Today, I say goodbye to my 20s and welcome a decade I've been eyeing for quite a while. It's not the transition I anticipated by any means, but from here, looking in the rearview with every amount of seriousness, I'm proud to have made it.
I see so many of my peers going forward in life. "Forward" by culture's standards, at least. Career, marriage, house, kids...
Unfortunately, operating on a manmade timeline doesn't account for the unexpected events of being human or outliers like myself, only a path dictated by the majority of society, and possibly a skewed sample at that. It also makes it too easy to forget that a Divine will—one I've submitted to over and over, despite perpetual struggle and doubt—operates above, outside, and beyond time. That misstep leads to what I might consider one of the greatest human failures: believing our mere mortal effort to assess our worth is a direct reflection of the Divine mind. In short, binding success to a rigid, human idea of progress keeps us from the Truth and only sets us up for disappointment.
What I've learned during this year before 30 is that maybe we've let our cultural, social, and religious comforts define "forward" for so long that we can't even imagine or recognize the truth of it: that we were never meant to be slaves to time, or to each other's expectations, and that growth wasn't meant to be a competition, or a universal standard.
Maybe we've allowed our comfort and fear to define "forward" for so long that as people, we can't step outside that safety net for a single moment, even if just to recognize how much experience and life we lack on our own. Maybe "forward" has been defined by what our feeble minds tell us we need in order to process our limited existence—things like an order in which life progresses, benchmarks we can meet to know we're doing it right, a sense of power over our circumstances, and an environment in which nothing challenges our understanding of the world or of God.
Perhaps our dependency on those comforts is the very thing keeping us from experiencing the fullness of an existence designed for much, much more.
For me, 29 tested, broke, and baptized every single one of my comforts.
Maybe we've let our cultural, social, and religious comforts define "forward" for so long that we can't even imagine or recognize the truth of it: that we were never meant to be slaves to time, or to each other's expectations, and that growth wasn't meant to be a competition, or a universal standard.
And I guess sometimes, what we really need—what I really need—is to break in order to expand. Expand our definition of time, purpose, and existence. Like my lungs, expanding requires me to "take in," and trust that the oxygen will be used to fuel my life in exchange for a substance that can't sustain me.
What if we could take in truths, stories, and experiences outside of our own—which, if we're honest, are our most basic comforts—and trust that those stories will reach the wounded, calloused, or untouched parts of our souls and fuel our growth...in exchange for a singular view that can't sustain us?
What would it really look like to live that out? We'd be forced to change, that's for sure.
What if we exchanged our fear of expanding for a deep desire and more holistic understanding of "forward" that birthed beauty, love, faith, and connection as they were intended? A much larger, detailed, and vibrant view of what it means to live as we were created.
Personally, I believe we can. It only costs us our comfort.
If you're still with me, then welcome to the disclaimer. This account isn't comfortable, partially because I don't claim to have it all figured out, and largely because at its core, these words are just a look into an extraordinarily complex and messy human being.
This year, I didn't get married. I didn't have a kid. I even took a step back in my career, depending on how you look at it. I didn't move "forward" how the world around me would prefer or feel comfortable celebrating.
This year, I got divorced.
I thought the months and years following that traumatic event were about finding and rebuilding solace in my own soul—making peace on my own with what happened. I told myself over and over that I didn't need to be loud about this piece of life. I just needed to be still, be quiet, learn, and heal, for my sake and out of respect for my ex-husband. But in the process of holding on to peace, my story has been written for me by outsiders and people who were never in the arena with me. That narrative has proven to be horribly inaccurate at best, and cruel and pharisaical at worst, so after much wrestling, I've decided it's time to speak.
"What if we could take in stories and experiences outside of our own—our comfort—and trust that those stories will reach the wounded, calloused, or untouched parts of our souls and fuel our growth...in exchange for a singular view that can't sustain us?"
This isn't the story of how my marriage ended, just to be clear. The last year showed me just how sacred that story is, and how protecting it in turn protects my soul. It also showed me that the select few who have earned the right to really hear that story never needed it in order to see and love me through it.
Instead, this is an overflow of a contorted, lost, broken, and eventually self-re-made heart, and how this experience has shaped a new and more fruitful way "forward."
This is an attempt to be grateful for 29 and all it taught me. An attempt to shed the meanness clothed in bullshit that is ruthlessly after my character, even a year later. This is the first shameless step into 30.
This year, over and over, I've had to learn that healing is not linear. That life itself is not linear, even the good parts. It's not marked by an event I can check off the list. I've done that, and to be honest, it's a hollow practice. Personally, I've found that it neglects and denies the unique nuances of our divinely ordained personhood, leaving the world void of that beauty. It keeps your conversations taxing and shallow. It keeps your heart dissatisfied or hidden. It keeps you a slave to your shadow. It keeps you tired and weighed down by the energy it takes to convince yourself to endure what you're bent on wanting. It keeps your thoughts inside, turning into questions, lies, and self-doubt. It keeps the emotion out of your voice when you sing. It keeps your life small and your god even smaller.
