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Five ways my 30 by 30 List changed my 29th Year

Surf's Up! (Number 3)

Surf’s Up! (Number 3)

It is the end of an era. On January 22, 2015, I turned 30 years old. I have entered the “third floor of life” as a few of my friends so affectionately call it. But instead of mourning the loss of my 20’s, I decided to celebrate them in anticipation of the new adventure that is 30.

Fourteen months prior to my 30th birthday, I finalized the “30 by 30” list. On it I listed 30 things I wanted to accomplish before the big day. I made my list significant, but achievable. I asked myself a few questions that assisted me in comprising the final list. How did I want to commemorate my 20s? What fears did I want to face? What were some things I wanted to learn how to do? What had I “always wanted to do” that I could reasonably accomplish in my 29th year? What are some things that I could do to grow more as a person? As I answered those questions, my list began to form. And after I finished the list, I began making plans to accomplish each item.

I went surfing for the first time, took a pottery class, and learned how to make sushi. I stayed out all night with girlfriends and visited tourist sites around Atlanta. I took a scary elevator ride up really high and rode a legit roller coaster. I wrote love letters to my family members and blessed a friend anonymously (she still doesn’t know it was me, so fun!). I learned to drive a stick shift, learned to sew, and mastered a difficult dessert. At the end of my 20’s, I created a time capsule to commemorate the decade. There were many other items on the list but that is just a sampling of the adventures and experiences I had because of my “30 by 30”.


Learning how to throw pots (number 12)

And now, with my 20s behind me, here are five takeaways from my “30 by 30” bucket list.

  1. Adventures are important, but people matter more. I loved the adventures I had while completing my 30 by 30 list, but the memories I made with people are far more special. I had an incredible time serving in South Africa, but it was even more special because I went with my mom. I grew closer to new friends who baked with me and accompanied me to get my tattoo. The laughter and experiences I had with friends while on the “all night adventure” will not fade from memory for a long time. The inside jokes my husband I shared while trekking across Springer Mountain belong to us, and that makes them special. And I’ll never forget hearing his shout of excitement when I finally surfed that first wave, or his chuckle when I jumped the first time I shot our gun at the shooting range.
  2. Planning helps with living intentionally. It’s easy to go through life without a plan, without purpose.
    Pulling an all-nighter. Dressing like Katniss was a bonus (number 18)

    Pulling an all-nighter. Dressing like Katniss was a bonus (number 18)

    One thing I discovered from this list is that life passes us by if we don’t live intentionally. I was able to accomplish goals this year that I had talked about doing for years, and if I hadn’t sat down and made a plan, I don’t know if I would have ever accomplished them. This year was special, and the list was the reason. As I move into my 30s I’ve learned the importance of setting goals, and actually planning and working towards accomplishing them.

  3. Facing my fears wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I hate heights, and I hate roller coasters. So for my list, I tried to do a few things that would force me to face my fears. I rode a roller coaster and didn’t throw up or die. I rode a terrifying glass elevator up 723 feet to a restaurant for my 30th birthday and lived to tell the tale. It was actually quite a beautiful view.
  4. Risk-taking is worth it. I was so nervous when I took my surfing lesson. I wondered if I’d get hurt or if I’d be terrible at surfing. But not only did I love it, I wasn’t so bad. I had been talking about submitting guest posts to online blogs and magazines I read, but never got up the nerve to submit the idea. Even if my posts aren’t published and if I don’t surf again for a while, I’m grateful I tried. And I would still be questioning and talking about those things if I hadn’t given it a shot.
  5. Our joy brings God joy. I think we can over spiritualize life to the point where we forget that God created everything that is good. I felt close to God when I anonymously blessed a friend and when I read those challenging books of the Bible I hadn’t tackled previously, but I also felt close to God the first time I successfully surfed and when I explored the Appalachian Trail with my husband. I pondered over God as the master potter when I took a wheel throwing pottery class, and I felt immense gratitude as I spent time with friends at Waffle House at 4:00 a.m. I was reminded that our joy brings God joy, and that He desires for me to experience so much of what His creation offers.
Dinner at the Sundial (number 22)

Dinner at the Sundial (number 22)

On the evening of my 30th birthday, all 30 items were checked off the list. As I enjoyed a nice dinner with my husband overlooking Atlanta, I reflected on my first thirty years. I believe my list facilitated much of that reflection, and I face my 30’s with excitement and anticipation now. What adventures await? What amazing plans does God have for me in the next ten years? I believe even more strongly now that I want to live my life intentionally, through adventures, soaking the moments in, and telling the people in my life how much I love them.

