2017 Year in Review

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Seven has always been my lucky number (its the number of perfection, after all), but 2017 was not my year. Its easy to list off the struggles and hardships: To start, Trump was inaugurated into office, and within weeks he had signed several executive orders that would make my new job as an immigration attorney that much more difficult. However, by the end of the summer, I would be demoted away from my immigration focus as my office laid off an attorney due to budgetary issues and asked me to step back into my original role. Then there was Jeff Sessions’ announcement to end the DACA program, leaving me to wonder the fate of my own DACA boyfriend. However, soon after my birthday, that boyfriend ended our relationship just before he took off for Wales. (While no break-up is ever easy, I felt relieved to be single again, but also concerned that he might not make it back into the country.) Around this same time, my legal assistant left for another job, leaving us without help over the holidays while seeking her replacement (who would become the FIFTH legal assistant I’ve worked with during my almost five years of employment at the Mission). September was marked by other losses of life, too — I learned that a Team Mission colleague’s son had committed suicide, and we gathered around to support him in the grieving process. I also traveled to Phoenix with my other college roommates for one last hurrah with Tiffany in what we thought might be her final days in the fight against colon cancer.  Just when I thought we had rebuilt morale at the Mission, my office was served with a lawsuit by a long-time attorney volunteer (who was also a good friend, former classmate, and co-editor on the Falcon, our college newspaper).  The media approached us in the weeks before Thanksgiving–our prime donation season– and I learned that both myself and David, my supervising attorney, were mentioned in the facts of the complaint. There isn’t much more I can say, especially knowing that I will likely be deposed in the next year.

If that wasn’t bad enough, I totalled my red Rav4 in the weeks before Christmas. I hit a school bus with one child on it — a girl with Down Syndrome. Everyone walked away unharmed, but it broke my heart to leave behind my beloved Joyota at an auto repair shop, knowing that our nearly-11-year-relationship was over. I cried more nights over that car than I did my last boyfriend.

When I think about my hardships in comparison to that of my clients this year — mothers who have been kept away from their children, pro se litigants who have been denied justice in the courts, fathers who struggle to pay their child support and make ends meet without returning to their old drug addictions — it helps give me perspective. But it also burdens my heart as I can’t help but feel their pain through my advocacy.

As I write this Year in Review, I am choosing to remember the highlights of 2017 rather than dwelling on the trials. I will be thankful for every success, every relationship formed, every trip that inspired me, and every goal that was achieved.

Travels:

  • Taipei and Taichung (Taiwan)
  • Seoul (South Korea)
  • Puerto Vallarta (Mexico)
  • Flathead Lake, Montana
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada)
  • Newport Beach and Anaheim, California
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Washington, DC

Best day: Celebrating Kasie and Jacob’s wedding on May 27, and having a date to dance with me.

Worst day: Probably learning that the Mission was getting sued. Or watching Travel Ban go into effect on January 28. Or losing my car on December 5.

Coldest: that one frigid day in Seoul, South Korea when I tried to explore the city when the temperature was in the teens

Warmest: Temperatures in the 100-and-teens during our last day in Phoenix, Arizona (thank God for swimming pools!).

Most clear answers to prayer: Both when Jason came into my life and wanted to date me, as well as when we said goodbye

Most inspiring: So many Christian friends have inspired me this year to continue running the race (both figuratively and literally) — Jess Downs, who led our book club and shared her own struggles of waiting for unanswered prayer. Scott “Scooter” Sowle, who faithfully served at the Mission until he was hired on as the health and wellness coach. Tiffany Mealman, who continues to glorify Jesus as cancer overcomes her body. Or David Bieraugel, who obediently took a new assignment as lead pastor at Blue Sky Church when Steve Morgan and many others from the original church plant left to do it all over again in Austin, Texas.

Most influential person: I hate to say that Donald Trump or Jason were the most influential people in my life this year…. but when I think about who has shaped my thoughts and actions (more for worse than the better), its these two men. I never thought I would lump them together, but here we are at the end of 2017. Nothing surprises me anymore.

Most stressful moment: 4 am on the Ragnar race trail, parked in the La Conner High School lot, when I realized we needed to be in Port Orchard in an hour … and I had to drive the 15-passenger van because our driver had refused to go on.

