Dear 30 year old me,

Dear 30 year old me,

In exactly 30 days you will be 40 years old. When Dad turned 40, the entire store of JCP was turned into a graveyard. The "marketing ladies" made tombstones, his office was filled with black balloons, and I think black crepe paper was just about everywhere in the break room.

Needless to say, we thought 40 was "near death" old.

I have other ideas about this milestone age now. But today isn't about nearly 40 year-old us... it's about 30 year-old you and a few things that helped us survive and maybe a few things I wish I would have known... but before we get to that, let's look at us at 30...

I specifically chose this picture because know that it's one of 4 times that you will look this good for the next 10 years. HA! (Shout out to professional hair and makeup for Niki's wedding!)

Life isn't going to be exactly what you planned and that's ok.
Not one single bit of your life can be orchestrated solely by you. It's impossible... and that's what makes it so beautiful. We can get all the degrees we want, pick out the perfect house, say yes to our dream job, and even decide how many kids we want. But we actually control zero parts of what happens to us - and that's life. Every disaster, every success, every challenge, every easy day, every obstacle and every milestone... there's beauty in each piece of our individual puzzles.

No one has a better life than you do, different? Maybe. But not better. 
(Spoiler alert: this is still something we're gonna be working on at 40) Say this to yourself every time you get a case of the greens - you know, jealousy? We all have different stories to tell, and life would be so sad if you missed out on telling yours because you were so wrapped in someone else's. Don't fall for the lie of social media - we all show the highlight reels... but the good stuff, the REAL stuff is important, too. Sometimes it's hard to watch other people do things that you aren't doing and not feel like a "failure." But, there's a strong possibility that those same people are looking at you and wanting a little slice of your life, too.

Get in a selfish routine. 
Sounds weird, right? Don't get me wrong, doing for others is awesome, but making time for yourself is important, too. When you pour into yourself (by reading, relaxing, sleeping, eating well, exercising) then you have a lot more to give to those around you.

It's okay to ask for help.
Asking for help doesn't make you weak - it makes you smart. "It" really does take a village. Raising children, owning pets, working, going to school... even being married takes more than 2 people sometimes. Ask your village for support - they will never let you down.

Cheer on your friends. 
Be excited about the success of your friends - even when you aren't accomplishing big things. Remember that "no one's life is BETTER... just different" lesson? It applies here. Be on the front row, cheer the loudest, support their dreams, buy their products, like their pictures, comment on their blog posts, share their story... CHEER THEM ON!

Recognize the power of no.
Girl. JUST SAY NO. You don't have to be everything to everybody every single day. Those two little letters hold a powerful punch. And by saying "no" more ... you give strength to your "yes!". Sounds weird, but it's true. People will come to realize that your YES means you are committed because you don't give them away so easily. Let's practice, real quick: "Sorry, I can't commit to that right now." ... "I know that I've done this before, but this just isn't my best yes." [Thank you, Lysa T.] ... "It's a no from me." ... "My talents are better suited else where." ... "I've already committed my time other places."

Girlfriends are one of your greatest gifts.
You are going to meet new people throughout your life. Be grateful for the individual role that each woman plays in shaping who you are. Your work friends, your best-friends, your new friends, your old friends... they all have a piece of you and you need every single one of them. Savor that time, appreciate that kinship and foster every single one of those relationships. You will laugh and cry and cheer and scheme. You will solve each other's problems. Your girlfriends are one of this decade's greatest blessings.

Everything doesn't have to happen now.
Believe it or not, you don't have to drive a fancy car, go on exotic vacations, build a dream home, cook lavish meals and also have a six-pack. (Which is great, because, spoiler alert, 10 years later and you still haven't checked off any of those items). AND THAT IS OKAY! We (hopefully) get to live on this earth for a long time... enjoy the season of life you are in without worrying about all the things you haven't done.

Your spouse/partner is not actually trying to drive you crazy.
It may feel like it, but they're not. :)

Your children's favorite toys will be blocks/legos, cars, dolls, books and dress up clothes. 
Don't waste money on the "latest and greatest" fad. They always come back to those five things. The money we would have saved??? We could have gone to Italy and back 15 times by now!

No one has it together. 
Yep. We are all a bunch of big fat fakers. All of us are worried we aren't doing something right, we're messing up our kids, we aren't giving our all at work, we could be better partners... the list goes on. The truth is we are all doing the best we can, and that's all we should expect.

Choose your joy.
By now, you are a broken record at telling the kids "choose your attitude"... sometimes we could use those same words of wisdom. As Ms. Hawkins ended 95% of her announcements in Jr. High... "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it." There is so much power in our choices to choose joy, happiness, gratefulness... in those moments that have you stressed, worried, angry... choose joy instead.

Seek Him first.
Most important piece of advice in this list. Seek Him first. Seek Him always. There is nothing that we can do to ever lose the love of Christ. You are going to walk through stress, disappointment, anger, fear, joy.... give it all back to Him. The beauty of Christ is that we are never alone... we never have to solve on single problem alone. He is there for all the big and small and hard. Seek Him first.

In closing, you are going to love your thirties. There is such a gentle gift in aging. You begin to focus on the important things, you hold on to the dear things and you let things that don't matter fade. And you finally FINALLY figure out your best hair. Savor every single second of this decade. The best really is yet to come...

Your older, wiser (and honestly better looking) self.


