Ask first.

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.



I turned 33 two weeks ago. It didn’t really feel all that significant, but for some reason I suddenly had these things on my heart that I wanted to share – things I’ve learned in my 33 years – or more honestly just the last three to four years, because I don’t know what my twenties were but a mess of hustling to be seen and loved. Anyway, that’s another story for another time. This is just a short list of lessons that maybe by my sharing, you will understand sooner than I did. They’re not groundbreaking and I’m saying the same types of things others have said in one hundred other ways, but they say you need to hear something seven to fifteen times before it sinks in so maybe this is will be your seventh.

Scrap the timeline. I mean it – throw it away. I was thirty when I finally got rid of my mental “should be” list. You know, “I should be married by now.” “I should own a house by now.” “I should be out of debt by now.” That list. Throw it away. Set it on fire and stop letting it control you. Who created that timeline anyway? Live the life you were given – it’s happening today, all around you so give up on “should be”. There’s nothing you “should be” doing – no mile markers to reach, no deadlines to meet. Holding yourself to fictitious standards will only leave you sad and lonely and desperate. No two stories are the same. Live yours – not someone else’s. I got married at 32 and if I would have been married at 22 like I always thought I “should be” well, yikes. The many single years I had prepared me for my story right now and I’m thankful for it.

Turn off social media. There was a point a couple of years ago where I could not look at Pinterest for another second. It made me stressed out, sad, and feeling left behind. I wanted to have a beautiful house and make amazing meals, and love my husband well, and do crafts with my kids, but the problem was, I lived in an apartment, I was cooking for one, I didn’t have a husband and I certainly had no children. The comparison game will eat you alive. It happens on Pinterest and Instagram and Facebook and sometimes the best thing you can do is shut them off. This is especially true if you are already feeling sad for some reason or another. Look up from the screen. Take a deep breath. Curate the details of the life you do have rather than the one you wish you had. And I don’t hate social media – I’m on it a lot. But exercise good judgement and listen to your heart when you feel like you need a break.

Go to bed. The other best thing you can do sometimes is just go to bed. It’s midnight and you’re up browsing the internet or refreshing your feed for the thousandth time, looking at what other people are doing, or looking at things you shouldn’t, or you’re out at a place you shouldn’t be, when instead, you just need to go to bed and start fresh in the morning. There’s something about the morning that makes everything feel better. Sometimes the holiest thing you can do is just rest. Sleep. And let his mercies be new every morning as he promises. My mom used to tell us, “Nothing good happens after midnight,” and the older I get, the more truth that holds. We rationalize in the dark of night, we believe lies more easily, we let anxiety tear us apart, we get into things we shouldn't. Stop. Go home and go to bed.

Stay humble. You’re not better than anyone else. Repeat that to yourself right now if you have to. I’m not even sorry to be this blunt – you’re just not. There is something to be learned from everyone, every single person you meet. I don’t care if you’re the best in your field, if you’re the LeBron James of your industry, you’re still not better than everyone else. You’re a human – just beautiful dust – with failures and weaknesses and strengths and triumphs. Admit your failures. Embrace your weaknesses. Be vulnerable. Let others in.  Drop the act. Let go of the mask. And if you think I’m not talking to you, I’m definitely talking to you. We put on such a show of self-righteousness sometimes and it’s gross. There is always something to be learned from our friends and neighbors and people around us if only we let them in. The sooner you realize this, the more freedom you will walk in.

Create a routine. Our bodies run on rhythms and seasons. We were made for them. Just like the day fades to night and into day again on a set path, in a regular pattern, our bodies and minds were made for routines. Create rhythms for your life. If this means getting up at the same time every day, going to bed at the same time, creating a nighttime ritual, going on a daily walk, creating space for specific things you do each season, whatever it means for you. Create a routine that works for you. You will feel more steady and stable and grounded.

Work on your fitness. You will be amazed at how your body feels if you just go for a walk and breathe some fresh air. Stop letting your scrolling thumbs get all the exercise and move your legs. I know that when I’m in a bad headspace, it’s usually because I need to go workout and let endorphins flood those blank, dark corners of my mind.

Do the next thing. I was easily overwhelmed in school, which is funny because school was actually fairly easy for me, but every first day when I would get the syllabus, it about threw me into a panic looking at all the work we had to do. So I’d be scrambling at the kitchen counter and flipping through all the stuff I had to do and my mom said to me one day, “Just do the next thing.” Whatever that next thing is, stop and focus on that one thing. Stop thinking about all the things at once. Do the next thing and then the next after that. I find this is good in any kind of anxiety or worry situation. I’ve had to tell myself a lot over the last couple months – rather than feel homesick and wallow in my feelings, I’ve had to just do the next thing. Clean the house. Go to the grocery store. Make the bed. Run the errand. Rather than let circumstances overwhelm, confuse, or worry you, just do the next thing and the next and the next.