On losing a friend….

10653592_10205107436589906_8267599693869537327_nMy friend Angela died today. It became pretty clear a couple weeks ago that the healing we’ve been praying for on her behalf would likely come when God brought her home. It happened today, at 4:43pm. Breast Cancer sucks.

I’ve never lost someone close before. I’ve lost great aunts and and a few grandparents, but I was either young or had a more distant relationship with them. Angela was my friend, my good friend. Even though I’ve been thinking and processing this for weeks, the finality of today hits pretty hard. I won’t be getting coffee with her and dishing about life anymore. I won’t be able to text her anytime to check in. We won’t be able to dream about traveling and fix all the world’s problems over Caramel Macchiatos (her drink) and White Mochas (mine). We were really good at fixing the world’s problems, let me tell ya. And we laughed. We laughed a lot.

Some of you reading this probably knew Angela better than I did, and some of you never met her. But regardless, here are a few things I want you to know about my friend.

1. Angela loved Jesus: The number one thing about my friend that you should know is that she loved Jesus. She loved to worship Him and she loved to serve Him. She was always active in the local church. She sought out ways to glorify God no matter her circumstances. Throughout her three year fight with breast cancer she took advantage of every opportunity to shine for Jesus.

2. Angela was generous: Last year Angela was ending her second fight with breast cancer. We grabbed lunch to catch up and chat. This was a season of my life where I was in between jobs. I was stressed about money but didn’t say anything to Angela about how worried I was about even paying for my lunch. But despite any financial difficulties Angela may have been facing, she somehow knew that I could use someone to pay for my lunch. So, she did. She didn’t know the extent of my worries, but her generous spirit prevailed. It meant more to me than she probably knew.

3. Angela had great fashion sense: This may seem silly, but it’s something about my friend that will always make me smile. She gave me fashion advice and always knew the best way to accessorize. And she LOVED shoes. Angela had a great sense of style and it was just fun talking about shopping, clothes and shoes with her.

4. Angela was a servant: Angela thought about others consistently. She took coffee to chemo patients on a regular basis. She always served at her church. Angela truly put others before herself. Whether it was planning a conference, sorting donated clothing, volunteering at the church office, or stuffing shoeboxes full of goodies for kids halfway around the world, Angela was always looking for ways to serve others.

5. Angela was a matchmaker: This one is fun. My husband Brent and Angela were friends before she and I were. 10687040_10101356310839233_2989706054596850554_nWhen Brent first starting noticing me, he went to Angela for advice and to just talk about how he liked me. At some point, Angela looked at him and said “Don’t talk to me about her anymore until you man up and ask her out!” or something along those lines. Well, the rest is history. We owe our relationship to Angela 🙂

6. Angela was joyful: She loved life and loved to laugh. Even during the tough days she had a smile. She was able to find joy in the midst of her trials. I’ll never forget her laugh, she loved to laugh. I can’t use words to adequately describe her beautiful laugh, so you’ll just have to trust me on this: her joy, and her laughter- they were contagious and inspiring.

7. Angela was a good friend: Angela never ceased to encourage her friends. She listened to me go on and on about life and stress and always had an encouraging word. She also wasn’t afraid to be bold and honest when needed. We would go a couple months without seeing each other, but would reconvene for coffee and pick up where we had left off. She was truly a good friend and her loss will be felt by many, many people who had the privilege to call her friend.

Angela is whole again. Cancer tried to ruin her, but she didn’t let it. She was bold and was a bright shining light for Jesus during her time on earth. And because of that bright shining light, she’s now whole and in the arms of her savior. I can picture Him telling her “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Maybe she’s sipping caramel macchiato’s while lounging in the sun, wearing flip flops. One of our friends put a hashtag out there for her: #bossingheaven, which is so hilariously fitting. Her classic “Come to Jesus Moments” are probably a bit easier to have since she can now drag the offender right over to Jesus’ feet. That’s probably not theologically accurate at all, but it makes me smile so I’m going with it right now.

