adulting.

Reflecting on the last year, and in preparation for 2017, I’ve noticed the development of a strange phenomenon that has taken hold in my life: adulting.

Adulting: a lovely millennial-driven term that alludes to the process of transformation from the formative years of youth to being somehow “grown.”

Just a year ago, while visiting a museum in Montgomery, Alabama in early January, a curious, spirited, middle-aged woman pulled me aside gently to ask about my age.

“I don’t mean to be nosy, but my dear, are you grown?”

I hesitated for a moment. Grown? What the heck was she talking about?

“Ma’am, I just turned 27…”

“No! Oh my. I thought you weren’t anywhere over the age of 20! It’s those clothes, your spirit, you seem young!”

I’m sure this can (and should) be taken as a compliment. But, coming from a refined Southern woman, I’m not so sure that it was. Alas, this was a year ago, and because 2016 was you know, 2016, I grew up a lot. I came into my own and so yeah, if I saw that woman again I would proclaim boldly and without reservation: I am grown, honey!

To be sure, I’ve engaged in adult-like tendencies for a few years now: I pay my bills on time, I plan and cook meals, I know the ins-and-outs of my health insurance policy, I budget when possible, and I understand weird concepts like 401k, HOA, quarterly taxes, and swaddling.

Yet, the actual experience of maturity and “growing up” are felt more starkly in paradigm shifts and “long-view” perspectives than it does through the day-t0-day responsibilities of being a grown woman. This growing sense of becoming an adult is less about the things I do and more attune to the ideas, knowledge, and experience I gain.

We commemorated Martin Luther King Jr. Day this week and so I set aside 20 minutes at the start of my morning to reflect on one of my favorite quotes from the famed Civil Rights Leader:

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For years, I have read quotations like these and appreciated the timeless sentiment they hold for each generation. After all, I’ve owned Martin Luther King Jr. books on his best speeches, messages of reconciliation, and case for justice since I was a young teenager. These idioms and words of wisdom have shaped the woman I am – the woman I want to be – and so it’s not as if the power of them has left me untainted.

Yet, I don’t think until recently that I could tangibly understand them.

The arc of history meant little to me back when I was a 21-year old. I was too young to notice patterns, to observe implications, or note the impact of things that were happening to me. Simply because of the lack of perspective, I couldn’t have known the influence my brother would have on my life, or the direction I would take because of a trip to the continent of Africa, or really, who I would become as I entered a journey of faith: full of bible studies, spiritual questions, small groups, church visits, and real-life, existential experiences.

In my early twenties, I couldn’t yet see the evolution of my past. I couldn’t appreciate the movement of time and what happens over the course of days, and months, and years. I didn’t yet know how we can and often change – sometimes, in unexpected ways.

Now, near the end of my twenties, it’s as though my past has come into a sharper view with stronger lenses; I see how my travels and relationships across the United States and the world affected my political, religious, and personal attitudes; I know how my educational background shifted my perception of others; and perhaps most importantly, I have experienced how commitment to justice, fairness, and love plants seeds of change with time.

The world does not become better overnight. But with the passing of days, people and circumstances do change.

I have.

Later this week, I saw another quote worthy of note, from Civil Rights Leader Angela Davis, that said,

I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

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I immediately loved the sentiment, namely because it began to capture the feelings and change that I have experienced within my adult life – a subtle shift from only observing, to believing, and eventually, doing.

It’s more than understanding inspiring quotes too – it’s also knowing how to comfort my friends in times of grief; it’s discerning the right moment to share truth; and it involves valuing yourself enough to take care of yourself as you would any other person.

Being an adult is hard work.

As an adult-in-progress, I hold both perspective and a future together.

There are days when I would rather play in the mountains, roller-blade around the park, and eat three (or four) scoops of ice cream. Sometimes, I do those things, and it’s awesome.

But on a lot of days, I recognize that I have a responsibility to both the life I have lived and the life I will continue to live. There is no such thing as a compartmentalized person, and so I know that I can be all parts of me fully, all at once. Knowing the kind of perspective that comes with age, I am anxious about the people, places, and circumstances of my life now and how it will affect my life in five, ten, or fifteen years.

