Today is my birthday. I have to say that, right out loud, in black and white, because otherwise I might sulk the rest of the day and how is that any way to ring in a new decade?
A friend tells me as the minutes tick past midnight last night that the 30s have been the best years of his life. He's only on the third one though, so what does he know?
I thought of making a list of 30 things I'm grateful for, but eh. Or the 30 things I'm looking forward to, again eh. So here's what I'm going to do: tell you about 30 people for whom I'm thankful, people who have quite frankly rocked my world and helped me make it this far. They might be dead or alive, known to you or unknown, but they're real people who've shaped me and helped mold me. They will be in no particular order, I might even change up the order once I finish writing it, just to throw you off. I might pair up couples and count them as one, God does. And to be honest, I might have trouble keeping it to 30, so if you don't make the list, don't feel badly, you might have been number 31.
Deep breath, this is long, feel free to skim:
Louissa: (well, of course she's first, but she's the only one in order, so don't get any ideas...) I tell Louissa she is the best person I know and I really feel like that's true. You don't have to agree. But If you were to take all the best qualities of all the best people in the world, you would end up with Louissa. God knew what He was doing with her. She teaches me about patience and unconditional love. She doesn't let me get away with anything.
Daniel: Daniel isn't just a pastor or a boss to me. He's my friend. He patiently listened to a lot of very confusing talk coming out of my mouth in the past few years and repeated back to me both not what I was saying at all and exactly what I was trying to say. He challenges me, reigns me in, asks me very hard questions, and then leaves the room with no settled answer because he knows that that's the only way I'll figure it out. He teaches me to dig deeply for answers.
Mary: You know the places you go that feel like home? You walk in the front door and no matter what's going on, you know you're home? Since I was 13 years old, in the multiple homes in which their family has inhabited, I have been home in the Bergey House. Conversation over tea, her coming into a warzone of 13 year old giggles and early 20s giggles and now, 30 year old giggles, talks about life and healing. Mary has taught me that the most healing salve of all is open arms and a place of safety.
Andrea: Rarely do you have the opportunity to watch something really, really beautiful unfold. Usually you have the insight to know it's already beautiful, or you're partial and biased and think it's all potential filled. But with this friend, every day I get to watch another piece of beauty unfold. I get to see something be made whole. Andrea teaches me about beauty from ashes.
Dad: He has taught me to think critically about everything, to judge by the fruit but also by the logic. He teaches me to ask how and why, to not let things happen, but to make things happen. He teaches me that life is hard, but you persevere, you go on.
Danica: Danica teaches me how you can be strong and weak at the same time. How you can be completely confident and completely incapable at the same time. Danica is tall and graceful and trips over things. She speaks life and truth and struggles through things. You have to dig sometimes, to get to the deep parts, but when you do you find that she is not perfect, but she is pliable and humble. D teaches me to be confident, and to say that I am not confident.
Rick: For almost a decade of my life this man has shepherded me through disappointments and joys, decisions and fears. He has called things what they are and also called out things that didn't seem to be at all. He has loved me and pastored me and bossed me and fathered me. He teaches me about compassion and humility.
Mark: Mark does things. I've never been able to really figure out what Mark does, but he does things and he learns things that takes some people a lifetime to learn. He makes mistakes, but he might be the only person I know who is really okay with those mistakes. He owns them. He teaches me what not to do and has a very stern voice whenever I suggest doing something a different way.
Nicholas: Nicholas was one of the first people in my life who saw a lot of my ugliness and persevered with me. He would sit and listen to me hash for hours and reply with steady faith and the word of God. He taught me about love and how love is not a feeling or an emotion. Nicholas teaches me that love hopes all things, even the messy things.
Steve and Sara: Remember what I said about Andrea? About beauty unfolding? Yeah. Again here. Two broken things made whole right in front of my eyes. There is no one I know better than these two to be simultaneously broken and whole. When I watch them suffer or succeed, it teaches me that a soul that is broken and contrite in the Lord is a soul that can be reconciled in every circumstance. Steve and Sara teach me about humility.
