Today I turn thirty. It is wild, weird, and very welcomed. I know for some, turning thirty may carry varying emotions and questions and fears. And that’s okay. There is no “right” way to feel when approaching your birthday, or a new decade or a new anything for that matter. But if I am completely honest, I have been excited about turning thirty for the last three years and it’s now here – in the middle of a global pandemic and not exactly how I expected a champagne birthday to be, and yet strangely perfect in its own way.
Everyone always told me that the twenties were the best decade. So much vibrancy and marked by an “I’m going to change the world!” type of energy. If I look back, I can see that sure, there was some of that, but honestly my twenties were HARD. It kind of felt like I encountered a constant growing pain that never went away for ten years straight. These years were marked by that annoying persistent feeling of growth that you knew was actually helping you, but the nuisance of its constancy was still very much there.
My twenties took me on paths I never would have anticipated going on when I was nineteen. I began this decade by moving back home from living in Texas, grappling with my mental health, and wrestling with my faith. I eventually moved to Hamilton where I began and completed my undergrad. I fell in love with psychology and explored all avenues of theology. (I think I dipped my toe in over a dozen theological traditions). I realized I enjoyed academia, quite a lot. I fell in love. I broke hearts and had my heart broken. I walked through Spain on the Camino path. I began a Master’s degree. I dropped out of a Master’s degree. I worked as a Spiritual Care Pastor in a church community I saw grow from the ground up. I left that job to explore some deeper questions and wounds in me.
I worked for a year as a barista at my favourite little community cafe that became family. I travelled to the UK twice in one year – two trips that have been some of my favourite travel stories to date. I invested in a community for eight years that would become the most formative community in my life thus far. I came face to face with my own mental health struggles in a way I never have before. I took steps of courage to help myself manage in new ways. I explored becoming a Nun and what it would mean to live a monastic life. I wondered if I was called to singleness. I almost became Catholic. I asked more questions than I ever have in my life.
I fell in love with running long distances. I ran Around the Bay (a 30km race in Hamilton) with my dear friend John. I lost that dear friend John not even a year later. I moved out on my own and into a house with my sister. I had the top floor apartment. She had the second. We had the most wild and lovely garden. It was by far one of my most favourite years living so close to her again. We threw garden parties and cooked many meals. We went for countless morning coffees and talked about vocation, love, sexuality, death, family…really anything. We really did talk about everything.
I tore my ACL playing Ultimate Frisbee, as I had on many an evening with so many of my dear friends. I had ACL surgery. I have never felt that degree of pain in my life. I was taken care of by a friend who did not anticipate what she was getting into. She was the embodiment of Love to me. I was bathed by my sister when I couldn’t bathe myself. I felt a very real sense of being primitive, infant, and oh so human. I made some of the most important friendships of my life and had relationships that taught me more about myself than any book, film or song. I deconstructed my faith, which felt like a death. I began to reconstruct it again, which felt like resurrection.
My parents and sister all moved to the East Coast. I moved to Ottawa. I began living with people again – two surprising and incredibly empowering women. I began my Master’s in Counselling, Psychotherapy and Spirituality. I discovered such a kindred community here. I fell in love with research and my studies. I healed and continue to heal – both in body and spirit. I got back into running post-surgery and began a new rhythm of life as COVID-19 hit the world. I became a woman I didn’t know existed ten years ago. And yet, she’s a woman that feels true, happy, and human. She feels like me.
I made a list of the things I feel going into my thirties. It was such a rich experience and practice for me to do as I reflected on this past decade and anticipate the one to come. Perhaps this is something you can try when you greet a threshold in your life. Are you ready? Here we go:
- I feel way more comfortable in my own skin. I like my body – my skin, my scars, my fleshiness and legs more than I ever have.
- I feel way more FREE.
- I have tapped into my own sense of agency. I have recognized the power of choice I have in taking responsibility for my life.
- I have risked more in love. I have been vulnerable and opened myself to really be “seen”. Not in a role as therapist or counsellor, but as me – Melissa.
- I am way less scared of making the wrong decision. I risk more. I take more leaps. I jump and trust that there is a landing to catch me that has new truth for me to discover.
- I know more of what I want and what I don’t want.
- I trust myself more. I honour my intuition and question myself in a healthier way.
- I am less worried about the future. I feel more present in my life than I have ever been.
- I cook so much more from my cookbooks and am way less afraid of messing up recipes!
- I know the pace of life I feel is best for me to flourish – slow, steady, and also spontaneous.
- I have found a rhythm of writing that works well for me.
- I feel more at ease in uncertainty. I need less answers and feel the most at home in Mystery.
- I have discovered an expansive spirituality and view of God that has allowed me to experience a pure form of freedom, love, and peace.
- I know who my tribe is, both near and far. I know what commitment feels like.
- I’ve learnt to listen to my body and trust her voice.
- I have accepted more and more that anxiety and depression are pals of mine that will be with me for life. I am a lot kinder to them now.
- I apologize a lot less. A lot less.
- I am unapologetically myself. I mean, still have lots of growth to go there, but I feel a sense of groundedness in me. This is who I am.
- I feel less need to be something significant or special, and more of the satisfying invitation to just be me.
- I am more in love with my family. I absolutely adore them. I see each of them as individuals with stories that have shaped them regardless of me. I want to spend more time with them, getting to know them and cherishing all that they are.
You probably thought my list would comprise thirty things didn’t you? Well, It feels right to end there. So we end there. These are the things that feel the most pertinent for now.
It’s fascinating to look back on my life and see all the versions of myself I have been. It only makes it more clear to me that who is writing this today, will probably look quite different in my forties. I mean, I hope so. We were meant to evolve and grow. I wrote this mostly for myself to take stock and remember. To witness my own self and take a moment to honour the life that has been given me so far. Our lives are such a precious gift and I hope that as you enter a new decade of your life, whenever that may be, that you would know that you are not “supposed” to be anywhere. You are where you are. You haven’t missed out on anything. Stop “should-ing” on yourself. Own your life, make the changes you know you want to make, and show up to the present moment. You are magnificent, and your life is beautiful. My life is beautiful. May we continue to have the consciousness and awareness to see it. All of it is sacred.
These photos were taken by my dear friend and brilliant photographer Missy Hill. She is such a gifted artist, who gets to know the soul of a person in her one-on-one sessions. She was adamant about getting my freckles on film. From the young girl who used to get teased and wished she never had them because of the skin tone that came with them, I look at them now and love them and am so glad they are a part of who I am.
Please do check out her work at http://www.missyhillphotography.com