Thankfulness at 30: Laura

It should be noted that she won’t be happy about this. My sister is not one to love the spotlight or to seek after public praise. But I’m the big sister (and have been for 30 years now) which means I do what I want. So, onward!

My sister and I weren’t always friends. Not like we are now, anyway. And my friendship with Laura has been the absolute best part of my twenties. This is the story of how that happened.

Our worlds have always been parallel, as is prone to happen when you have only known life without the other for two brief minutes. But for most of our lives, they were just that – parallel, but not touching. I think the lines started to bend slightly in high school, when marching band and young life and musical theater drew both of us in. But even then, we occupied different corners and were drawn by different things.

Then, we left for college – me to Pennsylvania and Laura to Michigan; both small, Christian, liberal arts schools, but again, parallel. We had the same sort of existence: classes, new friends, boy drama, chapels, meals in the dining hall, shared living spaces, crazy antics – but parallel, not the same, and aside from occasional visits, no longer even touching.

If our lives were ever to pull further away from each other, after graduation would have been the time. I headed off to a fast-paced fellows year in DC and Laura stayed in Holland, commuting to Grand Rapids. And I suppose they did pull apart a bit, as it was harder to explain our separate worlds to each other, and limited vacation time meant that we weren’t spending days at a time seeing how the other lived. I imagine that it would have been easy to continue on this way, perhaps forever; checking in on the other’s world, popping by as a tourist in an unfamiliar place.

But that is not our story. This is.

Not everyone is given a twin, someone to share a lifetime with. And as we turned 25, we decided to celebrate that fact, and take ourselves to Europe. Ireland, specifically, and then Edinburgh and London. And I think that’s when the first big shift happened. Every part of the trip was done together from the extensive planning beforehand to spending ten full days together. But more than that, in going to Ireland, we were entering Laura’s world – she had studied abroad there, and so she was in charge. And our parallel tracks crosses, and switched places, growing a bit closer together in the process. In between cross country bus trips, tours of castles older than our country and attempting to hide our obvious tourism, we had a lot of conversations – about growing up, and real jobs, and how church was hard, and what it felt like to watch our friends just two life stages ahead of us. They weren’t revolutionary conversations, but that was the beauty of them.  They were points of connection, pulling our lives closer together.

The next year, Laura invited me to join her at this conference called Hutchmoot. She had attended the year before and come home…fuller. I was truly honored to be invited, to get a backstage pass into her world. My expectations were fully set on being a spectator, perhaps learning more about Laura in the same way that an anthropologist might. But what happened instead was that the community at Hutchmoot, including my sister, kept inviting me in. They behaved as if I belonged, and much to my surprise, I found that I did. This has become so much more than just a shared membership. Hutchmoot, the Rabbit Room, and the friends that we have made there have given me and Laura a significant shared vocabulary. For the first time since we were very young, we were listening to the same music, reading the same books, thinking about the same topics. We were being shaped and influenced by the same sources, and in the process, without really trying, we found that our lives were starting to overlap. There was more laughter on our phone calls, more honesty, more shared experiences to draw on. Out of that first conference came two more trips to Nashville with a third on the calendar. We’ve road-tripped to West Virginia to spend a weekend with new friends and gone to visit the other to coincide with concerts or special events. In short, we’ve done the things that friends do. And we’ve become rather good friends along the way.

These days, we’re pretty good at doing life together from a distance. We catch up on the mundane details of our days as they are unfolding, through gchat; we text and call and FaceTime during important cultural events like electing a new Pope or the Olympics or the premier of the final Harry Potter movie. But in addition to daily life, each year since Hutchmoot, we’ve gone on an adventure. In 2012, we invited our parents on our second European adventure, this time to Italy. Parents are great because they come with nicer lodging and fancier meals, and if they’re my parents, they’re also just delightful company. Laura and I got to continue forging new memories together, this time with our parents by our side.

