So, I originally started writing a totally different blog, but it was depressing, negative and completely not what I want to be associated with my “30” birthday.
So I scrapped it and wrote this one.
To say that turning “30” is a big achievement is an understatement; not to be prideful or anything, but I did not think I would make it to “20” at one point. This is truly a cause for celebration, not bemoaning or complaining about things that are and that cannot, at the moment, be changed. Even though I am starting to feel old, I am very blessed and thankful to be reaching “30.” (I would put, “if God wills” but that would be about as superstitious as “knock on wood” or “crossing my fingers;” God knows that I depend on his sovereign will to continue breathing)
First, I do want to thank God through Christ for saving me from myself at age 14; if he had not…I would not be writing this blog. I shudder to think about who I would have become had Christ not rescued me from my pit of hatred and despair. When I think about his great mercy to me, I still tear up and I am still overwhelmed with gratitude. Very rarely (and then only stupidly) do I ever feel like I have measured up to the calling he has given me; it all began with grace, and if I am to make it to “40” or beyond it will still have to be by grace.
Second, I have not lived a typical life; there have been many disadvantages I have overcome both internally and externally. To say that my life has taken a prolonged and circuitous course would be fairly accurate. However, much like everyone else who graduates from college in their twenties finds out; life is not what you thought it would be nor is it many times even close. I am happy though with what God has led me through because it is in the difficulties that I learned; were it not for those failures I would be an entirely different person without wisdom or maturity.
So what have I learned from “30” years of life on earth? Ten Things…
1. God cares not for your plans.
Just get used to God “messing things up,” he not only does it but loves to do so. The moment you think you are close to figuring things out is the moment everything changes and all is cast in fog. It is like walking through a labyrinth, thinking you know the way out, and then all of sudden the whole maze reshapes itself. God likes to keep us trusting in him, even if it brings us some confusion and frustration. What I have learned is that if you plan for preparation, not to actually to do anything you plan on doing, then you are typically in the right mindset to do what God has for you. If you have any expectations or specific destinations, you are in for a world of hurt and disappointment. Walk with God and trust him, and he will unfold his plan in your life.
2. Family and friends are incredibly important.
I tend to be individualistic and almost hermit-like; it comes from years of being a loner. However, I have learned from having great friends starting in college and onward and from living with my family for longer than I wanted, that those relationships matter. Even though they are not always bright and happy sunshine, God uses them to bring great joy. When we spend time investing in relationships over tasks, goals, or entertainment…we see God working in lives outside our own. It has been hard to be away from family and my college friends, but I have begun to grow new friendships here in Arkansas. This takes time and is really hard on someone who warms up slowly, but it is well worth the time and energy to do it.
3. It is much easier to see what is wrong in the world than to offer hope to right the wrongs.
Pessimism is an inherited trait in my family on both sides, so it is no wonder then that I tip pessimistic. I have found however, that very few people want to be around a pessimist much less follow one; I am on a continuing campaign to fight this dark side. Part of that fight involved marrying an optimist (like when I say “optimist” I mean like she has an optimistic response to every pessimistic thing I say…it is SO annoying sometimes but SO needed) who helps to keep me from spiraling into a black abyss. Also, I have tried to offer solutions and not simply point out obvious problems; the only time you need someone to point out problems are for the very blissfully oblivious “pink-fluffy-cloud people” (who are a lot of times on anti-depressants). Scripture offers us all hope in Jesus Christ; if I follow Christ, then I should be offering hope not raining on their parade.
4. Live in the moment God has you in
There have been so many days where I have wished either to be in the past or in the future, but God wants me to live in the present. It is not an easy thing to do, but it is where you learn the most about who you are and what it will take to become the person you need to be for that next step. Living in the present allows you to experience God’s mercy and love fresh and new; there is a reason that they are renewed every day. The past is gone; the future may never come…we must live in the now. I have had to face this as I am still not in “professional” ministry fifteen years later and I work at a job that was meant to support college students finishing their degrees; I also experience it when I long for college when I had a lot of close friends and I felt love and accepted. I can experience God’s provision of those things now, but it requires me to let go of the past and the future.
