Today is the big 4-0. Here are the top 20 lessons I've learned between ages 20 and 40. Hopefully I don't have to relearn them between 40 and 60! Here's to learning many more new lessons as the years go by.
Twenty - You can think that what you have is perfect and you can plan the rest of your life around it. You can imagine a future that is picture perfect and it can all be gone in an instant. Better to plan your life around truth, character, and faith in God than around any one person, goal or achievement.
Twenty-One - It is good to have friends who you can trust, enjoy and laugh with. They are worth searching for and they are worth celebrating and valuing when you find them.
Twenty-Two - Go for it! Take a chance! Risk, within the boundaries of God's goodness, is a boon to growth and is bound to make memories that last a lifetime.
Twenty-Three - However far you go in one romantic relationship (physically, emotionally, spiritually) will determine where you are likely to want to start from in your next romantic relationship. It is a snowball effect that can lead you to jumping in with both feet when you don't really know someone well. Tread carefully. The right partner is worth the wait in all aspects.
Twenty-Four - Be open to job opportunities outside of your area of education or expertise. There is much to learn and many skills cross over between fields.
Twenty-Five - When you think that your past experience is going to dictate your future, you are trusting in your own limited understanding. Leave room for God, the author and perfecter of your faith, to write your story and allow yourself to wait breathlessly for the next page to turn.
Twenty-Six - A baby is always good news. Always.
Twenty-Seven - Exhaustion can teach us lessons that we cannot learn otherwise. Let it drive you to God and to those who are able and willing to help you. Self-reliance will only get you so far. Learn how to rest and how to share a load.
Twenty-Eight - Parenting is all about humility. Children do not care about your reputation.
Twenty-Nine - When something is a priority to you, you will make a way. If there seems to be no way, pray and ask God to purify your priorities and help you reorient your life.
Thirty - Regularly meeting together with a group of people who share your faith, but may be completely different from you in every other way is a taste of heaven. Look for it and dive in head first don't give a second thought to the temperature of the water or whether your bathing suit is appropriate.
Thirty-One - Leaving something that has been good in the past because it is becoming truly dangerous to you or others requires great strength and unswerving commitment to doing the right thing. It is worth it. Leave.
Thirty-Two - Starting over in a new place is hard, but doable.
Thirty-Three - If you seek Him, God will meet you in the most special and personal ways. Truly He knows you better than you know yourself.
Thirty-Four - Money isn't everything.
Thirty-Five - Changing course mid-stream is never efficient or comfortable, but sometimes it is absolutely necessary. Don't be afraid; fear wastes energy that you'll need to persevere.
Thirty-Six - Mentoring can change your life just as much as the lives of those you are pouring into. Keep your eyes open for someone younger than you who you can walk through life with. You'll both benefit.
Thirty-Seven - There are thousands of children in foster care in our country today. It requires less than you think to bless them and help them retain their sense of safety and self. Open your home when the opportunity allows, and support those who are doing so when you cannot. It is worth every sacrifice.
Thirty-Eight - You can sit through a completely devastating moment in time and come out the other side a fighter. You can be embarrassed, humiliated, brought lower than low and still keep your head held high. God is bigger and His plan for you cannot be thwarted. Learn what you need to learn in that low moment. Keep your character intact throughout.
Thirty-Nine - There is beauty in big cities and in rural communities. Do not be intimidated by what you do not know. Recognize that what you have to offer is valid no matter your surroundings.
Forty - God is good. He is faithful. He will provide just what you need at the moment of your greatest need. Believe Him when He gives it to you and watch what happens.
The longer I live, the more I am in awe of the mystery of the human soul. This eternal part of each of us that somehow instinctively knows that the ways of this world are completely out of whack and that we were made for more. This part of us that seeks the hard road rather than the easy road because it knows that something worth fighting for is its own reward and so much more valuable than any simple pleasure easily attained. This inner life that, when we will be still and quiet and humble, can commune with our Creator God and be restored no matter how wayward it has become. The Bible tells us that it is the Spirit of God himself that woos each and every soul to Himself. It also says that we can grieve that Spirit and quench its power in our lives if we ignore it long enough. I know of no greater tragedy.
