30 Things I’ve Learned by Age 30


Photo by Amy Paulson



I’ve seen this question posed a lot on social media lately: What would you say to your 11, 15, 20 year old self?

I think of a list in my head. I think of the challenges that 11 year old, 15 year old, 20 year old self went through. I think about the way her mind worked, the way she viewed the world. I stop and look in awe at how strong she was, and I grieve that she didn’t know it.

This year, I turn 30. And as I process what it means to have come this far, I’m thinking about the things I’ve learned in the last few years. I’m thinking about the things I’ve learned in all the years of my life, and looking back with love and grace at myself all those years ago. I hope you’ll do the same for yourself, that on every birthday you sit and make a list of the things you’ve gotten right, the ways you’ve succeeded, the things that have stretched you and re-created you, the ways sacredness has found you.

These are 30 things I’ve learned in my 30 years of living.


  1. Self care is real, and it is not selfish.
  2. Listening is essential to learning, even listening to our own stories of trauma.
  3. Being an ally is a title given by someone else who sees that in me.
  4. Sometimes therapy is a necessary good.
  5. Music is one of God’s greatest gifts.
  6. Colonization takes many, many forms.
  7. Vulnerability begets vulnerability.
  8. Life happens in seasons.
  9. Parenthood will teach us more than it teaches our kids.
  10. Yes, it’s possible to write an entire book on Saturday mornings from a coffee shop.
  11. I can’t make anyone else believe anything. I can only be open about my own humanity.
  12. Storytelling is sacred resistance.
  13. I’m more of an introvert than I ever thought I was.
  14. Boundaries are healthy and necessary.
  15. Questions are good. They teach us about ourselves and the world.
  16. Our bodies are not things to be ashamed of and detached from.
  17. Identity is complicated, and it requires a lot of painful digging to understand.
  18. Social media can be a place of great despair and great community.
  19. Prayer isn’t only an action, but a way of being.
  20. Books can save our lives.
  21. If our body/soul/mind tell us to rest, and we don’t want to, do it anyway.
  22. The church can’t always be trusted.
  23. Knowing myself means trusting that I’m sacredly loved.
  24. If we don’t have real-life friends who are people of color, we’re missing out on the beauty of the world.
  25. Hospitality is a human requirement for love.
  26. The wilderness teaches us who we are and who God is, and the strength of our independence.
  27. There are many names for God.
  28. We don’t know anything, really.
  29. Activism is an everyday, constant kind of work, in big and small ways.
  30. Remembering that we are small things in a big, beautiful, sacred world is one of the greatest gifts we are given.


I believe we have this beautiful capability to look at ourselves with love, and to turn and see those around us as humans capable of good and evil, but still longing for that same kind of love.

Growing one year older is another year of stretching. So as I stretch into my 30s, I pray that whatever you’re stretching into, it’s for good. It’s probably painful and uncomfortable and overwhelming at times, but it’s good.

Hallelujah, we are never alone.

Hallelujah, there is so much to learn.




To You, the Teacher: the non-linear, everyday work of learning and teaching



One year at the Carl Junction school book fair, I bought a teacher’s kit.

I administered tests to myself, pretended to be the student, missed a spelling word here and there so that, as the teacher, I could give myself a 98% instead of 100% with a bright red ink pen.

I wrote on my little chalkboard and used my apple stickers and recruited my stuffed animals to be adoring students.

As I got older, the desire to teach subsided, became replaced by other passions and pursuits. I got married, learned to lead worship, studied psychology and social work, discovered my love for people and community.

Later, after my boys were born and when they became old enough, I saw this most unexpected phenomenon come about– they could learn anything, anytime, anywhere.

And suddenly my sense of adventure was heightened, and I became someone that I’d left behind all those years ago– that little girl with the school teacher kit who ached for learning and teaching.

Only now, I was honing my craft morning by morning, those two boys guiding my way as much as I guided theirs.

One Sunday in church, our friend Jeremy began our sunday school class with a simple enough introduction– say your name and one thing you could teach somebody else.

The struggle to find the latter seemed to permeate the room as we went around the circle. What exactly am I good at? Can I actually teach something to someone? And am I willing to admit it?

I struggled for an answer, embarrassed that I might be good enough at something to help someone else learn from it, and terrified that I might not be.

