It’s a challenge for me to learn, to love, to enjoy, to understand, to experience God, and to hike almost 10 miles. It takes me longer. It takes more effort. It takes all of me. BUT here’s the thing: I’m a fighter. I push through. It may take tears, sweat, and complaints but I won’t stop. At least I hope I never will. I want my life to be an adventure…”

After my road trip I flew halfway across the world by myself. I landed in Delhi, India with no cell phone and no idea what the person meeting me looked like. I remember staring at the massive sea of brown faces and thinking, “Now what?”

I spent nearly two months in India, living in a slum, working at Mother Teresa’s shelter for battered women, and hiking through the Himalayas.

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I got lice for the first (and only) time.

After returning from India I went to Vancouver for two weeks of missions training. We lived in a house together, drinking tea and learning about the world. Shane Claiborne came.

Inspired by Jack Kerouac, I took off on another road trip after Christmas – this time across the country.

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I saw the Grand Canyon and couch surfed for the first time (“A dream come true,” I wrote.) I fell in love with Santa Fe and cried at the Oklahoma City Bombing memorial. We made it to L.A. by New Year’s Eve; I rolled up my pants and ran into the Pacific at midnight.

By the first week of January I landed in Nashville, my home for the next seven months. I lived with friends from camp and worked 2 part-time jobs. My furniture consisted of a mattress on the floor and a bookcase from the Salvation Army. I made a dresser out of Starbucks boxes. I didn’t have much, but I was full of love. We gave each other rides when cars broke down; we played too many games of Settlers. At one point we turned our living room into a fort. We left it that way for weeks.

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so.much.settlers.

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the fort

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notes we left each other in the bathroom

I’ll always look back on this season with sentiment – we were a bunch of young 20s-something figuring out life on our own. It was beautiful and exciting and sad and messy.

India had messed me up. Whenever I slowed down it hit me. Hard. I couldn’t make sense of the things I had seen. Nothing mattered anymore. “I think I may be a nihilist,” I wrote ten days after settling in Nashville.

A month later I sat on a counselor’s couch and cried, asking her what the meaning of life was. (She didn’t tell me.)

Winter faded into spring, melting my existential angst. Those months were full of surprises – new friendships and late night walks. Concerts, coffee shops and dollar movies. Death Cab for Cutie constantly on my iPod.

May came, and I turned 23 the last day of World Race Training Camp.

My Nashville community rallied around me as I prepared for the World Race, helping me with yard sales and car washes and trips to R.E.I. – I can’t imagine this time without their support.

On July 4th I was a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding, the next day I had my first kiss in six years (the first of my 20s.) He was a boy I had a crush on in college and when he found out I liked him he leaned in.

I left for the World Race in August. It was a wild year – full of adventure and heartbreak, brokenness and breakthrough. I will never forget that day I cried by the squatty potties in Kenya. The next day I wrote, “The thing that scares me is how I’m getting serious with God. I’m actually sacrificing and obeying – even when it hurts. And if this hurts as much as it does I can only imagine the other things God will ask of me and the incredible pain that will come with it.”

I was right to be afraid. There has been a lot of pain since then. But each time I press through it only makes me stronger.

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baby goats make everything better

I spent the first half of my 24th birthday in Cambodia, the second half in Thailand. On the plane ride between the two countries my squadmate Dan got on the intercom and had everyone on the airplane sing happy birthday to me. An ENFP dream come true.

A few weeks later, in Thailand, I prayed for a dead body to come to life. It didn’t. I really thought it would.

We landed in LAX on June 29th. I stayed in Cali for 10 days before flying to Ohio. My home away from home.

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r.i.p. michael jackson

I spent 6 months in Ohio — a hard, lonely, six months. I had no friends, fought with my mom, went to family counseling, got rejected from my dream job, nurtured my World Race heartbreak, suffered horrible side effects from an antibiotic (trying to get rid of a parasite), experienced anxiety, felt purposeless, and had bad dreams. To name a few.

I read a lot of books and wrote a lot of blogs. I spent a lot of time on my knees.

In January 2011 I took off to Nicaragua for four months to lead a college-age mission trip. All girls. While so many of my friends were getting jobs, getting married, having babies, I wore cut-off jean shorts during the day and slept on a bunk bed at night. I wondered if I was ‘behind’ in life, but deep down I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. My team climbed volcanoes and swam in lagoons. We fasted and gave each other feedback. We spent time with the poor, the elderly, the orphaned.

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I came back to life after those hard months at home.

At the end of March, two months before my 25th birthday, I started desiring marriage. It was as if a light was switched on inside me.

Then I fell for a guy. Naturally.

He was on the World Race, spending a month in Nicaragua. I tried to avoid him but he always seemed to find me, and I couldn’t resist from there. We talked for hours.

