My last week in my 30s

When I was a little girl, my parents always chose to wait until the 2nd week of December to put the tree up. My birthday is Dec. 7, and they wanted to make sure I didn’t feel like my birthday was absorbed by the holiday. I love Christmas, though! Waking up to a Christmas tree on my birthday is the best way to wake up. When I found out this was their reasoning, I put a stop to that quick. Now I have a tree before my birthday every year.

This year, I needed it. I wasn’t feeling too Christmasy, and when the hubby suggested we put the tree up, I was less than enthusiastic. I forced myself to do it, though. He put the tree up, I put on the Christmas music, then we both placed our favorite ornaments on the tree. It was exactly what I needed to get me out of my funk and remind me of what matters. Some of the ornaments are from his past life with his son and first wife. Some of mine are from my days as a single mom before I knew him. Some are ones we’ve bought together in the decade we’ve known and loved each other. All are memories that led us to this day, this hour, this moment when setting up a tree together is just a regular thing to do, but years ago it was unimaginable. This life, it’s perfect. Sure, there are times when I’m not myself, my expectations aren’t met, and things feel heavier than they should. However, I prayed for this life, and I got it. I got the man who loves me with his whole heart, the home that is always warm and bright, the writing nook to capture creativity, even the day job, the one that sometimes feels overwhelming as I chase my author dream – I prayed for it, and I’m blessed.

This is my last week of my 30s, a decade that has held the most growth and answered prayers of my life. My 20s were terrible, filled with abuse, divorce, child loss, poverty, uncertainty, and an identity crisis as I tried to figure out who I was and what I wanted. My 30s were made up of new love, new possibilities, new hopes, and the realization that my dreams were closer than I ever imagined. If my 30s were this great, I can only imagine what my 40s will bring. I’m excited. Bring it. 🎄

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Gray hair, birthdays, and growing older with grace

happy-birthday-to-me9This week, I celebrated another year around the sun. For those of you who have been reading along for a while, you may recall how much I struggle with birthdays every year. It started on the day I turned 31, and my reaction to that day took me by surprise. Before I turned 31, I welcomed every birthday. I had no problem getting older. Even when I left my twenties to turn the big 3-0, I didn’t have an issue. But for some reason, turning 31 was a bigger deal. Part of it may have been because I was no officially IN my thirties, and not just 30. But I think the bigger issue was that I chose to celebrate my birthday in Disneyland. There I was on my 31st birthday, surrounded by all these young, adorable 20-something kids and I was just some washed up hag who was hiding wrinkles with makeup and gray hair with dye.

Ever since that year, I would dread each birthday as it came closer, and couldn’t get over the fact that I was aging.

For so many years, I took pride in being the younger person in the crowd. Having had my kids young, I’m often the youngest parent in the room at every school function. At my work, I was one of the youngest people in the newsroom. At my kids’ camp, I’ve been the youngest chaperone. And because my husband is 14 years older than I am, I’ve always been the youngest when we hang out with other couples. I placed a lot of pride on my youth. So when the tides started to turn, things began to get uncomfortable. As my kids got older, I stopped feeling like the young and fresh mom, and started feeling old and out of touch. My work started hiring all these young and brilliant millennials who are way quicker at learning new technology and social media skills. Younger chaperones signed on at camp, and have way more energy than my old body can handle. And so on.

Aging just became uncomfortable, because I had placed so much of my worth on my youth.

This year was different. I turned 39 on Dec. 7, and I didn’t have my annual freak out in the days leading up to my birthday. I think it’s because I’ve embraced the process of growing older. This is mostly apparent in the fact that I stopped dying my hair over a year ago. I am now sporting a brilliant streak of white in my hair.

crissigray2The decision to stop dying my hair was huge. I found my very first gray hair at 19 years old, the same week I discovered I was pregnant with my first child. I do believe the two go hand in hand. When plucking these pesky grays became too big of a job, I resorted to coloring my hair. At first, I went with all-natural dyes to ensure I wouldn’t harm my hair. But soon, I was grabbing any chemicals I could get my hands on to ensure my youth would be preserved.

Last year, I’d had enough. I knew I had a section of my hair that was all white, and it was apparent whenever I was between colorings. I realized that I didn’t want to be one of those “old ladies” who continued hiding their true color even when the jig was up. I wanted to go gray while my face still held some of its youthfulness. So last year, I decided to see what would happen if I just stopped dying it.

At first, the process was awkward. It looked silly. I wanted to hide my head in a scarf until I no longer had three-toned hair. But gradually, I began to look at my hair differently. The white section created this new and interesting feature to my hair. I’d play it up with different hairstyles, and starting receiving comments on how cool it looked. But most important, I actually stopped caring (for the most part) about how anyone saw it at all because I liked it. I thought it was beautiful.

