Turning 30

It seems appropriate that I’m turning thirty this year. I have to smirk as I write that, as if I had a say in the matter. What I mean is since my last birthday I’ve found myself in the midst of one major life event after another. Since turning 29 a year ago Kathy and I got married, we moved from Florida to Colorado, I started a new full-time job with The Navigators, and somewhere in there I launched my own small business. Going from one decade to the next? Yeah, that seems par for the course right now.

With all those recent changes you would think watching the odometer turn over wouldn’t feel all that momentous. Not so. In fact, I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around this new number. It’s like each January when you have to start writing the new year on everything. It just looks funny at first.

Usually in my annual birthday essay I try to reflect thoughtfully on the big themes of my life from the previous year, but this time I’ve decided to reflect on my twenties as a whole.

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Turning 29

Today is my birthday. I am turning 29 years old and, for once, I feel every bit my age. Maybe it’s because I’m no longer ministering on a college campus to students who are several years younger than me. Maybe it’s because earlier today I had to put Icy Hot on my neck to alleviate pain that I presume was caused by all the strenuous sleeping I’ve been doing. Or maybe it’s all in my head. Like I said two years ago my dad has a theory that you feel older on odd number birthdays. Maybe he’s right.

As I reflect on the previous year I can’t help but begin by observing how faithful God has been. Perhaps you recall the passage of scripture I sensed He was laying on my heart when I wrote last year’s birthday essay. It was Luke 13:6-9, which reads as follows.

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Towards the end of 2011 my feelings were telling me to run away, to reboot my life in a new place with new people. I was persuaded by this passage to hang in there, but to make dramatic changes. But here’s the thing. The passage doesn’t say whether the efforts taken by the vinedresser yielded any fruit on the fig tree. Likewise, I couldn’t convince myself that this passage was somehow God winking at me, that everything would fall into place in short order if only I would add this and quit that. It was more a call to humility and obedience than anything else. God was saying, “Will you trust me? Even after everything you’ve just been through, will you trust me?”

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Turning 28

Today I turn 28. I am waist-deep in my late-twenties. I am growing increasingly aware of the generation gap present when I’m around the college students I work with and minister to. I find myself in more and more conversations that subtly (and not-so-subtly) inquire why I’m not yet married. I’ve had a brooding sense of stagnation, a feeling that only in recent months has begun to lift. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I went back and read the birthday essay I wrote last year and was struck by just how optimistic my outlook on the year ahead seemed to be. It was the epitome of looking at the glass half full despite my typical proclivity to the contrary. I chose to focus on what was good in my life. It was an especially difficult choice because at that time I was in the middle of some painful and uncertain circumstances. But even in the midst of those events I can remember thinking to myself, “Well, at least things can’t get any worse.” Of that I was wrong.

I will remember the year between my twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth birthdays as the most difficult and most formative year of my life up to that point. It was a year when I came face to face with my demons, my idols, and my savior, none of whom seemed to want to leave me alone. Throughout 2011 I found myself becoming increasingly distraught with disillusionment, losing any sense of direction and understanding of my life that I’d had prior. I experienced God’s discipline and his faithfulness; I found him to be true to his word in ways I’d previously only read about. He fought for me even when all I could do was wait and hope he would come through.

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Turning 27

I turn 27 today. My dad says he always feels older on the odd number birthdays. I’m not sure I get that vibe. I will say it’s strange to think I’m entering my late twenties. I think I’ve reached the age when well-meaning individuals feel well within their right to question why I haven’t done this or that with my life yet. I’m not looking forward to those conversations.

My nonsensical cynicism aside, I can honestly say I’m excited about the coming year. And I think what surprises me the most is that my excitement doesn’t have to do with some big milestone or event that’s on the horizon. In fact, I thought I’d be traveling overseas again this summer, but the trip I planned to go on was called off. In a way it makes my outlook on the coming year even more unexpected.

I’m excited because, for the first time in a long time, I have a strong sense that I’m a part of real community. In the birthday essay I wrote a year ago I talked about how much I wanted to live a great story with my life, to strive for great things even in the face of adversity, and I still want that. But as I reread that essay I notice a sad lack of emphasis on the people who would live that great story with me. I don’t want to have a bunch of great adventures with an ever-changing sea of extras or, worse yet, with no one else at all. I want great costars in my story.

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Turning 26

I don’t think anyone ever imagines himself or herself being twenty-six years old. It’s not much of a birthday. I’ve been told starting when you turn twenty-five the only birthdays that matter are the ones divisible by five. I can see that being true. It’s sad to think that eight out of ten birthdays will lack a sense of grandeur from now on. Also, being twenty-five seemed a lot cooler than being twenty-four, and so far twenty-five seems a lot cooler than twenty-six as well. It’s nothing more than additional age. A year ago I still felt closer to twenty than thirty. That’s no longer true. To be fair, I don’t have any idea what it feels like to be thirty, so even saying it like that is a bit screwy. What I do know is I no longer feel a strong association with the collegiate version of myself. Furthermore, I don’t miss that guy. If given the choice, I wouldn’t go back. I have no desire to trade down.

The tone of the birthday essay I wrote a year ago is one of extreme optimism and triumph. I went back and read it today before I began writing this essay. I had keyed in on the desire to live life with purpose. I was asking myself if I was willing to rearrange my life in order to grab hold of what I wanted the most. I had formed a plan, and it was a good one. I knew what I wanted and I knew what I had to do to get it. Today I see a couple things in my hopes of a year ago that I didn’t see back then.

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