I waited 7 months for him to finish the World Race. I came back from Nicaragua in May, moved to Gainesville in June. In December I discovered he was kissing someone else. I remember the feeling of my heart shattering on the floor when I found out. I was with people (one of them being the girl he was kissing), so I kept a straight face as my insides crumbled. As soon as I could I excused myself and went to my bedroom. “I feel like a fool,” I wrote in my diary, followed by profanity. On the next page I wrote: “DON’T LIKE BOYS. It’s dumb.”

This incident changed me. Because of it, I started asking guys how they felt about me when I was uncertain. I didn’t want to wait another 7 months only to find out they were making out with someone else. I would be a fool no longer.

I tried this approach out a month later, pulling one of my guy friends aside and asking if he was interested.

He wasn’t.

The next day I left the country for four months. (Perfect timing if you ask me.)

It was January 2012 and I led a group of World Racers from Central America to Eastern Europe.

It wasn’t easy to leave. I had been terrified to move to Gainesville the previous summer, but it quickly became home while I was there. I finally found a rhythm in life and didn’t want to disturb it. I had a bed!

I knew I was called to go, but what if it was never this good again?

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yes, that’s me

I asked Adventures in Missions if they had a job for me when I came back from squad leading. They said, “we can’t promise you anything, but probably not” and left it at that.

I found myself again in cut-off jean shorts and living out of a backpack. I walked the cobblestone streets in Guatemala and ate pupusas in El Salvador. In April we made it to Romania, trading sunny skies for snowflakes. I visited castles and rode lots of trains.

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Guatemala

I loved the people I was leading and the people I was leading with. Betsy & Randy entered my life as World Race coaches and have became like family since then. “They are an answer to prayers I never prayed,” I wrote in 2012. I am a different person because of their love, their care, and their influence in my life.

Halfway through squad leading, Adventures offered me three jobs (funny how that happens.) I took the recruiting position. If they hadn’t offered me work, I was going to be an au pair in Italy, save up money, and travel Europe.

Because I had a job waiting for me, I settled for two weeks in Italy. It was my honeymoon with God. I had been told that when you get married, your relationship with God is never the same, because it is you+God+spouse instead of just you and God and no one else. I thought I was going to get married soon (famous last words), so I wanted one last hoorah with God before that special someone came into the picture.

I traveled from Venice to Cinque Terre to Pisa to Florence to Siena to Rome to Naples to Pompeii to Capri. I stayed in hostels, wandered into churches, walked in the rain, got lost on trains, ate too much gelato, and had the best pizza in the entire world (thanks, Naples). I read Eat Pray Love and Pride & Prejudice. I got mad at God and felt wooed by him.

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VENICE

I came home and turned 26.

Less than two weeks later I moved back to Georgia, where Bethany planned a surprise welcome home/ birthday party for me. I felt SO loved.

A difficult six months followed. Adventures was going through a split and it wasn’t pretty. People I looked up to let me down. Friends left town or were in their own funk. On top of that, my job wasn’t a good fit. It made me cry.

All I wanted to do was squad lead again, but I knew I was supposed to stay.

In August I went on a last minute road trip to New Mexico for a wedding. It reminded me of my love for road trips.

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In September Chris and Holli moved in with me and Bethany. The four of us shared an apartment for five months before we moved into The House with the Yellow Door.

That fall Hannah and I went for prayer walks by the lake at sunset.

In November they created a new position at Adventures: World Race Squad Mentor. I wanted it as soon as I found out. I emailed Steve Basden, the World Race Director, and told him I wanted to talk with him about the job opening. I was hired on the spot.

It has been my favorite job in life.

2013 was a whirlwind. I was meeting hundreds of people, jet-setting around the globe, teaching, preaching, and living the dream. Things like my suitcase being stolen in Guatemala or dogs biting me in Uganda didn’t get me down because I loved what I was doing.

I celebrated my 27th birthday in Malaysia. Two weeks later I got Lasik. No more contacts or dorky glasses for me!

moments before surgery...

moments before surgery…

moments after surgery... gross

post surgery… gross

That summer was spent playing volleyball, swimming in the lake, and grilling out.

When I wasn’t traveling or at training camps, The House with the Yellow Door was a place of nonstop fun. We shared food and stories, we hosted people and parties.

The last day in August I had a major breakdown/breakthrough with Rozy in an African hut. So much snot. So much freedom.

In September Chris & Holli told us they were pregnant.

That fall I dated a friend, but I was really weird about it. I regret not going for it more.

By the end of the year I was burnt out on people. The day after Thanksgiving I booked myself a B&B in Northern Atlanta. While I was there I put my phone on airplane mode, went for a walk in the woods, dined at a quaint Italian restaurant, took a bath, read a book. I also looked up counselors in Gainesville. Issues had been surfacing and it was time to go again.

Less than a week later I cried during my first session with Lynda.

On New Year’s Eve I went dancing in Atlanta with a few girlfriends. I rang in 2014 with a kiss, the second of my 20s. It was magical.

