I turned 30 on Saturday, and as I’ve been reflecting on that milestone, I’ve been thinking that the last year of my life was like a marathon I hadn’t been training for, but now that it’s over, I can be really proud that I finished...no matter how many times I almost died or wanted to quit in the middle.
I also really thought that Leaving My 20’s would bother me more than it does. I thought that turning 30 had to be like a bad sitcom - so traumatic that it launches several decades of denial about the year on my driver’s license.
And it’s pretty incredible. This is the best life has been. Ever.
When I look back at the life script I wrote for myself, it didn’t include a lot of the Best Things that I have now.
And it included a lot of stuff that I would have called the Best Things previously; but had I not released many of those things - even unwillingly and with great struggle and regret - I wouldn’t have the Best Things I have now.
This time last year, both my marriage and my best friendship were in various stages of decay. And into the space that was created by so much pain and brokenness came people who love me more fully than I thought possible. People who, unlike the husband I left and best friend I lost, see me as I really am and love me anyway. People for whom no guard need be raised, and with whom I can trust with the most broken, ugly parts of me. People for whom love is not a concept; it’s a choice, a promise, a freedom, a forever. People who have chosen to share a Little Infinity with me, and have made it a beautiful Little Infinity in which to live.
Now that I have a little distance from All The Broken, it seems that the last year was about finding the dirt beneath nearly impenetrable weeds, and ripping up that ground so that all of those weeds could be uprooted and removed completely without a trace. It was a year of radical destruction, a stripping away of everything - even down to bare earth.
And this is the Truth of it: It takes radical devastation to appreciate the beauty of the first springtime bloom. It takes that kind of desolation to see how much grace has been poured out in the form of the people who helped you uproot the most stubborn weeds, and came alongside you up when your solitary effort became too much to bear.
I never would have planned to lose everything. I never would have planned to have my past rewritten, or the holes in my memory filled. I never would have planned to have night after night of raging at friends, God, pastors, anyone who would listen, about how my life could be so broken, so empty, so ruined.
But without those nights filled to bursting with bitter regret and an intense desire for obliteration so that the pain would stop, without the utter failure of the people from whom I most deserved support and friendship, without the scorched earth smoldering with the ruins of what I thought my life should be, I couldn’t be standing on this side of 30, convinced that all of that, every second, every beautifully broken second, was worth it because of what I have now.
Without a lexicon for the utter darkness and depth of the ocean, there is no way to comprehend, let alone communicate the height and beauty of the mountains.
Without the moment in early January 2012 where I looked at my phone, desperate to talk to someone, anyone, who would listen and understand and care, and realised that there was not one single person in my contacts who wanted to hear from me....without that moment, there would not be the overwhelming grace of having all of my old contacts replaced with the kind of people who will listen, understand and care and ask nothing in return. And the weight of the Andrews and the Allens and the Bills and the Kathryns and the Angelas and the Karls and the Jessicas and the Crystals and the so many others I haven’t mentioned is enough to crush any loneliness, any despair, any loss.
It’s enough to make up for the first 29 years. It’s enough to convince me that the way I wanted my life to play out was nowhere near as beautiful as it has turned out to be. It's enough to convince me that although most of these people wouldn’t have factored into my Original Plan, making all my own choices is overrated, and that being open to people I never expected to have as friends is a tremendous blessing. I’m not sure I can take credit for the amazing people who surround me now, but I’m sure grateful either way. And focusing on that radical, transformational gratitude is important because I’ve learned that the real fruit of suffering and loneliness is the ability to see the grace in the shadows created by their domination over your life. I’ve learned that no matter what I think I want or who I think I need, it’s not as good as what I’ve been given, and pales in comparison with the wonderful, equally broken people I’ve been given to love and be loved by.
I have lived for 29 years by defining my life in what I’ve lost, or by the people who have left, or by the ways in which I am the victim. And those things are still true.
But they are not as true as the reality with which I enter my 30’s. The reality that my job is to be truly present where I am so that I can love the people I’m given - students, friends, colleagues, and even people I don't particularly like - and allow them to love me. That the choices and habits and pain in my past don’t have to shape who I am right now. That what I’ve done and what has been done to me marks me less than the love and grace and freedom that mark me now.
That life, Our Little Infinity, which I didn’t plan and wouldn’t recognise as my own a year ago, is So Much Better than the one I planned.
And that is all grace. Infinite Grace.