My first 40 years

Turning 40 is not really a big deal, but it can definitely feel like it. Especially when you have a whole year of friends and classmates submitting to time and milestone. One by one we’ve all asked what to do, how to spend the final hours of our thirties. Last meals and rites and all that dramatic nonsense. Some have taken trips to celebrate. Others have gotten tattoos of rebellion or ebenezer. For three days I seriously toyed with getting a nose ring. I still might. If I can summon the courage. And be confident of my husband’s forgiveness.

Rick asked me yesterday what I’m looking forward to in 2017. I couldn’t list a single thing. The past couple years have held a lot of transition for us. New jobs. New church. Going from two kids in elementary school to two kids in middle school. Trusted relationships lost and new friendships birthed. Evolving politics and social views. Theology coming into clearer perspective and ministry roles going vague. It just feels like a LOT and I – we – have worked just to keep our heads above water. Looking forward to something feels almost like a luxury. Survival seems the order of the day more than hope or expectancy.

Oh, but hope is so much more appropriate!

I’ve always loved lists. Not always do I perfectly follow through with them, but they always make me feel better. A bit more in control. They organize my thoughts and provide a degree of catharsis. They remind me of where I’ve been and where I need to go. They can even guide me in how to get there.

When a friend fell to 40 — I mean “celebrated” in November, she asked how she should spend her last night. Naturally, I suggested making lists: one of all the things she had accomplished in her first 40 years and a second of all she hoped to accomplish in her next 40 years. Seems like good advice and so, a couple weeks after my own monumental birthday, I’m going to do just that. Happy birthday to me and happy new year to you!


I rather despise having my photos taken, but my friend Jess is an artist. If you’re local, you have to hire her.

My First 40 Years

  1. I was born. (Granted: this surely was quite passive on my part, but it’s a place to start, so I’m claiming it.)
  2. I lived on a farm, built clubhouses out of vines and an old chicken coop, and had a horse named Princess. (There’s much more that could be said here, but those are the highlights from my 7-year-old self.)
  3. I survived my parents’ divorce.
  4. I moved 5 times in 3 months, never quite knowing where we might sleep the next night or what we might eat or how long we might be safe.
  5. I survived living in poverty.
  6. I survived being (or at least feeling) like an outcast at school and in our community.
  7. I survived an abusive relationship with my father and — here’s the really amazing part — retain no bitterness or ill-will toward him.
  8. I overcame a crippling lack of self-worth and suicidal tendencies.
  9. I learned to advocate for myself (sometimes).
  10. I survived a cross-country move the summer before my senior year of high school.
  11. I learned to live in the city (after growing up in a 2-stoplight town my entire life).
  12. I learned to take mass transit.
  13. I sacrificed my life savings to follow a mission.
  14. I met God and tried (more than once, to varying degrees of fullness) to surrender my life to Him.
  15. I served as an ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter.
  16. I was an artist, winning awards and even having my work displayed in a gallery in Philadelphia.
  17. I taught art and ESL (English as a Second Language) in Switzerland.
  18. I went to college.
  19. I paid for it myself.
  20. I moved to Europe…by myself.
  21. I lived in Bosnia and Switzerland.
  22. I survived knowing very little of the local languages and fewer than a handful of people.
  23. I worked with the UNHCR (United Nations Head Commissioner for Refugees) and distributed humanitarian aid to war-torn communities.
  24. I toured an actual castle in France, the home of Gruyere cheese.
  25. I made friends with a woman who lived in a 400-year-old farmhouse. I babysat her daughter and she introduced me to real fondue and good white wine.
  26. I drank water from a natural fountain in Evian, France — the source of my favorite water in all the world.
  27. I windsurfed at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea and camped in the Dalmatian Islands off the coast of Croatia.
  28. I went apple picking in the Black Forest of Germany.
  29. I’ve been to the top of the Eiffel Tower and strolled along the streets of Paris.
  30. I spent an entire day at the Louvre just dreaming and breathing.
  31. I acquired a French military escort to help me visit villages and families impacted by war and genocide on both sides of the Bosnian-Serbian border.
  32. I was a live-in nanny for two summers.
  33. I was a camp counselor for two summers.
  34. I worked in a factory assembling automotive wiring for one summer. (I built horns.)
  35. I married a man far too good for me. (He is, as yet, still blind to how far beneath himself he stooped for love.)
  36. I went kayaking in the Caribbean Sea.
  37. I battled infertility and the depression that accompanies it.
  38. I had two miracle children (and have managed to keep them both alive for more than a decade, hopefully without too much damage).
  39. I learned how to bake without eggs, dairy, or nuts, and watched God completely and miraculously eliminate some rather serious food allergies.
  40. I survived a season with a suddenly handicapped 5-year-old.
  41. I homeschooled (in season).
  42. I overcame insecurities (in season).
  43. I have moved 6 times in 18 years of marriage (almost all within the first five years).
  44. I have been married for 18 years.
  45. I’ve been to Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey, Kensington Palace, and all sorts of fun places in London.
  46. I visited Niagara Falls; Washington, D.C.; both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans; flown over the Grand Canyon; and gone whitewater rafting down some crazy rapids in West Virginia. Oh, and I can attest that Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is pretty stinkin’ awesome.
  47. I once watched Fourth of July fireworks from a 3-seater airplane. It was so cool! We flew between three or four different shows, never once fearing we might explode.
  48. I’ve eaten pizza while watching the Rockefeller Tree Lighting live from a high-rise office building.
  49. I worked for a custom jewelry designer in the Fashion District of Manhattan.
  50. I have launched five distinct and independent businesses (plus a basketful of freelance projects).
  51. I published a book. (Actually, I’ve helped clients publish more than a dozen books, but I wrote and published one of my own, too.)
  52. I contributed to a devotional Bible published by Zondervan.
  53. I wrote 5 complete Bible studies and have taught countless classes on God, faith, writing, marriage, parenting, and living with hope and joy in the midst of a life unexpected.
  54. I co-founded a human rights organization that fights human trafficking.
  55. I’ve served as a keynote speaker at women’s events, conferences, and retreats.
  56. I have made friends with some truly amazing people in every walk of life, across all sorts of borders.
  57. I organized an event of nearly a thousand volunteers packing hundreds of thousands meals for starving children. Twice.
  58. I became both a dance mom and a baseball mom and love both more than I ever thought possible.
  59. I became a travel agent.
  60. I read hundreds, possibly thousands, of books.

My Next 40 Years

  1. I want to learn to play guitar.
  2. I want to learn Spanish (for real this time).
  3. I want to publish all those studies I wrote.
  4. I want to serve the needy: homeless, refugees, underprivileged and oppressed.
  5. I want to connect people who can serve each other.
  6. I want to speak for truth and equality, for peace and justice.
  7. I want to be a true and faithful friend.
  8. I want to love well.
  9. I want to live joyfully and fearlessly.
  10. I want to let my children be themselves, the people God created them to be without burdening them with my baggage or images of what they should be. I want to enable them to be free and confident and courageous.
  11. I want to go to Israel. And Italy. And India.
  12. I want to encourage and empower others to flourish their gifts and pursue their dreams.
  13. I want to read hundreds, possibly thousands, of books.


What are YOU looking forward to in 2017? Have you made any goals, long- or short-term?

Talk to me!

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