29 really showed me how not okay I was with that.
This year, I've seen just how uncomfortable people get when confronted with someone else's pain, or when their love is put to the test, or when they don't really understand but want to believe they do, or when someone's choices are different than what they would have chosen for themself. It's a paradox, really. We get so uncomfortable that we can't bear to look at the full truth with compassion, but the full truth is exactly what gives us the compassion we need to step outside of ourselves enough to make a difference.
It's been a disappointing year in that way. More devastating than I can say, and something that still comes in waves all too familiar, like grief that I don't know will ever fully pass.
29 showed me who my true friends are—and family, for that matter. Who really knows my heart, and more importantly, who cares to know it and hold space for it despite their previous assumptions. I've learned that people will use your story as a means to build a false moral high ground. They'll weave a narrative of you that bends to their comfort, even if it's at the cost of your trust, the truth, or their love for you. They'll also be happy to offer you their approval for the excruciating and self-abandoning price of the details.
"We get so uncomfortable that we can't bear to look at the full truth with compassion, but the full truth is exactly what gives us the compassion we need to step outside of ourselves enough to make a difference."
29 showed me how easy it is to be dismissed, and how badly uninformed judgment and unfounded contempt can hurt. Especially when it comes from places you believe are safe. To be misunderstood or misrepresented without your consent—that's the underbelly of divorce no one really likes to call out. It shouldn’t be a surprise when battles end in blood, but there’s still something jarring and unexpected about finding out who exactly you're facing on the battlefield. I've lost friends this year (and the years leading up to this). I've reshaped family. I've created some pretty harsh boundaries and wrestled with a new kind of loneliness, abandonment, and rejection I don't wish on anyone. That one is brutal.
I've also had moments of peace that are incomparable. I've weathered storms I never thought I'd survive. I've felt the depth of what it means to truly overcome. I've gotten lost in a labyrinth within myself deeper than I ever knew possible, and somehow found my way back to who I am. I've had revelations that have changed everything about how I see the world and myself—with more compassion, more awareness, and more appreciation. In those moments, though few and far between, I've never felt more seen, heard, and understood, and the beautiful part about it all is, the only human being on this planet with the power to witness and care for the hurts—the raw material required to produce such purity and vibrancy—is me.
Though fleeting, I feel dangerously strong in those moments, which helps me cope with disappointment in others, but it also reminds me that resentment is always right around the corner, and I can't let my guard down and let my heart grow bitter if I value my own integrity...which I do, wildly.
Every day is different. Some days, I need a miracle to uphold that strength.
I've struggled with how to process the last year to be honest. The divorce and the subsequent fallout. This thesis is the first solid piece of processing I have to show for 29. I'm a writer, but every time I sat down to write, I was confronted with glaring questions I'd never been stopped by before:
Why do I want to share this? Is it for attention, or some kind of ego?
Perhaps in moments, when I've felt particularly lonely. But overall, I think and hope that I can keep my heart open to sharing so that words—which have been one of the greatest gifts in my life—can move across my story into someone else's, and on both ends, we can know and decide that loneliness doesn't win today. I also recognize, thanks to a therapist I'll never be able to repay, that in order to be seen, heard, and understood better than I have in the past, I have to be willing to put myself out there in ways that allow me to truly show up for myself. That tests the waters of trust more than I'm comfortable admitting most of the time, but I'm reminded that no matter the outcome, I'll never regret not giving fear the last word.
Do I really want people to know this part of my life yet...or ever?
I don't know. For now, I've found peace knowing that I have agency over my story, and to what degree it is shared. I've already felt the blow of rumors and false narratives, but I'm empowered by the truth that people will know the depth of my story to the same degree as the relationship we have and the trust we build together. It's true, some will know what happened on the surface, but they won't know the 'why' or the 'how' or the 'how long.' In comparison, the 'what' is so shallow, and I hope 29 can help me become less and less satisfied with only knowing the 'what' of someone's circumstances.
Can I trust that this won't be misunderstood or misrepresented?
No. But I can adjust my own posture and expectations so that someone's misunderstanding or misrepresentation doesn't get a say in my healing or my identity. To borrow some words from Brené: "Our worth and our belonging aren't negotiated with other people. We carry those inside of our hearts. So for me, I know who I am. I'm clear about that, and I am not going to negotiate that with you...then, I may fit in for you, but I no longer belong to myself."
Have I healed enough?
Probably not, but I've made a life out of trusting and re-trusting the process—for better or worse. I don't know that I'll ever reach "enough" in this particular healing process. I know that today, I can write authentically, in a way that expresses and validates my soul, and I know that after years of silence, I don't really want to let "what if" rob me of that.