I am currently reading a book called In God's Underground, written by Richard Wurmbrand, a Lutheran minister during the dark days of communist rule in Romania. He was put in prison for his faith more than once during that time. The first stint was for 9 years. He went into prison and his one and only son was a 9-year old boy. He came out of prison to be introduced to his son, the 18 year old man, without being allowed a single visit from him during those years. Such a loss of years and time, and yet God had preserved both of their souls exquisitely. On the night of his unexpected return from prison (they simply opened the gates and let him go one day) his son, Mihai, said to him, "Father, you've gone through so much. I want to know what you've learned from all your sufferings." Wurmbrand put his arm around his grown son and said, "Mihai, I've nearly forgotten my Bible in all this time. But four things were always in my mind. First, that there is a God. Secondly, Christ is our Savior. Thirdly, there is eternal life. And fourthly, love is the best of ways." My son said, "That was all I wanted." Later he told his father that he had decided to become a pastor. Two souls who had gone through so much heartache and pain, poverty and suffering - but perfectly sustained and more beautiful than they were at the beginning.
Once Wurmbrand had settled back in with his family at his very meager home in the attic of a building owned by another (their house had been taken by the government when he went to prison), he said, "Now that I was free, I longed in the depths of my heart for quietness and rest. But communism was working everywhere to complete the destruction of the Church. The peace I desired would have been an escape from reality and dangerous for my soul." It is only God who can put such depth into the human soul. Such selflessness is actually soulfulness! Denying the self for the benefit of the eternal soul. This is not harmful or sadistic, this is exchanging the temporal for the eternal and it is wise beyond earth's wisdom. When everything in us and everyone around us is telling us that retirement from the cause is in order - you've done enough - surely someone else can take up the torch now. To have a soul that knows that its very existence is owed to a Savior who did not stop until the fight was won. To have a soul that knows that it will be sustained by God through far worse than the mind or heart believe it to be able to bear. To have a soul that seeks to grow and expand and draw closer to the God who created it and wooed it from the beginning. To have a soul that trusts in the reality of the perfect plan and the power of God more than in the temporal realities it can see and feel.
This is the goal. What interesting, mysterious, paradoxical ways God can and does bring it about in each of us.
May I never curse my circumstances without first examining their soil for soul-growth properties. It could be that what the world calls prison, my soul recognizes as true freedom.
Isaiah 46:4 NIV, "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you."
So it is back to school time and little Johnny/Susie is a year older and that means a new grade... a scary grade. At least for you, the parent. Perhaps you were up last night, a bundle of nerves. Hoping for the right teacher(s) and the right friends. Praying for a good first day. (Not you home school parents, naturally - you know exactly what your kiddo has in store this year and it is all up to you! No pressure. I was once one of you.) Well, I thought it would be a good opportunity to give you some advice. I do have all of one child, mind you. And this one child did better in French last semester than any other class he had on his schedule. French is, mind you, the only subject his father and I know nothing about. So clearly, he is thriving at school because of our actions, and we are qualified to dispense advice.
So here you go, free of charge. The top three ways to deal with back to school parent jitters.
1. Emotionally. Be an emotional wreck. Just give in to it. Wail and moan. Freak out. Go from one extreme to the other in the span of 3 minutes. Take a million and one pictures, sit on their beds and lament that they are growing up too soon. Then eat your feelings. Then shift blame. "Wait a minute, I've done everything I could possibly do for this child. If he/she doesn't thrive in this new grade, it is pretty much his/her fault! That's right. I packed the bento box with just the right balance of carbs and protein. I provided hydration options. I went back to school clothing shopping at the mall with every other human being on the planet at the same time. What's wrong with this kid?" All of these emotions should be experienced and resolved prior to 3:00 p.m. when junior gets off the bus in the afternoon. This is a viable option. Not a good option, but a viable one.
2. Physically. Just go to school with them. You know you want to. Sit next to her. Point out when she could be doing better. Make sure the teacher notices how bright she is. Suggest appropriate friendships and then take the initiative to introduce her to them. Sit by her at lunch and continually stroke her hair. If she is in high school, she will be particularly pleased by this. This is a viable option. Not a good one, but a viable one.
3. Spiritually. Read this blog post I wrote last summer. Consider what the worst possible scenario really is and then let the God of the universe work in your heart to alleviate your fears and put a song of praise in your mouth. This is a viable option. A hard one, but a good one.
HAPPY FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!!!