So, when does this adult-sort-of-thing happen? 25? 27? 30? 35?

Perhaps, and what I tend to believe, is that you don’t wake up one morning and voila! You are an adult. Instead, it happens with time. With people. With life experience.

At some point, you begin to hold all your life together, in one basket, and appreciate it. Honor it. Protect it. I like this part of being an adult. I’m willing to take on that kind of maturity, because it means that I don’t have to isolate one part of me.

As an adult, I know who I am.

And, I can be her. I like her.

a grandmother’s blessing

“Grandma, where are you?”

A bit flustered and slightly more concerned, I entered Fairmount Cemetery all the more clueless. I tend to do this – if I don’t know where I am going, rest assured, I’ll figure it out. That’s what I tell myself, anyway.

Per my father’s advice, I did try and go to the main office to ask for directions to Grandma’s gravestone. However, on a day full of tractors, construction, and barriers, I was unable to find my way to the main office.

Back in my car, I said a quick prayer, Alrighty, Lord, please show me where she is.

I drove around with direction and determination, but with equal levels of uncertainty. The windy roads took me past thousands upon thousands of massive tombstones. Around since 1890, and the second oldest in Denver, you can just imagine the sheer amount of names visible every which way at Fairmount.

Blazing bulldozers drowned out my music yet before reaching for the radio, I glanced left and immediately remembered where her small plot had been established. In a garden nook, somewhere on the North side, lies a beige-red stone with the name Genevra Newell, 1937-2011.

Thank you, Lord.

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When I went to visit Grandma yesterday, I didn’t stay terribly long. Maybe, 15, 20 minutes? Still, it was life-giving and something I knew I needed to do. I prayed to God, spoke to her, and just sat in the blustery rain, flat on the ground.

As my time drew to an end, I was full of incredible gratitude. Here lies a woman that so intimately influenced who I am while growing up; yet, how blessed am I, that now, my maternal grandmother is doing the very same thing. Without question, she has taken the reins.

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Monday thru Friday you will find Mary Lou behind her desk at the Aurora City Municipal Court processing paperwork, filing documents, answering phones, and delivering customer service that would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. She has been doing this diligently for something like 13 years now, and she’s absolutely brilliant. If you are looking for someone who can treat a person with genuine kindness, she’s your gal. It’s in her blood.

Born in Wausa, Nebraska, a small Swedish community of around 700 people, Mary Lou knew manners, generosity, and humility. When founded, the original settlers – a group of 12 families or so – had called the place Vasa after the Swedish King, Gustav Vasa. However, it was altered to Wausa when combined with letters from the acronym “USA.” That’s an American story, if I have ever heard of one.

Her grandmother had emigrated from Oopsala, Sweden (that might be the most fun word to say, like, ever) and moved to the mid-west, speaking only Swedish when she arrived.

When grandma finally came along, and grew up in this little community, she graduated in a class of 25. She knows what it means to know everybody. Literally.

She’s naturally a Cornhusker; journeying off to the University of Nebraska for school. She was hardly “just a student” though: she was a daughter, sister, and community member, carrying her Wausa roots every which direction she went. This was all the more important when she wistfully recalls her precious relationship with her father. Watery eyes and a strained smile, you can tell how much she loved him. He died at an early age, when she was 23, after a successful career as dentist and mayor. Without a doubt, she was a daddy’s girl.

Imagine then, the boldness it would take to leave these small-town loyalties and move to Chicago, one of the biggest cities in the United States. More than just a move, she would become a flight attendant for United. In perhaps a small plight of destiny – as flying in the air often brings – she met my grandfather on a flight too. “Charming,” she said, “and traveling with an old friend from my high school,” they chatted and connected in a scene that seems a bit Hollywood-esque to me. I suppose that’s because when I board flights these days, whether to Africa, St. Louis, whatever, I talk to anyone and anything that moves….still no husband yet. I’ll keep you posted.

Mary Lou – Grandma – would become a mother as well and move to Brighton, Colorado, where my grandfather became a mayor and architect. Her daughters, she has told me, “mean everything” and they are truly her “pride and joy” in life. Numerous times, especially when I was young, my parents would drive us by mom’s childhood home in Brighton and I would ohhhh and ahhhh. It’s a classic American home; blue with white trim, with a Victorian touch. To me, that’s the kind of home I would love to have a family with. Old, rustic, worn.

