Today on the 29th, I am 29 years old, making this my "golden birthday." I am baffled to think that I am almost 30 years old---that just sounds so...mature. *Gulp.*
Lately I've sometimes been plagued with thoughts that I'm not where I want to be and that because everything is not as I wish it (mostly with my health), there is reason to get down on myself. Luckily for me, I listened to a beautiful message last Saturday from one of our church leaders reminding me that even when life doesn't exactly go our way, there is much reason to rejoice.
So today, on my golden birthday, I am choosing to rejoice in the beauty and the wonder that has been my life so far. I am choosing to overlook the things that are not as I wish and instead focus on all the many things that have gone right, that have surprised me, or that have made me a better person.
I've been thinking about this list all morning, and in the midst of my brainstorm, I realize how blessed I really have been.
It's been a great life so far!
29 Life Events to Rejoice About
1. My marriage in the temple to my best friend and the most perfect husband in the world to me. Matt is compassionate and good-natured and funny and smart and driven, and he's everything I've ever wanted in a spouse. Oh, and it helps that he's a hottie :)
2. The birth of Raven, whose presence brings us delight and joy each and every day. She is seriously the happiest, most even-tempered baby, and we love being her parents. The thought of becoming a parent scared me for so long, but now I can't imagine my life any other way.
3. The strength of my body and mind that allowed me to have the natural childbirth I desired. There have been just a few times in my life when I have experienced something so physically difficult that I wondered if I could go through with it, and being able to endure through has shown me my own strength.
4. The church mission I served from 2009-2010 in El Salvador. Not only did the experience allow me to gain greater insight into my spiritual beliefs, but it also made me more or less fluent in Spanish, introduced me to some of the dearest people I've ever known, and refined my nature so that I became much more outgoing, generous, and service-oriented.
5. The experience of running a marathon with my husband in 2012. I'd always dreamed of running a marathon but was never a runner until I just decided that one day I was going to go for it. Most people probably wouldn't recommend going from only being able to run about 3 miles to running a marathon in the space of 4 months, but I've always kind of liked doing things differently than most people. Running a marathon taught me that I could do really hard things, and it was probably one of the main sources of strength I drew upon when I was going through the natural childbirth experience.
6. My graduation from college in 2012. Because of the kind of home I grew up in, I always assumed I'd go to college and graduate, but it still was a great accomplishment, especially since I reached my goal of graduating summa cum laude.
7. Becoming a full-time teacher in 2012 (as you can see, 2012 was a big year for me!). There have been a lot of ups and downs with this job, but I can now finally say with certainty that I did indeed go into the perfect field for me--teaching stretches me like no other job ever has, and it's a privilege to be able to teach the rising generation and see the growth in them over the course of the school year.
8. Starting a photography business in 2014. True, the business is just a small little side job at this point, but I was scared to death to put myself out there as a photographer, especially when I'm not even close to the photographer that I want to be yet. I was remarking to Matt just the other day about how even from the time I opened my business officially last year to now, I can see enormous growth in my ability and skill, which is something very encouraging indeed.
9. Learning to do various styles of dance as an adult (mostly country swing and ballroom, with some modern dance thrown in). I've always dreamed of being a dancer but figured I'd pretty much missed my chance since I didn't stick with it when I was younger. However, as I entered college, I decided to just go for it, and now I actually teach a little country swing class at my school.
10. Reading through over a third of the books/works listed on the 100 Most-Recommended Classics. My goal is to read them all in the course of my lifetime, but I'd say I'm making pretty good progress.
11. My willingness to try out new things and go on new adventures (even when they scare me), including rock climbing, cliff jumping, wakeboarding, jet skiing, snowmobiling, and zip lining.
12. Having both Matt and me go through college debt-free. Need I say more?
13. Getting bit by the travel bug and having the opportunity to go on some pretty amazing vacations in my lifetime--an Alaskan cruise, an almost-three-week stint in Europe, Washington D.C. on a choir tour, Florida beaches with friends...
14. Learning various musical instruments in my life, starting with the piano at 7, the organ at 12 or so, the guitar at 17, and the violin at 19. I'm not equally good at all those instruments, but I'm so grateful for the discipline and the passion that studying music has given me.
15. Speaking of music, I can't leave out getting to be in a musical (Footloose) when I was a high school senior, which had always been a dream of mine. I also can't leave off making the show choir as a senior as well. So many fun memories!
