Where I’m going. And you’re coming with me.

There’s nothing like a September 11 birthday to make you really take stock in your life.

I’ve gone through this interesting period over the last decade or so, from ignoring my birthday, to reclaiming my birthday, to gentle celebrations with small groups of people I love. But this year seems different.

When people have asked me this year how I’m spending “my day” I haven’t had much of an answer. Honestly, I’ve been thinking more about how I’m spending my life.

Funny, I don’t feel old until I look back and photos like these and and think…wait, that was how many years ago?

birthday 1986

Me with great friends around my birthday circa 1985. Thanks for the memories, Ben.
Thanks for the braces Dr. Whats-His-Name.

liz gumbinner, isabel kallman

Me with great friend Isabel Kallman around my birthday, 2012.
Thanks for the hair straightening products, beauty industry.

Maybe it’s about it’s hitting that ripe midlife (eep) age of 44, but the days now seem to matter as much as the years do. They go faster, but each one also has the potential to be more meaningful in ways. Looking back at my older posts, I think it’s something I started to feel back in 2010.

Recently, I was struck and moved by my stepmother’s observation that the older she gets, the more she realizes “this is the only life we get.” And that one day, we’ll have to look back and say to ourselves, well, this is how I spent it.

That means there are some changes that I need to make this year; I want to make sure I can answer that question well.

One of those changes is to recommit a bit more to the world outside my proverbial backyard, especially in ways that my children can see.

The shot@life campaign was an amazing first step–I was amazed at how totally committed I felt and how personally I took on the mission to help generate comments for all the blogs that participated. There was hardly a day that passed that I didn’t tweet about a post or email friends to comment; seeing the very tangible effect of one’s words is a powerful thing.

We saved 10,000 lives. With words. You saved 10,000 lives. Pause on that for a minute.


Last week I wrote about living in bubbles, and how easy it is to forget our impact on the other people in the world; and the impact the other people in world can have on us. Suebob Davis (one of the most non-bubble people I know) wrote ” It is easy to forget that everything we do – from how we walk and drive and hold doors (or don’t) and speak to cashiers and random strangers – all of it – creates the world in which we live.”

There was also some discussion about the internet creating its own kind of bubble and keeping us from participating in the world. While there’s some truth to it, I don’t agree that it can’t also be a door outside as well. More than watching a show on TV. More than reading a book. My online community has connected me to the world in many ways.

And here’s where I tell you that as I type this these words, my arms are still sore from the immunization shots I received 5 days ago.

I’m going to Ethiopia.

I’m going to Ethiopia!

A week with Jeannine Harvey and the ONE Moms to Addis Ababa and its environs. A week with some of the women I love and respect and admire most in the world–and many I don’t know but can’t wait to know. A week to bear witness to the stories of the mothers and children there, and to see firsthand the essential benefits of now dwindling U.S. aid to Africa. Like Asha Dornfest confessed on the ONE Moms blog, I know much less than I should about the region.

But this time next month, we’ll be there.

Oddly enough, today also happens to be the Ethiopian New Year, or Enkutatas. They say there are no coincidences in life, huh?

Bing Map of Ehiopia

I’ve explained to my children that while it’s hard to leave them, they know I’ll be helping kids, the same way they like to help kids. I hope they’re proud of me. I hope they internalize it and grow to be people who have these kinds of opportunities too. Or heck, make their own.

I hope they know how much I need this right now.

It’s now been 11 years since I was on the ground in Sarajevo working with refugees from the Bosnian war–not as a poverty tourist (a term that makes me want to vomit) but as a writer and a storyteller, as a future mother, and as a citizen of the world. It shaped my life and my worldview in ways I have yet begun to articulate.

11 years is a long time though, and while I’ve done so much in those years, I’m feeling a stronger pull than ever to reconnect with that aspect of myself, to bear witness, to share someone’s story besides my own, to give voice to those who don’t always have one.

I’m thinking it’s an excellent way to describe how I spent my 44th year.

And that’s where you come in. I hope you’ll join me for the journey, if only through my blog.

This morning, my mother shared the advice, Look in the mirror every morning and ask yourself, “Am I the best person I can be today?” If the answer is YES, get on with your life.

The answer won’t always be yes. But you know? Let’s get on with it.