Biggest accomplishment: Speaking on immigration to other legal aid attorneys at the Christian Legal Society conference

Weirdest moment at work: Catching a rat in the file room. Yes, a real live rat.

Biggest heartbreak: Saying goodbye to the Joyota.

Saddest moment: Saying goodbye to Tiffany at the Phoenix airport and boarding the plane to Seattle with my other crying roommates.

Best decision: Either purchasing a NY Times subscription or deciding to sign up for salsa lessons again after ending a relationship

Hardest transition: Saying goodbye to the friends who started Joshua Church and watching Blue Sky flourish, even as I doubted my place in it.

2017 was a tough year but here’s what I’m looking ahead to:
New relationship: my black Nissan Rouge — I still need a name for this car. So far, I’m liking the heated seats, the back-up camera, and having a phone-charging outlet that actually works!

Next trip: Greece with Laurie! (Or maybe back to DC?)

Resolution: Studying joy in the Bible.

Alissa’s Academy Awards
Movie: Wonder woman. But “Justice League” and “The Greatest Showman” are close behind.

Album: Hamilton soundtrack. I listened to this in my Joyota for a month or more before returning it to the library.  But Kalani gave me the Hamilton mixtape for Christmas, so all is right in the world, and I can nerd-out while driving anytime.

Book: Uninvited or Hinds Feet on High Places.

Podcast: Magic Lessons by Elizabeth Gilbert. This is the podcast that made me want to start downloading and listening to podcasts.

TV show: Its a toss-up between the serious drama of “This is Us” or the fun fashion and social commentary on age in “Younger” or the addictive nature of “Game of Thrones” (which I started watching only because of a certain boyfriend and probably won’t go back to watching unless I get HBO for a season).

Most intriguing celebrity: Meghan Markle. She’s living every American girl’s dream.

EASTER 2017: Women matter in Jesus’ Church.

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While I don’t intend to write a long blog posting today, I do have a semi-controversial opinion to share about my Christian faith. On this Easter holiday (and might I add – during a season when I’m doubting my own usefulness as a single woman in the church) I am simply remembering just how important women are to Jesus. After all, upon His resurrection, He didn’t appear first to his 12 disciples. He chose these honored women — Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, mother of James, and others. I hope to meet them in heaven one day.

Luke 24: 1-12: “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”

Honest Prayers: A Non-Comprehensive List of Things that I Wish Would End

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Dear Jesus,

You are all-powerful, and your ways are higher than my ways. Nothing is too difficult for you.  You are the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. So here are a few things that I must ask for you to put an end to (as soon as possible):

1. This winter. I’m surely not the only Seattleite praying this today. You see what’s going on outside. Its just depressing.

2. Donald Trump’s presidency. It has already been 27 days too long.

3. Me being single. That has been more like a decade too long.

4. That one client appeal case that I never should have said “yes” to last summer, and now I’ve been fighting back and forth with USCIS for months over filing fees that they claim to have never received and brief that’s been floating around in the mail between here and Texas since September, and the attorney who referred the case to me on the promise of assisting throughout is all “bye now,” and I’m left to contacting the ombudsmen and getting error messages that my complaint has not been received via their restrictive online submission system and now just writing run-on sentences about how frustrated I am.

5. Those Good-to-Go Pass letters that keep coming to my house saying that my email needs to be updated. No, Good-to-Go. You have the right email. You just can’t figure out how to bill me properly.

6. The annoying twitch to my left eye that started somewhere around the beginning of 2017 and, no matter how much sleep I get, it keeps coming back.

7. Nick Viall’s run on The Bachelor franchise. C’mon, dude. If you can’t find love on national television this time around (isn’t this your fourth show?), maybe its time to try something else. Like therapy.

8. Millennial girls talking on their cell phones while sitting right next to me on the city bus. Its happened the past two nights in a row during my commute home. Girl, nobody wants to involuntary eavesdrop on the boring details about your temp job or the gory drama of how your “BFF” just broke up with her “bae,” especially when you insert the word “like” in between each and every sentence. Like, OMG, I can’t even handle it.

