becoming 30

Nearing the end of my twenties is beginning to feel infused with equal parts nostalgia, pride, reflection, and gratitude. I spent this morning sifting through old photographs and recalling old memories leading me to wonder, once again, who am I? Where am I going? What is this crazy life?

It’s funny – isn’t it – how the questions really never change. When I first turned 20, I was asking the very same things. I had no idea who I was, and I certainly could never have anticipated where life took me for the last 10 years. I suppose now things are different – I do actually know much more of who I am, however, in knowing how growth and change work, I also know there will be even more to be discovered in the years to come.

My twenties were vibrant, challenging, illuminating, joyful, heartbreaking, and full of travel to new places. I believe it has been my experiences away from home that have taught me to appreciate what home means and how much the world has to offer. Learning new places, new languages, new modes of transport, and new foods has shown me the delicate beauty of humanity. I learned how to love in my twenties (or at least, how to love better), and I know now this is the greatest gift we can learn. I have learned to love God, the world, others, and importantly, myself.

The best part of my twenties was exploring cultures, places, and my identity. I knew, already, when I was twenty that I was gay. However, I had convinced myself to repress this, to live a different life because the one that I wanted was impossible. I’m pleased – and blessed – to see that as I close this chapter of my life, I am exactly where I had hoped and dreamed to be.

Within the past decade, I made so many new friendships, got to vote in my first election (right before I turned 20), played NCAA field hockey, became an aunt, fell in love, lived in new places, ran a half marathon, helped start a business, gained new family members (via in-laws and families in East Africa), attended a Sooners football game in Norma, and published my writing. More recently, I became engaged and am planning a wedding with the love of my life. Truly – I never thought that would happen. So much of me did not believe in the institution of marriage. However, I will be the first to say, I am grateful to have changed my mind. I have learned the art of doing so; it is perfectly acceptable and even preferable to reconsider what you think about people, ideas, and things. When I was younger, I thought changing your mind was a bad thing. Yet, it is in challenging our own assumptions where we find the biggest growth opportunities.

The most arduous part of my twenties was loss. I lost my grandmother, who in many ways, was the light of my life. I lost my dog, Buddy, too, and this was also inexpressibly difficult. I lost – for a while – a part of myself when I moved permanently back from Rwanda. Moving back to the United States was literally, painful, lonely, and isolating. Easily, this was one of the more grueling times in my life (not just my twenties).

In addition to loss, my twenties were demanding because of the amount of change that occurred. I had to let go of my first love because of distance – that hurt every part of me. I had to learn about building long-distance friendships when I graduated college, knowing that all of my dearest friends would live in different parts of the United States. My brother also went through a great deal of hardship, and as a sister, this was agonizing to bear witness to. Loss and change, I now understand, come with life. As we hold onto love and joy, inevitably, we will also meet suffering, too. It all goes hand in hand.

As I look to 30 and the next season of life, I see hope. I am actively working towards new dreams – dreams rooted in helping others as I work to become a licensed therapist – and dreams of starting a family. I yearn for more ways to make a difference in the world and to always seek personal growth and become the woman I am supposed to be. I want to continue to write, to continue to seek adventures, and to continue to promote love in a world that desperately needs it. I hope to do this with boldness and humility, knowing that my journey now could not be without the journey that has come before.

I am proud of who I am. I am proud of the life I have made so far. I am just proud. Yet, in this pride, I know I would not be where I am without my family, without my friends, without my partner, Chelsea, and without God. I am truly fortunate to have this life, and my hope is that I can give back to the world what has been graciously bestowed to me. I am motivated to live in a world that values humanity, kindness, and community and I aim to push forward this kind of world for my kids, their kids, and the people who will come after me. I am absolutely pumped to be thirty years young and I genuinely look forward to what the next 10 years – and beyond. Bring on the art of living.

Here we go.

As I look forward to the future, it has been deeply rewarding to look back on where I have been. Here’s my favorite photos (and memories) from the last 10 years.

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

28 things.

28 things I’ve learned in my twenties

Recently, I turned 28.