94 thoughts on “Where I’m going. And you’re coming with me.”

  1. Good for you. You will do ONE Moms proud. I can’t wait to read the stories you will share upon your return home.

    (And I totally dig your hair a la 1985. Happy b to you. xo)

  2. Congratulations! Bursting bubbles of our own secluded lifes is what all of this is about. We are fortunate enough to have everything, but we have it only because we are standing on shoulders of giants (i.e. generations before us). Now it is our time to lend our shoulders to someone else in need, and lift up the whole society in the process. From simple smile to cashier to the vaccines for poverty-caged Africa, everything counts. Go and make us all proud, as you always do.

  3. That’s fabulous news and you are a wonderful addition to the ONE Moms cause. It’s so important to see outside the world we live in and while things here are home are also important, it provides a completely different perspective. I will never take for granted what I learned during my time in Haiti and it’s part of the reason why I’m so committed to going back and continuing the work we started while there. I can’t wait to hear all about your trip and experiences!

  4. Today’s post marks the Beginning of the New Beginnings. I marvel at all you’ve become and all you have left to be.

  5. I can’t wait to go along, even if it’s just vicariously. And also, have to say even back in the 80’s you could rock some very fab jewelery. I hope you have an incredible year ahead – it’s certainly off to wonderfully meaningful start!

  6. Wow! Congratulations, and good luck, and all those wonderful things. I’m in awe, and will enjoy reading about your journey.

  7. I’m looking forward to your commentary. Have you read Jacqueline Novogratz’s book “The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World”? I’m curious about how her perspective on aid v. investment jibes with what you learn.

  8. Amazing post. Very meaningful as two people I know died way way before their time. Liz you never cease to amaze me. Keep on doing it.

  9. Happy Birthday and thank you for sharing such great news – even on a day like this. I think the need for great news is even greater on days/dates like today. I’m so happy you will get to go on the trip, and looking forward seeing you do more great things that you truly are passionate about.

  10. That’s wonderful. I mean ONEderful. Happy birthday my friend!

  11. Happy Birthday! I can’t wait to follow your journey with ONE moms – you are such a wonderful addition to the team.

    p.s. – I think your 1985 hair is pretty fantastic, actually.

  12. You were in my annual latenight September 10 stew of people, places, and things I think about as I process another year past 2001, and what it always has and still means. I’m glad to wake up to this news from you. I’m glad you get this chance to go and do this. You’re so right. There is only today, and how we spend it.

    Happy birthday.

  13. There is not a bow big enough or sparkly enough for the gift of perspective. (Though the 80s-hair tried awful hard.) What a great way to start your 44th year — Can’t wait to see what good things you do.

    1. You always have such a way of putting things Pam. Thanks.

      Although crap, I’m actually starting my 45th year aren’t I? Now that just sounds old.

  14. Wishing you all the best on your trip and in the year ahead. I especially liked your line about how the days matter just as much as the years. I’m finding that, too.

  15. Such exciting news! (I’m still working on picking my jaw up off the floor.) You never fail to inspire me.

    Happy Birthday, Liz!

  16. Your very old professor is very proud of you. You are an inspiration to all of our students at COM.

  17. Safe travels, Liz — to Ethiopia and on the rest of your amazing life’s journey. Thanks for sharing it all with the rest of us.

  18. Happy birthday, my friend. And Godspeed on your journey—I know you’ll do ONE Moms proud. 🙂

  19. How exciting!! I am so excited to read about your adventure and good will journey!! I am encouraged (for myself) to see you design your own “bubble” and pass that message onto your kids! Very inspiring!!! Happy Birthday!

  20. Ethiopia is an amazing country and one so near and dear to my heart (both of my children are from Ethiopia). I have had the pleasure of traveling there twice-spending a total of 3 weeks with the amazing people of the cradle of humanity.

    It is a nation that taught me that no matter how little you have–what you can give will help someone one else. It is country that lives in my life everyday. I am so happy that you and Kelly are going and will share the beauty and struggles honestly.

    The stories of girls who walk 6 hours a day to get water. The 5-year-old boys who sheppard animals to and from market. The mothers who only want to keep their children healthy.

    Have an awesome time. Bring back their stories.