9. “Grey’s Anatomy.” We love you, Shonda Rimes, but 13 seasons is too much. Not even “Friends” or “Seinfeld” endured that long. You are just trying to compete with lame soap operas like “Days of Our Lives” at this point. Sure, your TV show was amazing when it first premiered back in my college days, but after you killed off half the cast in a hospital shooting and then McDreamy…. well, we all stopped watching years ago. Everyone except my mother and sister, apparently.

10. My bad attitude. Help me get over myself, Lord, as well as all these things listed above. Its been a rough week. Help me to trust you more when no end is in sight.

Amen.

Year in Review: 2016

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Posting a “Year in Review” is something I did during my law school years, when I was still using the “Notes” function on Facebook. With all the negative press that 2016 is getting, I decided that I needed to focus on the positive and summarize everything that I’m thankful for in this past year. Sure, I’m about 5 days late and the year 2017 has already begun, but here it is….

Best answer to prayer: Stepping into a new role at work that allows me to focus solely on immigration law and serving non-citizen clients in the Seattle area. I’ve always considered my work at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission to be my “dream job,” but this new role is nothing less than a dream come true. (To think that four years ago, when I drafted my last “Year in Review,” I was still an unemployed law graduate!)

Places traveled: Whistler and Tofino (Canada), Dubai (UAE), Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Dhulikhel (Nepal), Chengu (China), Lhasa, Shigatse, and Everest Base Camp (Tibet, China), Las Vegas (Nevada), Anchorage and Seward (Alaska), Washington, D.C., Garden City (Kansas), Dallas (Texas).

Favorite new travel destination: Dubai. I was only there for 20 hours on a layover to Nepal, so my visit consisted of only the main mall and the Burj Khalifa. I would love to go back and hang out at the beach!

Hottest day: Probably close to 110 degrees. Why did my college roommates and I decide to spend our reunion weekend in Vegas mid-July?

Coldest day: Close to 17 degrees. When spending the night in a tent at Everest Base Camp, I wore multiple layers, but my Wonderwoman pajama pants were not enough to keep me warm.

Best decision: Spending a week in Tibet, even if I struggled with the altitude and endured that one frigid night in a tent at Everest Base Camp.

Biggest accomplishment: I don’t know if “finally being asked to be a bridesmaid” or “not vomiting at Everest Base Camp” or “binge-watching all of Sex in the City” or “surviving multiple romantic rejections (nearly) unscathed” wins the prize this year. (Do you sense the sarcasm?)

Most inspiring: Two very different things qualify for this category. One was hearing Bryan Stevenson’s speak about poverty and justice and attending his book signing for “Just Mercy.” The other moment of inspiration came when I was walking along a street in Chengdu, China, and I felt the Holy Spirit speak through my tears.

Silliest costume: Running the Super 5K while dressed as Wonderwoman. Kasie Kyle joined me as “Batgirl.” And then we ate brunch with Jacob while still wearing our costumes!

Longest distance run in a 24-hour period: My three Ragnar legs added up to approximately 21 miles.

Best meal: Cooking with Laurie and her Alaska Airlines coworkers at Tom Douglas’ Hot Stove Society.

Best “bathrooms”: Definitely not in Tibet! This is a running joke from our tour group after squatting in fields, over open ravines, behind rocks, and in smelly stalls.  Linda, the British gal, took photos of some of the worst “loos” and send them to her sister back home for laughs.

Strangest thing to happen at work: Enduring a Friday afternoon  walk-in clinic with the fire alarm blasting for nearly 30 minutes after an angry former client pulled the alarm on his way out.  I most certainly went home with a migraine that day.

Saddest: The morning after the presidential election.

Most stressful: Giving an oral argument in King County Superior Court for a client who sought a protection order for his three children. (I lost… but I’m continuing to work with Northwest Justice Project to appeal the case and make sure that Washington State no longer gives out short-term protection orders that fail to include all of a petitioner’s children.)

Most encouraging: Being told by Cecile that I’m a “catch,” and knowing that she’s praying for my future husband to come soon.

Renewed Passion: Good journalism.  Now that we’re in a “post-truth” age (and given the many anti-first-amendment statements made by our new president-elect), I’ve ignited a passion for  journalism and reaffirmed my support of reputable news sources. After the election, I subscribed to the New York Times for the first time. I even watch the local news most evenings before bed — but that has more to do with a certain attractive blonde news anchor from Texas. 🙂

Most influential Person: Josh and Christine Russell – really, the entire Russell and Dillon families. Being a part of their wedding this summer as a bridesmaid (for my very first time!) showed me so much about what it means to trust God as He writes your unique life story and love one another unconditionally.