Today we went to a local martial arts studio to see a friend take her black belt certification test in taekwando. The test lasted two hours. That's two solid hours of swinging nun-chucks, kicks, punches, jumps, push-ups, sparring, proper form, jumping jacks, leg lifts and sweat. Lots of sweat. I don't know what I was expecting, but that wasn't it. It was all about breaking down the candidates physically and pushing them to their absolute limits to see how they respond. Earning a black belt was more about perseverance than perfection.
I couldn't help but compare the experience to the walk of faith for a Christian. Here are a few comparisons:
1. The instructors and the spectators were there to cheer the candidates on, to encourage them to go farther and try harder than they would otherwise, and to bear witness to their expected success. The church is meant to do the same. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV, "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."
2. One of the criteria that the candidates were being judged on was attitude. They could do the entire two hour workout perfectly, but if they refused to bow in respect, respond appropriately to their instructors, and show a level of enthusiasm for what they were doing, they would fail. The same is true for the Christian. I Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."
3. The candidates were expected to yell back their responses to each of the instructors questions. We were in a small enclosed space and yelling seemed odd, but it was required. One of the instructors explained to the spectators that the reason they required the candidates to yell was that when you yell, it forces you to inhale deeply afterward, and breathing is one of the most important things for the candidates to do to keep them going. Rather than telling them to breathe over and over again, they train them to yell and allow the breathing to come naturally. Sometimes directions from a learned master don't seem to make sense, but we trust in our teacher who knows more than we do. It is the same for the Christian. Isaiah 55:8-9 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the .For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
4. Perseverance and stamina over the long haul are key to success. There will be moments of feeling like you can't go on for every black belt candidate - probably more than one over the course of two hours, but continuing on regardless of feelings, trusting that a second/third/fourth wind will catch up to you if you just press on. The same is true of the Christian. James 1:12 ESV, "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him."
A black belt is just a white belt that never gave up.
A saint is just a saved sinner that persevered in the faith.
Today I read this story about a young man in Belize whose life was radically changed by people loving him and encouraging him when his own parents abandoned him at the age of 12. I was moved by the way I saw God's hand in his life as he described the twists and turns that led him to the place of gratitude and hope where he is now. I can imagine that it took courage for him to write his story down and that there were probably times where he doubted whether he should or not. Sometimes something means an awful lot to us, but we have doubts about whether or not it would mean much to others. It is disconcerting to share our stories when others may discount their value or weight. Earlier this week I read two different accounts written by fathers who lost a child. One to a stillbirth and the other to a tragic car accident at age five. Both commented that they were hesitant to share their stories. They were concerned about somehow cheapening the weight of their experiences with their own clumsy words and even worse, laying them out there for others to criticize or judge - not just their writing, but their very motives for writing in the first place.
I am thankful that each of these people chose to tell their story. SO thankful. I am drawn to stories. True stories. Biographies, autobiographies, historical sketches, blogs, I want to read them all. To me, this is the stuff of life.
In Shauna Niequist's book, "Bittersweet," she writes this, "There are myths that we tend to believe about our stories: the first is that they're about us; they don't matter. But they're not only about us, and they matter more than ever right now. When we, any of us who have been transformed by Christ, tell our own stories, we're telling the story of who God is... My life is not a story about me. And your life is not a story about you. My life is a story about who God is and what he does in a human heart."
Let's be brave and tell His story about our lives - about what He has brought us through and what He is walking with us in today and where He seems to be leading us. And let's not be quick to judge when others share their stories. There are things to learn about God and what He is doing in the world bound up inside each and every person we meet - my bus driver, the woman I pass in the city each day holding a cardboard sign, your son's swim team coach, the mail carrier, my neighbor, the telemarketer. Perhaps if we saw each other that way, if we saw ourselves that way, we'd approach each other with a bit more grace and dignity, and we'd dive deeper into the the greatest story ever told.
After church today, I found myself frustrated with our son and about to launch into a diatribe on all the reasons he better "shape up or this is going to be one long summer." I then detailed my frustration to him - namely, the constant need to remind. Reminders to take care of the dogs, reminders to eat breakfast, reminders to make sure he has clean laundry, reminders to mind his manners, reminders to keep his attitude in check, reminders to brush teeth or use deodorant, reminders to limit his screen time. I told him that I felt like we'd been reminding him about the exact same things for 13 years and that I was about to lose my mind that he still needed to be reminded. Then I took a deep breath and looked at his frustrated and defeated face and found the grace (thank you, God) to say, "What's driving you crazy? That's what is driving me crazy, but anytime three people live in a two-bedroom apartment together and call each other family they are going to drive each other crazy. So what makes you frustrated with Daddy and I lately?" Surprise, surprise - His father and I have some pretty annoying habits as well! Turns out as much as we hate reminding him about things every day - he hates BEING REMINDED constantly! He also doesn't like that we tell him to limit his screen time, but it seems to him that we are constantly staring at a screen ourselves. There were others, but there's no reason to over-share, right?