5. Do not get married (or have kids) until you are ready.
Marriage is wonderful, more wonderful than you can imagine if you are single; it is also as wonderful as you remember if your marriage is just not as it used to be. However, be warned: marriage is selfishness exposed; it is a call to become selfless. When you are single you are truly free to do whatever you want when you want to (within limits), but the trade-off is a battle with actual loneliness, self-centeredness, and irresponsibility. When you get married you give a lot of that freedom up and that results in similar battles as a married person. I am glad that I waited till I was ready to be married; if I had married earlier in life I would not be willing to give up my freedom and pride so that I can become one with another. I am not ready for children and I will not consent (willingly) to having them until I am ready to give up more freedom. It is good to be married, but there is a solemn, serious cost.
6. If you are not comfortable with who you are, neither will anyone else be.
That is not permission to be a schmuck, or a constantly negative and critical person. A lot negative and critical people are actually very caring and compassionate…even dare I say it, hopeful. Yet, because they speak out of their pain, fear, or anger they do not let these genuinely good qualities show. People like me the most when I am comfortable with the positive side of who I am; people are leery of me when I am uncomfortable with myself. I am not comfortable with my positive, more upbeat side because…well, I am still not used to it. So, I still throw up the old stoicism and cold observer because I have nothing else to give… or nothing else I am not afraid to give. I was comfortable speaking out of my hurt and being sarcastic…I am not comfortable putting my real, positive, encouraging self out there. So, people continue to be uncomfortable.
7. It is okay to question and to doubt.
Sometimes I wish David had put “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of doubt…” because that seems to be a greater obstacle in my day than death. My faith is what it is today because I have had the courage to question and to embrace doubt; I find that I am far more secure and flexible due to my ability to challenge and rigorously examine beliefs to discover truth. This has often been a painful process that has left me often back to square one which is: “Do I believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus? Is he both Lord and God?” My answer has been and still is, “Yes.” There are a lot of things about Scripture’s writing, how Scripture integrates with other disciplines, how the world functions, and who God is that I do not understand completely, but I believe based on a lot of evidence and personal encounter that Jesus is alive and who he said he was. This has been an anchor in my soul despite the various storms that have been thrown at me. I am grateful for the Spirit of Christ in me, keeping me believing and seeing his grace fresh and new each day.
8. It will be the small things that cause you the greatest grief.
There is something about being human that necessitates that we sweat the small stuff. Large events typically are dealt with well because they call us to be who God has made us to be; for awhile we become better than we actually are. It is the small daily struggles that reveal who we really are, and disturb us in our own lack of faith and fidelity. I may not be in the middle of bankruptcy, but I am constantly griping and worrying about our lack of margin…forgetting what a blessing it is to have margin at all. Frustration over small issues reveals our discontent and our lack of trust in God’s ability to sustain and enrich us even without our wants for our “ideal” world or circumstance. Solomon was right, it truly is the little foxes that ruin the vineyards.
9. No matter how old you are, you are not perfect; there is always room for growth.
Learning involves growth; typically when you stop learning you stop growing. But learning is not just acquiring knowledge, a lot of it is actually trying to use knowledge in real life. This applied learning is what we call “wisdom,” or being able to use what you have been taught. Growth requires learning that leads to wisdom; it is not godless, but rather God-infused and God-ordained. Part of my discontent has been because I want to be totally like Jesus today…without having to endure what Jesus went through to show that I am truly his disciple. It is easy to see yourself as spiritual when you lose sight of all the areas of self-reliance and self-determination that have yet be challenged. I have struggled with finding someone to disciple me because of I am always comparing the amount of knowledge I have instead of the amount of wisdom I have. You always have room to grow and you can find growth opportunity from those older and those younger; those who lead and those who follow.
10. Being a great leader involves being a good follower.
I think in the early days of trying to lead I did not take the time to learn to follow. I had some pretty bad leaders in my teens and early 20s, so this is understandable, though certainly not excusable. It took me being willing to submit to people who actually had authority, to learn from them, and then allow God to give me a place at the table in his own time. I have not always been a good follower; I think that is one of the reasons I can understand the motivations of a lot of rogue church planters ( and heretics). Yet, you have to be able to listen to commands to be able to give commands. As much as I hate military analogies, if you cannot submit to the orders of your commander, then you cannot be entrusted with a command yourself. There are times, of course, when you may have to disobey someone in authority, but when you have a track record of loyal submission, then those moments stand out. If you want to lead anyone, learn to follow someone else…especially Jesus.
These are just a few lessons I have learned in thirty years of life on this earth, and yet God willing (ha!), there are still many more years to go.
Thanks for reading; leave birthday wishes if you would like.
Grace and Peace