1014250_10152844769490649_7392816251855536312_nMy sweet friend, I’ll always miss you. But I know you’re happy again. I’m so grateful for the time we all had to know you here on this earth. I’m sorry we never got to have our classic movie marathon, I guess neither one of us thought this would actually happen. I wish we had spent more time together. I wish I hadn’t had that cold the last time you were in the hospital since I didn’t get to visit you that time. There are other things I wish, but I know you’d probably get on to me and tell me to stop regretting and move forward. I’ll do that, my friend. I’ll tell people about your story. I’ll use your obedience and faith to point people to Him. And if I need to, I’ll conduct some ‘Come to Jesus meetings’ for you too. I bought new shoes in your honor and I’ll wear them to your funeral. I think you would have liked them. I love you friend. I’m glad I never ceased to tell you that while you were here. Now go give Jesus a hug for me. I’ll see you again someday.

Check out Angela’s blog here.

Round…. 10?

Photo credit: snow0810 (creative commons)

Photo credit: snow0810 (creative commons)

About a year and a half ago I wrote a blog post. The premise of the post was about battles. I was in a season of calm and was relishing in the blessings and provision of God. It was a good time, but I pictured myself standing at the corner of the boxing ring. My gloves were off, I was taking a break, breathing deeply and drinking some water. The calm I was sitting in felt wonderful, but I pictured myself glancing at the boxing gloves. Would I have to put them back on again? When would that time be?

Fast forward to now. The gloves are on, they’ve been on for several months now. I feel like every time I catch my breath, life throws another punch. I wasn’t ready for the gloves to be back on. I wasn’t ready for the next round. But it didn’t wait for me to prepare myself, it came charging in. So here I stand, proverbially bruised and weary from the fight. I thought this round would be over at a certain point, there seemed to be a distinct end date, but it hasn’t ended. So I find myself staring at the ceiling, willing myself to do what I need to do but wanting to hide. I feel my breath catching in my throat as another issue springs forward.  I’ve had some physical reactions to stress and worry that seem to come one after another. I go from guilt (why can’t I just handle it) to self pity (woe is me, things are so hard) to ambivalence (just screw it all, I don’t even care anymore). Sometimes those moods will switch as the day progresses.

I said that I wasn’t ready for this battle, but life didn’t wait for me to prepare myself. And I’ll tell you why I wasn’t ready for this round. I haven’t learned my lesson, I haven’t learned to trust. I’m clinging to my talents, experience, and ability to “handle it” instead of just handing it over to the One who wants to carry all my burdens.

You see, last year my summer was stressful as I was in between jobs and had no idea how God would provide. The summer of 2012 was overwhelming- my job was in shambles and I was completely miserable. The summer before that was overwhelming and uncertain. Brent and I had just gotten married, I was looking for a job while trying to learn how to be a wife. And in the summer of 2010 I struggled with anxiety and doubt. I had a bit of a reprieve in 2009, but in the spring and summer of 2008 I sank into a pit of low self esteem and near depression, a quarter life crisis of sorts. I could keep going, but you get the gist- me and summer have a rocky relationship.

Now, as I read over the previous paragraphs, my initial reaction is embarrassment. What are people going to say? Does everyone think I’m pathetic and weak? I have this constant inner struggle to have it all together. I am always ‘fine’, everything is always ‘okay’ even when it really isn’t. I’ve used (read: distorted) all sorts of scripture passages to justify my need to always be okay.

But you know what? Things aren’t always okay. They aren’t always okay for anyone. We live in this social media world where we see everyone’s beautiful pictures and happy status updates. We inwardly think that they have perfect lives and not a care in the world. But that’s not true! We all have struggles, we all at times find ourselves nearly passed out from a fistfight with life that leaves us wondering how we’ll go on. Being weak and not being okay does not make you or I any less of a person, or less of a Christian We are all valued and loved by God, no matter if things are good, bad or in between.

And, just like last year and the many summers before, I’m remembering that God pulls me through the battles in ways that I can’t even comprehend. He kneels down beside us and heals our wounds. He picks us up, takes the gloves off our hands, and fights for us. Scripture is clear on this truth.

“The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still” Ex. 14:14

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” Matt 11:28

“You are my strength, I watch for you, my God, you are my fortress” – Ps 59:9

There are many, many more verses and stories where God has come through for His children. I can share stories, and I imagine you can too. But it’s so easy to forget when we feel like we’re getting punched in the gut every five seconds. Today, I’m trying to remind myself to not forget. And if you’ve made it this far in this post, thank you. When I started writing tonight, I was on the verge of tears and had a sinking feeling in my stomach about the week ahead. I really planned for the post to end differently, but I feel like God began to work in my heart as I typed, bringing scripture to memory and reminding me of all He’s done. It’s sort of like writing therapy I guess. Is there perfect peace right now? No, but I’m getting there.