In 2013, the international travel budget was a bit depleted as Laura was paying for grad school and I had just started a new job with significantly fewer vacation days. Undeterred, we managed to find a long weekend to head south and pay Hogwarts a visit. It is not an exaggeration to say that I was just about as excited to see the Hogwarts castle in the distance as I had been to see Big Ben. Judge me if you must. And this year, we’ve gone to New York City to be together as we enter another decade of life, side by side.

My sister is steady and faithful, inquisitive and grounded. She is thoughtful where I am impulsive and quick to listen while I am usually just quick to speak. Each year has made her more compassionate and her many, many hours spent listening have shaped her to be wise. She is passionate about good and true stories and can offer you words with the power of transformation behind them, whether they are her own or referenced from another. Laura is a rememberer – she got the part of the brain that absorbs trivia and details, but she also remembers birthdays and milestones and formative conversations. She is a world-class planner, an excellently resourceful cook and a great reader. These things have all been true of Laura for a long time, I have just been slow to see them. And though I wish that I had come to appreciate Laura much sooner, I am so grateful to know who she is now. She is simply the best kind of person, and one whom I am honored to call a friend.

Happy birthday, Laura! I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Thankfulness at 30: Church

Growing up, my parents were baby Christians, who for the most part, managed to figure things out as the went along. Somewhere along the way, they acquired the theology that church was a good place to be. And so we were there all the time – Sundays and Tuesday nights, mid-week youth group, vacation Bible school, concerts, you name it. If the church was open, chances are strong that we were in the building.

I suppose that this could have backfired horribly, but what happened instead was that I developed a deep and abiding love of the church. I love church buildings, and pastors, and the range of personalities that faithfully sit next to each other week by week. I love the mission of the church – to make disciples and to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. We don’t do either of these perfectly – far from it – but even being given the assignment is a privilege. And I have had the honor of being a part of some wonderful churches.

My home church was (and largely still is) a community church. I went to school with 90% of the people in my Sunday school class and I don’t think I could find a single street in my hometown that didn’t have a family who attended that church. The pastors faithfully preached the gospel of grace and the people there succeeded in loving me well, which included telling me when I was in the wrong or had taken on too much. Even now, though I know fewer faces and fewer songs, BPC provides an anchor for me when I am home, and I am grateful.

When I got to college, I struggled to settle into a church. My mom is on staff at my home church, and I had taken for granted that church would be a place of known familiarity. It wasn’t until my senior year, when a tiny little Anglican church plant moved into the town next door that I really settled into rhythms of church away from home. The service was held at night and was followed by a glorious potluck dinner. That whole year, I was invited into the lives of families and into the community of worship. I discovered that I loved the ancient words of liturgy and of the creeds; that there was an abiding beauty in reciting truths that were hundreds and thousands of years old and yet true today. It was okay to be a mess there. You could talk about addiction or miscarriage or doubt and still be welcomed around the table. Hardships were met with tangible support and covered in prayer, just the way the church should be. To be so immersed in a community like that right as I was entering adulthood was a powerful force that only elevated my already high views of what a church should be. It was a grace – unsought and yet freely given, and I am so thankful.

It was out of this context that I moved to Northern Virginia and entered into the fellows program. Part of the fellows package is a church – in my case, McLean Presbyterian Church. And from that church comes your host family, an assigned area of service (5th and 6th grade girls, for me) and theologically-aligned seminary classes. Before I go on to tell you about the blessing that MPC has been in my life, the kindness that they’ve shown me and the wisdom that I’ve heard there, I must begin with a confession. I was a hard sell. Fellows year was hard for me and I pinned a lot of that on my church. I took most people at face value and declared the church too southern, too conservative and too formal for me. To be honest, those things are still true. But instead of asking if grace pervaded their lives or how they dealt with brokenness or what relationships there looked like, I pretty much stopped at the surface. And that probably would have been the end of it.

Except.

I had developed these wonderful relationships with the pastors during my time as a fellow. I’d been to their homes, fought with them about theology, told them the things I was ashamed of and the joys of my life, and had been met with grace and compassion. They let me interrupt their days and truly cared for me with the love of Christ. Although all but one of these men has moved on to other ministry opportunities, their love and care for me while I have been far from home has been the single most unexpected blessing of my time here. I am grateful that I will have all of eternity to say thank you.