Alissa’s Academy Awards:

Song: Either Kari Jobe’s “Heal Our Land” or Chris Tomlin’s “Good Good Father.”

Book: Sarah Bessey’s “Jesus Feminist”

Movie: “Its Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong” – I saw this on the plane ride to (and from) Dubai, and it struck a chord deep in my  heart. I’m a sucker for romantic stories about expat Americans who meet in Asia.

TV show: Either “The Good Wife” (I began watching after Thanksgiving 2015 and saw most of the series on Amazon Prime throughout early 2016) or “Sex and the City,” which was not only entertaining, but also provoked deep personal analysis about the pressure I feel to live a “fabulous” life as a thirty-something single professional women in a major city. (And yes, I’m totally a Miranda.)

Most intriguing celebrity: Certainly not he-who-shall-not-be-named (our unfortunate President-Elect). I will choose Mrs. Clinton because — while I disdain for much of her politics — I still admire the dignity and grace with which she handled this dumpster-fire of an election and its shocking results.

Looking forward to 2017:

Most excited for: it to not be 2016 anymore. Is that bad? Can I say that?

New places to travel: I have a ticket already purchased for Taiwan this month, and Laurie and I will be visiting the west coast of Mexico for her birthday in March!

New Year’s Resolution: Put my salsa lessons to good use and go dancing on the weekends.

Biggest upcoming challenge: Practicing immigration law in this new Presidential administration.

Resolutions: Everything comes back to the same three words: Run, Pray, Write. I need to be reading the Bible and praying more often. And I want to write on a regular basis. And I want to run fast — not only in earthly races — but for the heavenly prize which lies ahead.

Random Thoughts to Kick off November 2016

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I haven’t written a blog post in over a year. I’m sorry. I promise to do better next time. Will you accept my apology?

I don’t have anything particularly important to say except this collection of random thoughts. Welcome to the inner workings of my brain from the first few days of November 2016…

  • I’m back at it with NaNoWriMo again, attempting to finish that memoir of my year in Beijing, now almost a decade after moving there. I’ve decided that if I don’t do it now, I never will. This year, I’ve decided to frame my novel as a romance – a love story between an American girl and a foreign country. I’m enjoying the opportunity to read through my old journals, reminisce back on 2007, and write again about something I truly love.

 

  • I’m thankful that my workplace set aside time for us to attend a cultural competence and racial reconciliation workshop. I’m also thankful that the presenter (an articulate biracial black woman who thrives off of “call and response”-style teaching) did not pick me out as one of the employees to ask, “What race do you identify as?” Saying that I’m an “ethnically ambiguous and racially misunderstood white woman” would require a much longer explanation than we have time for. Actually, as the presenter was talking and walking around the room, listing off examples of different races, her eyes rested upon me and she mentioned amidst her monologoue: “…..Latina, Hispanic….biracial? multiracial?….” I silently thought to myself, “Nope. Nope. Interesting. Keep guessing….”

 

  • The 2016 presidential election is bumming me out. To put it more articulately, I feel anxiety manifesting in very physical ways, like an upset stomach and lack of sleep. I’ve been receiving judgment from family and friends (my own mother told me that she cried when she learned that I voted for Hillary Clinton via Facebook). While I cannot say I’m a Clinton supporter (I’ve despised the Clintons since the 90s, and I honestly don’t trust her), I do trust her more than her opponent, and I want her to win this election because (a) after more than 225 years, its about time we elected a female president, and (b) I can’t imagine the American apocalypse that would occur if him-who-shall-not-be-named was elected instead. I’m dealing with both the raw emotions and the practicalities of what it might mean for both myself and my immigrant clients if that racist, misogynist, lying lunatic with bad hair becomes the next leader of our nation. But as I hear so many Christians voting for him, I wonder if the apocalypse is upon us now.  I’m trying to figure out how to reconcile with friends and family.  Tonight I Google-searched for “greeting cards that say we voted differently but I forgive you.” I found nothing. Hallmark is missing out on a huge market this election season. If I had the time and any crafty bones in my body (which I don’t), I would create an entire line of greeting cards to sell on Etsy and watch the $$$ roll in.

