Feelings on 30

Feelings on 30

I turn 30 in a week. A few days before, I am supposed to organize my thoughts and say something wise to a group of twenty-year-olds about what the next decade holds for them.

Crap shoot. Whiplash. Roll of the dice. Circus. Polar opposite of what you imagine and want.

Too negative?

But I also want to tell them that their twenties will be rich and unexpected in the best way. That if they will do the work and keep showing up they will come to know a part of themselves and of God that is more complex, beautiful and mysterious than they could have ever imagined. That people will crush them, yes, but that more importantly: the people they least expect will show up and surprise them with their tenderness and quiet love.

Thirty feels big. I don’t doubt that a lot of this is my own doing. I am a sentimental celebrator who lives for traditions and parties and milestones. I believe birthdays to be the best day of the year and take them all too seriously, not only for myself but for anyone I love.

On my to-do list this morning I had to write a reminder to myself. A reminder to stop all of my party planning and celebration strategizing, and instead to focus on feeling and thinking deeply about this number.

Thirty. Three-zero. 30.

It looks deceptively simple. A silly two-digit number. A two-digit number that brings up a lot in me. A lot more chaos, a lot more tension than I have wanted to admit.

I have been planning for my month-long March birthday celebration since last March. A full year. Because I want to celebrate making it to this number. My twenties were painfully difficult, climaxing with an almost deadly mental break. It is by the grace of God, a true miracle, that I am alive, and I will never not celebrate the life and breath I am given every day.

But the truth is that great celebration and great sadness often walk hand-in-hand.

I have exhausted myself trying to make this birthday special. It didn’t start that way; it rarely does. But at some point I lost sight of loosely held celebration and began to tighten my fist, buying in to the myth of control. If I just make enough plans, if I only communicate my wants and needs to enough people, if I just plan all the fun things... Then maybe I won’t have to acknowledge these complex feelings, I won’t have to look at my bare ring finger and ask God the hard questions, I won’t have to think about a decade from now and what my life might look like.

And I hate writing this. I hate admitting that next week might be anything less than lovely. I hate admitting that in the midst of my deep calling to singleness, in my deep advocacy work for singles, in my DEEP belief that singleness is God’s good gift to me, that I am achingly pained that another birthday will pass without a significant other.

I want to be strong. I want to champion singles in a way that says, “Contentment is possible! And I am proof.” I want to run around with my 30th Birthday Registry and my fire-breathing Twitter threads like a singleness superhero--I want for all of those things to rid my heart of this nagging desire for something that I have no control over. Something I am painfully aware may not be filled on this side of heaven.

I like simple answers. So, if I can’t be married, I want to be simply single. All-in, no regrets, bubbling-over-with-contentment single.

Friends have begun to ask me what I am going to do Thursday (my actual birthday), and I have had such a hard time pinning myself down on what I want and need. And last night I realized what it is. The reality is that I can plan a manicure and dinner with my sister and writing time in a fancy coffee shop (and I will plan those things), but none of those plans will erase the awful reality that I will wake up alone and go to sleep alone.

The reality is that no one will kiss me on the forehead while bringing me breakfast in bed, and at the end of the day I will not kick off my heels (OK, I don’t wear heels, but you get the picture) and my almost-middle-aged husband will not put on a vinyl record and sweep me in to bed.

The reality is that Jack the dog will greet me with morning kisses and will be too sleepy to cuddle at night. And he won’t have a clue that is is my birthday even though I will tell him one million times.

What I am feeling, despite my best efforts, is that a birthday trip planned by my best girlfriends is not the same as a surprise plane ticket and a romantic hotel. What I am feeling is that a 30th birthday registry, something I've had to advocate for, is not the same as a bridal shower thrown by all of my mom’s best friends. What I am feeling is that no amount of March celebrations, no amount of communicating what I want and need is the same as a husband who will be here for the next 30 birthdays. A husband who is learning me inside and out and has come to instinctively know what I want and need.

To say that doesn’t minimize the precious, thoughtful work my friends Marcy and Caren have put into planning our girls' trip to Hot Springs. To say that doesn’t mean I don’t continue my birthday registry, to call for other women to follow suit and for married women to champion them. To say that doesn’t mean I am not going to plan parties and dinner dates and all of the things to begin 30 with a bang.

To say that is to simply say: It is not the same and it is not enough.And to say it is not enough is to remind all of us that noneof this will ever be enough. No party, no husband, no amount of being known or seen or surprised will fulfill this longing inside of me. For that ache I feel when I stop long enough to feel anything is the same longing I have felt since childhood. It is a longing for eternity. A longing for a love and a knowing and a seeing that only ONE can fulfill.

And if my singleness can bring me back to the One, then this pain, this sadness, this internal conflict, this shame about feeling so much need and want and never feeling satisfied... It will be worth it. If my singleness has birthed anything in me it is this beautiful constant realization that this world does not satisfy.

I think that is what I will tell those baby-faced college students Sunday night. I'll tell them to dream and create and plan and hope and believe but to hold it all with deeply open hands. I'll tell them to pray and cry and love and celebrate and suffer and come back over and over to the truth that we were not made for this place. We were made for One. One who is real and lovely and faithful and true. And that if they are going to close their fingers and hold tightly to anything in their twenties let it be Him.

I don’t want to be sad on my birthday! Maybe I won’t be. But maybe I will, and maybe that is more than OK. Maybe in between my manicure and my fancy coffee shop I’ll sit in my car and cry my mascara off. And maybe, in some mysterious way, that will be good.

Because the truth is the pain of my twenties didn’t look good in the middle. I might have repeated Bible verses about God working all things together for my good while I lay in bed too depressed to move, but the truth is it felt horrific, so horrific I wanted to die.

But today, now, I don’t just say the simple platitude. I see it. God worked, and is working, that deep pain together for my good and for His glory. He didn’t deal me those cards but, man, He helped me play them well. He is what I am going to try to hold onto next week if I find myself wearing a birthday crown (yes, please!) while hiding in the bathroom at my own party with snot running down my face. And when I fail to grasp Him tight this next month, my twenties have shown me over and over again that I will still be found in His arms.

Photo credit: Michael R.

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