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NOT my new year’s eve kiss…:)

At the beginning of January 2014, I met with Lynda a fourth and final time before I took off for a stint of traveling. I cried during that session as well – this time it was because I hated that I had a desire for marriage and it wasn’t being fulfilled. I would rather not have the desire at all. She told me it was normal, biological. No one had said that to me before. It made me feel less crazy.

She also told me I was angry at God. I disagreed and said I was disappointed by him. “You say disappointed, I say angry,” she said. (I still think I was disappointed.) She also told me she thought I was a little bit depressed. She was right, but winter always makes me a little depressed (Seasonal Affective Disorder, anyone??)

I took off for two weeks in Vietnam followed by a week in Guatemala.

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‘Nam

When I came back I got one of those haircuts that make you cry. Life felt cruel and unfair. I stopped journaling.

A few months later I turned 28 and had one of the best birthdays of my life. Everything was right that day.

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It was a good summer that followed. In August a group of us went on vacation in Florida. We kayaked during the day and cooked amazing dinners at night.

Back in Gainesville, a boy kissed me under a pavilion in the rain. It was electric.

A few weeks later Steve sat me down in his office and asked me to be the director of the high school and college-age program. I didn’t want to, but I knew it was what God had for me. So I said yes.

I’ll always remember that time I went to Starbucks and poured my heart into my journal as my tears dripped onto the table. I was letting go of my dream job for something I wasn’t excited about.

Cue the beginning of the hardest year of my 20s (if not my life.) There were so many factors that made it this way. I was under-supported, overworked, overwhelmed, and unhappy. I was a mess and everyone knew it.

But I fought hard. I didn’t give up. I dug deep. What I said about myself at 22 rang true at 28: I’m a fighter. I push through. It may take tears, sweat, and complaints but I won’t stop… 

A few months before I turned 29 I was in Zambia. I never had a desire to bungee jump, but I wanted to express physically what I was going through spiritually. So I jumped. Everything leading up to the jump was terrifying, but after my feet left the platform it was exhilarating. I was so proud of myself I nearly cried.

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weeeeeeeeeeee

I had a big party for my 29th birthday. The only problem is because it was such a big party everyone thought I was turning 30.

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In July, I broke. It had been 11 months of struggle and I couldn’t take it anymore. I began to crack when I was supposed to have one day off after two weeks of nonstop work, but instead spent the day on a phone with an upset parent, followed by a call about a participant having a severe allergic reaction to peaches.

My breaking point came a few weeks later.

Feelings of bitterness began to rise to the surface as things continued to stack on top of each other, so I decided to fast in order to cleanse my soul. On the second day of that fast someone at work triggered all the pain I had been holding for those 11 months. As soon as I was able to leave the office I pulled over in a church parking lot and bawled to Bethany until my phone died. The next day wasn’t any better. More tears. The fast was working; I was being gutted.

Looking back on those 11 miserable months, I’m glad I stuck it out as long as I did; I’m also glad I broke down as soon as I did. I know other people who take much, much longer to burn out. I’d rather hit my breaking point quickly so I can recover and never do that again.

In August Tiffany and I took a hard-earned vacation to Colorado. We rode bikes and flew a plane (thanks Ed!), hiked a 14er, saw a concert at Red Rocks and stayed at a friend’s hostel in a charming mountain town.

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I came back and things began to change with my job. Responsibility was leveled out; I was given more help. That feeling of being saved, of coming up for water, hit me once again. I wept and began memorizing Psalm 40.

In September, after two and a half years, I moved out of The House with the Yellow Door. It was time.

It was hard. I was lonely. Many tears were shed over the course of many months. I thought about seeing Lynda again.

In March of this year I went to Nepal, where I did a 5-day trek through the Himalayas. The mountains filled me with wonder and awe, they made me and all my problems feel small. I wanted to remember that feeling when I was back in everyday life, so I decided to take the mountains with me; I got them tattooed on my arm.

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When my car broke down on I-85 less than month later I looked at my tattoo and remembered.

May rolled around, bringing a wedding, a funeral, a few birthday parties, and my last debrief as a squad mentor.

~

Today is Saturday. I’m sitting on an airplane en route from South Africa to England. There is a bulky man by my side.

In less than two days I turn 30.

It’s taken me 3 weeks and 3,500+ words to process my 20s and I’ve still only scraped the surface. I have more than 25 journals from this decade; I barely made it through half before I had to leave for South Africa a week ago.

There were nights these past few weeks I stayed up too late because I couldn’t put my journals down. I forgot how much shame I carried after I got wasted in Portland (Seattle was nearly ruined because of it.) I forgot how exhilarating that summer in Nashville really was – I could feel my heart beat faster as I read about it. I forgot about my journey toward unconditional love in 2011 after a shattering moment in which I realized I knew nothing of God’s love.

I forgot how afraid I was. I was afraid of so many things. I was afraid of depression. I was afraid of fundraising. I was afraid I wouldn’t get a job in Nashville, I was afraid to move to Gainesville, I was afraid to leave Gainesville. The list goes on and on.

I laugh now because I know everything worked out. It makes me wonder: what am I afraid of now that I will laugh at later?