 

  • I walked into a Car Toys store today to replace my broken phone charger, and I heard Christmas music playing.  It was a Michael Buble song – “Grown Up Christmas List,” to be exact. I couldn’t wait to finish my purchase and get outta there. And then I saw this posted online….. christmas-attitudes

I re-posted it (of course) along with an explanation of my horror story from today. Naturally, my friend saw this other thing posted on Facebook at the same exact time and decided to share it with me….

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Basically,  I should just go into hiding between now and when both the election and Thanksgiving are over, right?

Personal Roadblocks to Writing: Perfectionism

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I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The biggest thing that keeps me from writing is not the busyness of life or writer’s block or a dying laptop computer. It is perfectionism.

This is why I’ve decided to participate in my first NaNoWriMo. (It stands for National Novel Writer’s Month.) But before I explain that insane commitment, let’s talk a little more about my debilitating desire to achieve perfection.

I’m one of those people who cannot write a full sentence without editing as I go along. I cannot leave a misspelled word behind. I start a thought with the intention of going in one direction, but then I stop and rephrase it. I read back at what I’ve written before and tighten up my language, erasing unnecessary words, or replacing lifeless verbs and adjectives with more lively versions that mean the exact same thing. I still firmly believe in clear, concise writing (why use five words when one will do?), and I blame this good habit my past life as a college newspaper editor. Nothing would have embarrassed me more than an error-riddled headline. If I was going to print it for all of campus to read, it must be perfect.

You would think that going to law school would have also grown the writer in me, but I’m afraid that it only worsened my perfectionism. Sure, I’m a more practiced writer now and have a better eye for detail and nuance, I’m also more on guard that ever about my mistakes and the potential costs of such error. In law school, messing up on a brief or term paper could mean a lower grade and class ranking. But messing up on my writing in the workplace could turn into losing a client’s case, and in my line of work, the stakes are high — prison time, increased fees and fines, loss of child custody, lack of a necessary protection order, or deportation. Additionally, after enduring three years of law school and its painful Socratic Method, I’m now aware that there are hundreds of different ways to present and argue the same point, and millions of different points and perspectives to choose from to start. If I want to write about a given subject, which is the “best” way to go about it?

Maybe this is why I’ve come to love running so much. While I put pressure on myself to write the perfect blogpost, give the perfect speech, sing the perfect karaoke song, look perfectly for a formal event… not so with running. I firmly believe that there is no such thing as a perfect run. I can always be faster, go longer, or feel better about my run — there is never a point in which I reach the ultimate “perfection.” I run simply because I need to, and I feel satisfied for having accomplished a run no matter how fast or slow I was, no matter how far or short the distance.

Back to NaNoWriMo — I heard about this radical idea to write a 50,000-word novel last year when it was too late to join in. But this year, I’m in. I can’t think of a better way to cure my perfectionism and force me to keep writing without stopping to edit. I’ve intended to write a memoir about my year in China since I moved to Beijing in 2007 — That’s 8 years again now! I’ve started a few chapters, but wanting my first book to be perfect has kept me from getting very far. The time to write it is NOW. Let’s do this. Let’s get ready to write a messy, imperfect, terribly-cliched book with lots of plot holes and flat characters. And if my final product happens to result in something slightly better… then I’m exceeding my own expectations! Great!

Until then, I’m blogging again in order to get back into the habit of daily writing for November. Next, let’s talk about another personal roadblock to the writing process: extreme self-consciousness.

PRAY. RUN. WRITE.

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Hey blogosphere! Lady Justice is back!

I’ve had every intention of restarting my blog in recent months, and on this lazy Sunday afternoon, it just feels right. I laid by the pool for an hour or two before the obnoxious grandsons of another Bitter Lake Village resident took it over with their foam noodle wars, relentless splashing, and pre-puberty screaming. My laundry is mid-cycle downstairs, and I’ve opened my laptop computer to look over my budget and bank statements, as well as research recipes on Pinterest for how I can cook those unwanted radishes that arrived in my organic produce basket this week. Yep, this is what “adulting” looks like.