Raising four (yes, 4) girls is heroic, in my opinion. I recently watched a friend from high school hold her 1-month old daughter in her arms, and feelings of awe, amazement, and respect filled my heart. The kind of investment raising a child requires – emotionally, financially, spiritually, everything – is the most selfless thing you can do. I believe that.

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Fast forward 50 years.

50. years. 

That’s half a century. In that time, birth, life, joy, death, sorrow, separation, and love has happened to my grandma. It boggles my mind, sometimes, when driving together after church, to think that this woman has put so many years into life. And yet, it propels me to share as much as we can together. Not for the sake of solely wisdom (that’s great too) but also because that is the kind of beautiful, positive legacies that God can call us to create with our families.

In the last 9 months or so, we have been spending most Sundays in the pew together at Colorado Community Church; we have cleaned house together on Sunday afternoons; and we also have shared wonderful meals for dinner – at Mimi’s Café, Rosie’s Diner, the French Press, you name it. Aurora is full of good eateries and we have tried a good bulk of them.

Our conversations, however, are what sustain this guidance and love that she has placed into my life. We honestly share our difficulties, our struggles, and our wounds. So, in this time, I have moved away from just seeing this woman as my grandmother. She’s truly a woman, a human, a child of God, and seeing her in that light changes everything.

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I mused over this yesterday at Grandma Jenny’s grave. I never got to see my fraternal grandmother this way – with this kind of intimacy. As a growing child and teenager, she was my angel. Certainly, I don’t think this was simply because she took Lance and I for frozen yoghurt or let us watch too much Care Bears or purchased us Oregon Trail for the computer. I think on some larger level, I knew she was protecting me, nurturing me, and loving me. That was enough.

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Now, as a young woman, my other Grandmother is filling a different – but equally important – role. She is my encourager, supporter, and defender. You see, being 26 brings different problems than simply wanting to play soccer at recess with the boys or going to Dairy Queen for an Oreo blizzard.

What do I do with questions about love, identity, career, God, Jesus, friends, family, and making decisions?

I go to her. And for this season of life, I can’t really think of a greater blessing. To have been companions, in a sense, with both of my grandmothers is only something I can attribute as a unique, rare gift from God.

My family is far far from perfect. I assure you, we don’t prance around in flower-fields, holding hands in the sunshine, and singing songs of praise for each other all the time. That would be nice.

No, there is brokenness, there is hurt, and there are issues. But, let me say this:

this is normal. THIS IS NORMAL.

I think I’m emphasizing that for myself more than anyone.

In a lot of ways, I think I spent the first 20-ish years of my life wishing and hoping my family could be “perfect” and that we could sweep our issues under the rug and call it good.

What my grandmother has now been able to demonstrate and show me is that with family, perfection will never be in the equation. However, if you are so blessed to have your family within reach, then by all means, accept, love, and grow together.

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I’m packing today for a 2-month training this summer in ministry. My hope, above all, is to grow intimately with God. A big part of that – I anticipate – will be learning how to accept family, how to honor them, how to give thanks for them. We carry around brokenness in backpacks, taking it along for all of life’s journeys. A good chunk, though, can be set free. That’s what I am most looking forward to. In a one-word summary, that’s what the Gospel gives. Freedom.

Grandma is dropping me off at the ministry’s campus tomorrow, which is all the more appropriate. It’s been her, praying alongside me this last year, and filling my mind, soul, and heart with a kind of compassion that only a woman full of life could know.

Thanks Grandma. I’ll miss our Sundays together, but in two months, I know we’ll be at it again.

I love you.

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you were found living in the wild sun

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It might be sometime around 26 years and 50-some-odd days that adulthood strikes and blood is drawn.

It’s somewhere between washing down the distasteful toilet stains with a dirty sponge and the third stack of open bills on the counter table. Thank goodness it’s pay day.

Baking, with a glass of white wine in hand, country music echoes softly in the background, humming just loud enough to become lost in thoughts of weekends, work, and both wasteful and wishful thinking. You are placing jiffy muffin mix with milk and an egg, by the way, so it’s not like you can even pretend to have the Martha-Steward-Suzie-Homemaker sort of thing down. You just know how to stir mix from a box. Congratulations to you, too.