It felt good. More than that, I feel 28. In the best way possible.

I have lived enough life to have learnt a thing or two, but am still young enough to know that I will forever keep learning. I’m in a good place with that. As I’ve reflected on my years, experiences, and seasons, I put together a list of lessons I have learned – specifically in my twenties. The Roaring Twenties is a time full of varying experiences, full of both exhilaration and mass confusion. They are not easy, but they are formative.

Cheers to more great years to come.

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Asking questions keeps you humble. And helps you make friends.

When we meet new people, we must remember that we know nothing. The best way to start the process of learning about someone? Ask questions. Some questions in my standard repertoire include: if you could eat only one food the rest of your life what would it be? Who has had the biggest influence on your life? Where is your favorite place to visit? If you were an animal, what would you be? Small talk is not dead, my friends.

Snail mail is an important practice.

I grew up in the advent of the internet; we’re talking AOL-style dial-up. I got my first phone at 14. Communication mediums have continually evolved and with the integration of emojis and facetime, it becomes tempting to abandon the practice of writing, sending, and receiving hand-written notes. I grew to love this when I lived in Rwanda; I would spend hours listening to the radio and writing letters to friends in far-off places. Writing notes like this reminds us of our connection. The personal touch shows us also, that we are dearly loved.

Love is a verb. Practice it. 

A parent will visit you across the world. A friend will study with you all night. A lover will keep you safe. A sibling will reach out for help.

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Grace hurts.

Entering relationships of every kind assumes a risk: at some point, we will disappoint or hurt the people around us – even the people we love. Recently, I did something that hurt someone I loved. With some space and time, she forgave me, wholly and completely. I was left in a dizzying circle of doubt: but I hurt you! I can’t take what I did back! I made such a huge mistake! And yet, her grace was supreme. It hurt to accept, but I believe that our relationships hinge upon the ability for us to offer and receive the grace extended to us.

Everyone is a teacher.

On planes, in homeless shelters, in rural farms, and in investment banks you will find humans that you can learn from. Around 25, I began a simple, internal mantra with each person I would meet: “what can I learn from this person today?” Believe me, this isn’t always easy. Without coffee, on my period, or on a crappy day, this would fall by the wayside. But, it remains a practice I take seriously. It brings equity into relationship – and that’s powerful.

Life can be intense, boring, interesting, difficult, passionate, energizing, engaging, and confusing – all at once, even.

Life is not static; it can be a million things all at once. Moreover, the small moments filled with a delicious cold-brew coffee, a beautiful sunset, an act of kindness, or a colorful mural are what sustain us. Instead of seeking “big adventure” all of the time, I’ve learned to be more observant, aware of what small wonders are happening around me.

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Stuff is just stuff.    

My dad always told me: you can only live in one room at once. He was right. I like my laptop. I treasure my books. I hoard my journals. But, there’s a place for stuff, and it should not come before ourselves or the people we love.

Pray with the people you love.

I pray weekly with one of my best friends. This has created a deeper level of fellowship and awareness than I could have ever imagined. Prayer is powerful. I’ve seen it work.

Invite people for a home-cooked meal.

I learned to first host community members when I first was a teacher in the Peace Corps. I was consistently asked to visit homes from students’ families for a meal of potatoes, cassava, and bananas. We often shared our food from one plate. I realized then – as I know now – that there is no better practice of building respect and admiration than by including people in your home and in your meals.

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By simply existing you will “change” the world. You have the power to influence this.

It’s tempting to think (at least as a millennial) that your job alone will carry the value and contribution you have in the world. This isn’t true. Your “change” in the world will be felt in every aspect of your life: in your family, in your neighborhood, on the roads, at coffee shops, and in your participation in civic engagement. Existence merits value which precludes change. Once I realized this, I felt free to know that I could change innumerable things: the precedence for how we treat refugees, how I speak to elders, how I respect strangers, how I manage my money, how I live openly and authentically, and how I commit to a sports team.

There is no secret to happiness.

You could read every self-help book available, but the real “secret” to happiness is that there isn’t one. Happiness is a bountiful mix of contentment, gratitude, and hope. It comes in sharp, surprising ways sometimes. Other seasons it feels absent.

