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.

baby goats always make life better

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.

r.i.p. michael jackson

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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About Hope Naomi

Lover of all things tea and travel.
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7 Responses to my 20s: the good, the bad, and the beautiful.

  1. Morgan Willett says:

    Loved it!! I laughed and thought “so true” many times throughout this. I even spit CFA lemonade out as I read the caption under your NYE pic. with Bethany.
    You inspire me, Hope! I love your transparency, the way you embrace life, and your willingness to take risks and dust off failures.
    Also, you met Donald Miller!? So cool.

  2. edolivett says:

    Great blog, Hope! I really enjoy and admire how you process your experiences in life. I think you do an excellent job of learning from mistakes/past experiences and you always realize that God is using them for His good. May your 30’s be your best decade yet! Here’s to more adventure!

  3. this is so good friend. I love it and you. You suck the marrow out of life. xoxo

  4. alysseay says:

    Yep… Love your life even more now:)

  5. chelseakim says:

    I loved reading this and re-living all of these memories. Can’t believe we’ve been friends for a decade. I’m so thankful to have a friendship like yours that persists through seasons and gives each other space to explore and breathe but always knows our hearts are together. To know you’re as committed to our friendship as I am is such a gift. Like we’ve always said–I believe that God loves me because he gave me you as a friend. xoxox, bestie ❤

  6. Brittany LaTray says:

    Man alive I love this. I 100% know and experience many of those feelings and tensions that you have walked through and feel; it’s refreshing to have someone else understand and be able to articulate them so well. Thank you for inspiring others to press in and press on!

  7. Katie Swan says:

    Love this Hope. I’ve been so excited to read this and it has delivered. LOVE you!!!! Looking forward to your 30s :).

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