Friends, we can’t forget all He’s done and all He’s promised us to do. Hand the gloves over to him and remember that we just need to be still.

Five Months, Twenty Things

Thirty is looming ahead my friends. I can’t believe it’s almost September! I meant to write this post in July, the halfway point of my year of the 30 by 30 list, but I just didn’t get to it. The summer flew by in a blur of stress and busyness, and I’m ashamed of my lack of blogging. But I have been able to chip away at the list. You can keep up with the full list and updates by going here.

So far I’m chipping away at things quite nicely. About 10 items are completely finished and several are ‘in progress’. Even more have a concrete plan in place that should lead to me accomplishing them before January 22nd.


Our team in South Africa with Hope2Africa

I’m honestly having a blast with this list. I’ve always loved to do lists and goals, but this list has taken me to a new level of truly living life intentionally and with purpose. There are so many adventures to be had, so many new things to experience and so many memories to be made. Here’s a recap of some of the most amusing, thought provoking and fun moments of my list so far.

Driving a Stick: I thought I was going to kill myself, my brother and my husband. As Casey instructed me how to put the car in gear and shift, I muttered a four letter word that was caught on video by my husband. Sadly (or conviently) this video was deleted from Brent’s phone, so there’s no proof. I sputtered and abused that little car and had the customary ‘crap how am I going to get up this hill’ moment and found myself hearing my brotherly calmly say “go to second….. no, that’s fourth….. second Emily, second…… and we’re stalled.” I consider it accomplished, even though Casey insists on another lesson before he’ll concede that I can check it off my list.

Leaning to Surf: I strategically planned our long weekend vacation so I could accomplish this10428692_10101190200226233_8189278597736510850_n one. St. Augustine Beach is named one of the top ten places on the East Coast for surfing, and it’s driving distance from Atlanta. I was really excited about my lesson and was sharing it with my husband’s family on a stopover down to the beach. Someone then made casual mention about shark attacks, and then I felt the anxiety creep in. So to be honest, I was a little nervous on the lesson day. I was even more nervous when one of the surf shops I called to make a lesson called me back the day of to inform me that they were canceling lessons because the conditions were too rough. Red flags, choppy, rough waves and intense wind greeted us as we arrived at the beach. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. Brent can vouch for me. I took a deep breath, tried to push my fear and foreboding aside, and focused. After about 45 minutes of being beaten around, I was up! And up again, and again, and again! It was incredible. I can’t fully explain the feeling of being caught by that first wave. We were all cheering, and my instructor said that she was surprised I was able to catch as many waves as much as I did. No sharks, no major injuries (just some awesome rug burns from wiping out), and no regrets. I’m hooked.

10576951_10101267402252753_7461725558344413985_nStress relief at its finest: I rediscovered some stress relievers and discovered some new ways to relieve stress as well. First of all, massages. I had my first massage, and I had NO IDEA what I was missing out on. Can that be a regular occurrence, please? Also, I rediscovered a bit of escapism I went to often in my younger years- fiction. I love a good story, and I used to spend much time getting lost in good fiction. On my list was to read and watch the Harry Potter series. For the past month, I let myself get engrossed in this series. First of all, why has it taken me so long to read these? Amazing literature, I couldn’t put the books down. And honestly, I think the escape of these books got me mentally through parts of July and August, as it’s been a very busy, exhausting, and stressful few weeks. I was able to come home and disappear in the world of Hogwarts. At 2 am on a Saturday night when I finally closed the Deathly Hallows I was sad to finish, but happy to have completed reading one of the most iconic series of my generation. And one more stress reliever to mention- the art of being alone. I’ve never been one to be comfortable in being alone. I always feel anxious and self conscious when I’m by myself in a public place. So, I faced that uncomfortable feeling while on a work trip to Portland, Oregon. I had a whole day to myself. I dropped my luggage off at my hotel and set off to explore the city on my own. I spent hours in a bookstore, not worried about holding anyone up as I walked down every aisle. I ate truffle fries and a veggie burger by myself at a restaurant. I explored shops and neighborhoods, not worrying about what others were thinking. It was actually quite nice, I may have to do that again sometime.


The Family enjoying our poop coffee.