We ended up having an impromptu family meeting and coming up with a game plan to eliminate the annoying reminder cycle (we will not remind him about things unless he asks for assistance in being reminded and he will suffer natural consequences and/or loss of time with friends if he lets something important slide) and to limit our screen time as a family this summer (Technology-free Tuesdays for the whole family and a set time limit for internet usage the rest of the week.) We have also posted a family calendar for the summer on the refrigerator and we have committed to finding a family hobby to enjoy together during all those hours that will be freed up by the lack of nagging and internet surfing.
Living together as family is not always easy (sometimes it is down right exhausting and painful), but God is faithful to provide ways to help us live together in peace and even joy when we commit to sticking it out as a family and not giving up on each other. What are some ways that you have found to make family life better, especially during the summer months?
Ephesians 6:1-4 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
No man is an island, but man is it ever tempting to try it out sometimes! There is nothing quite like having to suffer through the consequences of someone else's decision to make you want to bar the doors and windows and give the hermit-life a try. As long as we live on this planet, we will be effected by the decisions of others. Sometimes for good, other times not so much. The same decision-making capability and freedom that God granted you, he also gave to your family members, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, co-worker, boss, pastor, political leader, and even strangers on the street.
No matter how hard we try, we cannot control those around us or insulate ourselves from their choices. So what can be done when we find ourselves tossed in the wake of someone else's decisions?
1. Take a deep breath. Maybe more than one.
2. Remember that you are responsible for your own actions and reactions, regardless of how you feel or who made you feel that way. One bad decision by someone else doesn't necessitate another from you.
3. Plead with God for a higher perspective and a compassionate heart. It may come right away, but it might not. Expect it. Wait for it.
4. Acknowledge the reality of the situation and the greater reality of God's sovereignty and His promise to work everything together for your good (Romans 8:28). Acknowledge it in prayer, in journaling, in a conversation with someone you trust. Keep acknowledging it until you find yourself dwelling more on what He can do than on what was done "to you."
5. Take one step in the right direction. A step of forgiveness, a step of faith, a step away, a step forward, whatever is the next right thing - do that. Don't wait too long.
Repeat as needed.
Bonus - #6. Thank God for your own freedom to make decisions and even to make mistakes and learn from them. Ask Him to help you vividly remember this moment when you next make a decision that will impact those around you.
I want to live life deeply and fully and to have grand adventures. So why is my default the couch? And why do my days of kayaking and camping, mission trips and girls' nights, road trips and exploring seem so far behind me? My inner life is deep and full, but not many would know it by my outward life. The reality is that if someone suggested an epic adventure (or even a mildly intriguing outing), I would say, "Yes! Let's do it!" in a heartbeat. But being the instigator of the out-of-the-ordinary has not been a role I've embraced for a long time.
Henry David Thoreau decided to head to the wilderness alone when he was feeling something similar - “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
My best adventures, on the other hand, have happened in community, not alone. Rafting on the Colorado River with a friend from college, climbing Half Dome while living and working in Yosemite for a summer, the worst beach camping experience ever with my family, the best Redwoods camping experience ever with Grace Church family-campers, the most idyllic 2-day kayak trip ever on the Tennessee River with friends from Life Community, walking the streets of Antigua, Guatemala and sipping drinks rooftop with my brother, snorkeling in the Bahamas with my husband, snow sledding with my family near the north rim of the Grand Canyon, cliff diving on Lake Powell with my friends in high school, donkey basketball with my husband, exploring big cities with anyone who will explore with me, swimming in the Merced with friends from work, serving at an orphanage in Mexico with college friends and exploring more of Mexico with my high school Spanish club (speaking only Espanol for a solid week), a weekend in Vegas with a high school chum (getting dolled up, seeing a show, drinking fruity drinks by the pool, and eating at fancy restaurants), a week in Alaska serving alongside our friends who are missionaries there. Sucking the marrow out of life.
