"So, this is thirty-one," I thought to myself as I looked in the mirror, crow's feet beside my eyes, smile lines, and chin acne.
Thirty-one is busy. It's a season of both planting and harvest. I'm picking the first fruits from the choices of my twenties. My seven year-old-son materializes at my side when I work at my desk, he has so many stories to tell me or questions to ask. "So, Mommy..." is his constant preamble.
Husband is home and needs to talk about his day, the five-year-old wants a snack, the toddler won't let go of her Daddy's hand, now that he's home, she's laying claim.
In the constellation of our family, I listen. Listening is like gravity, it provides an unseen pull, an organizing force that causes planetary bodies to fall into a reliable, steady orbit.
That's my most vital role at 31. To make direct eye contact, put down what's in my hand, and connect with my people.
And there's so much in my hands these days: the children's lesson plans, managing the household, extended family expectations and needs, deferred dreams of writing and creating.
I imagine myself at 40 sometimes and I try to lay the ground work today for who I think I want to be then.
I run with a friend who's 5 years younger, two inches taller, and probably 15 pounds lighter than me. She said, "I'm tired, I've been working really hard."
I sighed a mirthless laugh, the way all experienced parents do when a childless young adult says they're tired, "Me too. At 31, everyone expects you to handle everything."
At thirty-one, I finally feel like I'm filling out the oversized clothes of my personality, the way my Mom would buy me shirts sometimes, a size too big, room to grow. I'm accepting the facts about me.
Fact: I have wavy brown hair. I will no longer straighten it or command it to conform to the changing trends with overpriced hair product. I accept the fact that I have wavy brown hair that's a little bit unruly.
Fact: I like to draw and write. I like to share it. I will no longer watch jealously while friends and acquaintances make art and get published. I accept the fact that I like to write and that I'm compelled to share it, no matter how much rejection stings.
Fact: Without Jesus, exercise, friends, and my over-sized family, I'd probably have a diagnosable anxiety disorder. I will no longer try to fit in with any group that doesn't like me for me. I accept the fact that I'm a hot mess.
It's easy to move forward when you work from good clear facts.
I've been working hard this last year or so, getting my facts straight, clearly outlining my core values.
Fact: I hope to always love myself, no matter what condition I come in: fat, funny, ugly, itchy, mean, sick, poor, rich, healthy.
My 20s weren't so great for this. There's a lot of ways to fit in, how I wear my hair, how I do (or not do, in my case) my make-up, how I believe, how I express myself. Being a woman is rough. There are so many choices to make when presenting yourself to the world and fitting in is the worst. It's the absolute opposite of everything I ever wanted. And I only ever wanted what all humans do: to be loved for me and belong.
Fitting in sucks.
Thirty-one has been great because I catalogued the facts about me and I started changing slowly. I began accepting myself.
And now I can say it loud and proud:
I love me.
What a radical assertion.
For much of my spiritual upbringing, I was told to focus on loving God with my heart, mind, soul and strength and others, the Sunday School teacher would cough and shuffle over one of the most important parts: "as myself."
God's love starts with me.
God first loved us, loved me. I bask in that love and love myself and then love others. It's an overflow type thing.
Like all deep things of God, it's beautifully simple and hopelessly complex.
The best I can do on any given day, the most important thing I do, is listen.
Listen for God in the stillness while I meditate or read.
Listen for myself in the stillness while I try to create whatever asks to be born that day.
Listen for my children early in the morning when the wake for the day and sneak out to play.
Listen for the whir of my husband's truck as he drives down the road on his way home from work.
In the stillness, I hear the creaking of the boys' bedroom door hinges. In the stillness, I try to transpose what I envision in my mind to the page. In the stillness, there's a small, startling whisper from God not about my sins (though there's that too) or about my shortcomings or about my future.
I love you, he says. Fact.
Thirty-one is about unlearning the unhelpful things, the things that no longer serve me from my past. It's about standing in wonder at the things I've practiced for so long made new again and again.
There was a lot of hustle in my twenties, to set up a life. There's a lot of hustle in my thirties too, if I want it, to keep going, keep accumulating stuff, career accomplishment, 401k contributions. We do all that stuff, to live in this world. But that's not the important part of 31.
The important part of 31 is the wisdom of knowing I have come so far, but still have so far to go.
The best part of 31 is that grown-ups don't stop growing.