Last night I was startled awake by a nightmare about cancer and chemo treatments, and today I deleted online dating profiles. Welcome to 30. I typically love the fresh start of a new year, and I am one of those obnoxious people who loves coming up with a “word of the year.” This year, though, the inspiration has run dry. I am a dreamer, but I am tired. I want to eagerly proclaim “THIRTY WILL BE THE BEST YEAR YET!!!!!!!” But instead, I find myself sipping coffee and breathing through an unknown that I’ve come to be more suspicious of than eager to embrace. Anyone else?
In the movie Frozen 2, the whimsical snowman character, Olaf, repeatedly belts out the refrain, “When you’re older, absolutely everything makes sense.” That line struck me, and I wondered if children today believe it as much as I used to. I have only navigated 30 years on this harsh, beautiful planet, so maybe a few more years here will prove me wrong…but I found myself wanting to correct Olaf. No, Olaf, when you’re older, absolutely nothing will make sense.
I spent my first decade of life creating imaginary worlds under the sprawling oak trees of my Indiana home. My sister and I would make up the most remarkable “future houses” we could imagine, complete with beds on islands that required canoe transportation and rooms with trampoline floors. I was confident and full of joy in ways I am still trying to reclaim. Even then, 30 seemed the ideal age…the age when maybe the imaginary world I visited would become the reality I inhabited. I thought everything would surely make sense by now.
My second decade of life commenced an anxiety and perfectionism I am still recovering from. So many adults in my life preached a black-and-white reality that did not seem to leave room for questions I did not even know how to verbalize at the time. I learned that everything was supposed to make sense through a defined and rigid worldview, and if it didn’t, you were ostracized. At least, that was my perception. I had absorbed an existence that promised affection and reverence in exchange for the easy going, compliant, eager-to-serve version of myself I discovered most people in my life seemed to prefer. By the end of that decade, every piece of that black-and-white reality was shattered into a million pieces, and I was left sweeping up the mess.
I started out my 20’s in the throes of a shocking and unexpected grief, while most of my peers were partying and dreaming of ways to exploit their new-found independence. I was more at home with my Tuesday night grief group, an eclectic band of men and women all significantly older than me. We mostly just vented about the stupid and hurtful things people had said to us in the midst of our pain over unique (and yet relatable) losses, and I could think of no better place to be at the time. In an attempt to make sense of absolutely everything, I threw myself into service and walking alongside other people navigating their own pain and loss. I clung to Bible verses about how “those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy.” I wanted to believe that the heart-searing trauma I had just lived through somehow had a purpose. I craved meaning in the midst of the chaos that brewed in my heart and soul.
Now I am starting out my 30’s scraping together hopes and dreams as I face a new decade that, so far, is looking nothing like I dreamed it would when I was a starry eyed kid jumping into piles of raked leaves. I am buying baby gifts for friends whose weddings I smiled through and dressed up for in public (then went back home and cried into my pillow over) throughout the last decade. I am peeling back layers of that persona I donned in an effort to be loved and accepted. I am trying to make sense of the years and experiences I lost because I was instead navigating grief and loss, and the years and experiences I lost before that because I was so entrenched in a religious culture that rewarded a carefully curated (and others-directed) version of morality and “purity.” Nothing makes sense—and yet, maybe that is what makes the most sense of all.
As I look back on the last decade of my life, I realize that we do not get to choose the things we become certain about. For example, I am less and less certain that I will ever make it to that picket fence dream world where I get the house full of babies I’ve always longed for and a husband to laugh and cry with until we’re both old and wrinkly. I am less and less convinced that the dogmas I unabashedly preached as a zealous teenager are unquestionably true. I am less and less certain that the tears I cry will always and without fail produce a “harvest” of joy.
But. I am certain about a few things. I am certain that I am not promised anything, not even the husband and babies I believed for so long to be the direct result of a “moral and pure” lifestyle. I am certain that God is far more mysterious than I will ever comprehend, and there are people whose experiences with the Divine do not fit into those dogmas I used to cling to—and yet their own experiences with the Divine are no less true than my own experiences with God. I am more and more certain that, though I have no idea what the coming day, year, or decade will hold, it will undoubtedly yield both overwhelming joy and immense pain.
And so I sit down once again, weary but with pen in hand, and I write out a list of scrounged up hopes and dreams for this next year. I am weary but not defeated. I am jaded but not hopeless. I will continue longing for that picket fence world, and I will choose, again and again, to hope against all odds that I might get there some day. In the meantime, I will defend my right to grieve the life I thought I would have while those closest to me are celebrating that which I have always longed for…even if my grief and wrestling makes some uncomfortable. I will delete apps and establish boundaries around the people in my life who entice me to fall back into that false persona I used to put on to make myself more palatable to others. I will take up skiing and continue traveling to beautiful places, because I refuse to sit on the sidelines of life while I hope for and work toward the things I do not have. I will persist in seeking to understand and dismantle injustice, because I may be weary but I am not defeated…and I still believe to the core of who I am that humans were created to be bearers of Divine love and shalom to a dark and hurting world.
So here’s to you, weary dreamer, wherever you might be. May you discover in this next decade how powerful you really are. May you find yourself surrounded by an army of truth-tellers who refuse to accept things as they are just because they have always been that way. May you deeply lament what is broken and the life you thought you would have, and may you be loved and held in the midst of your grief. May you find the life you have instead to be one of adventure and community, because there is always joy and friendship to be mined from hardship and suffering. May you take up that tiny inkling of hope and wield it like a burning torch when it feels like there is no light left to illuminate your way. You are not alone, weary dreamer. Warrior on, and may you know that your battle cry matters and is needed in this world…even when it is nothing more than a whisper in the wind or a cynically muttered morsel of truth you are struggling to believe in yourself. We are in this together, and 2020 ain’t got nothin’ on us.