Because my hair is long, it will be a while before the gray is completely grown out. I have about 5 inches of white, followed by another 7 or so inches of dye. But my hair has never worked as well as it does now. It feels better, it isn’t weighed down by dye, and it’s fun to play with.

crissigray1My hair is only one aspect that’s allowed me grace in growing older. My perspective, in general, has changed. Each year, I learn something new about myself and the world I live in. I learn what I can tolerate, and what I need to stop wasting so much energy on. I’ve learned to depend less on what other people think of me, and depend more on how I view myself. I’m learning to focus my attention more on my accomplishments and to stop putting so much weight on all I still have to do (this is a work in process, but I’m getting better).

Here are a few cool things that I’ve made happen this year:

  • I published two books I’m incredibly proud to have written: Reclaim Your Creative Soul and Loving the Wind: The Story of Tiger Lily & Peter Pan
  • I enrolled in college and am finally taking the necessary steps in taking control of my career path
  • I wrote another book, even while taking college courses, by implementing the skills I preach in Reclaim Your Creative Soul
  • My husband and I went on a gorgeous Hawaii vacation that we paid for out of pocket

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I’ve also lost my fear of being older. I still place importance on my age, but it’s in a different way. I’m now proud of being one of the older people in the room. In my college classes, the younger students turn to me to help them understand what the teacher is saying. I’m one of the more experienced people at work. I can relate with the crowd I hang out with. And at camp, I let the young and fun chaperones burn themselves out while I rest my tired bones.

I have grace about growing older. Each new year means new opportunities. Each gray hair serves as a badge of my experiences and time on this earth. Each wrinkle is proof that I’ve spent a lot of time smiling and laughing. Each birthday is a celebration that I’m still here, and I still get time to fulfill my goals.

Growing older is not a curse. It’s a blessing. And I’m 39 years blessed, and still going.

A great way to start 38

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I want to tell you a little something about birthdays for me. Every year, I cry. It started around my 31st birthday. I was in Disneyland, the happiest place on earth. It was the perfect place to spend my birthday – or so I thought. I had no idea how old I would feel surrounded by a bunch of adorable, little teenagers. And there I was, celebrating the fact that I was officially in my 30s.

Ever since then, I have gotten the birthday blues around my birthday. Every year, except this year.

I turned 38 today. In two years I will be leaving my 30s and entering a new decade. And you know what? Bring it. Because today I had the absolute best day. I spent it working on my book (which is still not finished! but almost!). And then I did a little shopping. And then I went out to the beach to spend time with God, reflect on this past year, and think about how I want this next year of my life to look.

Here’s a video from today:

But there’s more. As I went home, there was this old guy hitchhiking on the side of the road. I passed him, and saw the frustration on his face. Something in me told me that I needed to turn around and pick him up. And so, I did.

IMG_6526Now, I’m not saying that everyone should go out and pick up hitchhikers. It’s generally not a safe practice. But there was something about him that told me he was okay, and he really needed a ride.

Turns out, he really did. His name was Bob, and he was 71 years old. He’d had a heart attack the week before, his 4th one of his life. He was staying in a beach house up the way, and his wife was gone for two days while she took care of her own mother. So he had no car, and no way to get into town.

And so I drove him. But before I did, I told him that today was my birthday, and I asked him not to hurt me on my birthday. I was only half joking with him. But he assured me he was a good guy.

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I took him to the restaurant he wanted to go to, and discovered he would probably hitchhike back home. This didn’t sit right with me. So I told him to enjoy his dinner, and I would wait for him and drive him back. He offered to pay for my dinner, but I refused. My hubby was already making me dinner at home. Plus, I really wanted to get some writing in.

At any rate, he ate quick, and then came out. I felt a bit selfish to have not eaten with him, choosing my writing over conversation. If I could have changed anything about this experience, that would have been it.

On the ride home, Bob told me that I blessed him. He said he felt like God brought me to him. But I felt like he blessed me. Of everything, this tiny gesture was the highlight of my whole day.

It was a great way to start 38.

Living a life of intention, one year at a time

Intention. It’s kind of a loaded word, isn’t it? Used in past tense, it takes on the weight of guilt over things planned that never quite happened. I intended to organize my closet. I intended to wash the dishes. I intended to go to that seminar. Use it in present tense, and there’s a sense of what we wish to do, but already know won’t happen. I intend to run a mile today. I intend to improve my job skills. I intend to not waste all day on my phone. The word “intention” goes along with “good intentions” – as in, “He had good intentions when he made such and such mistake.”