Say it. John Mayer had it right back in 2006 when he sang, “Say what you need to say.” I’ve told you before to use your words, but I’m saying it again because it's worth repeating. I think this especially applies to dating. We hold back a lot of times because we think, “Gosh, I don’t want to say that. What if he/she doesn’t like me?” Well, then golly, if they don’t like you over that thing you want to say, wouldn’t you want to know now and move on before you get in deeper? Or at what point will it be a good time to start speaking your true feelings instead of holding back? A year from now? Once you both think you’re in love and then suddenly you’re speaking truth and the other person is like, “Wait, where is this coming from? Who are you?” Yikes. Start honest. Start truthful. Say what you need to say and then they’ll never be able to say they didn’t know.

Let it hurt. I listened to a sermon one time where he quoted Blaise Pascal who said, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views... This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” We all seek our own joy, and in the same vein, we will do whatever we can to avoid pain. We don’t want anything to hurt. We don’t want to be sad. We don’t want to cry. It’s why we don’t end relationships that need to be ended. We don’t address and deal with the past. We avoid, stuff, hide and run from anything that might feel a little ouchy.  I realized at one point in my life that I was afraid to feel heartbreak. I didn’t want to feel it again. I didn’t want it to swallow me whole like it did the first time. So I stayed in a relationship and let it drag me through the mud until one day, I’ll never forget, I just thought to myself, “Well, I guess it’s going to hurt. And it’s going to suck for a little while. But I will live.” I had to admit that it was going to hurt and I would probably cry. But it would not kill me. Deal with your pain. Let it hurt. Walk through it with someone else. Let them be there for you. On the other side of that temporary pain is the whole rest of your life.

Serve. We all know the saying that it’s better to give than to receive, but are you putting that into action? Over the course of my 33 years I’ve served in youth ministry, on the sermon transcription team, at the hospital, at a coffee shop, and in an English language learners program and each of them enriched my life in a different way. There’s something about taking the focus off of yourself and giving your time, your talents, your gifts and abilities to help enrich the lives of others that will bring you great joy.

Be grateful. We are expert complainers. I know I am. It’s the default position of my heart some days and it takes a conscious effort to stop complaining and start being thankful. If you find yourself in a downward spiral of complaining, stop your heart in its tracks and declare five things you’re thankful for immediately.

Open the door. I know that it takes a lot of work to have people over and open your home and maybe you feel like it’s not perfect or it’s not as nice as so-and-so’s house but often I’ve seen that people just want a place to come and relax and simply be. I have a couple of friends that are so good at this – opening their home and their hearts and making everyone and anyone feel welcome. We’re all looking for a place to belong. We all want community. Maybe it starts with you simply opening the door. As Myquillan Smith says, “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.”

Call your family. They won’t always be there. I lost my grandpa earlier this year and it’s amazing how often that still gets to me and at the most random times. So call your mom or your dad or text your brother or your sister or your friend that feels like family and let them know that you love them - that you’re thankful they’re part of your story. We get so caught up in ourselves that we do a bad job of letting people know how we feel. We need to say I love you a lot more often.

Stop keeping secrets. Duplicity will kill you. It will tangle up your feet, eat away at your sanity and steal the years of your life. Whatever it is – drag it into the light by speaking it. Stop living a secret life. No one is cut out for that kind of pressure. If someone ever says to you, “Don’t tell,” telling is likely the very first thing you should do. Not always – but more often than not. If there’s something weighing you down that you don’t think anyone else will accept about you, well then see below.

See a counselor. Counseling changed my life in unending ways. It will help you see your story through a different lens and with more clarity. A counselor can help you talk through things you didn’t think would ever leave your tongue. There’s something about sharing it all out loud that helps it all feel more tangible and real and gives you the tools to help you handle it whether it’s a past or present situation. Seeing a counselor is not for the weak - it's for those who value being the most healthy version of themselves. 

Consider Jesus. Beth Moore tweeted the other day that if you’re drowning in cynicism, maybe it’s time you heed the words of Hebrews 3:1 and “…consider Jesus…” I know I write around it a lot and hint at it and nudge you toward it in some veiled ways, but I really think the best thing you can do for yourself at 23 or 93 is decide where you’re at with Jesus. When you’ve tried everything else and you’re still coming up empty-handed on why we’re here and what our purpose is in this life or how to handle all the messed up things in the world, well then, maybe it’s time you consider Jesus. I just finished reading The Reason for God by Tim Keller and it’s for every person who has ever doubted or wondered or felt skeptical – so what I mean to say is that it’s for everyone and perhaps will be your starting point for considering Jesus.

Maybe this is the place where I should finish with more lighthearted things like, Listen to more Taylor Swift, Eat the brownie, Buy a good dry texture spray, or Play more Scattergories. While I do believe those things, especially the part about a texture spray, I'll just leave it here for now. 

With love from my 33 year old heart,