Yet, of this I am sure: we all have the right to be happy. No matter where we are from, or who we are, we deserve to fight for the right to be happy. What I’ve learned, as our society has grown in division and in strife is that our happiness is bound in each other. We can’t seclude or isolate our happiness at the expense of others. It’s completely unacceptable.

Seek wisdom from those who’ve lived more years than you.

I’ve met with a woman for lunch (Red Lobster, in case you were curious) above the age 70 on a regular basis for the past year. Like a sponge, I ask questions and note the lessons they share, ranging from successes to failure. They know more than me, and I respect that.

Your dreams will change.

When I was 21, I wanted to work internationally forever. I thought it would be the only way I could advocate for women’s rights or in deference to poverty issues. With more time in different places, I realized my dreams expounded larger than a job or vocation: I wanted to help. Make a difference. Stand up for others. I could do that in many ways. That was a real kind of liberation.

You won’t be able to explain everything. That’s a good thing.

Like art, things happen in your life that you won’t have the words for. Surviving a motorcycle accident. Falling in love. Losing a loved one. Experiencing Jesus. Meeting the right person at the right time. If we could explain these things, life would be formulaic and rigid. Instead, we live in a world that is full of complexity and mystery. I find comfort in that.

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Long-distance friendships add significant meaning and intention to life.

My 5 best friends live in 5 different places. And yet, we’ve seen each other through years and years of changes, difficulties, successes, and celebrations. We are intentional to stay in each other’s lives, and because of that, it’s worked.

We are formed by the environment around us. That makes traveling even more worthwhile. 

Culture runs deep. Inevitably, we are formed by the people, places, and communities around us. Thus, it’s important to think about the place you live and how it affects your life experience – and how this might be different from someone else.

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Parents are real people.

Somewhere in my mid-twenties I had a jarring realization: at one point, my parents were also in their mid-twenties, just “trying to figure it out.” That brought me a lot of peace and patience for where they are now and the way our relationships have changed. I’ll always be their daughter, but now, I can speak, understand, and see my parents as more than just “mom” or “dad.” We are more than singular identities.

There is no blueprint for how to let go and move on.

One guarantee: life will change. Anticipate it, acknowledge it, prepare for it. In the last eight years, I have lived in over 10 different places. However, as things changed, I took things with me and left pieces of me behind. Our legacy becomes the crevices and corners we have let ourselves be known.

Women can do anything.

During my twenties, women became my superheroes. Men are also incredible people, but women have a way of instigating truth, advocacy, and strength. From my grandmothers to my co-workers to my friends (and yes, to Beyonce) I have seen the ways in which women defy (and continue to defy) all possibilities.

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“Love is love is love is love.”

Before I could believe it, I had to learn it. And learn it, I did. The hard way. I wrestled with what love could be for several years. I recognized who I was. I denied who I was. I wrestled with who I was. I celebrated who I am.

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My early twenties were spent learning about what I want. My mid-and late twenties focused on learning how to have the guts to follow through.

People will want to tell you exactly how they would do something. We all have perspectives, but at the end of the day, the one that matters is the one you carry. At some point, you must know yourself well enough that you live your life accordingly. Trust your gut.

 

Read. As much as you can.

I realized during my twenties that I much prefer non-fiction work to fiction. I like memoirs, sociological pieces, and national narrative pieces. When I returned from Rwanda at 25 my first order of business was getting a library card. I’ve never looked back.

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People want to share their stories. If you listen, you are being richly blessed.

Old stories are like treasured diamonds for some people. More than once, I’ve found myself in hour-long conversations about a person’s path to some circumstance. We all end up somewhere for some reason. It’s too darn interesting not to learn why.

Most clichés about love are true (damnit).

It’s as splendid and as hard as they say, and still, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You don’t have to pretend to be happy all the time.

On the enneagram, I am a type 2 (“the helper”) or an ENFP on the Myers-Briggs personality assessment. Hence, I’m all about positivity, enthusiasm, and energy. Yet, I’ve matured emotionally and have come to know that instead of being afraid at signs of unhappiness, I can welcome the spectrum of emotions, realizing they are all necessary and needed.

