34 Things

I turned 34 this week.

The day went by on Tuesday as most birthdays do—with texts and calls from loved ones, gifts and dinner with friends, birthday cake and treats. All in all, it was a good day. 

I don’t know about you, but I never really pictured my 34thbirthday when I was a kid. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what my life would look like at the age of 34. That’s not because I thought I wouldn’t make it this far (but thank goodness I did!). It’s because I, like most people probably, only tend to think about life in terms of the big years. 

Growing up, we picture ourselves at 16… 18… 21… 25… 30… and so on. We imagine what our lives will look like when we hit those milestones and what kind of celebrations we’ll have to commemorate them when they come. 

When I turned 16, my friends threw me a surprise party at my best friend Carly’s house. They homemade me an amazing, personalized present that I still have to this day. And to finish it off, I got my driver’s license the very next day. My 18thbirthday was spent in my parent’s basement with my best girlfriends. My 21stwas a cold, rainy April day at the beach with two friends and a surprise party at college when I got back. My 30thwas commemorated with all my girlfriends, most of whom also turned 30 that same year. We celebrate our milestone year together that summer with a week at an all-inclusive resort (#bestweekever). 

Nobody’s throwing it down, or planning big trips, or making big deals about the years in between all those milestones. But the older I get, the more I’m learning that it’s actually those seemingly insignificant years—the small, in between years—that turn out to be the ones that really shape us, change us, and make us who we are. 

I don’t know what 34 holds for me. I know what I hopeit holds, but I have no idea if any of those things will actually come to fruition. Who knows how many things I’ve never even imagined or thought of for my life that might come my way this year, too.

As I’ve thought about my 34 years thus far—all the big and small things that have made up the life I have today—I’ve found myself overcome with gratitude this week. So instead of commemorating this coming year thinking about all the things that haven’t happened yet or focusing on all the things I hope to have at this point next year, I’ve decided instead to take time to really sit in the gratitude for all the things that I love about my life at 34 years old. And I want to share them with you, because big and small, I know that without these 34 things, I’m not sure life would be as bright and beautiful as it is today. 

1.    My immediate family. I’m lucky to be surrounded by two parents (married 40 years this year!), two siblings, and two siblings-in-law that I love.

2.    My nephews. My favorite thing in life right now is being an aunt to Lucas and Covington.

3.    My big, extended family. I’m lucky to be one of dozens and dozens and dozens of cousins. I love being a part of that big, crazy, extended family! 

4.    My job.I’m a full-time writer, and it really is a dream come true. I still sometimes can’t believe this is really my career.  

5.    My roommates. I’ve got three amazing roommates who make me laugh, get me Gatorade when I’m sick, leave me sweet notes, and record all my favorite shows on the DVR.  

6.    My girlfriends. I cannot picture my life without my girlfriends in it. They’re strong, funny, brilliant women who make my life full and fun.  

7.    My friend’s kids.At this age, most of my friends have kids. And because of that, I’m lucky enough to get to be pseudo-aunt and friend to their crazy kids, too. 

8.    The people who treat you like family. I live almost four hours away from my actual family, so I’m so grateful for the people here in Georgia who treat me like their family. They invite me to be a part of their lives in big and small ways, making sure I never feel alone. 

9.    My small group. Every other Tuesday I sit in a circle with seven other amazing women. These ladies are simply the best—the kind of women I want to go to battle with and for in this life. 

10. My mentor. I’m so grateful to have someone a little further ahead of me in life to walk alongside me and point me in the right direction as I go. 

11. My car.I made my first real grownup purchase a year and a half ago when I researched, negotiated, and bought my own car. And the best news? I paid it off this year!

12. My health.I think we’re all grateful for our health, but I especially am right now. Any season of my life that isn’t marked significantly by the battle with autoimmune disease is a win in my book. 

13. The students I lead. I lead an amazing group of students through a mentoring ministry in the area every other week. They are funny, smart, thoughtful girls who I’m so excited to know.

14. Concerts.If you know me, then you know I love a good live music experience. This year, I have plans to see Taylor Swift and my all-time favorite, Justin Timberlake. 

15. Travel plans. I caught the travel bug hardcore after my first trip overseas when I was 19 years old. No matter if it’s a trip to the beach or a trip around the world, one thing I love about my life is the opportunities I’ve had to travel.

16. My Pure Barre membership. I’ve recently gotten into Pure Barre, and let me just say this: It’s so freaking hard! Like for real, the hardest thing I’ve tried in a long time. But it makes me feel strong, capable, and mentally focused, and for that, I’m grateful. 

17. This blog. Believe it or not, I’m actually grateful for this blog. It’s a labor of love for sure (emphasis on labor), but it’s given me discipline as a writer and a voice in this world. Those two things are certainly valuable to me. 

18. Other writers in my life. Being self-employed can be a lonely place. That’s why I’m so grateful for the other writers I know who give me advice, feedback, and encouragement to keep going when I need it.

19. My grandpa. There’s no person I love more on this planet than my grandfather, Moochie. Though he’s had a tough couple of years, I’m grateful that he’s close by, in my corner, and always making me laugh. 

20. Cheeseburgers.Being grateful for my grandfather also makes me grateful for our all-time favorite food: cheeseburgers. 

21. My coworkers/clients. Every single day I’m more and more in awe of the fact that I get to work with and for so many great people and companies. They make my job more fun and fulfilling,

22. Mexican food. Chips and salsa…. Need I say more?

23. Cupcakes.I could be grateful for all forms of dessert (#sweettooth), but in an effort to seem more mature and disciplined in this area, I’ll just say cupcakes and leave it at that.

24. A good margarita. There’s just something about sipping a good margarita with your girlfriends. It’s one of my favorite past times. 

25. My counselor. I’ve been lucky enough to find a counselor who points me firmly but lovingly in the right direction. It’s the best money I spend every month.

26. Dolly Parton. She’s my ultimate Tennessee idol, ya’ll! (Reese Witherspoon is a close second though.)

27. Bravo.Guys, it’s my TV guilty pleasure. Southern Charm, Vanderpump Rules, any and all of the Housewives—they’re the best of the worst things on television.

28. The movies. I love going to the movies! And I’m so grateful for my friend Steph who shares my love of movies and will even let me drag her to things she thinks she’ll hate but then ends up loving. (PSA: Go see The Quiet Placeright now!)

29. Dancing.I teach dance every Wednesday night, and it’s a great way to stay connected to one of my other favorite things in the world, and that’s dancing.

30. My doctor. It took me years to find a doctor who could help me with my health challenges. Now that I’ve found her, I’m praying she never leaves! She listens, is patient, informs, and never gives up on helping me live my healthiest life.

31. Brunch.If I could make a living just going to brunch, I would. It’s my favorite meal of the day. (Is it an issue that so much of my gratitude is directed toward food?)

32. The beach.I love the beach. It’s the most calming place in the world to me. My life’s dream is to strike it rich and build a house there so that I never have to leave!

33. God. I’m so thankful to know and be loved by God. It’s the hope of my heart and my rescue from the weariness of this world.

34. The hope of the next year. Like I said, I don’t know what this next year holds, but I know that whatever it holds, I’ll be blessed and better for it at the end. There’s just something refreshing about looking ahead at the blank canvas of the year in front of you with a new hope for what may come!

Sara Shelton