Today, I turn 30.
Thirty years old.
How can this be? Yesterday I was seven … and somehow, overnight, twenty-three years of life happened.
I have never been one to shy away from an age. When I was growing up, I was proud to turn yet another year older. The funny thing is, the older I’ve gotten, the less I’ve really kept track of birthdays and age, often times having to turn to my husband and ask, ‘How old am I again?’
But somehow, this one is different. This birthday is resonating with me. This age gives me pause – it is placing a mirror of my own mortality in front of my face. Not in a gloomy, mopey why-is-life-so-short way. No, it’s in a ‘Life is so astonishingly beautiful, Heather, and you better embrace it for all it is’ way. And the thing is, I know the mirror is right – if the past year has taught me anything, it is that my life is beautiful, just as it is, and a gift not to be wasted.
When we listed our house in PA and made plans to move to Idaho and excitedly laid out a plan for establishing residency and adopting – my life was beautiful.
When our house sold and the position in Idaho was dissolved as if it never existed, and we were at a loss – my life was beautiful.
When we moved into the spare bedroom of my in-laws’ house and wondered ‘what next?’ – my life was beautiful.
When I broke down Christmas morning because I was not pregnant and not adopting or even moving toward the possibility of children – my life was beautiful.
When I woke up during the night, panicked by the questions I didn’t have answers to – my life was beautiful.
It just took me awhile to see the beauty, for my eyes and heart to fully open. I was so wrapped up in the expectations of others that I felt paralyzed.
I felt an internal pressure to define who I was based on my academic training and whatever success I achieved from that. When I was in high school, I was voted most likely to succeed, and for so long I equated success with education, with career, with esteem. I thought I had to pursue challenges, overcome them and make a huge impact – anything less and I would be a failure.
But this conflicted with what lay in my heart – at my core, how I want to define myself is not by what I do but who I am. And there’s a difference. I didn’t want to be Heather – scientist, academic, relentless career-woman. Heather – tired, stressed, stingy with happiness.
I wanted to be Heather – loving, generous, compassionate.
Heather – wife, daughter, friend and one day, mother.
And so I made a very simple choice to open myself up by giving, by listening, by loving.
Two seemingly innocuous but pivotal events occurred:
1) I started volunteering at our local shelter, photographing adoptable animals.
2) I went to church
These two things, so small at first glance, did nothing short of change my life. I’m not trying to be overly dramatic – just honest.
During my time at the shelter, I am surrounded by love on four legs (and on two legs, in the form of staff and volunteers). It’s impossible for your heart not to grow in such an environment. With my camera in hand, I remembered a joy and a passion that I had buried. And I took a chance, a risk, a dive into the unknown as I opened my own photography business, something that I never believed I could actually do. (Shameless plug: www.heatherhuntphotography.com)
At church, I listened. I didn’t let my mind wander as I have so often in the past. I wanted and needed God’s love. And He didn’t let me down. My faith grew, and with it, my heart.
And amazing things happened.
I remembered who I truly am and what matters most to me in this life.
I am imperfect, flawed and hopelessly powerless when faced with an open jar of a nutella and a spoon. I don’t have all the answers or even very many of them.
I am not successful by the standards of my academic self, and don’t get me started on the woeful state of my bank account.
But I know without a doubt that I am blessed beyond measure and that I have all that I need at this moment of my life.
I am married to my high school sweetheart and our love is stronger than it has ever been. If you have ever lived with your significant other in a single room, you know that you have two options – to take out frustration at the situation on each other or grow closer together in order to change the situation. We have grown closer than I knew we could and for that, I’m grateful.
I have not one but two families who love me very much. My parents are a constant source of support, love and encouragement and Andrew’s parents treat me as if I am their own daughter.
I have a pack of crazy but oh-so-loveable hounds and they make my life better every single day.
I have a home to call my own … and it even has my lifelong wish of a screened-in porch where I can drink coffee in the early morning or count fireflies as dusk fades into night.
I have a healthy, functioning body that does what I tell it (for the most part).
I am exactly where I want to be – surrounded by love.
And so, my big fear as I turn 30, is not that I’ll miss my twenties or wrinkles or gray hair.
It’s that I can’t possibly give as much love as I receive. That I can’t adequately express my gratitude for the changes that have taken place and for the ones that are surely coming. That I’ll fail to share my heart, which is full to bursting.
But I’m ready to try.