And then, I joined this intensive women’s Bible study/mentoring program (truth: because the cool kids were doing it) and spent two years in the care of women who were bright, absolutely hilarious, deeply wounded, and completely committed to the Lord. Their vulnerability and encouragement was a gift – probably more than they could know – and revealed to me a side of the church that I had been blind to previously.

And then, I got called back to help out with the 6th grade girls and somehow just never stopped helping. If you have never had the privilege of watching a group of girls navigate the perils of adolescence and emerge on the other side, let me tell you first, it is hard and if you are even remotely in touch with how they are doing, it will break your heart. But it will also make you laugh until you cry, challenge you about how you live out your own faith, and deeply encourage you with all that they have to offer. My girls are in college now, learning even more deeply who they are and who the Lord is calling them to be – and I am so thrilled to still be a part of that process, even if from a distance.

After that came two marvelous groups of roommates that not only made me laugh and let me cry, but stood by my side to worship along with me. And countless friends. And families who have invited me to be one of their own. And none of this even touches on how fortunate I am to hear the gospel preached each week; to sing old hymns and new songs, all that speak to the same ancient truths. I haven’t told you about the rocking chairs or the couches by the pastors’ offices or the secret ladder that takes you above the fellowship hall. You don’t know how to use the industrial dish washer or where the pool noodles are stored for noodle fight night or where to find the special key that turns on the lights in the library. But after all, the church is people, not a building. So perhaps I have told you all that you need to know.

I have been well loved, sometimes in encouragement, sometimes in compassion, and sometimes in rebuke. But even on the hard days, I am so, so grateful. Thank you for being home.

Thankfulness at 30: Work

It is, perhaps, fitting that this post is delayed due to a long day at work. As a general rule, I’m an 8-hour-a-day kinda gal. I work hard while I’m at the office, make sure to meet all my deadlines, and try to make the office better for my having shown up to work. But by 4:30 or 5, I’m ready to be done. Not in a “I paid my time” kind of way, but in a “my brain cannot continue” sort of way. After 8 hours of staring at a computer screen, I just need to stop. I need to create something – homemade stew or a flower arrangement or a letter for a friend. And I need to turn my mind to other things. Sometimes I get lost in a book or meet a friend for dinner or just spend a few hours with a journal, people-watching at the town center by my house. And although that may sound ordinary, around here, that balance is a gift. And so I try to have a good attitude about the long days, because I am grateful that they are not the norm.

DC jobs that do more than pay lip-service to work-life balance are few and far between. Sixty or seventy hour weeks are significantly more common than 40-hour ones, and even more so as you move up the ladder. But that’s not the kind of story that I want my life to tell; I want to color that relationships and rest provide and the clarity that comes after an honest vacation. And in this, I have been truly fortunate.

Since moving to DC, I have worked for three vastly different organizations – the U.S. Senate, a small research-based non-profit, and a very large corporate consulting firm. The cultures of each have been as different as their dress codes and their mission statements. But in all three, I was able to find balance. On the hill, that looked like embracing the long days, but knowing that recess was right around the corner. Then, in the private sector, that meant conveying my own expectations for balance and them taking advantage of flexible work schedules and the ability to work remotely. Because of the generosity and flexibility of my employers, I’ve been able to routinely take completely off-line vacations, schedule long weekends with friends, and stay in Ohio for the full week between Christmas and New Years, even if my vacation days are all spent. My companies have sent me on trips to Ohio, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, and Nashville, functionally paying for me to visit dear family and friends. Particularly in my twenties, as I worked to continue nurturing old relationships and investing in new ones, this has been a gift.

But I don’t want you to think that my only gratefulness toward work lies in what I am able to do once I leave work; far from it. Although every job has its days of drudgery, on the whole, I have loved the work that I am able to do and the people who work by my side. I’ve been given tremendous opportunities to learn about the intricacies of our government, outcomes for vulnerable families and every facet of our educational system. I’ve learned how to talk to complete strangers for two uninterrupted hours and how to fix complex statistical syntax when one seemingly insignificant variable changes. I can speak semi-coherently about overhead costs and direct you to the coffee shop hiding in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building and tell you which hotel chains are most likely to accommodate your per diem. It is important to me that I keep learning, and my jobs have been full of opportunities at every turn.