My last few blogs posts indulged in the fears and thrills of turning thirty, and while I looked forward with anticipation, I had no idea what amazing things would happen this year. I started the search for real estate, purchased a condo, and renovated it from top to bottom — all between the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve. I took over planning our annual Christian Legal Society winter retreat in Leavenworth. I experienced my first (and likely last) girlfriend weekend in Vegas to celebrate our collective thirtieth birthdays. I attended three conferences — two for work purposes, and one with my church network — and felt further inspired and called to do the things that God is asking of me. I passed along my small group to another leader who’s ready and capable to take it on, and I’ve enjoyed the change of pace that comes with returning to my old small group and supporting someone else who is calling the shots instead of myself. At work, I’ve been participating in an Emerging Leaders program, allowing me to meet with the Mission President, Jeff Lilley, for mentoring every other week.  Finally, I ran a marathon! And then a Ragnar Race only weeks later. Recently, I’ve felt exhausted — and it becomes clear why when I read back over this paragraph.

When life gets busy, when you wonder what new goals and accomplishments to be pursuing and which to let go, it helps to have a few priorities in mind to keep yourself grounded. I asked myself these questions: “What do I enjoy doing most? If I could spent all my free time on three things, what would they be? If I could be known for doing only three things well, what would I want those to be?”

That’s how I came up with Pray, Run, Write.

No, its not supposed to be a rip-off on Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller “Eat Pray Love.” Instead, these three words remind me what needs to come first — to pray and seek out God. Once I’ve done that, then I can know where He wants me to be running and what He wants to be writing.

When you enter my condo, the first thing you will see is a framed blackboard with these words written on the bottom. Usually I have a different scripture verse written down each week, but below that will also remain three words “Pray. Run. Write.”

What are your three words?

I think I hear the little boys and their grandparents leaving the pool . . . I’m off to jump back in!

Memorial Service, minus the tap-dancing widow, garage band reunion, and paper-mache bird catching fire

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Few things give you a greater perspective about turning 30 years old like a death in the family.

I want to write, “Fortunately, he wasn’t a close relative…. just one of many great uncles on my mother’s side….” but it doesn’t feel right to describe anyone’s death as “fortunate.” His name was Cloyd Hillis. I honestly don’t know how old he was. Maybe somewhere in his late 70s/early 80s, like my grandparents? My mother says he brought her blue-haired dolls when she was a little girl. I can’t recall the last time I hugged him, or even what he looks like among my grandmother’s nine or so brothers, all balding men with blue eyes and the same southwestern-style wardrobe of plaid shirts, Wrangler jeans, and large silver belt buckles. After all, the family lived many years in New Mexico and Texas. Many are still “snowbirds” and spend their winters in Yuma, Arizona.

But I don’t believe Cloyd was among those healthy enough to continue traveling down south every year. He suffered a stroke on Tuesday night of last week. I asked my parents if we needed to postpone our plans for their first day in town, and instead, visit Cloyd in the hospital. He was my mother’s uncle, after all. But she said he was unresponsive, so we decided to stick with our original plan of touring potential condos in the Seattle area. He passed away around 6 p.m on the night of my 30th birthday.

I won’t complain that his death detracted from my personal birthday celebration. I am not a spoiled princess. I am a thirty-year-old woman who is slightly relieved to have the attention diverted away from me. I am thankful that the focus isn’t on my increasing age and my failure to reproduce offspring for an inquisitive distant relatives. More so, I am thankful for Jesus’ way of using this event to point out my shortsightedness. Here I am, focused and mourning the few years of my youth, sad to see them pass behind me, when I should be joyful about many years ahead of me.

Before Cloyd’s death, my extended family was already planning a small reunion last Sunday night at a Chinese restaurant in Everett. Grandma had dozens of old albums and scrapbooks from my Great-Grandmother Hillis (who passed away almost 20 years ago) and she wanted people to come look through them and take whatever photos they pleased. Given the circumstances, we decided to broaden the invitation to more family, ask for a bigger room at the restaurant, and use that time to remember Cloyd. After church on Sunday, my sister and I drove north and met up with more than 50 family members at the International Lucky Buffet. After a few introductory hugs and writing out a stick-on name tag, my introverted side was feeling suffocated, so I excused myself to the restroom for a short break and reemerged just as my cousins arrived.