Matt Chandler: His sermon changed my life this spring. I can't say that and not have it sound trite, it's just the way things are. It poked at the very deepest parts of me and said, "Hey honey? You got it all wrong." In my time spent here in Texas, sitting under his teaching, every sermon is changing my life. This man teaches me about the heart, the deepest part of Who God Is.
Mom: My mom is one of the most creative people I know, she takes nothing and makes it something and she has done this my entire life. I will never forget her response to someone when I was 13 and a living hell, "When Lore decides to right her life, she'll do it 210% and not a moment before." If that isn't taking nothing and making something, I don't know what is. Mom teaches me to stare at nothing and make it something.
Danny: When we were young, 10 and 12, or 16 and 18, we argued constantly. I remember clearly thinking, I hate my little brother. I don't know when that changed. I don't remember waking up one day and thinking, I love my brother, but it happened. You hear things like you can't choose your family, but I have to be honest, if I did get to choose my family, I'd choose this one. I'd choose him. Danny teaches me about forgiveness and moving on.
Madeleine L'Engle: When I was 14 years old, still unclear on my verbs and adverbs, I read a book by Madeleine that changed my life. I closed that book and said to myself, I'm going to write. I'm going to say things and make a difference with my writing. And the truth is, I don't know if I have made a difference, somewhere along the way that stopped mattering to me, but I keep writing. I keep writing because Madeleine charged me with it. She teaches me to keep writing.
Mom-mom: I'm sure if she was still alive I wouldn't call her that, but she died when I was pretty young, so she's forever marked at that. Sometimes my mom will tell me that I do things like her mom or that I'm so much like her. I know we're both short and have other physical characteristics in common, but there's more there. I have faint memories of her, her smell, her home, her things and I think those things stick with me, the way I do things, decorate things, make things. I'm grateful that death doesn't change DNA and I'm grateful that I have a bit of hers.
Nan: There is something about knowing that someone believes in you. Not in your superpowers or talents, just your normality and person. I have never felt so believed in, so encouraged and so shaped by someone's belief that what I am today doesn't define what I am in weeks or years. Nan teaches me about being believy [sic].
Bean: If Nan has taught me by believing in me, Bean has taught me by allowing me to believe in her. Bean is one of the most talented people I know. Blessed with more gifts than she can handle, she's thorough and intentional about blessing others with them. She has taught me to work hard, to refine even the things that come naturally.
Lisa and Eric: Want in on a secret? You won't find two more fun and crazy and Jesus loving people than these. I don't have much else to say about them than that. They teach me that you can be serious about kids, a family, a home, and live completely counterculturally. They teach me about owning what I say I believe, and not letting anything own me.
Andrew: I told you not everyone would be alive, didn't I? Andrew still teaches me though. He teaches me to not be afraid to share my story, to be honest, to tell the details that make people uncomfortable sometimes. He teaches me that death is the great enemy, but it is also a great friend when it becomes part of something bigger. He teaches me that once you have lived, no one can take that away from you.
Michael: Michael taught me to write. Honest to goodness. He says now that I've surpassed him and he can't read my emails without feeling envious of my words, but I think he's just being nice. Besides, it's easy to write for people who say they like what you write. But seriously, when I was 15 and didn't really know the difference between a verb and an adverb and didn't really care, he was patient and wrote me a copious amount of emails helping me learn. He teaches me about overlooking faults.
Jacqui: When I first met Jacqui she was 25 I think and so old. She was my oldest friend and in my mind I'd never catch up to her. Which is true, I guess. So many times in the past five years of my life I have said things and heard Jacqui's voice in my head. I catch myself doing it and laugh, she does too when I tell her the crazy things I think and say. When she turned 30 I told her she was so old. I'm thankful that Jacqui will always be five years older than me. Jacqui teaches me to laugh at the unchangeables, like age.
Derek: I don't know if we always know it, not at the time, but watching the way a person suffers changes the way you think about them. And for me, watching Derek, it changed the way I thought about God. It still changes the way I think about God. If I had known that a few years later I'd be on much the same track as him, I might have paid more attention. I'm so grateful for a man who didn't always suffer well, but who points to God in his weakness and in his success. Derek teaches me to be weak.