I laugh at myself, but I’m also proud of myself because I never let fear stop me; I went through with everything that scared me. I may have dragged things out at times, or allowed unnecessary worry & stress in my life, but in the end I always choose to risk.

I do have regrets though.

I regret my chubby phase (*shakes fist at the freshman 15… er, 20) and my horrible fashion phase that included but is not limited to: thrift store t-shirts, sweatpants, jean jackets, skirts with Chuck Taylors, bandanas, and too many layers. I thought I was cool. I wasn’t.

I regret falling for a guy on my World Race team and letting my heart get as involved as it did. I caused myself a lot of useless pain.

I regret not giving more guys a chance. I don’t necessarily think the story would have ended differently with any of them, but I didn’t need to be so uptight about it all. (John, I’m sorry I never went on a date with you in college. I should have.)

I regret the way I treated people at times, my lack of boundaries in life (a weakness I’m still working on), not larping in college when I had the chance, and getting stuck with a middle seat on a plane (aka right now.)

For the most part, however, I love the way I lived my 20s. I didn’t just write about my dreams, I went after them. I let myself fail. I learned to forgive. I faced rejection. I risked time and time again. I discovered a heart can be broken in many ways. I wrestled with God and ran to him.

I fell in love with Jane Austen.

I dyed my hair pink, purple, black, blonde, and ombré.

I went bungee jumping, paragliding, scuba diving, sand surfing, snorkeling, canyoning, kayaking, camping, trekking, and road tripping.

I went from 2 countries (Canada and Mexico) to 35 countries (sneaking in the last one TOMORROW, the last day of my 20s.)

They say your 20s are for exploring life and figuring out who you are. I agree with what they say…

And I don’t intend to let 30 stop the adventure.

Bring on the next ten years!

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on spending my 30th birthday ALONE:

I love birthdays. Cake and balloons and presents and parties and people. What’s not to love?

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When it comes to my own birthday I tend to have high expectations. I usually have to talk myself down from my anticipation during the weeks leading up to my birthday. Life is life; it’s just another day. I may convince myself of that on the surface level, but deep down my excitement remains. What can I say, I’m an idealist.

I’ve had great and not-so-great birthdays. 23 was meh. It was the last day of World Race Training Camp and no one remembered. I realized halfway through the morning if I didn’t say anything I would be living my own version of Sixteen Candles. How do you happen to drop the fact it’s your birthday? Awkwardly, that’s how.

“Say, what day is it today?” I asked the group of people I was sitting with.
“Saturday,” they answered.
“I mean what’s the date?”
“The 30th.”
“Oh really? Hmmm… I guess it’s my birthday then.”
Blank stares.
“Really?”
“Really.”

(Yes, that’s actually how it happened.)

24 wasn’t that much better (though I did get to spend the first half in one country and the second half in another), 25 was better than I thought it would be, 26 wasn’t epic but it wasn’t bad, 27 was interesting, 28 and 29 were AWESOME.

Last July I knew I would be traveling for work around my 30th birthday, so naturally I began dreaming about having my birthday abroad. I loved the idea of beginning a new decade in a new country. In March I found out I had a layover in England.

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The only problem was I knew I would probably be alone. I tried to recruit friends to join me, but time and money. You know how it goes.

A month before my birthday I celebrated another friend’s 30th birthday. Four of us went out to a fancy dinner in Atlanta. We talked and laughed and had a fabulous time. It made me wonder, did I make a mistake? Is spending your 30th birthday by yourself terrible idea? Would I be lonely? Or worse… would it be 23 all over again?

A few days later my enthusiasm returned when I booked my hostels. To me, the travel bug is more like a travel drug. It makes me high.

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I still wondered what spending my birthday alone would be like. This wasn’t just any birthday either – this was THIRTY. Was I playing it cool, or was I pathetic?

 

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13 Going on 30…

(Bridget Jones's Diary, anyone?)

or Bridget Jones’s Diary??

 

The day before I left for South Africa (my first stop) one of my favorite bloggers published a post about her friend who went to Paris to celebrate her 30th birthday by herself. Other women commented about taking solo trips for their birthdays.

I took it as a sign.

I woke up on my birthday in a hostel in London. I thought about how no one in the entire UK knew it was my birthday. It was my little secret. I got up, got dressed, and had breakfast (tea, chocolate croissant, and a hard-boiled egg). I took the tube to the London Tower Bridge and walked across toward the London Tower.

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At the London Tower I looked at the crown jewels and the torture chamber (because nothing says happy birthday like a torture chamber, lol.)

After that I took the tube to a highly rated Indian restaurant called Dishoom. The wait was 50 minutes, so I ordered takeaway and ate it at Parliament Square. With Westminster Abbey in front of me and Big Ben on my left, I scooped up chicken ruby with garlic naan and made a mess of myself. I used someone else’s leftover water bottle to wash my hands. I was grateful there wasn’t anyone there to witness that moment. (At least anyone I know.)

