This week is my 30th birthday... and as an American woman, I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to be dreading it.
My sweet mother-in-law admitted to me that 30 was the hardest birthday for her. My dad commented a few nights ago that he was afraid turning 30 would be traumatic for me. If you google "turning 30" you'll find dozens of dramatic and depressing memes and e-cards. That's because women in the "Western world" are obsessed with staying young. We dye our hair. We lie about our age. We use Botox to hide decades of laugh lines. We celebrate "anniversaries" of our 29th birthday, instead of our 30th, 33rd, or 35th. We see our 30th birthday as a burden, instead of a blessing.
But that's not the way the rest of the world views it - and it's not the way I choose to view my 30th birthday. I made a decision a few months ago that I would not freak out over this day. I decided that I would not be depressed or worried. I decided that I would not pick apart my life or focus on the things I haven't done. The way I respond to this day is a choice - and I hope to age gracefully, because I choose to age gratefully.
The truth is - I've seen too much of this world to be stressed about turning 30. I have met too many women who are sick, enslaved, and oppressed - not to revel in the blessing of one more year. Another year of freedom. Another year of opportunity. Another year of LIFE. And so, I choose to proudly celebrate that I AM TURNING 30!
I will celebrate this birthday because of Kamlal, who turned 30 as a prostitute in an Indian brothel. Because there are thousands of women like her in India and Thailand and in Red Light Districts all over the world, who are treated like property. Thousands of women who are forced to sell their bodies night after night. Thousands of beautiful, precious women who are trapped. And so, I will celebrate because I'm free.
I will celebrate on behalf of the millions of little girls in India who will never celebrate their 30th birthday - or any birthday - because they were victims of gendercide. For the precious baby girls who didn't get to live because their culture dictates that girls are a "curse from God." For the beautiful little girls that deserved to live.... I will celebrate because I'm alive.
I will celebrate because of a woman named Dudu, who died of AIDS at the age of 27. For the thousands of women like her in Swaziland and the hundreds of thousands across Africa who were taken too soon. For the HIV+ mothers who will not get to see their children grow up... the sick, young mothers who would give anything to live to the age of 30. I will remember them, and I will celebrate because I'm healthy.
I will celebrate this birthday because there are women in Burma who live in constant fear. Because in the last 60 years there have been hundreds of young women attacked by the Burma army and raped by corrupt soldiers. Because young tribal women are still at risk of being captured and forced to work as mine-sweepers in a landmine dotted jungle. I will celebrate because I'm safe.
I have been given so many incredible opportunities in my 30 years, and I've accomplished so much. There are millions of women around the world whose lives have looked very different. It would be a disgrace to them to do anything but CELEBRATE the life I've been given. I will not pretend I have not lived and loved my 30 years of life - and, dear reader, neither should you. If I have breath in my lungs - I will be grateful. When I blow out 30 candles on my cake - I will be grateful! I will not take my age - nor any moment of life it represents - for granted. Because there are too many mothers and sisters and daughters who will never get the chance to turn 30 as healthy, safe, educated, free women. And there are too many little girls who will never make it to their 30th birthday because of poverty or disease or corrupt cultural practices.
So I will celebrate my 30 years, and pray that in another 30 years life will look different for women around the world. I hope I get to spend another 30 years working to improve the lives of little girls in India, Thailand, Burma, and Swaziland... who will someday grow up into beautiful women with bright futures.
If you're reading this and the message resonates with you - then I'm going to be bold and ask you for a 30th birthday gift! It would mean SO much if you would donate $30 in honor of my life and my work with The Sound of Hope at the link below. My only wish for my birthday is that we will be able to raise the money we need to return to Thailand and India this March. It's been more than 2 years since we've had the administrative funds we need to travel. We are anxious to get back to work overseas, and to spend time with the little girls (and boys) we care for in Thailand and India. We need to raise at least $15,000 in the next 2 weeks. Please GIVE so that we can GO and help these children have a better future.