Other things to mention: This post is getting a bit long, but I can’t go without mentioning the day I was able to get nearly everyone in my family to drink the infamous ‘poop coffee’, Kopi Luwak. At the start of our tasting session, I had two people willing to try, but by the end of the night nearly everyone had a sip. Later I took the rest to work and had a nice Friday afternoon tasting session with some colleagues. It is divine coffee, it truly is delicious. I took Brent to a shooting range for his birthday and learned to shoot our gun, jumping slightly every time I pulled the trigger. I went on a mission trip with my mom, and could write dozens of posts on the impact of that week. I nearly threw up after riding a legit roller coaster at the Animal Kingdom (don’t naysay, it was legit for me!). I’ve explored several new cities and still have a few more to explore.

Nearly every other item on the list is either in progress or planned. I’ve had friends offer to help with tasks. Other friends have started their own lists. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and have made memories that I’ll never forget so far. With five months to go and 20 items left to complete, I’m going to be busy, but I’m excited and ready to go. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find a copy of War and Peace and make reservations for my pottery lesson. 🙂

In the mess

Photo Credit: Ana Rey (creative commons)

Photo Credit: Ana Rey (creative commons)

One of the many things I do during the week is teach. It’s a privilege and a joy to inspire budding helping professionals to take action and develop their skills. But in my class, I have to teach some tough stuff. To be quite honest, some of my lectures are pretty depressing. One class is centered around the structural issues of poverty, which is a colossal social problem with no easy solution. We discuss the cycles of poverty, the causes of poverty, and the human side of poverty. We read painful stories and talk about messy problems. The content hits some students hard. Many are also interning in the public or nonprofit sector and may be finding themselves face to face with huge social problems and their client’s huge personal problems for the first time. It’s overwhelming.

And it hurts. Helping hurts.

It can be painful to get so close to someone’s mess. When we choose to truly help someone, we are choosing to walk with them. And it can hurt. When we choose to listen to the hard stories and we refuse to ignore the big social issues, we can enter into periods of pain. The first time this really hit home for me was when I was about the age of many of my students. I was 20 years old and was volunteering in Indonesia after the Tsunami. My job in community development was to support the residents of this community and help assess their needs as they rebuilt their homes and ultimately their community. But what I didn’t realize as a naive, sheltered, idealistic 20 year old is that to truly help, you must get close. You have to walk beside someone. And I did walk beside these sweet women, children and their families. I took them in my car to visit the mass graves of Banda Aceh. Nothing could have prepared me for the helplessness I felt watching these women wail at the site of the mass graves over their family and friends who perished in the Tsunami. The first time I went, I stood there, frozen, tears streaming down my face. There was nothing I could do but just be there for them. It was there that I realized that to help, sometimes you must feel the hurt.

Even today I’m reminded of the pain of sharing in someone’s story. I am surrounded by painful stories almost every day. My heart breaks when I watch a woman cry in my office because she’s separated from her children due to displacement. It’s so hard to watch the effects of trauma haunt a person who is just trying to start over, to survive. When I read and think about the magnitude of human trafficking in our world today, sometimes it makes me feel paralyzed. When I think about the stories I’ve heard and the things I’ve seen, I feel pain in my heart. It’s a heaviness that those of us who walk with the grieving, the suffering deal with. It’s the heaviness that comes from truly allowing yourself to know and understand the magnitude of injustice in this world.

But I’m telling you, it’s worth it. When you familiarize yourself with the marginalized, you’re walking in the shadow of Jesus’ steps. He was familiar with injustice, with suffering. By stepping out of the bubble of security and comfort and into the mess, I enter into communion with God that I can’t explain. There is even more of an urgency for His Grace, His Mercy when I understand the depths of suffering his children experience. HIS Children, just like me and you. The ‘least of these’ are important to God. It’s our responsibility. It hurts, and it’s not pretty. It doesn’t come with fame and accolades most of the time. But it’s so rewarding. And with each small task, with each small victory, it’s easier to see the redemption in helping within the mess.

So friends who are in the mess with me, friends who are walking with a friend, family member, client, or neighbor through pain and suffering. Friends who are fighting against injustice to the point of exhaustion. Friends who have devoted their vocations to helping others for little pay or gratitude. Friends who can’t sleep sometimes for the stories they’ve heard and the work to be done. Stick with it, keep pushing, keep fighting. We’re in this together.

And it’s worth it.

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