There’s just a lot of baggage that comes with the word “intention.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about intention this week – but not the word that’s weighted down with preconceived notions or missed opportunities. I’ve been thinking about it in terms of what I intend – really intend – for my life. What am I doing now to ensure my intentions come true?

IMGP7118Much of this reflection has to do with the fact that this is my last week of being 36. Today is my last day at that age. Tomorrow starts a brand new year, the first day of a new age when I get to take the first step of who I will be at 37.

The other day, I had my annual freak out about getting older. Usually it’s reserved for the day before my birthday. This year, however, it came a few days early. And as I dealt with it, I did something I usually try to avoid doing – I broadcast my negativity on Facebook.

There’s something I noticed about sharing negativity. No one wants to be around it. I put my misery about getting older out for public consumption, hoping for a few virtual hugs from friends across the board. And I received that in a small dose. But for the most part, people avoided my post like the plague. And a few refused to feed into my pity party, reminding me to put things in perspective and remember all I had to be grateful for. One person even gave me a “good grief,” and mused whether I should even have birthdays at all. I came back to that last comment several times since it was posted, glaring at it for the insinuation at my ridiculousness. Of course I don’t want to celebrate birthdays. Each birthday makes me a whole year older!

There was a time when I was younger when I swore I’d be one of those women who aged gracefully. I knew of this one lady who had the most beautiful long, gray hair, and she wore it proudly. I wanted to be her when I grew up, never dyeing my hair or cutting it short like every other woman once they hit a certain age.

And then I hit my 30s.

Turning 30 wasn’t so bad. I was anxious to leave the immaturity and bad decisions of my 20s and enter a decade when I knew how to live my life and make good choices. I celebrated turning 30, and was excited to be that age. A whole year passed, and 31 stared me in the face. I didn’t think anything of it in those days before I turned 31. To celebrate, I even planned a trip with my best friend and my kids to the Happiest Place On Earth. That’s right, I turned 31 in Disneyland. It was the perfect plan…or so I thought.

The day before 31, we got to Disneyland and immediately made our way around the park to each of the rides. It’s almost like blinders came off my eyes. I suddenly became aware of all the adorable teenage girls that were surrounding us, the ones in edgy fashions, hanging on their boyfriends, all smiles and youthfulness. And me? I was the old crone with a couple of kids tagging along, sporting a pair of mom jeans because that’s what fit me in the moment. For the first time, I felt old.

The next day was my 31st birthday. I remember staring in the mirror, trying to get my hair to set right. Nothing was working. My friend wanted me to hurry. I snapped at her. She kept her cool, gently telling me she’d take the kids to breakfast while I finished getting ready. She left. And I sat in that room and cried.

It was the first year I ever cried about my birthday. And every year since, it has happened without fail. I always swear it won’t happen. I swear I will greet my birthday as a celebration of my life, a celebration of ME. It is my intention to not be bummed out about something as trivial as getting older. And each year, my intention fails.

This was one of those years that I intended not to cry about my birthday. But this year, I also expected the dark cloud to settle in. So when my bad mood struck a few days early, I celebrated THAT – my depression over turning a new number. I reveled in my misery, inviting everyone around me to partake in my pity party. And when even my own husband refused to dance in my dark corner, I plummeted even further into the depths of my despair. I was bound and determined to be pitiful. And darn it, if I didn’t succeed.

That was Thursday. Friday, I snapped out of it and recreated my intention – to NOT be pitiful. I started the day out by taking the dog for a walk in the drizzle, letting the droplets of water wash away the dark cloud. I then stopped at the store to buy a box of treats for my coworkers, and then spoiled myself with a cup of overpriced (but delicious) coffee. I got to work and sent out a mass email to everyone, letting them know that my birthday was on Sunday, and I had treats at my desk to celebrate. All day long, I had coworkers visiting me to wish me happy birthday. It felt good. My intention of choosing happiness was way better than my intention of being miserable.

This new year of my life, I have some true intentions for my life – not the kind that I hope to do, but the kind that I WILL do.

– I will be more intentional with my writing and publishing this year, taking this career path to a whole new level, and helping those writers around me through support and sharing what I know.
– I will be more intentional about getting out of debt so that I can have more freedom with my money and the plans I have for my life.
– I will be more intentional about my health, because I am much happier when I am eating right, getting exercise, and actually fitting into my clothes.
– I will be more intentional with my time, remaining focused on the plans I have for my life and deflecting distractions that serve to keep me from achieving my goals.

This year I also intend to grow out the hair I cut short last year. I miss my long hair! But I stop short at letting it go gray. I can only age gracefully one step at a time.

Goodbye 36. Hello 37.