During fellows year, we spent much of our class time talking about vocation – how work fits into a Kingdom economy and how to view the daily tasks that now occupied much of our time. It was impressed upon me that work is good; that by engaging in work, we are imaging our creator; that the actual tasks we were accomplishing were contributing to a flourishing society according to the creation mandate. This involved more of a shift in perspective than changes to my typical work day. But with eyes to see, the evaluation reports that I write are enabling programs to run more effectively and children to learn more. Sure, re-formatting a table for the third time isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, but it will convey the information better so that more people can understand. And that may be small, but that does not make it insignificant.

On top of all of this, I’ve also just had a lot of fun. I’ve traveled to new cities with coworkers who have become dear friends and had the opportunity to wander freely around nearly every government building. Alongside coworkers, I’ve gone office trick-or-treating (in full costume), competed in office-based Olympics, had chili cook-offs, recurring meetings at chick-fil-a, and engaged in semi-sanctioned limbo contests. Outside of work, I’ve met up with coworkers for happy hours, birthday parties and museum tours, and this weekend, I’ll be cheering at the Ohio State game alongside my boss. There are more than 5 million people living in the greater DC area, and I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the best of them.

And so, I am grateful. My twenties have been full of meaningful work that can be used to help our world flourish, and on days when it feels like the darkness might be winning, that is no small task. Beyond even the worth and dignity of the work itself, my specific jobs have afforded me surprising flexibility to see those that I love and to pursue my other interests. So thanks for the last decade, work. I look forward to many more.

Thankfulness at 30: People (There)

Nearly all of my twenties have been spent in DC, but they have been gloriously punctuated by dear friends who live far away. Before we get to them, two other thanks are in order, to explain the fullness of these relationships.

First, shout-out to mom and dad. Aside from seasonal allergies and unshrinkable thighs, I am grateful for nearly everything that my parents have given me. But it wasn’t until I left home that I realized one particularly rare gift that I had taken for granted: the stubborn persistence of relationships across time and space. I was never taught that people could be seasonal – in your life at one moment, then gone the next – and so it never became part of my worldview. Some of this belief can be attributed to my very stable small town. People just stayed, so you stayed friends with them. But most of what formed this line of thinking has been a gift, passed on from my parents. Long car rides were a chance for dad to go through his phone book and catch up with friends from high school or college. Visits to new cities were excuses to drop in on old friends and stories would be interrupted mid-beat with the directive to call up so-and-so and have them finish the story, verbatim.  My parents’ friends do not exist in frozen photographs or yearly Christmas cards; they are real people with voices that I recognize and homes that have been opened to me.

The second thanks goes to technology, or perhaps better still, the God who saw fit to have me born into a generation that would be heart-wrenchingly mobile, yet able to speak face-to-face with just the touch of a button. I’m still holding out for teleportation, but in the meantime, FaceTime, Skype, Google Hang-Outs and StageIt shows allow me to see the faces of loved ones across the miles, in real time, and Facebook gives me a window into the daily life of friends that a little more than one decade ago would not have been possible.

My parents’ belief in the importance of lasting relationships and the increasing connectivity afforded by technology have paved the way for the depth of these relationships. In my twenties, as I moved far from home and far from those who knew me, it never occurred to me that I had a choice. We would all just simply keep being friends.  And I am grateful.

Now. Onto you who are out there.


To my family.

You guys. You are the best. I can’t imagine having another one. We all genuinely like each other – cousins, aunts/uncles, siblings, right on up the list. Really! Snapchat and secret Facebook pages and sometimes even snail mail keep us in touch, when we’re not home for the holidays or together on vacation. My parents come and visit all the time and not just to check in, but to genuinely know and experience my world so they can love it through my eyes. Last year, my sister and I saw each other during eleven out of the twelve months – this year, we’re tracking at more like eight, but still not too shabby for living five states away. And if you take into account gchat, FaceTime, and regular old phone calls, I would guess that less than 100 days have passed during this whole decade that I haven’t spoken to at least one member of my family. They are the best, and just continue to get better, even though we keep spreading further apart.