For some of us, spouses sit idly by, staring through a television glass screen; for others, home is a more solitary experience, an island away from the rest of the world.

Adulthood is decisions staring at you in the face, health care purchases, and the clarification of a Roth IRA. Apparently, it’s not the same as a traditional account. Who knew?

Adulthood is full of those kinds of things – responsibilities, maturity, and ownership.

Maybe it comes a bit early – 24, 25 – or a bit late, 29, 30 – but eventually, it will come.

But the weird thing, I think, is that adulthood is becoming redefined, redrawn, and re-understood. So little has it anything to do with age anymore. The last few months have brought new friends (median age? 40) with my younger friends focused on their long visions of successful careers in Congress. Seriously.

It’s like we don’t even take that transition seriously anymore.

In fact, at the office the other day, a friend of mine jokingly remarked,

“it’s not like it’s we’re adults…”

I snorted, “oh girl, please, you are definitely an adult.”

“Whatever! I am not. Are you?”

“Um. You know, uhmm…I don’t know. I don’t think so. I don’t think I’m mature enough. I’m a kid, I tell ya. I silly, dorky, little kid.”

Instead of actually embracing our sense of coming of age here we are actually rejecting it.

Is it possible that we could very well be adults that are debunking the associations of adulthood itself?

Let’s take the word at face value. Adulthood.

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines the word as, “the period in the human lifespan in which full physical and intellectual maturity have been attained.”

I hate the definition. Hate, yes, a very strong word, because it implies that we are somehow a finished or complete product. Um, have you met a human lately?

I think adulthood is something along the lines of, “the full acceptance of self-strengths, character weaknesses, with a full willingness to realize potential, limitations, and the ever-present opportunity for growth.”

I get it. It’s fluffy and soft and cheesy. But I think it fits this new kind of adult we are seeing more and more. And hey, get this. It’s not like America has the monopoly on this cultural and transitional shift. Even in Rwanda, it’s happening. Women and men – in their mid-to-late twenties move away from their families but not solely because of marriage (the typical occurrence for young adults in the country). Other interests are at stake and they are deconstructing the cultural norms of a place even in resistance to what’s acceptable, appropriate, or expected. Even in smaller villages – where there is no city to easily escape too – questions are being asked. And of course, it doesn’t mean that moving away qualifies a person as adult-eligible. Not even close. However, leaving your parents is the first paradigm shift in a framing of a new worldview – outside of your parents – which is the first mortar to brick experience in the young adult maturity process.

And so it’s confusing. I’m not really sure what I am half the time. I think even my married friends wonder themselves, too. Which goes to show, age, marital status, and gender have nothing to do with it. Maybe one day, you wake up and voila! Things are different. Maybe. But I can’t be sure. I’m clearly no expert.

All I know is that in the same evening that I began packing for a summer away for training in ministry, I placed my large pack on the top of a shelf, smothering a smaller bag of notes. Initially forgetting the bag of notes even existed, I went back to remove the bullying black bag. I dumped the notes on my bed. I sifted through a few of the 8th grade classics: about girl drama, friend fights, and math anxiety. Goodness, I had a lot of worries. About 5 notes in, I found two that made the entire bag worth keeping.

A note from my grandmother,

01/05/2003

Dear Heather,

Enclosed is your really big or best birthday present from me. I totally forgot to give you this but once you see it, you will why it is yours. Love you, Grandma Genevra

And it’s killing me. Because this would have been around my 14th birthday. For the life of me, I can’t remember what the gift was. But it had to have been something special.

A note to Santa (from me),

1999

Dear Santa,

I can’t believe it Christmas is coming! I have been waiting all year for it and I realize that it has come rapidly. My early Christmas present from my parents was what I’ve REALLY wanted for a long time. I got a dog named Buddy who is just  so delectable and loveable. Anyway, I have wanted several things this year. Here is some: Clothes (any kind!!), CDs (I really want these. Some I want are: Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, NOW5, NSYNC, and 98 degrees), jewelry, movies (basically anything with Julia Roberts), books (chapter books), & beanie babies.

