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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

change & bowls of oatmeal

It is morning.

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My fingers perch on top of the counter as the sluggish hum of the microwave swirls through the kitchen. The low, faint sounds of humans beginning their day start to flow as night ebbs away. Soon, and not a moment faster, my coffee will be ready.

The clock on the microwave counts down from 1:30, 1:29, 1:28… the perfect amount of time needed to cook the most divine bowl of oatmeal.

I have been eating oatmeal for breakfast for the last six years of my life. It is so habitual to eat oatmeal that when I don’t, I feel out of whack.

Indeed, it’s an art:

1 banana, a dollop of peanut butter, and a sliver of granola (for crunch) and you are on your way to breakfast heaven.

Today, as I groggily mixed my ingredients together, I had a flashback of when over a year ago, I began staying at Chelsea’s apartment and would prepare the same morning breakfast in her mod-sleek kitchen.

Things were different then: I would spend the night, bringing a packed bag (or three) and in the morning, we would wake up, share breakfast (as we read The Skimm aloud), and head into work. I was so giddy with love that I would beam with delight on my commute, almost like someone plastered a smile on my face.

That wasn’t the oatmeal (or the coffee) – I was falling in love.

Now, I still have the same oatmeal for breakfast, but I eat it in our home – usually before early morning calls to Rwanda. In our shared kitchen, I know where everything is, like a sweet song memorized, so I can do it with my eyes half-closed (and sometimes they literally are).

Chelsea and I, at the beginning of our relationship, were so routine about eating breakfast together. It was “our thing.” As I chewed my food this morning, it dawned on me: so much about us and about the rhythm of our life has changed.

These days, Chelsea starts work before the crack of dawn at Starbucks and so the start times to our days are stacked and unsynchronized. And, when she is able to sleep in, I am usually up, on a call, riding the train, or headed to class. I’m working and studying and so when it comes to mornings, there is not a minute to lose. When I look back, of course, I miss those early days.

But, you know what?

Though the newness of our love is fading ever so slightly, the trust, deep knowing, reliability, authenticity, and commitment are coming to bloom. The relationship, I think, is maturing.

For so long, I hated to spend hours (god forbid, days) away from my beloved. And still, I miss her, but now I know what I did not know before: she knows me, she sees me, she loves me – and she isn’t going anywhere. It sounds simple, but the fruit of building a strong foundation is literally just that – a strong foundation. That means that whether or not we are sharing breakfast, I know I get to come home to this spectacularly delightful human each and every day.

This is the woman who:

has taken me to the doctor when I’ve been sick, has run me hot baths on tough days, has stocked my favorite bottle of red wine, has edited my writing pieces, has encouraged me to follow my dreams, has purchased roller blades to accompany me on my adventures, has taken me to the airport at twilight hours, has driven in the snow when I was too frightful, has modeled incredible self-care, has shared her reading list, has sewed my clothing, has dared to be boldly vulnerable and brave, and more than anything, has shown up and loved.

She has filled the spaces of my life and it’s like glue in all the cracks, bringing it all together in a beautiful mosaic. Irrevocably, our lives are intermingled and that is the change I see the most.

We are not like we used to be.

Certainly, that is a common realization upon the process of personal self-reflection, however, it is particularly poignant in the context of a relationship. The relationship has changed, because we – both of us – have.

Our love has been strengthened, too, often by very difficult, challenging circumstances. I never knew that about love – that love doesn’t only grow and beautify because of good things. It grows because even in the murkiest of waters, you know (and choose) the person you want to walk through it with.

Where did the time go?

I think about the swiftness of the year, the months, and the days, as I eat my oatmeal, alone, on the couch before the business of the day arrives. I cannot pinpoint the moment we began to change because we are always in motion, always in progress, always, always learning.

That is enough to know, because I love where we are – whether we share oatmeal, or not.

 

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just like people, places change.

Just like people, places change.

Flying into Kigali, Rwanda last week by way of Denver, Detroit, and Amsterdam (read: crazy amounts of jet lag), I was unable to ignore the expansive landscape of bright, yellow lights over the rolling hills that I have seen many times before.

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The Convention Center is open and the Marriott is now operating. Plentiful (perhaps unnecessary) roundabouts have been added to the city roads as more and more cars seem to fill them. There is a new dance club, a handful of new restaurants, and newly launched start-up companies. Whether in the IT sector, drones consulting, or in business incubation, Kigali has transformed into a flashy choice for investment. I saw this happening years ago and yet it still it surprises me. This city isn’t the way I left it.