    1. Oh Dawn, we need to talk. I can’t wait to hear your advice and your stories. It already sounds so much like what I learned from Sarajevo – the people with the least often give the most.

      Sage’s best friend is also from Ethiopia and I can’t wait to be able to share some of her own history with her too.

  21. Happy Birthday! Good luck on your trip half way across the world. I bet it will be a gift to you as well as the people you meet.

    P.S. I have more than one of those pictures of myself circa 1988. I think I still know that girl in the picture. She looks a lot like me, only cooler 🙂

  22. Liz, this will be so life changing. I still can’t believe I’ll get to experience this with you.

    Happy birthday sweet one.

  23. Amazing! Can’t wait to follow your adventures and hear about what you learn.

    (And I have to say, it was nice when scanning my facebook page this morning that along with the 9/11 tributes I was reminded to stop and wish one of my favorite bloggers a Happy Birthday. That made me smile on a morning when I think it’s important to remember to do so.)

    1. Ha, glad my birth can give you a break today. As for me, I stay away from pretty much all media that isn’t my twitter @ feed today.

  24. What a fantastic post. Thank you for the gentle reminder to always strive to our best selves.
    Have a safe trip. I look forward to reading all about it when you return!

  25. Awesome. I’ve also done some pro bono work in Africa and it really just changed my life. Can’t wait to hear about your experience.

  26. So well said… Happy Birthday. You are certainly adding something positive to the world we live in. Inspiring!

  27. Happy Birthday Liz – you go hug all the beautiful people of Ethiopia for me. And if you happen to be around Hosanna, hug them extra tight. My daughter’s birthmother is from there. We love her and we miss her every day. xoxo, Cindy

  28. What a wonderful way to celebrate your next year, looking forward and knowing that what you do makes a difference must be the best gift you could ask for!

    By the way, one of my dear friends from college was born and raised in Ethiopia. She is one of the most prolific, intelligent and beautiful people I have ever known. I have no doubt you will meet some amazing people there who have wonderful stories to share.

    I can’t wait to hear about your adventure.

  29. Happy Birthday Liz!!
    I think it’s absolutely amazing what you are doing and I can’t wait to go along with you, if only virtually.
    I also love your mom’s advice – I’m going to start doing that!

    1. Thank you Gabby, and you know you’re one of my very favorite bloggers. I can’t wait to see you soon. IN AFRICA.

  30. Wow. Congrats on this opportunity. As a regular reader, I can say that I have faith that we’re in good hands — I’m sure you’ll bring us stories that will challenge us and make us think. I look forward to reading them.

    I hope the girls are proud of their mommy! Happy birthday!

  31. Happy birthday and congrats! This is very exciting, and I’ll be reading every word you write about your experience.

  32. This post brought tears to my eyes – and I’m not sure why. Excitement for your adventure that awaits? Realizing that moving on is finally where we’re at – and it’s a very good thing? A reminder that my 43rd birthday is coming up – and it’s a very good thing!

    I look forward to reading about the experience and the good it will spread. Because if there’s one thing I’m sure of, Good *wants* to spread. It really, really does.

  33. Happy Birthday, Liz. I’ve been following your blog forever and have finally gotten off my duff to start sharing my voice as well. I had a similar reflection on turning 40 last year that I’d love to share with you and others. (Sing This With Me, This is 40). Best of luck on your travels, and keep up the wonderful work. – Caroline

  34. This is timely because on the drive to the subway this morning my husband and I discussed my recent feelings of lack of accomplishment, the realization that I said I’d finish the novel this year and here it is nearly the end of the year and I’m what, 3 chapters in? It’s hard not to simply lie down and say the hell with it all. But then I’d be complaining about lying down saying the hell with it all. If I were to do your mom’s mirror check today the answer would be an absolute no, but I’ve still got hope for tomorrow.

    I am so proud of you for the Ethiopia trip, stepping outside of your backyard, giving your children things to know about mom that they’re proud of about mom. I’m definitely coming along (via blog, but excited about it!).

    Happy birthday.

    1. Thank you so much Arnebya.

      There’s a nice nuance in my mom’s quote – at least the way I see it. It’s Am I the best person I can be today?
      Every day is a different day. So the best person you can be today may not be the same as the best person you can be ever.