Let me stop here to remind you readers of my favorite movie, Elizabethtown. This 2005 film is centered around the death of Drew Baylor’s father, and the setting is historic rural Kentucky. While there are dozens of ways in which I identify with this movie, I want to pinpoint the family aspects here. Those scenes in Elizabethtown which show family gatherings — floral wall-papered living rooms, home-cooked fried food, big-haired and big-hipped ladies, swarms of screaming children running around the house, only matched by the sound of crickets outside — they always remind me of my dad’s side of the family in Kansas. Maybe its the culture of small-town Americana. But there’s something warm and hospitable and slightly embarrassing about family in general — whether you live on a farm or in a big city like Manhattan — that invokes the same feelings that I get from watching those scenes in Elizabethtown.

On Sunday afternoon, in the white-linen-draped back room of the Lucky Buffet, I felt that same way about my mom’s relatives in Washington State. We were having somewhat of a memorial service, and Uncle Larry was passing around the restaurant’s cordless karaoke microphone so that anyone who wanted could say a few words while we feasted on various fried creations that bared little resemblance to the food I ate in Beijing. Some shared old stories from Cloyd’s youth. Other shared their last memories. My mom said a few words, and she held it together emotionally, despite her initial warning: “Just so you know– I’m a crier. That’s just who I am.” Some respectfully mentioned a little about Cloyd’s past wives — which I found to be slightly scandalous, but not unexpected among family. I was reminded of Elizabethtown‘s longest scene (also one of my favorite scenes) during which the family has their memorial service for Mitch Baylor and a variety of speeches ensue. Yet, instead of a tap-dancing widow with a comedy routine, our Uncle Cloyd’s current wife was in tears and said nothing more than “I’m going to miss him so much.”

Unfortunately, that’s where the comparisons end. There was no garage band to play “Free Bird” on the glittery stage next to us. No paper-mache bird to release from the ceiling and catch fire. No Chuck and Cindy, “lovin’ each other 24-7” to celebrate their wedding reception on the other side of the curtain. No epic road trip across the country to get home. No surprisingly love story involving someone I met on an airplane. Darn.

Save that last one for the next chapter of my life, right? Although Cloyd’s days are finished, and we can say with somewhat certainty that he met Jesus this week, I have many more ahead!

My Recommendations of What Everyone Should Have, Know, and Do Before 30

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I’m coping these days with the idea of leaving my twenties behind by finding sources of encouragement and letting them speak truth into my life. Next to the BIble, another book has been an incredible motivator: “Thirty Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know By the Time She’s 30.” I’m about 75% of the way through this book, and I can’t recommend it enough. (Some “chapters” consist of a two-page cartoon! Who doesn’t love that?!) Until I’m forced to return it to the local library, I’m keeping this book on on my nightstand next to my Bible, and I read both before dozing off.

Here’s the background on this book: In 1997 (back when I was still watching Saved by the Bell reruns on summer breaks, planning my thirteenth birthday party, and daydreaming about what high school was going to be like….) Pam Satran wrote a column for Glamour magazine which listed out 30 items that any American woman could relate to. Whether we are rich or poor, single or married, Christians or atheists, working six-figure jobs or still figuring out our careers–we all want to be “successful” (whatever that means), following our purposes, and tied to community . So how did the book come to be? Pam and the editors of Glamour decided to ask several notable women, some well past 30 and others (like Taylor Swift) nowhere near that age, to write personal essays about each of the items on that original 1997 list. I don’t know why this collection of essays isn’t well known, because let me tell you, it far surpasses any version of “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”

This list inspires me because it doesn’t try to humiliate me for those things that I didn’t accomplish before turning 30. Instead, its purpose is to inspire us, to challenge us, to grow us at any age. In the spirit of this list, I decided to write my own. Its a list of unsolicited advice for other twentysomethings out there– my own recommendations from what I’ve experienced and how its matured me during this past decade.

