Love and light

28 February 2023

I am 36 today.

Those of you who have been around for awhile may recall why this is a significant birthday for me: for many years, I’ve considered 36 my spirit age, or the age that I consistently feel on the inside, regardless of the number of years I’ve clocked around the sun.

Some people feel perpetually 25. I have a friend who swears she’s meant to be 72. But for me, whether I was logging a late-night shift at the library at 21, shopping for a wedding dress at 25, or struggling to learn the ropes of breastfeeding at 28, somehow I felt I was always on my way to this moment: that my life experiences, my gifts, my heart would most perfectly be used in this way – as a wife, a mom to three little ones, a daughter, a sister. A friend who tries to make sunshine for the ones she loves. A writer. A meal train queen. A school-trip chaperone. Settled in her career. Snug in a church she loves. 36 is more beautiful than I could ever have hoped for, and I am truly more grateful than I ever would have thought possible. Life feels more precious every year.

In some ways, it also feels more complex. For example, I come up short when I compare the neatness of my journey thus far to those of others’ whom I love. I am no more special than anyone else, did no more right or less wrong than anyone else. It is blessing, but undeserved. It is luck, undeserved. I write this with a lump in my throat for those of you reading who have reached a certain age and find yourself not where you thought you’d be. There are a million cruel (and a few delightful) ways for plans to be derailed in this life. I’m sure many are still lying in wait for me.

And I’m looking ahead now – for most of my life, I’ve looked ahead. But now, when I look up, there’s no threshold on the horizon. I seem to have arrived.

All that preparation? It was for this. The sacrifice, particularly financial? It was for this. Those wedding magazines I read before I was engaged, the parenting books I read before I had kids? They led me here. I have often felt like an old soul, often find myself the youngest person in a room. How will things shift as I move away from this apex (of sorts)? Where to next?

Onward —

of course. Don’t worry: I am too optimistic to sit in this space for long. I was clear-eyed about this season of life, and I think I can be clear-eyed about the seasons (so many!) to come. Just because I looked to 36 didn’t mean I thought it would be perfect or without difficulty, and it’s not and it isn’t. Cars need to get towed, children want snacks, I have a bad attitude, people I love get sick, the kitchen counter needs to be wiped again. Lord willing, I have a long and beautiful life ahead of me, and perfection and ease are not the goal.

But awareness is. Gratitude. Presence. Feeling at peace while the fleeting, heartbreaking beauty of this season grates against its grit.

Thank you, Lord, for 36 years. May they have reflected your love and light.

I mined my camera roll for these collages and included pretty much every photo of me from the last year – or at least a representative snap from each event. It’s sweet to see them all together.

P.S. A fascinating article about “subjective age.”

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February 28, 2023 6:40 am

This is just so beautiful, Em. I have always felt 40, and as I head towards that age (I am currently 37), I have so many of the same feelings as you. My camera roll looks much like yours and in quiet moments I sometimes wonder – how is this real? The life I am living is the life I dreamed of at 18 – two unique, incredible children, our beautiful, chaotic home, almost 20 years with my now-husband, being a partner in a law firm. We really are the luckiest. Happy birthday.

February 28, 2023 7:13 am

Happiest birthday! I love you so much!

February 28, 2023 7:42 am

Happy birthday! As always thank you for sharing your heart with us. Feeling content is the ultimate. This past year has been a whirlwind for me in bittersweet ways but I did start the year very content and I know I will get back there.

February 28, 2023 7:42 am

Happy happy Birthday! Wishing you continued joy and blessings! :)

February 28, 2023 7:58 am

Happiest Birthday to you, Emily! Your sentiments on reaching this sweet milestone lent yet another generous peek into your heartfelt, intentional, ever-growing approach to life and I’m excited to see all the marvelous things in store for you in the days ahead!

February 28, 2023 9:18 am

A lump in my own throat as I read your beautiful words and think about my own luck and blessings, undeserved — one of which is your friendship. ❤️ Happy birthday!

February 28, 2023 9:37 am

Happy Happy Happiest Birthday!

February 28, 2023 10:20 am

Happy Birthday! I remember you saying how much you felt/wanted to be 36 haha I turned 36 two weeks ago and I felt nothing, in the best way hahaha. My forever age is 28. And it’s not like age 28 was a particularly cheerful year me! I had a miscarriage that year and my first kidney transplant started to fail. I think 28 was just the year that I was forever changed, and much of the journey I started then has stayed with me and I continue to live out in many ways. I’m super curious to see what you think of 37 when it arrives! haha Here’s to the next year and many more :)

February 28, 2023 2:23 pm

Happy Birthday, Em!! Beautiful and thoughtful words! May 36 be so so good to you!

February 28, 2023 2:35 pm

Happy Birthday dear friend! Thankful for you and your gentle wisdom!

February 28, 2023 4:16 pm

Happy happy birthday! What beautiful words.

February 28, 2023 11:18 pm

I hope you had a marvelous birthday! This must be my favorite post you’ve ever written. As a long-time reader, with a twenty year gap of sharing in-person space with you (which admittedly always feels a bit awkward), I stick around because the focus and drive with which you have always pursued your goals inspire me to stick to my own. My own path, albeit filled with much love, adventure and healing, has been a bit more windy — and so I’m very thankful to you for the treasure trove of insights you’ve shared that I can come back to about new dreams that have only lately taken root in my own heart and budget (parenthood and home ownership especially.) Sincerest congratulations on reaching this major milestone. :)

Kelley Hill
March 1, 2023 7:20 am

Dear friend, I love you. I read that with a lump in MY throat! :) Your spirit and your words are a blessing. Here’s to 36!!

Kristen M
March 1, 2023 11:40 am

Happy birthday! I always joke in my mind I stopped aging at 30 when I was pregnant with my first. As someone who’s felt the past couple years that my life wasn’t moving in quite the direction I imagined I’m trying really hard this year to embrace where I am now – realizing that my vision of what life would be at 37 (almost 38) was just that, a vision, and I need to really appreciate the reality of what my really very solid actual life is right now!