Darlene: If you were to tell me that someone could be a strong, vibrant, talented, opinionated, beautiful woman and a humble, submissive, respectful, honoring wife before I met Darlene, I wouldn't have believed you. I wouldn't have, I promise you. I thought you had to be one or the other. Darlene teaches me that a woman is most fully alive when she is being exactly who God created her to be, without exception.
Dr. Funston: Dr. Funston was the dreaded teacher, the English class everyone avoided. She was brisk, mean, fault-finding and a hard grader. She was also the first teacher I had in my English major. She changed the way I read literature. She changed the way I read people. She gave me an A in the class and wrote a note on my final paper: You've been a pleasure to have around. When I transferred to a different school at the end of the year, she had tears in her eyes when she said goodbye. Dr. Funston teaches me that people are people regardless of their personalities and propensities.
Liz: Liz doesn't play around with falsehoods. If you say something in front of her that you really believe, but she knows isn't true, she'll tell you. I'm grateful for a friend like that. There are no cliche answers, no codding patience and no pats on the head. There is truth, plainly stated and plainly believed. The world needs more people like Liz. People need more friends like Liz. Liz teaches me to not mess around with people's unfounded fears, to speak truth.
Ann: I don't know Ann, never met her. But I know her. My soul knows her and that's enough for me. Ann teaches me that there are words inside that must be said, not necessarily for another's good, but sometimes just for your own good. She teaches me that to wrestle is a good thing and nothing to be ashamed of. She teaches me that there is no shame in the story and no shame in the telling.
Joe: Even though we've been friends a lot longer than a year and there are probably a multitude of things I could point at for reasons to be grateful, there's one that sticks out high above them all. I told him so the other day. A year ago he sent me an email, I wrote about it here. That email changed my life. It changed the trajectory of my life. It is part of the reason I am here. It's part of the reason I'm not sitting still anymore. He apologized when he wrote it, afraid of offending me. I think more people need to offend me. Joe teaches me that being a friend means saying hard things sometimes.
Dr. Evans: He doesn't remember this, I'm sure. But in the spring of 2007 he burst into a classroom in the Beech building, wrote a series of chemistry equations on the whiteboard to the left, turned to the class of one (me), and said, "by the end of this hour you will be able to solve every equation on that board." He was right. I aced the exam (he wasn't even my teacher). I kept my GPA up. I never forgot the kindness of a professor who understand the importance of one. Dr Evans teaches me that individuals matter and that their worries matter, even if those worries are silly things like GPAs.
Joshua: He's 15, but almost 16. He's tall. He's talented. He's always been my buddy, ever since he was small, I have memories of him being my buddy. For the first year we lived in New York he would sneak into my room to sleep, on a pile of blankets on the floor or sometimes in my bed if it was cold. We would read books together, talk, do things together. I'm 15 years older than him, but that gap feels like it's closing. He accompanied me on an emergency trip this year and never have I been more proud of one of my brothers. He's a man. He talks like a man and handles things like a man and he loves Jesus like a man. Josh teaches me that things are hard, but you get the job done, you do the right thing, regardless.
A prophet at a kitchen table: I can't remember his name. He sat at the end of the table and said these words, which I will never forget: "There are going to be paths in front of you that just make sense, but other people are going to disagree. But you hear the voice of the Lord, you hear Him and you listen to Him. You'll know."
I'm 30 now and the path I've taken has not made a lot of sense to a lot of the people I've listed above, people who love me and want the best for me, people who know me well and have invested much in me. Part of the reason this birthday feels so difficult is because I feel like I've let down a lot of these people, that I've disappointed them and what they envisioned for my life. That's the honest truth. But when I remember that prophet at the kitchen table and his words, it helps some. It helps because I'm grateful for all of these people, but the one I am most grateful for is Jesus. I'm grateful that He speaks to me, to little me, to little faithless, confusing, doubting me.
And Jesus teaches me all things.