Our lives and journeys should and will look different. 

It’s tempting to compare yourself to colleagues with families or friends with high-powered careers. Whether we envy stability, money, families, or futures, we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t acknowledge the value of our own journey. 

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Taking care of yourself is a skill – and one that shouldn’t be overlooked.

I still struggle getting enough sleep. But, I eat decently well. I exercise regularly. I journal and try to take time to myself. This is like recharging my batteries, and without it, I would burn out, again and again and again. Living through my twenties has shown me my own limits. We all have them. We must be aware of them and honor them, too.

 

Just be you.

The world is better when you are authentically YOU. The one you are made to be. The one who is imperfect, odd, caring, and determined. Let that part shine – that’s what the world needs more of.  Come hell or high water, I will be me. I’m a Maya Angelou enthusiast who loves roller-blading, mountains, writing about stories, and red wine (cheap). That’s me, and that’s just how it is.

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“the real world”

For the first time since I was a teacher in Rwanda, I walked into a high school classroom. And because the last couple of months in Rwanda were on holiday, I hadn’t entered a classroom since late October. Not to mention, this classroom was a bit different. Each student sat at their own, personal desks glancing my way as I entered the room.

It was particularly cold this Wednesday morning and so most students wore jackets, coats, and vests to stay warm. I smiled nervously as my dad exclaimed proudly, “everyone say ‘hi’ to Heather. This is my daughter, as you know, and she’ll be telling us about Rwanda today.” I placed my computer on dad’s desk and pulled up my PowerPoint presentation. I was going to talk about my 2 year experience in one hour. And really, I had even less than that as I had prepared a popular African dish the night before to share with the students.

Dad and I had ventured to about 4 different international markets around the Aurora/East Denver area in order to find the perfect African ingredients. We finally found everything we needed at a place close to the intersections of Parker and Peoria; the place was called Nana’s African Market. Perfect. I felt giddy upon entering the small store. I saw cassava leaves, the right flour to cook a plantain dish, and all sorts of packages and labels that I had been used to in my adventures in both Ghana and Rwanda. I spent about 3 hours preparing this particular meal for Dad’s students. It wasn’t exactly cheap either, as Dad spent about 40 bucks for three boxes of ‘fufu mix’, frozen cassava leaves, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and spices. It was so fun to cook! Divine would have been so proud.

ingredients all ready! tomatoes, flour mix, tomato paste, onions, peppers, oil, and cassava leaves.

ingredients all ready! tomatoes, flour mix, tomato paste, onions, peppers, oil, and cassava leaves.

ready to mix the sauce with the cassava leaves. rwanda food? nta kibazo! (no problem!)

ready to mix the sauce with the cassava leaves. rwanda food? nta kibazo! (no problem!)

And so I started to tell my story.

I told them a bit about the Peace Corps (of course showing a picture of my mosquito net over my bed and an image around the back of my house) and my motivations for doing it. I had prepared the presentation the night before and it took a long time. Mostly because I didn’t really know where to start. What photos should I choose? What anecdotes should I share? Which videos will best exemplify this country that I have tried so hard to get to know?

Around midnight, after finally finishing to cook and taking a hot bath, I decided to choose the photos that made me happiest and the videos that made me smile. That way, talking would be easy.

And it was.

I didn’t need notecards. I didn’t need reminders. I just talked about my life there and you know what was great about it? It wasn’t difficult. Sometimes I feel like I get it wrong or I don’t adequately explain what Rwanda has meant to me. But, in front of these students, I didn’t feel limited or constricted – it was literally just explaining my time there. Can I cover 2 years? No. But I can give a little glimpse, which is better than nothing. I showed them videos of me hanging out in the village, of me teaching, and of some of my students dancing and singing. I told them my job boiled down to four components: teacher, mentor, village member, and friend.

That hour came and went before I knew it.