One of my birthday wishes was to get a picture of myself in front of something London-esque. I can be quite shy when it comes to asking someone to take a picture of JUST ME, so I tried snapping a selfie. It didn’t do justice. I gave up and walked closer to Westminster to get a picture of it. Out of nowhere a man asked, “do you want me to take your picture?”

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I’m convinced he was an angel.

I went back to my hostel for a bit to charge my phone and rest my feet. On the tube I saw a girl with a birthday button that said “I’m 8!” or something like that. “Is today your birthday?” I asked. She said yes. “It’s mine too!” She was the first person I told that day. Then the woman sitting next to me said it was also her birthday. What are the odds?

After my stint at the hostel I went to Buckingham Palace.

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I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next, so I decided to get on one of those double-decker hop on/hop off busses and ride it around (I already had a ticket.) One of the bus company workers chatted with me while I waited at the stop. On a whim I told him it was my birthday. “Really??” he said, immediately extending his hand to shake mine. I thought that was funny. “How old?” he asked. “30!” I said. He was surprised and told me he turns 30 in August. We bonded over that. He has a birthday trip to Croatia planned with his family and a few friends.

I rode the bus and got off after a few stops. I was still aimless and also a little tired, so I went to a coffee shop, ordered a chai and sat by the window. I read and responded to the birthday texts I was receiving. Also: Facebook.

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After that I wandered toward Queen’s Theater, where I was seeing Les Mis at 7:30. Inspired by a poster I saw at the tube station, I bought tickets online the night before. I’m glad I did because it gave me something to look forward to all day.

Chinatown was right around the corner, so I bought some takeaway Chinese food and ate it on a bench across the street from the theater.

Then: the show.

I had to ask someone to take this...

I had to ask someone to take this…

I knew it would be good — I didn’t know it would be a slice of heaven on stage. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard voices so striking, so magnificent. It wasn’t just me — the entire audience felt it. We were overcome.

It was the perfect way to end my 30th birthday.

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yup

The next morning I took off for Scotland.

Now that it’s over, I would do it all again. It would have been nice to have someone with me, but I also like that I did something new, something different, something adventurous; I faced the big 3-0 in another country, alone. As Carrie Bradshaw once said, “the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself.”

P.S. Don’t think I’m not having a big birthday bash though. June 25 and you’re all invited.

P.P.S. THANK YOU to everyone who made me feel so loved from afar!!

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on getting another tattoo…

I have NEVER been someone to get a spur of the moment tattoo. I got my first tattoo seven years ago and haven’t been inked since. There were times I considered getting another tat, but never felt right about it in the end.

Then I went to Nepal. While hiking through the Himalayas I thought, “This is what life is about. I need to remember this.” As we trekked uphill I spent my time focusing on my breath and each step I took. It was all so simple. On top of that, the mountains were relentless in reminding me how small I truly am (and consequently how big God is.)

Sometimes (…a lot of times) I forget.

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Last year was one of the hardest years of my life; I was stretched in ways that left me beat up and sore all over. I lost perspective. Things have improved since then, though this year has brought its fair share of challenges as well.

Like many people, I can get stuck in my head.

All that washed away on the mountain. I felt myself changing the higher we climbed. Some people get baptized in water as a symbol of new life; for me, in this season, I climbed a mountain.

And so, when my trekking buddy Drea and I threw around the idea of getting a tattoo of the Annapurna mountain range, my spirit didn’t brush it off. This surprised me and I took note.

Four days later I found myself in a tattoo parlor in Kathmandu, going back and forth with an artist about my potential tattoo. I was nervous because this was so out of the ordinary for me (getting a tattoo so quickly and in another country), but I was also aware of the settledness in my spirit underneath all my nerves.

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In Deuteronomy, God tells his people some really good stuff  (“love the Lord your God and serve him with all your heart and with all your soul,” etc etc) and then he tells them to “fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads” as a reminder.

This is why I get tattoos; to mark myself with the truth I need to remember.

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do i want it here??

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or here??

Finally it came to a point in the tattoo parlor where I had to decide if I was actually going to do this or not. I could walk away and leave it as a nice idea… or I could risk. I felt similar to the way I felt before bungee jumping. I needed to dig deep beneath my fears to that place in my spirit that said go and trust the end result would be worth it.

And so I did.

My thoughts were something like this: Am I really doing this? Yes I’m doing this. Oh my gosh I can’t believe I’m doing this!!

Even though I liked the placement on the outside of my arm better than the inside, I got the tattoo on the inside because I could see it better. That was the main point of me getting this tattoo – so I could see it and remember.

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Yup… that happened.

I will have it on my wedding day and when I have babies and when I’m old and gray. As the ups and downs of life continue it will serve me as a reminder of what really matters in life and how to get by…

Just breathe and take the next step.

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no social media… what’s that like?

I’m not on Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. Pinterest. Or any other popular social media platform.

With the exception of Facebook, I’ve never even had an account with those listed. It’s not that I’m against social media. It’s that I know myself and my weaknesses.