My work has changed immensely too.

With The Women’s Bakery, I was most recently in Rwanda at the end of 2015 when we were at the tail-end of our first cohort, before the launch of our first Kigali-based bakery. We had a group of women, start-up capital, and big dreams. We were fine-tuning our business model, trying to refine how we could best educate and empower women for economic opportunity throughout Rwanda (and East Africa).

This week, I had the incredible honor and experience of baking, observing, and tasting our nutritious (and delicious) bread from these same women, in our 6 days-a- week bakery. Beet, banana, carrot, and honey bread galore, the intricate process of making this bread proves, once again, that the application of education is potent leverage for opportunity. Our bakery, lined with green metal, sits amidst a bustling part of the city as proof that commitment, belief, and grit can make dreams a reality.

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My eyes filled with unexpected tears when I was shown how to properly knead and shape some of our new products, like our tresse bread, for example. Patient with me, our ladies demonstrated the varying preparation techniques for ideal fermentation and shaping. I loved being taught. I loved baking with women who were now our teachers. The moment was small, but it left a deep impact.

Our work as a service-provider in Rwanda continually changes too. We’re training more women’s groups this year AND for the businesses we’ve co-launched, we are seeking and exploring avenues for profitability.

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To see tangible change like this is evocative and meaningful because you are reminded (humbly) that the things we work, sweat, yearn, and long for can actually happen.

Though incremental at times, change does deliver.

In the year since I’ve last been on this side of the world, my work, the landscape, culture, and atmosphere of Rwanda aren’t the only pieces of life that have changed here.

The girls I have supported in school since 2012 are all nearly graduated and exploring post-graduate options. The teachers, like the students have moved on too. My Peace Corps site in the Eastern Province has since seen 3 additional volunteers and educators. The sports materials our soccer team acquired through a grant were stolen. The care-taker of the cows at my old school passed away. My host father has a booming milk business. My Kinyarwanda teacher got married and a baby. The woman who helped take care of my house (and me) has made enough of an income to buy goats, pigs, and a cow. One of my students now posts regularly on Instagram.

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Rwanda has provided me a unique lens by which I can measure the change around me – and within me. I’m realizing, each time I come back, that I come back a different person. Like the changing architecture, views, and life circumstances of my friends in Rwanda, I too have pivoted, made mistakes, adopted new ideas, achieved new successes, and continue to grow into just being me.

Sometimes, these changes are visible. It’s easy to see when I’ve grown my hair long or have opted for a different style of clothing. It’s also relatively straight-forward to speak about updates on my family – their work, homes, and families.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder, how to express the internal change that has molded, shaped, and impacted our development as people.

How do I contextualize the joy of a new relationship?

How do I give words to the changes I’ve experienced in how I view gender, faith, politics, and policy?

These are just some of the questions.

Change happens over time – with small (and big) experiences – and we are challenged each day to enter conversations, relationships, and life with what has already happened to us.

Perhaps the struggle is not choosing how we express our change, but instead, we can choose to faithfully move forward into it. We don’t have to be afraid of change. It’s going to happen. The weighty, more implicative question remains what we will do.

I sat in our Kigali bakery this week, chatting with a Rwandan male that explicitly (and genuinely) expressed concern over what the implications would be with the plethora of executive orders released throughout the week in the United States. Like many, he was apprehensive about the onslaught of change happening so quickly.

Today, on a much-needed slow Saturday morning, I took the time to catch-up and read all that was taking place in public policy from the White House. I was appalled, shocked, and in disbelief.

I considered the changes I have noticed so intensely within our bakeries, within Rwanda, and within myself and wondered, how much change can America take?

I don’t know. I’m tired of not knowing, but honestly, nobody does.

What I do know, for certain, is that change does not have the final say. We do.

Like these hills that remind me all that I have been through for the past 5 years, we will overcome.

And whether it’s about your country, your work, or yourself, we have the communal responsibility to join each other. We can’t give up – not now. Not ever.

Because places, like people change, I think they can serve as mirrors for the way in which we see our own progression through life. Perhaps places can serve as powerful mechanisms in this way, addressing change without agenda, without reservation.

I’m grateful for Rwanda because of this. I’m grateful I have a place that helps me benchmark my life, propelling me forward with new dreams, goals, and hopes, mindful of how far I have come.

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