Without further ado, here is my list of what everyone (and not just every woman!) should have, know, and do before 30:

1. Learn how to drive, parallel park, and change a tire.

2. Have a budget, a non-padded resume, and at least one piece of furniture that isn’t from IKEA.
3. Summit a mountain.
4. Sing karaoke on stage (not on a couch). If you’re tone-deaf or musically incapable, you may substitute “Give a speech to a relatively large audience” for this item.
5. Travel by yourself (even better if its in a foreign country).
6. Learn a foreign language.
7. Watch a meteor shower.
8. Learn to cook one signature dish.
9. Take a dance class.
10. Experience major rejection.
11. Go on a cruise.
12. Ride a motorcycle.
13. Learn to ski or snowboard.
14. Run a half marathon.
15. Publish something you’ve written (even if its was something back in grade school, and your parents were the only readers of this publication).
16. Travel Europe.
17. Go on at least one blind date. Yet don’t put pressure on yourself to “be dating” all the time.
18. Get your heart broken. This can be the result of a relationship or a job loss or some other major tragedy. Learn to be broken and how to get healed.
19. Learn how to confront someone without losing the friendship
20. Move to a new city where you know hardly anyone, even if its just for a year.
21. If you plan to go to college or graduate school, do it now!
22. Become financially independent from your parents.
23. Volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about.
21. Play on a sports team. Learn to pass, to share, to win, and to lose.
22. Get a well-fitted suit.
23. Find a church community and commit to it.
24. Do something that teaches you the current boundaries of your patience.
25. Learn whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. Embrace it. But also challenge yourself to be the opposite.
26. Pull an all-nighter in a big city.
27. Apply for a dream job. Don’t worry about whether you get it or not. Just take the risk.
28. Become an informed voter.
29. Learn to play an instrument.
30. Make a ten-year plan, and allow the freedom to NOT fulfill it within the time frames you have set for yourself.

Pay It Forward

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I hate getting sick — especially when I’m too busy. Ain’t nobody got time for that, am I right? I had the sniffles all day, but thankfully, I also had the night off from soccer. My go-to get-well-soon activity usually involves running errands, cleaning house, and attempting to do all those things I’ve been putting off because I’m too busy . . . which lasts an hour max before I drop. Then I put in a movie, curl up on the couch, drink tea, and cry at every emotional scene.

Tonight I decided to watch “Pay It Forward” for the first time. I know, I know… I’m late to the game. But I found it on the shelf at my local library this week and thought that I should finally see this life-changing drama, despite the heavy things I had heard. I won’t give away the ending for anyone who is also a couple decades behind on their movie watching. But I will warn you — keep tissue close at hand.

At first, when the little kid, Kevin, brings a homeless man to his kitchen, pours him a bowl of cereal, and gives him a place to spend the night (all without permission from his mom), I began to doubt this movie. My work with the homeless has shown me how Kevin’s social justice plots are too idealistic and unrealistic, not taking into account what put this man on the street in the first place. But then, when Kevin’s mom confronts the stranger, we learn about his drug addiction. Bam. From there on out, scene by scene, this film doesn’t shy away from portraying the gory details of broken homes, daddy issues, alcoholism, domestic violence, abandonment, runaways, suicide, theft, arson, weapons in schools,… you name it. Let’s just say that if you’re in the mood to watch a comedy, don’t pick up this DVD.

Its a difficult movie to watch, yet its so worth it. Amidst these dark themes, you will be inspired to change the world, one life at a time, by “paying it forward” and making a big sacrifice for someone. My favorite part of the whole movie isn’t the climax (which I will not reveal). Its the moment when Kevin thinks he has failed. His perspective is limited, and he can only see how his sacrifices didn’t pay off for the three people whom he tried to help. But he has no idea what is going to happen next — how those people’s next decisions are what lead to success, Not just their own personal success — but as they pay it forward, success of epic proportions is about to break loose. 

Likewise, often times I pray for specific things, I take small risks in obedience, and I don’t see results right away. I think that God has failed me. But I don’t have His grand perspective on life, this world, and all of its existence. I don’t know what everyone’s next step is going to be before it happens, but he does. I don’t know when my prayers will be answered, or what it will look like (or if it will turn out anything like what I expect), but I trust that His will is going to be done. His own success of epic proportions will break loose one day, and I shouldn’t lose faith. 

If you haven’t seen the movie, go watch it this week. Decide to make three big sacrifices for three big people, and then tell them to pay it forward. Keep faith that success is close at hand, even if you can’t see it.