I love people. I love pictures. I love parties. I love being in the know.

I know I would love Instagram. Which is exactly why I’m not on it.

Like many Americans, I usually feel like I don’t have enough time. Between working a full-time job, working out 3-5 times a week, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, (etc.), nurturing my hobbies, practicing spiritual disciplines, seeking out volunteer opportunities, and spending time with people I love, it seems there just aren’t enough hours in a week. And I don’t even have a kids!

I also know how easy it is to waste time.

I know how easy it is to scroll through Facebook in the morning, in line at the grocery store, at red lights, during work, and before bed. I know what it’s like to complain I don’t read enough – but in reality I am reading a lot! I’m just reading Facebook statuses instead of books.

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Over the years I’ve done my fair share of Googling the effects of social media. Two common themes I’ve found are as follows:

  1. It creates a distorted reality, which can result in comparison / insecurity / isolation.
  2. It distracts and disrupts our creativity / productivity.

People are often in denial about the effects anything has on them (advertising, movies, music, etc.) I will confess at times I believe I am above it all. But I’m not.

Every year I deactivate my Facebook account on January 1 for three months. I do this for a couple of reasons. First, as a reset button to make sure I am in control of Facebook and Facebook isn’t in control of me. I detox any bad habits I may have picked up. Second, to take myself off the grid as I start the new year; to have less things vying for my attention so I can focus on what I want to get out of the year.

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It’s interesting what happens when you aren’t on any kind of social media.

I am usually the last one to find out about things. People getting engaged, people moving, people getting in car crashes, etc etc etc. This much I can say: good ole word-of-mouth still gets the job done. (It’s just not as timely.)

I’m invited to fewer parties.

It’s ironic; not being on Facebook (slash any social media) shows you who your friends really are. The ones who are thinking of you enough to make a little more effort, they remember you even when you’re off the grid. I don’t say this in a negative sense. It’s just the truth! People don’t notice I’m not on Facebook. The world spins madly on.

I plan to reactivate my Facebook account April 1. While there are many advantages to being off the grid, there are also advantages to being on it. For me, best case scenario is to be on one social media platform and to keep my boundaries in check. If I’m complaining I don’t have enough time, yet find myself aimlessly scrolling through Facebook… I have a problem. Time to reset those boundaries!

I think it’s important for everyone to be deeply honest with themselves about the power social media can have (or currently has) over his or her life if healthy boundaries aren’t being practiced. Moderation is key. For some people, that means not checking social media in the morning or at night. For others, it might mean not checking it all weekend. If you don’t already know what works for you, I encourage you to find out and do it!

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on friendships come and gone.

Friendships, I’ve learned, are not forever.

My realization came slowly, after years and seasons and friends faded away. Friends I lived with, traveled with, shared birthdays and New Years and secrets with, are nothing more than memories of what once was.

I was a senior in high school when my acting teacher told us our friendships wouldn’t last. I remember thinking, “But she doesn’t know my friends! We are different! She is wrong!”

She was right.

Some of them lasted longer than others. When I came home during college breaks I would aways catch up with them. We would laugh and reminisce and take pictures and plan on doing it again the next time.

As the years went on the reunions became fewer and far between.

One particular friendship lasted nearly 9 years after high school. At that point you would think it’s the real deal. But I came home for Christmas one year and realized we valued each other differently. I made time for her while she made time for other people.

I was crushed.

Looking back, I noticed the pattern and how I should have seen it coming.

My acting teacher may have been right, but she was also wrong…

Out of all my high school friends, I have two that stuck despite time and distance and everything in between. (One of them went to the same college as me, so that definitely helped.) It’s the kind of friendship where we don’t stay in touch, but we make effort to see each other when we can, aka whenever I come back to Ohio. The three of us got together over dinner this past Christmas and talked for hours.

After high school there was college, where I made a whole new set of BFFFFFs. The first friend I made was Grace. Hope and Grace… it was too good to be true. We were both hyper with brown hair – people got us mixed up all the time and I loved it. At the beginning of our friendship people thought we had been friends for years when in reality it had been just a few weeks.

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Those weeks turned into years, and when we were 21 I stood next to her as she married the man of her dreams.

She was my first friend to get married.

I remember driving home after her wedding in my bridesmaid’s dress and bursting into tears because I knew our friendship would never be the same.

She moved to Wisconsin with her husband and started a family. I traveled the world and ended up in Georgia, still single. Our seasons changed, our friendship faded.

We haven’t seen each other in more than 5 years and we rarely, if ever, talk or text. But we still hold high regard for each other. We still refer to each other as “best.” (Our nickname for each other. Clever, I know.)

With this particular friendship, we were actually on the same page with the distance that came between us – neither of us were hanging on more than the other. We accepted where life was taking us and let each other go.

We’ve never verbalized this with each other, so after I typed up this blog I texted her to ask if it was okay to post publicly. Her response?