To my other family.

My friend family. Mal-o, Seth, Steve, Kevin, Emily, Ellie, Rachel, Dave, Matthew, Adam and Larissa, in order of appearance. Most of you have known me for every birthday of my twenties. Some of you were even involved in a kidnapping scheme when I turned 21. And here we are, all these birthdays later. All I can say is thank you. Thank you for pressing in, through my stubbornness and strong opinions. Thank you for believing me when I insisted that it would be better if we all stayed friends [file under: stubbornness and strong opinions]. I’m grateful that you have used your precious few vacation days to travel to West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania – all for the sake of laughter and being known. Thank you for trusting me with the raw parts of your story and for patiently listening as my own layers pulled back. I would trade 100 ordinary Tuesdays for just one day of being all together again. I’m grateful for our holidays, but also for our phone calls and email chains and letters and Hang-outs. I’m grateful for floors made of lava and for croquet mallets and for Dave’s chefs knife. For planned spontaneity and systems of personal involvement and banagrams and fishbowl. For your honesty. For your willingness to stay awake until the last person arrived at home. For loving me enough to argue with me and to call me out when I’m in the wrong and to let me cry until I feel better. It is impossible to describe all of the ways and reasons why I am grateful for you, but they are known to you. Thank you.

And finally, to the Rabbit Room.

More specifically, to you kindred souls that I have met at Hutchmoot. Thank you. You are silly and kind and brave and faithful. A collection of souls that makes me want to live up to what you believe me to be. At best, I only see these friends once a year, and in many ways, it cannot be explained why I love these people so. This year, they will be gathering without me, while Laura and I venture off to celebrate our 30th birthday in New York City. But each day, they pass through my newsfeed, “ennobling the whole shebang” with music, laughter, anecdotes and prayers – a shiny corner of the generally dark interwebs. Most of these friends could not tell you where I went to college or what I do for a living or the name of my hometown. But they know my heart, and that is more than enough.

I can’t help but think that life would be better if you were all here, meeting me for coffee, coming over for dinner, sitting next to me in the pew. But the Lord who is over all of us has determined to place us in our own little postage stamps. Yet He has given us each other.

And I am grateful.

Thankfulness at 30: People (Here)

During the fellows program, we were assigned to make a list of our governing values – the underlying principles that led us to make decisions and set priorities. Among my values were punctuality, loyalty, learning, family and relationships.

But I’m realizing more and more that I am primarily governed by relationships. I make decisions based on people and will shift my whole day around if someone that I love needs me to. As is true of most things, this is harder to do in DC – jobs can be inflexible, traffic can destroy the best laid plans, and after long days, a lot of people just want to be left alone.

It can be a lonely world when you are prioritizing people, but the people around you have a different agenda. But from the day that I arrived in this city, I have been blessed with people who are determined to invite me in, to fight the traffic, to let me stay for dinner even when it’s frozen pizza on paper plates. And because of them, I have not been alone. My twenties have been full of rich relationships, open arms and seats at the table. And I am grateful.

I want to write long stories of all the people who have preserved through the anonymity of this city to make it feel like home, but I am afraid that my pen will run out and my memory will fail me. I was welcomed in when I was a stranger and given a home and the trusting hearts of 6th grade girls. I want to tell you about the movie marathons we had seemingly every week when Amy was sick. About the late nights spent at the black kitchen table at 5 Doors as candles barely illuminated the room. I want you to know the joy of memorizing another family’s prayers and how fun it is to offer a birthday toast for someone else’s child. I want to take you on walks around Springfield and Sycamore and Great Falls. I could write about the Easter afternoon spent on a porch swing with dear women, or about sitting in a van talking about how to love teenagers well. I could paint you pictures of standing Monday night dinners and open mic nights and progressive dinner parties. We’ve been caroling and camping and canoeing and sledding and seen the sun rise and gotten deliberately snowed in together. I have ugly cried in my pastor’s office and taken a moment behind my couch and been told that I would not die alone, because I have the love of these dear friends. They have inconvenienced themselves for the sake of loving me well, and that is the best gift I could ask for.

