I’m turning 34 tomorrow and I’m really glad about it. The kids at school the last couple of weeks have guessed me to be 20 and that’s so nice because who doesn’t want to look younger, but at 20, I was a striving, self-loathing perfectionist who just wanted to find a husband, so I’m not at all interested in going back there. They also guessed that I had not yet graduated college (bless them!) and that’s nice too, except that in college I was aimless - wandering into a major I had no idea what to do with while dating and messing up and trying to date again and messing up more and complaining that no one liked me while not giving the good ones a chance and chasing after the bad ones who were not emotionally available. So, no, thank you. That was exhausting. When I told the kids I was actually going to be 34 they said, “You can’t be 34! My MOM is 34!” It’s true, little 7th grader. I’m old enough to be your mother.
But I’m glad to be turning 34. I feel like I’ve fought for 34. I’ve earned 34. When I turned 30 I rounded a corner in my life that really changed a lot for me. Like Iris says in my favorite holiday movie, “I think what I’ve [found] is something slightly resembling gumption.” Indeed. When I turned 31, I started dating Aaron and when I turned 32, we got engaged. I turned 33 with a new last name, in a new city, practically on a new planet (mentally and emotionally). I worked and worked and worked on the house we’ve made into a home. I carried a baby until God said it was time and then grieved for months over the loss. When I was 33 I came home with a kitten that honestly pulled me out of sadness.
So I’m turning 34 now and I feel good about where I’m at in the world and in my body and my heart. I hope that’s something you can say at every birthday. There were many birthdays I couldn’t say it. There was one that I woke up in the morning and stood in the mirror and cried - I think I was 28. But that was before I found my gumption to say yes to some things and no to others. So I hope you can say you’re glad with where you’re at in your body and in your heart and if that’s not true, that you are working on becoming that person you’d be happy to be. Even if everything else is out of your control in your life, you are always in control of the kind of person you want to be - if you want to walk in integrity, honesty, whole-heartedness, love. A question posed in my Bible study recently was, “Who are you becoming before God?” and that stuck out to me because I realized I never considered it before – not when I was 20, not in college, not until about five years ago. I felt like an entity that the world acted on and around with no power of my own to create or form it – only to react as it came at me. This is all very untrue and the minute I realized I had some agency in it all is the moment I started working on the person I wanted to be and inviting God into the process. He was already there anyway, but at least I started to acknowledge him.
Last year I wrote a list of things I learned over the last 33 years. I still think all of them are true – I’ll stand by all of them this year too. But when I think about the last year and when I think about the year ahead, the lesson I want to remember the most was taught by a five year old on an airplane.
Aaron and I flew to Arizona in September. I’ve told you this before but I’m a nervous flyer. Some people can fall asleep on a plane in an instant but I’m pretty much wired to 220 from the moment I step on the plane to the moment I walk off, taking in all my surroundings, observing people, their demeanor, the flight attendants, the pilots - whether they seem competent (as if I could ever judge that. Ha!). So Aaron and I take our seats on this flight to Phoenix and as we’re settling in, I notice that behind me is an older couple and across from me is a man with a child on either side of him. The boy across the aisle from me was probably only four or five, but he sat back in his seat with his seatbelt on, visibly excited, and trying to look across Aaron and I to see out the window. His little flip-flopped feet shot straight out from the end of the seat and occasionally kicked back and forth, but he never made a sound, just content to be with his dad and wait for takeoff.
Shortly after our departure, I noticed that the older gentleman behind me was reaching forward to offer the little boy some candy. A wrinkled hand held out three wrapped candies – among them the little butterscotch ones that are like a rite of passage into the world of being a grandpa or something – but he held them out to the little boy, nudging him on the arm so that he would notice. The little boy turned to look at the man, and then looked down at the candy, his ears perking up a bit like an excited pup. He turned to his dad to ask if he could have it, but his dad wasn’t paying attention. “Dad,” he said, and then turned back to see if the candy was still being offered. The boy didn’t reach for it. He didn’t take it. He just looked at it again. When he saw that it was still there, he turned back to his dad with urgency, in case the man was about to withdraw his offer. “Dad,” he whispered again, this time tapping his dad on the arm. His dad finally turned to look at him and the boy pointed to the offered candy. Looking back at the man holding out the candy, the father smiled and nodded his head with approval. It was only then that the boy reached out and chose a piece of candy and gave another to his sister, unwrapping it with delight.
I turned to Aaron to try to tell him the story, but I started tearing up. Is there something about your thirties that makes you cry at everything? No? Just me? Cool. So I’m trying to relay what just happened because I thought it was so sweet. Doesn’t everyone just want their dad’s approval? Dad, can I have this? Dad, is this okay with you? Dad, will this make you proud of me? I think it’s early in our lives that we learn to want this kind of approval – partly because it’s disciplined into us for our safety, but also because it’s wired in us. We’re relational, we want connection, we desire affirmation and approval.
What does this have to do with turning 34? This year I want to approach my decisions the way this little boy approached the offered candy. He asked his dad first. What if we approached our life decisions by asking God first? Before we make a move, before we take a step, before we make a decision, I want to run it by God. “Hey, dad, can I have this? Should I do this? Would this make you proud of me?” I think that’s what it means to have a relationship with him. I think that’s what it means to come to him - to ask what he thinks and then seek out the answer in his Word. So often in my 20s I was asking, asking, asking, but not waiting for an answer – not listening for an answer by searching it out in the Bible. I just asked in vain, listening to my own voice, and then going my own way. “Can I have this? No? Too bad, doing it anyway because I don’t see any other options.”
More than anything I’ve learned lately, it’s that I don’t want to take a single step, take anything offered, move toward anything in my path unless I have first tapped God on the arm and asked if it was okay. “Is it okay if I do this? Is it okay if I say this? Is this from you?” I don’t want to move unless he gives his approval. We should want to please the heart of the father with our words, with our actions, with our lives and not move toward it, whatever it is, until he says it’s okay.
And if he doesn’t say okay, I want to learn to accept it and move on. If I don’t get the nod to go ahead, I don’t want to reach out. So often I think I know better, planned better, have better ideas. I think my feelings are more important than what he thinks. But if he doesn’t approve, I don’t want it. I’ve done enough my own way in life to know it leads nowhere good. As Lauren Daigle sings on her new album, “I’ve searched the world to find my heart is Yours.” I really have. I feel that lyric in my soul. So even when it doesn’t feel good, even when I don’t agree, if it’s not what he has for me, I don’t want it anymore.
Thirty-three was a big learning and growing and changing year for me. It was high highs and really low lows. But one thing that remained steady was the faithfulness of God to walk with me in it all. He is faithful and trustworthy and his plans for us are good. If he promises goodness, then why would I not want what he wants for me? Why would I not seek that out first?
I want to turn my heart in that direction – away from selfishness and self-centered decisions, away from going my own way and making choices that might feel good in the moment but don’t lead to lasting joy. I want to turn to God first and let him direct my steps – in what I say and do, where I go, how I shine his light into the world around me. Like it says in Proverbs, “She opens her mouth in wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” That’s what I want for my 34th year. Wisdom and kindness. I want to know the heart of God more. I want my awe and my wonder to be aimed up at him. I want my eyes to be bright with hope and wisdom to shine out of my face, a reflection of him who gives it out to those who ask. But there it is again, it’s in the asking. It’s tapping God on the arm and saying, “Is this okay?” And accepting his answer. The good news is, I think the heart of our father is like the heart of that father on the airplane. He wants to say yes to good gifts.
Walking into 34 tomorrow, I feel confident in the faithfulness of God to answer me when I ask. I just have to remember to ask first.