I am really thankful for all this and I am thankful for the holiday seasons because I get a bunch of things that a lot of unfortunate people won’t ever get. Once again, thanks so much and MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!

Thank you, Heather Newell

PS: Some people told me that Santa Clause is just your parents, but I don’t think that is true. Thank you for all you do. Please watch over my family and Buddy.

I wrote (or received) both of these at important stages in life. One was before I was even a pre-teen, and the other (the one from my grandmother) comes from just a couple months after my parents divorced and a couple days after becoming 14.

When you compare where I am now with the girl who existed in these blocks of time, then yes, easy answer, I am an adult. I no longer believe in Santa. Or the beanie babies.

But the notes – all hundreds of them in this silly little paper bag – show our capabilities of developing and changing over the years (or not). I like to think of myself as moving in that direction. Yet, for any of us, there is nothing wrong with where we are at. Where person A decides to start their life is going to be different from Person B….C….and so on. As humans we can be so united, but we also are granted the liberties and freedoms of reason to live the life we feel led to do. So that’s exactly what we must take control of.

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There’s this great band. Their like, indie-rock, which makes me about .0000001% cooler as a person, right? Anyway, when I first heard their song ‘Equestrian’ they had me sold. Hook, line, and sinker.

They sing this fantastic song and frankly, it’s the perfect tune for adventure. Next time you find yourself driving up a mountain road, with gravel scraping and crawling amidst the wheel edges, put it on and you’ll feel like you are flying.

The best line, you were found living in the wild sun, tells me what adulthood could be – should be – like.

It’s not something to be hastily suspicious of. Instead, let it come. But come as you are. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You don’t need a 5-year plan. But come honestly, and adulthood will show you a darn good reflection of the first part of your life. When you start having a voice, maybe it’s then where your adulthood begins to matter. When you start laying the stakes you have in the world. When you start sharing, embracing, and speaking truth.

Adult or not, days pass, years pass, and we move forward in time. Live fully, joyfully, and love the days you have. We don’t have so many, you know.

When the light crept up in the hills
I headed off for home
Memories of times spent away
Vanish into the sun
You were found
Living in the wild son
In the wild living with the wild ones
You were found living in the wild sun


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Mr. Washington’s Fingerprints

Pink magnolia accents the humbly grey sky; rivers thicken with green shrubbery; farmland fallows as a new harvest awaits. With wandering anticipation I stare out the window smug because I’d been accepted, embarrassed, because our overbearing tour bus seemed to interrupt the holiness of Mt. Vernon. George – Mr. Washington, I mean – is the founder of our country, right? A Christian man, right? Perfect in battles, establishing governments, and wearing a stoic red sewn coat with gold buttons, right?

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So it was a pilgrimage of sorts, visiting he burnt maroon hoe he built and the gravel his shoes touched. Ignoring our loud bus, I touched the charcoal floors and stairway, imagining our fingerprints collided in some historical miracle and I, s a meek 8th grader on her first visit to our nation’s capital, would forge onward with an ordained bravery.

Perhaps my newfound enlightenment was les from George and more from Alejandro. Sigh. Alejandro. My crush since last month, he must have found a flask of courage in his poop-color satchel and drank it because back in D.C. – just two hours prior – he asked ME, yes, mousy ole me, to be his girlfriend.

When he asked, we meandered past the ominous sitting Lincoln and I was sure life couldn’t get any better. Oh, get this, he touched my fingers in his awkward attempt to hold my hand and I stopped breathing as skin on skin excitement buzzed through my blood.

Going steady for all of two hours, we explored Mt. Vernon together, among the goats, hills, and rickety doors.

When we fathered back to the busy, after my encounter with Washington’s fingerprints, I wondered if George didn’t like Martha much.

I questioned his heart – principled ole George – because when Alejandro took my hand in our sojourn back to the city, he told me that he changed his mind.

My eyes flashed a naughty green like the green hoodie he wore, drenched from the Eastern seaboard rain.

Rejection. Just two hours later.

So much for my anointed leadership, brilliance, and historical miracle.

It was just me, once again, alone, and lost in a middle school world that had no place for me.

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