"I hope 29 can help me become less and less satisfied with only knowing the 'what' of someone's circumstances."
29 showed me how powerful awareness can be. I've always thought of myself as a fairly introspective person, but now I have tools to look inside and make sense of what I see, and I couldn't be more grateful for that. Through intense therapy, I've found truth that is utterly painful to bear—especially when it feels like the number of people willing to share the weight is getting smaller and smaller—but I wouldn't trade it for any amount of blissful ignorance.
29 showed me how fear and pride really can ruin everything. And I mean everything...
29 showed me the sad truth that people often choose not to come to bat for what's right when it means standing in an uncomfortable gap. It's easy to support someone in quiet places, but when it's time to speak up, the support stops short all too often. And I've learned how loudly those moments speak to someone's character.
29 showed me how damaging it can be to refuse to engage with people, circumstances, or yourself honestly, in the fierce pursuit of truth. It leads to others not trusting you to understand, see, and honor who they really are. Ultimately, it's your choice to live in response to the truth. If you choose not to, you are the one who will miss out.
29 showed me that I'm not willing to meet people in chaos or crisis just because I'm summoned. Their discomfort or lack of understanding does not mean my character is automatically on the altar for sacrifice. I'm not willing to abandon myself or my integrity, or compromise the truth and healing. I don't have to pick up the garbage that someone else has dumped on my doorstep—so I choose to not.
29 showed me that the need to express myself and use my voice is more important than the risk of being misunderstood or disappointed. Still working on trusting this one...
29 showed me how strong this body and this heart are. Regardless of how much aftermath I face now, I see what I have already lived through and I see that I am resilient. I have to trust that evidence when my heart doesn't feel it. Though drenched in depression, anxiety, and daily debris from the mental health battle, I welcome the next decade with immense freedom and optimism, even if it means walking into it without relationships that aren't able to step into an amended future for whatever reason. I would rather grieve and find the way forward than bend to the pressure of staying in the past. We have to let people grow, and cheer them on, and change the way we see and speak to them as they go, and learn to appreciate the art of them as they become a mosaic of their experiences. If we don't, our relationships won't survive.
29 showed me a face of God that so many are unwilling to see, and that He is gracious enough to show anyway, once we're ready to face a degree of emptiness within ourselves.
"I would rather grieve and find the way forward than bend to the pressure of staying in the past. We have to let people grow, and cheer them on, and change the way we see and speak to them as they go, and learn to appreciate the art of them as they become a mosaic of their experiences. If we don't, our relationships won't survive."
29 showed me the nuances that distinguish living as a victim from validating your experience. Victimhood will never let you have the life you want, and actually, it puts your fate in the hands of the one(s) who betrayed, abandoned, or violated you. Recognizing the unfortunate pieces of my life as meaningful, even excruciating, affords me a future that better honors my existence and allows me the possibility of forgiveness, beauty, and true peace.
29 showed me just how much a strong, fierce, and honorable support system can keep you going. I can move from this part of my life knowing I was encouraged and guided by people with integrity, and that I could check my heart against their wisdom—and their constant reminders of my own—every step of the way. This is perhaps what I'm most thankful for...the ones who know who they are, and the ones I'll never be able to repay for their grace and love.
29 showed me that despite this shining analysis of my inner wreckage, true vulnerability requires letting people in for the messy parts, not just for the cleaned-up highlights. This one hurts to admit because it is an area of great stubbornness and need within myself.
"Recognizing the unfortunate pieces of my life as meaningful, even excruciating, affords me a future that better honors my existence and allows me the possibility of forgiveness, beauty, and true peace."
29 showed me how rare and divinely orchestrated second chances are. I see in my life today how I needed to be made into who I am in order to show up for the second chances I've been gifted. I hope I can always see them as a gift, and I hope I can always love my friends and family from the well of mercy that has been gifted to me.
29 showed me another intricate layer of connection to art, people, myself, and God. And as much as I wish I could force others to dive into those depths, the fact that I can't is, ironically, a necessary cornerstone of my faith.
29 showed me that even in my most broken state—not only once I'm through this hell, but also while I'm in it—I have wisdom to offer, and that no amount of brokenness renders a person useless, expendable, or outside the sphere of Love. Anyone who believes or makes you feel otherwise has their own gaps and brokenness to confront. Their opinions are not tempered with wisdom and are not worth a second thought.
29 showed me that dressing my victory in shame and silence only keeps me from feeling grateful for how far I've come and where I'm able to go now.
29 showed me that I'm not too much. And that I am enough. And that there are people in the world who choose to see and love the entirety of me, not just the good, or the bad, or the unknown, but all of it as a unified, intentionally crafted soul worth experiencing...without conditions.
Despite 29's railing fury, I sit on the other side of this decade with gratitude, clarity, and boundless appreciation for the people, art, and even the pain it took to get here.
Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.
- Rainer Maria Rilke