  35. Congratulations and happy birthday, Liz. It has been amazing to see how your blog and your voice have developed through the years and how you have become an agent of change for so many people around you (and now far from you as well). Thanks for taking us to Ethiopia with you. Don’t forget to tell us which shots we need :o)

  36. Thought of you this morning as I was driving my kids to school, reminisced on your post from last year (or two years ago?) and the gravitas of the day that is your birthday.

    You’re awesome, I admire you, I’m with you.

    Celebrate, always.
    Happy Birthday!

    (And what Kristy said because I want to be funny like her!)

  37. So awesome, Liz. This post reminds me of when I first met my beloved friend, Tekea, at our kids school. I kept introducing her as “my wonderful new friend from Ethiopia.” She let this go on for days, until she finally said “I’m from Eritrea.” That’s when I consulted a map and realized that I have SO much to learn. I love Tekea, and I love you.

  38. Happy Birthday Liz! And congratulations!! Looking forward to your inspirational posts on Ethiopia.

  39. As for that term that makes you want to vomit….going to Nicaragua last year to help build a school for a bunch of poor children was one of the defining moments of my adult life, and I plan to go back this December with a wife and, perhaps, child or two in tow. Being a wealthy American (our median salary is top 1% of the world, so all of us who have computers and blogs are wealthy) and NOT leaving the country to see and help others who didn’t win the “born in the right place lottery” is choosing to not live a well-rounded life. It’s also a bit selfish.

    I’m glad you’re getting to go to Africa. Hope it’s a happy birthday today.

    1. I wish every person anywhere ever would read this. Thanks Michael. Your experience sounds amazing and I couldn’t agree with you more.

      Happy birthday to Mrs. Muskrat!

  40. Happy Birthday! I am turning 40 later this month and I’ve been doing a lot of reflection too this birthday. I want to be a better person, make a bigger impact on the world. You are amazing and you already make a difference and I can’t wait to read your posts from your trip. Stay safe and soak in every single moment of it all. XO

  41. Wow. That is all colors of awesome and will be a life changing trip for sure (having known people who have gone of the ONE trips, I’ve heard of the amazing power of the experience). And what’s poignant is not the change that will happen to you, but the change you will make in other people’s lives – the lives that will be saved by these epic trips. Bonus point? Ethiopian food is AMAZING.

  42. I am 37 and I feel like when I turned 35 I finally accepted the fact that I have an expiration date. That has made all the difference. As it is you inspire me to think a little more deeply about day to day life. I’m really looking forward to what you discover in Ethiopia. I’ve been reading a lot lately about women in the developing world not having access to modern birth control. I’d be interested to hear if that comes up during your trip. I will for sure be tuning in.

  43. Happy birthday Liz and what a great opportunity!
    Seven years ago, I went to Ethiopia for a month with an NGO and it was one hell of an experience, changes your perspective on everything. I learned so much from the people there. Can’t wait to hear your stories

  44. I led a meeting just this morning as the co-chair of the community service committee at my son’s school. He was mad that I was leaving the classroom for my meeting instead of lingering with him. He said that he didn’t care about community service. (We’ve had interactions like this before, like when he told me that the kids to whom we were donating a bunch of our less often used toys should get the worst toys ever. Gulp.) I sheepishly joked to another mom about how my efforts to model service seemed to have little impact on my budding Alex P. Keaton. THANK YOU for the reminder that I do community service not (just) to make a point to my kids, but to connect to my world and, hopefully, do my part to make the world a better place. Our kids will get it (or, I don’t know, maybe they won’t), but we’ll have done our part and I’ll be able to look in the mirror most days and say that I’ve been the best person I can be.

    I’m so, so excited for you, Liz. Sounds like you have an exciting adventure ahead. I can’t wait to hear about it—I feel honored that you plan on sharing it with us. And happy birthday.

  45. So looking forward to following you and all the other beautiful ONE Moms on this journey.
    Coincidence? As I’m typing this I realized I’m wearing my “It Only Takes ONE Mom” tee today!!! *goosebumps*

  46. I am super chuffed to be sharing this journey with you and I bet your kids are very proud. I was so humbled to hear that my JJ wrote about his hero in class today and apparently that was me!

    Mich x

  47. Also wanted to add- If you haven’t read “Cutting for Stone” yet, it might be a good airplane book.

    Safe travels….

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