I cannot tell you all of their stories. Instead, I offer their names.

Tim, Jodi, Bill, John, Cynthia, James, Amy, Regan, Ryan, Dan, Mark, Betsy, Lori, Carrie, Maripat, Deb, Jim, Laura, Steve, Becca, Cameron, Megan, Marianne, Liz, Elizabeth, Janice, Amy, CPosse, BlakeHouse, and Dan. 

You have loved me well. You have allowed me into your lives and insisted that you know me in the process. There is no greater gift that you could have given me. I enter my 30s in this place, far from home, but still known and loved all the same, because you invited me in, and let me love you in return.

Thank you.

Thankfulness at 30: Place

It is easy to indulge in an anonymous lifestyle during your twenties. New cities, new jobs, new relationships – you can reinvent yourself every few years and few people would be the wiser. Perfect the art of happy hour chatter and you will always be invited to the next party, welcomed in the next group.

As I march toward 30, I am grateful that I have been given a different story. And that story has largely been rooted and nourished by people and place. I’ve tried hard to separate the two, but the truth is, they are inextricably linked. So when you read your place, know that I am speaking of you. Thank you.

I begin by being grateful for home. For the Village, which cared for my soul and fed my mind and challenged my spirit, even as I was beginning adulthood. But also for the big green couch where I read the final Harry Potter book, trading off chapters with Laura; where I sat to open Christmas presents and collapsed when I came home from college. I’m thankful for fires in the fireplace that twinkled through our wine glasses as we read Christmas cards; for my sunflower yellow bedroom wall that told me I was home and for the glass dining room table that stretched to fit all of the family at Thanksgiving once we were finally all old enough to appreciate that we had been given each other. I’m thankful for sturdy kitchen counters that held dear friends as we talked about our increasingly separate worlds; for the hardwood floors where I sat and played with my dog; and for the front porch stoop that let me watch the neighborhood and remember who I am.

I’m thankful for Grove City College – for the chapel gardens that heard our prayers of heartache and hard families and stubborn sins and the ever-sought travel mercies. For the apartments where I learned how to cook my own Thanksgiving meal alongside the friends who had become family, about the importance of carefully planned spontaneity and the welcome of an ongoing Scrabble game. I’m thankful for the way that the sun shone through the tall windows in the Gee/SAC/STU, illuminating the loud laughter of friends at the tables in the corner and for real conversations that were always more important than homework. I’m grateful for the hard, wooden pews of the chapel that caught my tears, even as the hands of friends pressed the Spirit back into my heart. And for the Hall of Arts and Letters where I learned to think, to challenge, and to listen, in service to the Lord and the world.

Other days will tell of my gratitude toward McLean Presbyterian Church and the home and haven that they have provided. But here, I will mention that place as a doorway into others. Out of MPC came the Sycamore House, the first place in DC that felt not like a borrowed home, but truly, deeply, a home of my own. We toured the empty house with dreams for its future – dreams that beautifully turned into reality. Shared evening meals, backyard bar-b-ques, costume parties, cook offs, dance parties, movie nights, bridal showers, snow days, and laughter – so much laughter. If a building itself can be a gift, the small brick house on Sycamore was an abundance. I’m thankful for lessons in hospitality and improvisation and the importance of always having canned goods and bottles of wine. And for the laughter.