“Of course I’m good with it! I cherish your friendship and you will always hold a special place in my heart as being my best in college. I do agree too [about our friendship fading.] Unfortunately that happens with friendships. Love you always!”

Not all of my friendships have ended as seamlessly.

Like high school, most of my friendships from college faded as the years went on and life took us in different directions. A couple of them have lasted. We still make effort to see each other when we can, which is usually once a year, twice at best. There usually isn’t much talking in between.

And thus continues the pattern of my friendships.

I used to fall hard and fast into friendship and be certain THIS WAS IT. Best friends for life.

When the for life part didn’t happen I often found myself feeling shocked and betrayed, as if said friend broke up with me and didn’t even tell me. Did our matching bracelets mean nothing??

That’s the thing about friendships – there’s nothing that really defines the relationship. With family, you have blood. With marriage, you have covenant. With dating, you talk about whether or not you’re on the same page and if you’re not, you break up. Both parties understand what just happened.

With friendship, it either lasts or it doesn’t and you don’t really know which one it’s going to be until it happens. The lack of clarity can be confusing, frustrating, and hurtful at times (especially when you realize you were the one hanging on.)

In the past when a friendship ended, I usually took it to mean our relationship had never been real. If it couldn’t stand the test of time or distance, clearly it had been a fraud.

I also used to think it was the other person’s fault when our friendship ended. They got married. They moved away. They had kids. They stopped calling or emailing or texting.

But then I realized often times it was just as much my fault. had a career. traveled. had other friends. stopped calling or emailing or texting.

Beyond that, I realized it’s not as much anyone’s fault as it is LIFE HAPPENS. People travel, people move. People get married and have babies. People’s interests change.

I know some people still have really close friend groups from high school and/or college (or other seasons of life), and that’s awesome. My story is just a little different.

Over the years, there are two truths I have learned about friendships:

  1. Most of them are for only a season.
  2. They are still genuine even if they’re only for a season.

As Jonathan Safran Foer once wrote, “So many people enter and leave your life! Hundreds of thousands of people! You have to keep the door open so they can come in, but it also means you have to let them go.”

I’ve learned to not be the person who is left hanging on and then crushed when it’s over; I’ve learned to let people go. It’s still hard. It still hurts. But I feel less like a victim and more like someone who understands and celebrates the seasons of life. I am grateful for the time I had.

Friendship is a mystery – you don’t know which ones will make it through the changing seasons.

I’m often surprised by the ones that stick.

Right now I have a handful of friendships that are in transition because of life circumstances. They may last, they may not. I will grieve if they end, but I will understand.

I also have a few new friendships that are blossoming.

And thus continues the pattern of my friendships.

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a follow-up to “on being 29 and single.”

When a Christian single person mentions their desire to get married, it is not uncommon for him or her to be met with a concerned look and a slight rebuke. Something along the lines of: “Perhaps instead you should to work on being content with where God has you.”

(Am I right, or am I right?)

In other words, it is only when a single person completely eradicates their desire for marriage that God will offer it to them. Until then, wanting to get married is clearly an idol in their life.

I’d like to unpackage this idea, because I don’t think it’s true.

Let’s start by seeing what the Bible has to say.

When God creates everything in Genesis 1 we are told “God saw that it was good” three times.

In the next chapter, God sees something that is NOT good.

Adam, alone.

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone…”

Interesting.

So there’s Adam, chillin’ in the garden with all his furry friends, in pure unity with God, and God is the one who isn’t content with this.

Adam has everything! Yet it isn’t enough.

God doesn’t sit down with Adam, look him in the eye, and tell him to be more content.

Instead he creates a woman.

Wo-man.

Not another bro.

Isn’t that interesting? God could have created another man. They could have tromped around the garden, chasing bears and riding bulls and beating their chests.

But God didn’t do that.

God created woman. God created romance. God created marriage.

God did. Hollywood didn’t.

So when people have the desire to get married, they are craving something God created. It’s not wrong; it’s not a sin. It’s holy.

What if the next time you hear someone say they want to get married, you respond with, “REALLY? You want to experience this beautiful thing God created? That’s amazing!

Or maybe, “You want to submit and sacrifice and serve another person every day for the rest of your life? In order to represent the mystery of Christ? You want to forsake your independence for covenant? YOU GO GLEN COCO!”

I get that not everyone wants to get married for the right reasons. I understand that sometimes people are searching for love/intimacy/affirmation when the only true way to receive that is through our Heavenly Father. And yes, I understand that sometimes people romanticize marriage – thinking it’s rainbows and butterflies over plunging the toilet and working through conflict.

Even so, I think people could use a little less correction and a little more encouragement in this area. After all, who are we to judge?

Again, wanting to get married isn’t a bad thing. IT’S A GOOD THING. It’s aligning with God’s desire. It was his desire for man to not be alone. It’s his desire for people to get married, have sex and make babies. We need to remember that. We need to celebrate it, not condemn it.

