A little reflection on turing 30 that I shared on social media:
I was running this morning, on the day I turn thirty, and remembering a list I made sometime on my early/mid-twenties of thirty things to do before I turn thirty. I lost my “Thirty before Thirty” list years ago somewhere between Sudan and Kenya. I remember a few things that were on it. Seems most of them managed to happen, however intentional or not.
I’ve lived overseas for almost 6 years now. I’ve called three (and a half) African countries home, though that was more than I’d originally planned. I worked really hard to learn a new language, and I get to still use it everyday. I’ve ridden atop a camel, seen pyramids in two countries, and camped out next them in a desert. I’ve run in races and even placed in one, and taught myself how to do a headstand.
Someone actually paid me to make illustrations for their book. I made some money off of artwork. (Check.) And while I’ve never made any money off anything I’ve ever written, it’s in the works.
While not on the list, I’ve made it through interrogation (in a second language), expulsion, and evacuation. What was on the list was something along the lines of, “Something brave,” and I think that counts.
I’ve worked with street kids, orphans, and now refugees. It’s a grinding day-to-day, and most of those days I wonder if I am doing anything that matters at all, or if I’m being the best person I could be in those circumstances. And while I’m still not sure most of the time, I think if I still had the list, I could, however lightly, make something of a check next to, “Do something that matters.” I’ve tried to feed hungry people. I’ve tried to generate income for the poor. I’ve tried to stand up for injustice and advocate for the persecuted. I’ve tried to love and to love well. I’m not trying to measure what matters anymore, like when I first wrote that goal, I’m just trying to be faithful to the Father, by way of caring for my neighbors, both near and far.
I’ve paid off all my student debt, donated a kidney, learned bead embroidery, homemade puff pastry, and how to lacto-ferment. I’ve become an aunt, and have successfully taken an avocado pit and grown it into a tree. I’ve eaten ostrich egg and freshly fried locusts, made assida (hard work!) over a charcoal fire, and can differentiate between regional Sudanese dishes. I’ve been on safari and touched a baby elephant (though that was not while on safari—at an elephant orphanage where it was allowed). I dreamt of getting bumped up to business class one day, and that even happened a few months ago–on a flight from London to Cairo I got to enjoy real cutlery on a plane and complimentary champagne before take off.
The one thing that I almost didn’t dare to write (and I’m not sure if it ever actually made it on the paper I had so much trepidation about it), the one thing I was almost certain would never happen; the one thing that I was embarrassed to quietly hope for, but didn’t dare place any expectation on…love. Three years ago I met the hubs. A better man that I knew could exist. And there aren’t words. There aren’t words for this. Just so much gratitude. Life is so much sweeter with him by my side.
It was a decade of intentions and hopes becoming lived experience through courage, tenacity, and mostly so, so, so much grace. Of redefining what I thought success meant, of figuring out where I actually stand politically, of finding God every bit as faithful and good as he says he is. I have pled with God and haven’t always seen him answer in ways that I recognize. I haven’t always been able to help those I want to help, or be there for those I wanted to be there for. I’ve learned that God is still so worthy of our trust, and it is ultimately him who takes care of people and not us. I have been humbled, I have been scared, I have been overwhelmed with joy. I have cried, and I have cried, and I have cried.
I’ve filled at least 40 journals, painted giant portraits, and learned that there is always room in the heart for more people. I’ve learned how to nourish myself and those around me. I have grown in generosity, and seen that I am nowhere near where I’d like to be in that area. I’ve learned how to interact across several cultures, how to be a leader and deal with conflict in a way that is still true to myself, and that I really, really like being friends with people who are much different from me.
I have more gray hairs on this day than I would have imagined a few years ago. I have been stretched and I have grown in ways I also never could have imagined a few years ago. I possess skills and experience that I’d never dreamed. And I am so, so grateful.
I have seen people hurt and abused. I’ve seen peoples lives fall apart. I’ve seen injustice and persecution, poverty and war. I have struggled and continue to struggle with my own privilege in light of these things. I want to continue using whatever advantages I may have to lift up others, and fight for systems and governments that care for the poor, the disadvantaged, the oppressed. The people Jesus cared about the most.
I have zero sadness about turning thirty. I am grateful and I am thrilled, and I can’t wait to see what the next decade has in store. No forty before forty list yet, but plenty of dreams and ideas and hopes and intentions. I want to keep learning how to align my inner beliefs with presence in the world. I want to keep becoming stronger in the right ways and weaker in the right ways. I want to live toward a kingdom that is not my own, refuse to live in the fear and anxiety and consumption that this world pushes on us, and be a life-giver, a peacemaker, and live like I believe that the gospel is really, truly, actual good news for the poor.
Here’s to thirty.