Usually birthdays aren't such a big deal to me. On my 20th I celebrated that I was exiting the teenage years (with the hope that all the drama would exit my life, too!). On my 25th I joked about being a quarter of a century old. Now as I gaze at my 30th...I'm trying to remember that it's just a number. It isn't a big deal, I tell myself.
But the problem is that I have a hard time believing myself.
As I look back on my last decade of life, I see a lot of unexpected things. A lot of good unexpected, and a few less-than-good. See, I tend to set expectations of myself without voicing them to others around me. Then I get disappointed when my unvoiced expectations for my own life aren't met. Anyone else with me on this?
I always thought that by the time I turned 30, I would have an idea of what I wanted out of life. I thought I would be settled in to life, with a clear path of what lies ahead. This concept is almost laughable to me at this moment. Have an idea of what I want out of life?? Where in the world did I come up with the idea that I would ever pretend to know what my future would hold for me? If my 20's have taught me anything, it's quite the opposite of that. I don't think I'm ever going to really know where my life is heading, but I've come to be okay with that. I've lately been reflecting on where I think I might end up next year, and to be honest, I feel like I'm back in my senior year of college, trying to understand why life has all of a sudden brought me to this crossroads.
All of the other things on my list of "unvoiced expectations that didn't get met" follow the same idea, that I thought I could plan my life, but it turns out I can't. I thought I'd have more than one child by now ("two before I turn 30!" I subconsciously told myself), but that hasn't really worked out the way I thought it would. I thought we wouldn't stay in Thailand for more than a few years ("It's so far away - maybe I can find a place that is closer to our families" I thought), but we are (with much contentment - don't misunderstand me!) heading back in a few days for year number eight.
On the flip side, the last ten years have brought a lot of particularly happy surprises and twists and turns. Moving to Thailand, becoming a high school teacher, realizing that I love high school aged teenagers (haha - seriously, anyone that knew me earlier than our first year in Bangkok would know how big of a surprise this was!), getting a Master's degree, working toward a teaching license...all of these were pleasant surprises. All of them have shaped me into who I am, and have shifted my passions considerably from where they were at the beginning of my 20's. I have always been passionate about mission work and sharing the gospel with those who have never heard. I have learned that this passion is more specific: I don't need to preach, I need to show. I need to let the Spirit take hold of me so much that I can love the people in my life even when they are at their darkest moments. Even when I'm annoyed or frustrated with them. That's what it means to follow Christ.
I have learned that life has two sides, and I can choose to look at either one. I can choose to be disappointed and miserable because of my own unvoiced, unmet expectations, or I can choose to be thankful and see the beauty of the surprise events and unknown future of my life. I think we often forget that our attitudes are not based on our circumstances, but that we can choose to take an attitude that will make the circumstances more bearable.
For instance, I decided to take my thoughts on my 30th birthday and voice them on the blog, rather than keeping them pent up inside my head, getting frustrated that one one seems to get how I'm feeling about turning 30. Turns out (so far, at least) that this was a good choice on my part.
And so, with mixed feelings I bid farewell to my 20's. Farewell to all the traditional firsts of adulthood: finishing college, getting married, getting a job, having a child. Farewell to the notion that I will ever have my future under control. I mourn the disappointments of the things I thought would happen but never did. I cherish the surprise of the twists and turns, and the wide variety of sweet memories I have made.
All that is left now is to embrace the future. Hello, 30's, and welcome, no matter what you may bring my way.