After Sycamore came the legend that was 5 Doors Down. If Sycamore was a place for widespread hospitality, 5DD was more a place for rest. There were parties – homecomings and Christmas caroling and Easter dinners – but there were more meals with just a few friends, or, more often than not, just us roommates. We would come home from long days and sit for hours, drinking tea at our candle-lit table and processing through our increasingly complex worlds. All of us would start new jobs while living there, wrestle with heartbreak, struggle with deeply-rooted sin and talk through how to love our families, friends, and neighbors. I am grateful for the space to welcome in my beloved d-group and to sit and laugh and cry with them in the comfort of a home; for a “guest room” that allowed us to welcome in visiting friends and sometimes strangers in need of a place to rest; for the trinket shelves and the children’s books and an abundance of throw pillows. And I’m thankful for the movie marathons and late-night preposterous conversations; for the Red Mango runs, the wild accusations, the no-pudge brownies and the life that was lived within those walls. I’m thankful for a place where I could walk through the door and exhale, because I knew that I was loved and cared for.

As I enter 30, my house is no longer a place of comfort and knowledge, but largely a place of anonymity. And so I appreciate the depth and beauty of these places all the more. To spend a decade largely removed from the connections of family and history and still find yourself known and loved and rooted is perhaps the greatest gift.

And I am grateful.

It Is and It Isn’t

I wanted to title this post #30DaysTill30 but thought that my almost-40-year-old self would judge my almost-30-year-old self for it, and we can’t have that, now can we? But nevertheless, that is why we are here. In 30 days, I will turn 30. I will have circled the sun 30 times and done a rather lot of living in spite of also traveling at 1,000 miles per hour. It’s a funny existence, this life, if you stop to think about it.

Thirty feels firm; planted. It feels secure and adventurous and uncharted, all at the same moment.

My approach to 30 feels different than I anticipated. At 30, I thought I’d be married, with children, in a nice home that was owned, not rented. I’m not sure that I ever stopped to think about a particular location that this 30-year-old-apparition would dwell, but I’m pretty sure it was in the suburbs. I imagined friends – dear friends – who I would laugh and joke and cry with, and who would call me from the grocery store to see if I needed milk. I’d hoped for dinner parties and play-dates and familiar vacations; for a challenging and loving church and a vocation that was thoughtful. I thought that I would be planning for the next decade with firm boundary lines drawn that would define the next 10 years.

That is not the 30 that I’m approaching.

Well, it is and it isn’t.

What I imagined was the life that I had known – it was the life of my parents at 30; or the life that 17-year-old me perceived that my 30-year-old parents must have had, judging by their lives closer to 50. It had not taken into account the stress of having 1-year-old twins, or a new job or a new house – all of which my parents possessed at 30. This imaginary life hadn’t factored in my own temperament or choices or the generation that I was born into. And so, I’m here. I’m here, approaching 30 with new eyes. With different hopes. Not better or worse, I don’t think, but different.

Instead of spending my twenties building a marriage and creating my requisite 2.5 children, I’ve been able to find different adventures. I moved to the nation’s capital and met some extraordinary people who are daily changing the country and the world that we live in to reflect more of Christ’s kingdom come. I’ve had the gift of time to find meaningful work that challenges me and helps the world flourish, even if in small ways. A lack of family commitments has allowed me to give my time in service of wandering 20-somethings, energetic teenagers, and parents who need an ally. I have traveled the world with my sister and the country with my friends, even meeting new ones along the way. Dear friends have found me, and even if most of them don’t live in my neighborhood, they send letters and flowers and when they can, they meet me for frozen yogurt or drive-by hugs as they wait through layovers at Dulles airport. My church has both loved and challenged me, although both the love and the challenge have been harder to accept than I could have imagined. And this weekend, I’m throwing a dinner party.

What I have is abundance, with all the contours of real mixed in. There is much joy, but there is also deep sadness. I am well-loved and taken care of, but loneliness often creeps in. And yet I want to remain grateful. My life is a blessing; it is grace – undeserved and overflowing at every turn.

And so I am going to approach 30 as I hope to approach each day – with thankfulness. For the next 30 days, I will be reflecting on my 20s and the blessings that found me during those years. This is more for me than for you, but I’m grateful for you too, dear reader, and so I invite you into my window of thankfulness. Maybe I’ll set a pie on the windowsill or add some twinkle lights so you feel more welcome. Because truly, I am grateful that you are along for the journey.