This weekend I turn 25. Honestly, and I mean this with all seriousness, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to me. Despite the value I generally place in milestones, seasons of the year, and the various points of the Christian calendar, my birthday rarely reaches the top of the list of high points in my year. My birthday celebrations, especially after crossing the 18-year mark, are usually very tame. A dinner outing with the family is a given, Grandma always sends a card with a gratefully accepted check, and sometimes one of the boys will buy me a beer. This year I’m going camping with some close friends in Pure Michigan. Celebrations aside, I’m always thankful for another year of life, but this year the thankfulness is more so focused on contemplative reflection and hope for the next years.

If I’m being honest, I’ve felt like a 21 year old for the last four years. Many things have changed since then, certainly, but only in the last year and a half or so have I felt like I’ve aged. At 25 I finally feel like a man, like I’ve seen some things and experienced just enough to feel “wise,” or at least possess some level of life wisdom anyway. But, as so many people experience, the older I get and the more I learn, the less I feel I know.

At age 18 I thought I had a pretty strong grasp of what I believed, what and who I wanted to be, and what things mattered most in my life. I wouldn’t necessarily say those things have changed, but they’ve certainly grown, often through radical changes to come out the other side of events with just an altered view of the same core things. I still believe in God, I’m still a writer and a musician, and I still value family and relationships above most everything else, but 18 year old me had different ideas about what success and practical application looked like in all of those areas. At age 18 I thought I knew where I’d be, what I’d be doing, and how I’d be living at age 25. My life is comfortable, for the most part, and I enjoy being the bachelor on the family farm in my hometown, but it’s not quite what I had in mind.

Ending up in a different place and way of life than what I expected for my mid 20s has taught me more than any other milestone or season of life yet. I’ve learned life is actually, surprisingly, kind of difficult, but the difficulty and trials are what add the extra hue to make something beautiful. Always remember to be thankful and grateful for what, and who, you have. The grace, kindness, and behavior you expect from others should be the same you extend to others. No matter how much you think you know, you should still keep reading and researching. Opinions, if you’re going to have them, should firstly be informed, then presented confidently, and always held loosely. Your focus will shape your reality, and, similarly, what distracts you will eventually define you. Truth should be valued in all its forms; first in fact, then in testament, then in honesty, and firmly in conviction. And no matter what, beliefs should not come before community; if you value family and friends, hold them closer and above that which you believe. Beliefs are merely ideas and postulates about reality, but the people around us are reality themselves.

Older generations will laugh, but 24 was a sobering year, to say the least. And while I don’t feel that my birthday is that significant, nor do I feel like I’m getting old, I feel fortunate to have learned that aging and getting old aren’t necessarily the same. I’d rather learn that now than later. I want to keep feeling young while getting more mature. I hope to keep learning more, while being humbled by how little I know. And, as often as I can, I plan to prioritize people before plans and goals. The last 25 years have been beautiful and thoroughly enjoyed. I hope, believe, plan, and pray the next years will be the same and more.