But the humbling, beautiful truth of gifting is that every single person has something to give.

And a life lived in wonder engages every opportunity as a lesson, every moment a chance to gain something from the experience.




We’ve told ourselves over the years that learning looks like one thing in one environment, so much so that we fear what teaching would even look like in our everyday moments;

but we forget, then, that life is lived in so many spaces:

at the dinner table, we learn about one another as we explore our day;

on the front porch, we study rocks and birds and know that the world is something marvelous;

at the work desk, we stretch ourselves into new capacities and challenges;

on a short neighborhood walk we encounter and engage with the people around us and remember why the human experience is so sacredly beautiful;

and on our beds at night, we search our hearts and seek to understand who we are in this world.

And so, to teach anything to anyone comes from a heart that learns and seeks to learn. 

It is certainly intimidating to teach as a mother– even more so as a school-at-home mother, but I see with every minute spent invested in learning that teaching is a gloriously natural part of our life cycle.

We teach, we learn, we discover, we teach again, and nothing about it is linear, and nothing bout it is calculated exactly the way we’d expect it to be. 

Right now, in ten minutes, tomorrow morning standing over the coffee pot, is a moment asking to be noticed, and if we remember who we are and what we are wired for, that moment becomes something monumental, something holy and good in our day.

To you, the learner, I say:

Learn and do not be afraid.

And to you, the teacher, I say:

Learn more and teach, and do not be afraid.

And on and on ’til Kingdom come and then after,

may our perpetual learning be lead to perpetual teaching, glorious transformation meeting us at every turn.



Day 21 of Advent: a prayer for learning



We’ve been trying to learn one thing or another

all these years,

trying to pick up Your voice,

trying to catch Your scent

as we traipse along

our paths,

each different from another.

So while we’re trying to 

configure You

in our own small minds,

teach us who You are

in the most tangible ways,

the human ways

that each of us can


You were a miracle then,

and You are a miracle now.

Teach us to

catch that


and spread it 

over our breadths 

and depths.

May we learn Your miracle ways. 


A Lesson in Sickness: And You Were Here All Along

We’re attempting to get over about 4 days of sickness.

It began with Eliot and worked its way through Travis and into Isaiah in fever form.
— A fevered baby is a sad sight to behold, and my arms were kept full all day and night.

When all my boys were sick, I consulted those holistic mommy blogs, the ones that brag on detox baths and honey-garlic concoctions.

I added triple garlic to every meal, veggies and fruit for every snack.

No one shared bites. No one shared kisses. I was anti-germ, and those germs knew it.

I sat down on Thursday in the midst of it and thought about all the physical ways I cared for our bodies–
the herbal tea popsicles;
the chest rubs;
the honey-lemon water;

and then I sat back and asked how our hearts were being cared for, all of them.

Sickness is a cloudy mess, everyone lost in a haze for days on end.

And when we finally all get back out into the sunlight, we breathe fresh again.

But today the sickness still lingers, and even though it’s been 80 degrees on FALL break, it’s been more of a time of quarantine for us.

I read a friend’s blog this morning, tears pooling my eyes, nearly drowning my vision completely.

— today I dearly miss the Ozark Fall.

This place is still new to us, and we’re still learning our way and exploring new coffee shops and finding community.

And when our tired bodies recover and Isaiah’s chest stops rattling with coughs—

Well, what then?

It’s a lie to say that living can’t happen here, now, in this germy place. No, peace abounds, indeed, and God’s voice is not muffled by our stuffed ears. He cannot be blurred by our tired eyes.

And we’ don’t just find Him when all is clear and all is “normal”– no, He’s actually so visible when life and routine are shifted upside down and sideways and absolutely backwards, when whole seasons of life are new and unknown and downright scary. He’s so visible when we’re unsure and feeling unsafe in the realization that we can’t always just trust ourselves.

So let us ask our hearts to seek Him, even when our bodies are frail. If we must, we gather knees to chest on the floor and rest like babies in His presence. We close our eyes and savor His voice in the stillness, in the sickness. We look out the window and see that life abounds in all ways, in all seasons.

And when we plunge back into story time at the library, when we welcome dear friends from Arkansas into our home this weekend–

Oh, then we see His presence in so many kindnesses, and we remember that He’s been here all along.