On the eve of my thirty-first birthday, I sat around the kitchen table my parents bought early in their marriage, and I sat there with two other women as we hashed out, after a prayer to the Holy Spirit, a conference in the late fall for men and women addicted to pornography, for men and women loving someone addicted to pornography, and for men and women interested in joining the battle against pornography. It was a good meeting, and full of hope, despite the heavy topic.
Years ago (college? first job after college?) I read a blog post from an author who turned thirty (it was her birthday post) and, in it, she had a husband and two babies and she decided to take out her cartilage ring on her thirtieth birthday.
I guess part of me expected that I’d arrive at a similar destination with a similar timeline.
Spoiler alert: there is no husband, no babies.
Spoiler alert: I still love my cartilage piercing as much as the fifth-grade day I dreamed about getting it.
Spoiler alert: pornography addiction is heavy and huge. Earlier this week, during the high of the Triduum liturgies, a young woman reached out and messaged me a long line of messages about the struggle she was facing with her (now ex-)boyfriend. I was messaging my sister about this later, told her that I didn’t feel like I’m really well-equipped for this ministry, well-chosen. My sister was like, “Well, you’re as good as anyone, really,” so, that’s where we were, on the final night of my thirtieth year…doing our best in a ministry where I feel inadequate. That being said, I told my sister, too, part of me is glad that God let me feel this pain, so I can join people in theirs.
Aging is an interesting thing. As much as we all believe that we’re better than aging…it somehow finds us.
I’m getting wrinkles in the corners of my eyes. They’re definitely there when I smile or wrinkle my nose…and they’re sticking around a bit more, too. My neck isn’t as cute as it was for a while, there. My right knee is like a li’l GLOW STICK it cracks so much.
The wrinkles are interesting to me. They’re like little pockets or ditches, almost, holding my secrets and stories. Somehow, I didn’t expect the wrinkles. I haven’t been old before.
This morning I woke up and walked into the living room and my dad wished me a Happy Birthday. I fed the pigs and took a shower and my mom gave me a card and a bottle of really fancy perfume (“genuine aromatic spikenard” my mind wanted to call it), which was one of those luxury things I had mentioned months ago but didn’t really *expect* and it was such a kind gesture that I teared up a little. And they even put up the banner my mom made when I was a little girl, the one with dancing bears, for my birthday.
It was snowing today. Not accumulating but still snowing hard. I stopped by the chapel on my way to work and prayed a little bit, in front of a statue of Jesus, whose nail-marked foot was sticking out a little.
I thought about how hard life can be, the loss, the pain, the sadness…but how many good things I’ve known, too, and that all of it has come from His lavish hand.
At work my coworkers celebrated with me–orange juice and lunch and a mid-afternoon botana and even ice cream right before we all left. “What was your favorite part of the year,” they asked me, which is what I always ask them, on their birthdays.
And I relived, for a few seconds, the day I was in Rome with Julia and it rained allll day and we walked just shy of fifteen miles (in the rain!) but then, in the evening, we caught Father Grayson who took us to this overlook of Rome, right as the sun was setting and thunderstorms were rolling in the distance and Father Grayson brought us tea and mugs and warm, dry socks and sweaters and we sat under an overhang and talked about poetry before going to dinner and it was darn near better than anything I could imagine.
And also that other time, late last summer, when I went camping with my cousin underneath tall, tall pine trees and we hiked and biked and painted and danced and talked for a full week of Michigan summer.
But, the question they didn’t ask, but I was still thinking about, was, “And what was the most painful thing that happened to you this year” and I thought about the friend who ended a friendship–which is fair and allowed and respectable and sometimes even natural–but, it pained me, nonetheless. I still feel the loss profoundly, and I’m trying to allow myself to feel it, even though I don’t want to anymore.
They wrote to me from across the world today–good friends, whom I love, whom I miss, now far away. Well wishes, birthday greetings. I went to circus and broke some sweat. Then I went dancing for a few songs and got even sweatier. At my house folks had dropped off cards! And snacks! So tasty!
A priest I know wrote to me from who-knows-what-nation where he is currently working in active missionary ministry (but secretly) and I ended the day crying, too, because how the crap did he remember me and my birthday, you know???
So, anyway, this is my life now. It’s not what I expected. There’s a lot of pain in the world, and I know about it, because that’s how life works…but there’s really deep beauty, too.
And I have stories about sorrow and loss, but also ones about the kind of generosity that makes you cry so, anyway, I’m storing all of these in the wrinkles on the sides of my eyes, because life takes its toll even as it hands you wonder, and I’m just over here hanging on.
Happy birthday, world. It’s been a good ride. I like being alive.
3 thoughts on “I didn’t expect it to look like this”
Happy Birthday Nell. Your life is unravelling just as it should. You are inspired and in mission – the best way of being 💗. Stay blessed.
Thank you! <3
Such a heartfelt sharing. I’m blessed to be able to watch you through your inaugural wrinkles. 🙂