I was far more intimidated in this technologically infused and brightly decorated American classroom than I remember being in Rwanda, but I suppose that’s the nature of time – we can get used to anything and when presented with something new, it can be like entering a cold pool for the first time. Sometimes you just have to jump on and trust that it’s going to be okay.

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Rwanda isn’t continually around me only when I’m giving presentations like this or specifically speaking about my friends or family there.

It’s just naturally with me.

I’ll be driving on a long stretch of highway and remember the bananas that framed the Rwandan “black road” out East by my house.

I’ll think of Divine when I’m praying, wondering what she would make of my American church. There’s so many instruments, stage lights, and chairs for every person to sit in.

I even read some of the Christmas Story at our family Christmas Eve celebration in Kinyarwanda. I’m pretty sure it was the first time we had ever read in another language, and it was a fun experience for everyone to gather round and listen to the story of Jesus in the best Kinyarwanda I could muster. And hey, if I made a mistake, it’s not like anyone would really know. That’s the huge advantage of having an English-only speaking family – I could speak the worst Kinyarwanda in the world and they would still think it’s pretty darn cool.

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Life is continuing to glide by here. Some days harder than others. Some days are quite enjoyable – easy, even – but sometimes I have to remember all of this is a life transition and that the adjustment won’t come in days, weeks, or even months. It’s going to take a while. And maybe I fear that I’ll never be quite “comfortable” again. But I realized praying this past week that maybe that’s totally okay. My perspective has been tweaked a bit, and if it has changed the way I see the world then what’s really wrong with that?

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I spent my birthday – and all of last week, really – with my Hendrix girls. (Oh yeah. I turned 25. I’m officially a middle-twenty-something. I am no closer to having any answers about life. Other than that good friends and family are the answers to most things.)

Ali, Michelle, Lauren, and Jordana all made the trek out to Colorado last week for a visit. We spent time at home in Aurora, in Estes Park, and a bit in Denver too.

Being with them was like taking a vacation from re-adjustment and I needed that. I didn’t really think about how DIFFERENT everything is for me right now. Instead, I just tried to soak up being with the girls whether we were all reading in the couch, staying up late talking, or cooking together. It was an alternate reality, a vacation, and something I really needed.

We drove through Rocky Mountain National Park on a really sunny and beautiful (albeit windy!) day. We took “Rhonda” on those windy mountain roads and made it to some stunning photo locations. We took it all in, amazed at just how gorgeous nature could be. The best parts of our week together was actually our chats. I just loved being able to share, to catch up, and to better understand how our lives have played out for the last couple of years – especially since I hadn’t been around.

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I start work next week. A job. Like, one that I’ll need to be on time to. A job that will require intense organization and an American-standard work ethic. I’m excited to be doing something different for the time being – as I await answers from graduate school. And let’s be real, I can’t live off my Peace Corps adjustment allowance forever. I have a car, loans, a phone, and some real things I have to pay for. Welcome to the real world.

If I’m going to be perfectly honest, however, I don’t really know what my ‘real world’ looks like anymore. I thought for a long time that life in America, in school, going along the path that will provide stability was what I should do. What I needed to do.

However, as I consider my future, I’m not sure what I’ll do. There are a lot of opportunities in the world and I suppose now, more than ever, I’m really open to anything.

“The real world.”

Each day I’m getting a little bit more of it. Some I like, some I don’t. But I have my family and friends around and that, above everything else, makes the adjustment completely worthwhile (and a bit easier). I even have Divine and all the girls via skype and for now, it’s enough.

It certainly gives a plentiful amount of people to soak up America with:

free refills!

clean water!

55 choices of cereal!

what the hell – I have to pay loans?!

what is a “cloud”?

music streaming & gym memberships!

wi-fi every place, every day.

Cars.cars.cars.cars.cars.

infrastructure.

why is everyone moving so quickly?

Yeah. I am still in that phase of where everything is weird and quite fascinating. I’m also easily entertained and can enjoy most things. I just hope I don’t lose my grip and find myself in all of it. I want to be able to apply a lot of the things I learned in Rwanda. It sure won’t be easy, but if the experience means as much as it did, I think it’s important to do.

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