January 1, 2017. It’s more than just the date of the new year. The first day of 2017 marks the year that I will turn thirty. Now, really, turning thirty isn’t all that more daunting than turning twenty-nine, or thirty-one for that matter. Yet for some reason, that particular age seems to stop me in my tracks. My life at almost-thirty looks very different than the life I had pictured for myself in this season. I’m single, and I don’t have kids, and I don’t own my own house or even live alone.
I think I have felt paralyzed in these last few years – paralyzed by how I thought life ought to look, and how it seems to look for others at my age. The fact is that my life is different. I don’t have dates on Valentine’s Day, or a significant other to take the perfect picture with on Christmas Eve in front of the Christmas tree. There are freedoms that come with singleness, but they come at a cost. I am free to make my own decisions, but I am without a partner in making them. My decisions only affect me, but it can be incredibly lonely to feel the weight of making all of the hard choices and knowing that it’s all up to you. I am free to do what I want on the weekends – but sometimes, all I want on the weekends is to have a reason to wake up early and fix bacon and eggs and fried plantains for others and not just me. I know it’s all a balancing act. The freedoms some take for granted others long for. Isn’t that always true? The grass is always greener on the other side.
When it comes to my singleness struggles, vacations have been a particular envy of mine. My family never had a lot of money growing up, so we didn’t go on tons of exotic trips. Most of my traveling has been through mission work, which is a great way to see the world, but it isn’t necessarily a restful vacation and retreat from the real world. Long ago, I imagined that I’d be married by now to some nerdy person who would also enjoy going to old cities with me and eating at fun restaurants and being tourists in another part of the world. But that isn’t the case yet, so every summer when people begin to take trips, my heart struggles with greed – wanting somewhere to go on an adventure and someone to adventure with me.
But this summer, an opportunity fell in my lap. My uncle offered me a chance to come visit him and my aunt in Abu Dhabi. It really would be the adventure of adventures. So while my friends went to the beach, I dreamed of another beach in January – the Palm Islands (yes, the largest man-made islands in the world!). And, last week I got to visit them! My friend Joy came with me and for a week we took in the sights, sounds, and smells of Abu Dhabi and Dubai (think: desert highways with sporadic oases of green, constant horns honking from bad driving, cloudless blue skies, shimmering seas, delicious foods from every tribe and tongue).
I could write forever about the week and all of the experiences. Tea time at the Grand Emirates Hotel. A weekend in Dubia, at the world’s fanciest (to me!) hotel, with dinner at the Japanese restaurant on the hotel’s rooftop. Al Ain from the top of the country’s highest peak, forested by trees in the middle of the desert. People from seemingly every tribe and nation and tongue gathered into one city together, where they all get along and seem to live peaceably with one another. As I was sitting on the plane getting ready to go to the Middle East, I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. That was actually getting on a plane to travel halfway across the world to visit a new place. I am a person of routine. I eat the same thing for breakfast every day. I have a nighttime routine I follow pretty closely. I travel the same path to work. I rotate through the same four restaurants I love, and the same seven dishes I prefer to cook at home. I run the same route three to four mornings a week.
I’ve been thinking a lot about singleness, since I am turning thirty this year. I think I bought into the untruth that singleness means I can’t have adventures. I’ve gotten so stuck in my ways and routines that I forgot that it’s fun to take chances and to do new things. I don’t have to have kids or a husband to have new experiences. I started thinking about all of the fancy places in Birmingham that I’ve never eaten, because to me they seem like couples’ restaurants. Why couldn’t I initiate a girls’ night out at a nice place for dinner? I started thinking about all of the places I want to travel in the States. What’s wrong with finding a friend to go on that trip with me to DC or to all of the places in Alabama I want to see? Why not make plans to see them, to go places, to do new things, to try new restaurants, to buy the dishes or crockpot or pressure cooker or whatever it is that I want to buy, instead of waiting to maybe one day possibly potentially hopefully put it on a wedding registry? I know that’s a little extreme, but I guess what I am trying to say is that sometimes life goes on while we’re waiting. Maybe it doesn’t look the way we pictured it. Maybe it requires more courage than we imagined.
This Christmas Eve, I put together gingerbread houses with the sweetest four and six-year-olds you’ve ever met. I sat with them in our Christmas Eve service and opened up presents with them and with their parents the next morning. Family may not look the way you picture it, but it’s still family. The Lord meets us in our broken places and gives us family, even in our singleness. And He gives us chances for adventures we could never imagine having. Life is for living now, even if there are things we are waiting for. And there’s sweetness in the waiting, if we take a moment to look around and recognize it.
Here’s to 2017, and to the year I turn thirty, and to all of the adventures ahead.