Before I began to write this, I watched Wimbledon for a few minutes. I love that Wimbledon, the ultimate tournament in my favorite sport, starts right around my birthday. Some years it actually starts the very same day. Other years it’s a day or two before or after.
I’m not writing because it’s the first day of Wimbledon, though. I’m writing because today is my final day of my 30s. Tomorrow I will be 40.
I had this idea that I would write about why the 30s have been my favorite decade of life. About how I’ve quit living my life under a dark cloud of insecurity and fear. How I’ve embraced who I am. Et cetera.
Then I started thinking a little more carefully about my life’s last 10 years, and I realized that some of my darkest moments have happened during this decade. For instance, at age 32, just after having my second daughter (which should have been one of the happiest moments of my life), Eric and I filed for bankruptcy. That was a process that would drag out for the next 2 years or so.
Bankruptcy sounds great, in one sense, because theoretically you get to walk away from your debts. (Not that Eric and I filed thinking “oh yay, our worries are over!”) But in actuality, what it means is that your bankruptcy “trustee” goes looking through your entire life awaiting the opportunity to pounce on any ounce of flesh s/he can find. And she found it again and again until finally we were able to satisfy her.
Five years later, both Eric and I entered one of the most intensely stressful and anxiety-filled times of our lives, as Eric’s employment was in jeopardy and, finally, terminated. Eric worked very, very hard to find a new job, extending his search across the entire country, and that summer was incredibly hard on us. I spent the entire summer trying not to panic.
A week or so before Eric’s salary from his old job would stop, he found a new job that would take us halfway across the country and would necessitate a hefty salary cut. But it was work, and we jumped at the chance. While we were both sad to leave our families behind, we were also grateful for what we saw as the opportunity for a truly fresh start. Our lives in Ohio had become stagnant and depressed.
Upon moving to Oklahoma, while I experienced intense homesickness (more for my friends and family than the town we had just left, which was largely a town devoid of vitality), I also felt hope for the first time. Hope that things could be different, that we could rediscover life within ourselves.
And you know what… I’m not entirely sure that would have happened had it not been for the most difficult three- to four-month period of my life the following year.
On the exact same day, January 29, 2012, my eardrums burst and my father died.
Here’s what happens when your eardrums burst. First, of course, there’s a lot of pain. I would not wish the pain of burst eardrums on anyone. But worse than the pain is the isolation. It’s all but impossible to hear properly when your eardrums are damaged. It made me feel completely alone, even when I was surrounded by people.
And that was combined with the worst loss of my life.
I felt incredibly acute misery. I was in pain, I couldn’t hear so I felt totally alone, I was grieving my father, and oh yeah, I was thousands of miles from my friends and family, with whom I could have had found comfort.
What happened next was that I felt the presence of God in my life like never before.
Oh, I had reached out to God during our bankruptcy process and, of course, while Eric was looking for a new job. But I’m not sure I really clung to God, really sought His presence and climbed into His lap for comfort, the way I did when I felt so much pain and isolation. And it’s because I had to. I had no other choice. My husband was working. My family was far, far from me. Even both my daughters were now in school.
I found this passage in Beth Moore’s book The Beloved Disciple this morning:
If life were completely manageable, we’d manage on our own strength, and no one would see the living proof of God’s existence in us.
And that’s just it. If my life–if my thirties–had been completely manageable, I would have had no idea of just how much God can handle for me. I’d have had no idea what it means to be tested and tried. I would still be weak and insecure, just like I was in my 20s.
(I want to add quickly that God not only revealed Himself to me in private, but also in the form of others. I had the chance to return to Ohio to spend time with my family. I also had an incredible outpouring of love, affection, and comfort, not only from my friends from around the country, but also from people I barely knew at the church I had just started attending. God’s love flooded me, thanks to about a hundred people in my life.)
Yes, I’m not as worried that other people won’t like me as I used to be. Yes, I feel freer to be myself, knowing full well that I won’t be to everyone’s taste. A lot of people will find me weird. A lot of people will be annoyed that I never have quite lost that Hermione Granger-ish tendency to blurt out the right answer when I get the chance. A lot of people will find my sappiness disgusting. A lot of people will find it stupid that I can’t handle intense movies or TV shows. A lot of people will squirm because I not only believe in God, I talk to Him every day and I believe He answers me.
And I would like to say that my 30s were awesome because I found the ability to be myself without the crippling worry that no one would like me because of it. But in reality, that’s only a slice of it, the popular view, the one that Oprah would probably applaud.
What I really have to say is that my 30s were awesome because a lot of the time, they really sucked… and that’s how I found out just how abundant God’s grace and mercy are.
I can’t wait to see what my 40s have in store for me.
Bring it on.