16. Getting over my shyness. I was painfully shy growing up (especially when I was the age that my students are now), and finally learning to speak my mind and come out of my shell was a Big Deal for me.
17. Winning a few writing contests (some in high school, one in college). Writing has always been something I've loved doing, so it was pretty gratifying to be recognized for it (and get some extra cash, to boot).
18. Becoming a "real" cook. I played around with baking for years, but it was getting married that really pushed me into trying to get really good at it. I'm still not The Greatest Chef of All Time, but I am now fully comfortable tweaking recipes and even creating some stuff of my own, which is much more than I could have said even three years ago.
19. Tending my own garden and then canning produce from it. Matt and I did a garden for two summers in a row, and I learned a ton from the experience. Not only do I much more fully appreciate anything homegrown, but I experienced the satisfaction that only comes from knowing you've produced food for you family without having to rely on anyone else.
20. Graduating from seminary. I've always been active in my religion, but I'm proud to say that I graduated from seminary having completely read most of the standard works of scripture (with the exception of the Old Testament, which I'm reading now) and memorized probably several dozen scriptures in the process.
21. Discovering who more of my paternal ancestors are. My mom had done genealogy for years, but she had never been able to discover some of the ancestors on my dad's line. A few years ago, when I got called as president of our church's young women's organization, I had my mom teach me how to search old records and find family names. The times when I've found my ancestors' names myself were some of the most spiritual experiences of my life.
22. Getting to experience love and loss. This is one thing that might not immediately come to mind when we think of things to rejoice in, but I'm glad I've had the experience of loving and losing, whether the loss is through death or through a breakup or just from a growing apart. I have learned so much from so many, and I would be a far different person had I not met and known all those that I have lost. Also, going through love lost has taught me to appreciate each moment with the loved ones in my life right now.
23. Working in various jobs under various bosses and circumstances, including tutoring for the university, bookkeeping for my old neighbor, and working as a secretary. Even the job that I hated (the secretarial position) taught me a lot, and I'm glad I went through that hard time in order to find out what I would and would not put up with in a work environment.
24. Simplifying my life and possessions a couple years ago. When I discovered the idea of minimalism back in 2013, the idea immediately seized my attention and has never let go. I have since drastically pared down many of my possessions, simplified my calendar, and tried to focus my life much more on the things that really matter. I'm not even close to where I'd like to be, but the discovery marked a big shift in my thinking and pursuits.
25. Playing on various sports teams growing up, including softball and basketball. I never got to be very good, but I'm thankful to my parents for encouraging us to be team players and be active, and that athleticism later translated to sports I was a little more adept at (like running and tennis).
26. Having the good fortune to have made really, REALLY good friends throughout my life, many of whom have stuck with me through thick and thin ever since I met them (some for as many years as we are old). Even though I often feel a little guilty that I don't see or talk to my friends as much as I'd like, I am often thinking of them and am grateful for the influence they are on me.
(I wish I had a picture of all my good friends, so don't despair if you're not in this picture and we're close, lol)
27. Learning how to drive stick shift. (I don't think I'll ever go back!)
28. Blogging for 8+ years. There is no other hobby that I've stuck with for so long that I do on such a regular basis (except for maybe piano back when I was still in lessons, but I only play a couple times a month now). Keeping this online space has changed me for the better and doubled as the best kind of scrapbook, and it's a hobby I don't plan on giving up anytime soon.
29. Embracing what I'm naturally good at (teaching, forming lasting friendships, hosting game nights or other functions, cracking dry jokes that only about half the population gets) and coming to terms with what I'm not (coddling students like I'm their mother, keeping my house uber-clean, making small talk). Basically, I have realized that some people will always criticize me for doing things very much my own way, but that doesn't mean that I shouldn't embrace who I am. As a missionary back in El Salvador and then in my first couple years teaching, I really let some of the comments get to me, and I often wondered if I should "lighten up" more or adopt some other strategies for connecting with the people I was teaching and meeting. Then, after many awkward and unsuccessful attempt trying to be someone I wasn't, I just let myself be who I naturally was---and I found out that life is much better when you're genuine and authentic. I know I still have a lot of weaknesses I'd like to work on and things about myself that I'd like to improve, but I've learned to just be happy being me!
This may have been the longest post of all time, but hey---I only get one "golden birthday" in my lifetime, so I'd better make it count, eh?