A couple of years ago I really wrestled with the desire I had for marriage. I didn’t like it (the desire.) It felt like a burden, a weight I didn’t want to carry. I couldn’t control it or wish it away. It made me feel crazy. I cried to my counselor about it one day. She looked at me kindly and told me it was a natural thing, that biologically I was designed to desire husband/kids/nesting, especially during the stage of life I was in.

That has always stuck with me. The way she said it was so matter-of-fact, as if she was talking about my body’s desire for food and water. It’s natural. It’s normal.

I am grateful for my life; I am content with it. I also have a natural and spiritual desire for marriage.

Isn’t that awesome???:)

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on being 29 and single…

The other day I caught up with an old friend, Allie, over the phone. We met in college and I was in her wedding a few years ago.

We chatted for a while about our different jobs and what it takes to be a go-getter in the workplace (especially as a woman), and then she asked me how it was being 29 and single. “Are you stressed, frustrated, pissed, content?”

I laughed.

“I want to be married and I’m not,” I told her. “But I still have hope. Possibly more than ever.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic lately. Every January I write a blog on what it’s like to be whatever age I am and single. 26 and single, 27 and single, 28 and single… and now, 29 and single.

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I have many thoughts.

Firstly, no one will ever know what it’s like to be 29 and single unless they too have been 29 and single. I think it’s easy for people to believe if they have EVER been single they understand.

I politely disagree.

Similar to marriage, singleness takes on different shapes and forms the longer you are in it. There are new discoveries along the way.

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One discovery has been in my relationship with God.

My family lives in Ohio and my community in Georgia is flux; people come, people go. There’s always another “save the date” or baby being born. My job is often evolving and a few months ago I moved from one house to another. The world around me is spinning. God is my only constant.

Married people have each other to fall asleep next to; I have God. This morning I woke up, rolled over, and asked him how he was. (He was saddened over some things happening in the world, but also hopeful, in case you were wondering.)

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When I was talking to my friend Allie, I briefly hesitated when it came to sharing this idea. “I don’t want this to come off the wrong way,” I said. “But because I don’t have a husband, I have greater dependency on God, and therefore greater intimacy with Him. Like, I get what Paul means when he says a single person is devoted to the Lord in body and spirit, but a married person’s devotion is divided.”

I wasn’t sure how Allie was going to respond. I don’t typically share this with married people because I don’t want them to get offended.

“Hope,” she said. “You’re totally right.”

We went on to talk about the pros and cons of marriage and singleness.

Con: I had one of the hardest years of my life last year, and I faced it alone.
Pro: I am closer to God than ever before, because no one else was there to save me.

I don’t take this for granted. I am grateful for it.

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Another discovery I’ve made is I trust God more than ever when it comes to marriage.

You would think the opposite to be true, especially since I have been utterly convinced I would get married every year since 2013 (and I’m still going strong! 2016 is going to be IT!)

Despite all my disappointments, I don’t doubt I will get married, and I believe I will know in my spirit when God brings us together.

Do I believe in soulmates?

Yes.

And no.

I simultaneously believe in soulmates and the idea there is more than one person for me. I am okay with contradictions.

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I don’t believe in soulmates because of fairy tales, I believe in them because of reality.

I was in a wedding less than two months ago – the bride and groom met in line at the airport after their flight was canceled. I was there when two of my coworkers saw each other for the first time – she couldn’t stop staring, he couldn’t stop sweating. Last fall I stayed with a couple in Texas – they met when he accidentally called the wrong number and she picked up (back in the day before cell phones.) I have friends who were in the same kindergarten class in Florida, didn’t see each other for 20+ years, traveled the world separately, and both ended up in Gainesville, Georgia. They are now married.

This is real life. And I know it can happen for me too.

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There is risk in waiting. There is heartache. There is confusion and feeling crazy. But at the end of each day, I know that if God cares enough about the stupid things I pray about (and he does) then he cares about this serious thing I long for. He won’t leave me in the dark or out to dry. I know I am empowered to make my own decisions, but I also know God honors sacrifice. And I have made some sacrifices.

I rambled about these things and more to my friend Allie. When our conversation ended and I hung up the phone, the lady on the treadmill next to me looked at me and said, “I wasn’t eavesdropping.”

We both laughed, because clearly she had overheard my conversation.

“I got married 3 days before my 30th birthday,” she told me. “And what you say is right:  you will know.

She affirmed my idea that as a single person I have fewer distractions between me and God, and she went on to applaud pretty much everything else I said. He will come. The wait is worth it. You can’t mess it up. You will know. 

I’m convinced she was an angel.

(But really.)

We chatted for a few minutes, and when I left the gym I had an extra spring in my step.

Lately I’ve been telling people I would love to get married when I’m 30. I like the idea of starting a new decade with a hubby by my side. My 20s were for single adventures, my 30s are for married ones…

Until then (or whatever age I may be when I get married), I will continue to adventure with me, myself, and God.  I will not let my singleness define me, just as I won’t let my marriage define me.

I am so much more than that.

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