20 Before 40: A Birthday Wish List

Your birthday is not the best day to start a diet. So I’m not. However, I do know this to be true— 38 is going to have to be the year when I stop eating whatever I want. I have recently become victim to what my Mamaw has always called “the creeping weight.” It’s creeping because you don’t notice a pound here or two pounds there… until one day your jeans don’t fit, and you’re like ‘what just happened??” and then you step on the scale and are introduced to five pounds you were not acquainted with, but who have, clearly, moved into the neighborhood of your hips for the duration.

Dammit! And as Mamaw (who, at 80+ still has all her curves, so I’m hoping that gift landed on my side of the gene pool) has also cautioned —4 or 5 pounds here and there is, of course, no big deal for a grown-ass woman with children. However… 5 pounds this year and 6 pounds next year, and 7 or 8 the year after that…you know. It’s a vicious cycle, and not how I want to start my 40s (just two short years hence).

I am not shaming or blaming anybody for any kind of body in which they happen to be living. There is no standard/ideal weight that every woman in the world needs to be, and no one way that women have to look to be beautiful. I’m just saying, for me—for my health, for my energy level, for my comfort in my own skin…and for the love of my favorite J Crew skinny jeans that I scored for $18 —I getting out ahead of this by making some small changes now, before I have to make bigger ones later.

Repeat after me: There is more to life than cake, there is more life than cake, there is more to life…

That is to say—I aim to make some small changes AFTER MY BIRTHDAY. Today there will be lattes and probably chocolate. And bread. Oh how I love bread.


I will not dwell on that today! Today, I will think instead about all the other fun, important, inspiring and not-entirely-related-to-food things I want to make happen before I turn 40. These are way better than skipping dessert…

  1. Surf lessons.  Yes, for real. I have no reason to think that I’ve got talent in this regard, but I’ve always wanted to, so I will. Watch for YouTube videos of me biting it in the Pacific.
  2. Make real biscuits. Perhaps this is counter-intuitive, given my dietary goals for the next decade or so. But I have always felt like I should know how to make real, from scratch biscuits. I will, however, skip the lard.
  3. Write a book. Well, and have it published. Ideally.
  4. Learn to enjoy my Saturdays. Regardless of whether or not the sermon is ‘done.’ (note: it is never ‘done.’)
  5. Say ‘yes’ more when my kids want to play. And less ‘in a minute,’ ‘not right now,’ or ‘I can’t.’
  6. More time outside.
  7. Go to bed earlier (sort of.) I am a night owl. But with two kids needing me up for their morning routine, those habits are wearing on me. And probably, them.
  8. Run a marathon. Lol. I’m kidding. I need to exercise more, but WITHIN REASON.
  9. Play the piano. At least I’m not starting from scratch. But it does take me some serious discipline to play more than a standard out of the hymnal. I bought a giant book of classical pieces and am working my way through the trickier stuff. YOU ARE WELCOME, neighbors who get to listen to me struggle through the complicated accidentals.
  10. Give more, and practice what I preach about stewardship. It’s been a whirlwind couple of years on one income (intentionally) where there always seems to be some big, unexpected expense looming on the horizon. I am working to overcome the habit of giving ‘after’ all the other stuff is taken care of. Because as we know, there is never a time when ‘all the stuff’ has been taken care of… And also it’s time to start
  11. Saving for college, in earnest. Although I am secretly still banking on basketball/volleyball scholarships for my long-legged offspring.
  12. Spend more time with my husband that does not directly involve caring for said long-legged offspring. Our kids are 5 and 7 (!) and it feels like we’ve emerged from a long wilderness of baby and toddler-dom. Sometimes they are both out of the house for hours at a time, either at school or having social lives. It is easy to spend that time catching up on chores and errands… but what fun is that??
  13. Stop apologizing for things that are not my fault. Hi, my name is Erin and I’m a compulsive people-pleaser (hi, Erin). My impulse is to say ‘I’m sorry” for anything that happens in my general proximity that may cause discomfort or displeasure to another person. I’m starting to see this trait in my daughter as well, so NO MORE. May God grant me the grace to say “sorry” when I have truly done wrong… but when it is someone else’s fault, or NObody’s fault, that burden is not going to be mine. And while we’re on being a chronic people-pleaser, I will also
  14. Accept that not everyone likes me. This is hard, but liberating work. You should try it sometime, if you haven’t before.
  15. Call my girlfriends more. It is hard to be a pastor and also have friends. I can’t entirely explain why that is (or maybe I can, in another post) but the thing is, I DO have friends. Good ones. But my BFF’s live in: Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas and California. (In no particular order). We have children. We have careers. We have menfolk. I see most of them once a year, IF I’m lucky. Life happens, and the longer we go between calls, the more energy/effort it feels like it would take to catch up so… months go by, and then sometimes a YEAR. I’m aged enough to know that new friends cannot make up for the absence of your old ones. So for my evenings: less Netflix binging and more long distance bitching. Promise.
  16. Wade out of my comfort zone. I used to be fearless. I would travel to any unknown corner of the globe with only a backpack and a passport. But something about having children—whether a physiological change brought on by pregnancy, or a philosophical change that comes with motherhood—has made me anxious. I rarely go anywhere now without a plan, a gps device, and multiple changes of clothing. And even then, I am nervous and wishing I could just stay home. I do not much like this version of myself, and am hoping that a few more trips to Central America will cure me of the creeping home-body-ness that I fear is increasing with my age. At the same time, when I AM home I need to learn how to
  17. Sit still. Seriously, why is it so hard to JUST BE? Small children don’t help, I know. But I can’t blame them entirely for the restlessness of my own spirit.
  18. Plant stuff. People do that, right? Without killing it? I love dirt, but the process by which stuff grows out of it remains a mystery to me…
  19. Learn to accept discomfort. I’m an Enneagram 7. Which has all sorts of wonderful implications for my work, but which also means I am profoundly uncomfortable with discomfort. I want to fix it. Or else I will avoid, deny or mask —with an effing VENGANCE—any feeling that is not complete joy. I learned from Inside Out that this is not a good way to go through life. I also know that, spiritually speaking, it can lead to some pretty unhealthy habits. Not to mention lack of growth, and the inability to be present with people who are suffering. So. Wish me luck on this one.
  20. Make fewer lists. Ha ha. See what I did there? But with this bit of irony is truth: that making lists is often a way of imposing a sense of control over that which cannot be controlled.

It is clear that most of the things on my list point to common denominators of discipline and moderation. WHAT A DRAG. However—imposing a little bit of discipline on my mostly by-the-seat-of-my-pants life will create more space for the good stuff (like surfing and playing more LEGOs!) And that discipline cannot be easily cultivated by centering my life around a series of tasks. Yes, it feels good to get a handle on those few things that can be ‘checked off’ on any given day. But the real work I need to do in my life—as a pastor, a parent, and a person— is more about being centered, present, and open to the Spirit in any given moment. In that regard—lists are not always my friend.

So I will end this one here, even though it seems like “38 Before 40” would be more fitting and appropriate. If I can achieve even half of what I’ve already laid out here, I will count it a good 24 months. Meanwhile—what’s on your wish list for the next season of your life? I’d love to hear about it while I sit here, enjoying my (last for awhile) birthday latte.


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