40 to 40

I've always been a believer in celebrating birthdays BIG. I'm going to attribute this to my mom, who managed to always make us feel special and loved on our special day each year. Whether it was saying yes to a sleepover turned midnight makeover, renting the skating rink for a Rainbow Brite themed blowout or a surprise Sweet 16 (complete with a car with a GIANT BOW on top) - she and my dad made us feel loved.

Basically poor Ryan inherited a spoiled rotten person. But I digress.

Sunday marked 40 days until my 40th birthday. I've been count downing on my phone, looking forward to the milestone and trying to decide how I wanted to celebrate the big day.

Turns out... I get to celebrate for the next FORTY days.

Ryan, Cindy and Jenni have crafted the most amazing (and overwhelmingly humbling) birthday gift of my life. Each day, for the next 40 days someone from my life is going to wish me happy birthday.

I can't get over it. I'm sitting here in Blue Baker crying as I type this.

I don't drive a fancy car.
The floor in my house is being held together with wood glue.
I can't use my shower.
I've never been to Europe.
I don't have a giant savings account filled with the moneys.

But, without a doubt... I am loved. And I am so completely grateful for every person that God has placed in my life. Every hard part, every easy friendship. Every tiny moment has been carefully crafted just for me. Just like every part of your life has been carefully crafted for YOU.

Parts of my life are absolutely nothing like I imagined... but everything I could ever dream.

This aging thing, y'all... I just can't describe the freedom you feel. I quit apologizing. I take time for myself. I listen before I speak. I am zero percent impressed with material things. I love the reflection in the mirror... but more importantly, that pistol of a woman inside... man, she's pretty cool, too.

So here is to the next 40 days of celebrating every gift that has entered my life. I treasure these people, these memories, these divine miracles that crossed my path. Each of them have helped shape me into the wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend... the list goes on. I am who I am because each of you and that is the greatest gift by far.


We5AmeriKings 2018: Day 11

It's safe to say that we all had a favorite day on the this amazing trip, and I think day 11 may have been Rad's. We enjoyed a slower morning and then walked from our hotel to the Georgia Aquarium. 

Here's a few fun facts that make this aquarium so special: 

Georgia Aquarium opened to the public in November 2005 with over one million guests visiting within the first 100 days and 3.6 million guests visiting within the first year. 

Georgia Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere with more than 10 million gallons of water. 

Ocean Voyager is the largest indoor aquatic habitat in the world, holding 6.3 million gallons of water. 

 Georgia Aquarium is the only Aquarium in North America that is home to whale sharks, the largest fish in the world.

Pro tip: If you get there when it opens (like we did)... skip the first few exhibits and go straight to the whale shark. The crowds don't show up until later in the day so the viewing section is practically empty. I didn't think about this until it was too late so we had to shove some people out of the way by the time we made our way around. (kidding, of course). 

Instead, we got an early morning view of these critters... and the piranhas, too! 

Since the moment we planned Atlanta as a stop, I had been looking forward to seeing the whale shark and then this happened. Holy cow, Beluga whales are majestic y'all. I'm pretty sure I teared up which isn't really a surprise, but still. To think of all the creatures God created... as we walked around, I was reminded of the song "So Will I" by Hillsong...

If the stars were made to worship so will I
If the mountains bow in reverence so will I
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I
For if everything exists to lift You high so will I
If the wind goes where You send it so will I
If the rocks cry out in silence so will I
If the sum of all our praises still falls shy
Then we’ll sing again a hundred billion times
He made every.single.living.organism. and we haven't even discovered them all! 

I am so glad that Gigi, Pops, Jody and Owen joined in this crazy little adventure of ours. I love watching my kids grow up with grandparents and they LOVE LOVE LOVE when their big cousin is around. And if that wasn't enough, the treated everyone to the Behind the Seas Tour which was awesome!

We got to learn all how the aquarium operates, how many gallons of water they use, and how to make an "instant ocean". We got to see where they examine sick animals, store food, feed fish and, you know... HANG OUT WITH A WHALE SHARK. 

I was tempted to fork over the $350 it takes to swim with this beauty, but we also needed the gas money to get back to College Station. 

This was seriously so cool - every one of us was impressed (even if Pops doesn't look like it). 

We wound our way through the amazing Ocean Voyager and had to squeeze in an underwater selfie. 

And then.... 

Radley was trying to figure out how we could take her home. 

We've been to quite a few aquariums in our decade of parenting (plus pre-parenting days) and this was by far our favorite. If you are within driving distance of Atlanta, then put this on your list of things to do! Every single one of us loved it! Getting there as the doors opened was key, we were able to walk through the entire aquarium at an easy pace and be done just in time for a late lunch. 

We headed back to the hotel through Centennial Park and had plenty of the day ahead of us to check off a few more items on our list. 

We took the kids to Jimmy Carter's Presidential Library and he's my new favorite human. I'm sure he didn't do everything right, but these libraries really know how to sell a person and I just want to put him and Rosalyn in my pocket. 

Then we made our way back to Centennial Park to let the kids play in the "splash pad" before dinner. Jody, Gigi and Pops rested up and I took a quick nap in Ryan's lap while all of the children ran around like fools acting as if this were the first time they had every seen water from a fountain. 

It was a delight!

We ended the day with another amazing meal surrounded by amazing family pinching ourselves for this incredible life.