It has been too long and I'm hungry for some marrow! Perhaps it is time to be the instigator. Who's with me? Got any good ideas?
As a young woman in her 20’s, the man Corrie Ten Boom loved with all her heart showed up at the front door of her family's home with another woman to whom he announced he was engaged. Here is how she described that moment and her reaction in her book, The Hiding Place: “Somehow the half-hour passed. Somehow I managed to shake her hand, then Karel’s hand, and to wish them every happiness. Betsie took them down to the door. Before it clicked shut I was fleeing up the stairs to my own room at the top of the house where the tears could come. How long I lay on my bed sobbing for the one love of my life I do not know. Later, I heard Father’s footsteps coming up the stairs. For a moment I was a little girl again waiting for him to tuck the blankets tight. But this was a hurt that no blanket could shut out and suddenly I was afraid of what Father would say. Afraid he would say, ‘There’ll be someone else soon,’ and that forever afterward this untruth would lie between us. For in some deep part of me I knew already that there would not – soon or ever – be anyone else. The sweet cigar-smell came into the room with Father. And of course he did not say the false, idle words. ‘Corrie,’ he began instead, ‘Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting, but then of course part of us dies too. Or, Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel. God loves Karel – even more than you do – and if you ask Him, He will give you His love for this man, a love nothing can prevent, nothing destroy. Whenever we cannot love in the old, human way, Corrie, God can give us the perfect way.’”
There are so many deeply moving moments described in The Hiding Place, but this one is one of the most profound to me. I believe that learning how to love people the way that God loves people is the ultimate life lesson. When something happens in a relationship that causes a rift where love was once easy and free-flowing - we must ask God to either repair the rift and restore the relationship or to open up a new channel for our love to flow through. We have to want love to win.
Bitterness and anger destroy us. Love heals us. At the end of the day, it isn't as much about our relationship with the other person as it is about our relationship with God Himself and the health of our own souls.
1 John 4:7-12 (NIV) 7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Coinciding with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, I set-up an office Olympics where I work. We had three teams: Fiji, Jamaica, and Barbados. I chose tropical locales because, frankly, it has been a long cold winter here and we all needed a hint of the islands. Over the course of three weeks we had a variety of different events such as Recycling Basketball, Paper Airplane Javelin, Lemon Fencing, Synchronized Office Chair Swivel, Finger Skating, and Rubber Band Archery. Each activity only took about 15 minutes out of our day and it was well worth it. The resulting laughter and just the simple act of getting out of our individual offices and workstations and coming together for a few minutes every day around something other than work was refreshing. The closing ceremonies were this past Friday and included a photo slide show (set to the Olympic theme song, naturally) of the participants and spectators at each of the events.
What I found to be the most rewarding part of the whole experience was seeing how everyone in the office rallied around one of our co-workers in particular. She is a quiet lady who works hard and keeps busy. She hails from outside the United States, and has a lovely accent and a gentle spirit. During the office Olympics, her team needed someone to sign-up to compete in Rubber Band Archery and she agreed even though she admitted that she didn't know how to shoot a rubber band. She approached me in the hallway one day and I thanked her for volunteering and she said, she was nervous about it because she didn't know what rubber band archery was. I told her that it isn't a thing... that I just made it up as a fun activity...that nobody knows what it is. She was so relieved to hear that! Have you ever been sure that everyone else knows about something and you are the odd, clueless man out? I explained that I would be setting up some targets and that rubber bands would be given out and that the object was to shoot the rubber band with your fingers at the targets and try to hit them. Nothing to worry about!
The day of the event arrived and I set up a bunch of paper and plastic cups on the ledge of an empty cubicle and let the competitors from teams Jamaica, Fiji and Barbados have a few minutes to practice. She stepped up to the line and acted like she had been shooting rubber bands her whole life. It was like the heavens opened and shined down on her and her alone for those few moments. She knocked those cups off the ledge one right after the other like a sharp shooter, stretching each rubber band back nearly to its breaking point before letting them fly. The staff who were gathered around cheered and watched in awe, even those who weren't on her team. Turns out that someone on her team had sent her a link to a YouTube video of how to shoot rubber bands (Is there nothing you can't find on the internet these days?) and she had been practicing at home since she had signed-up! She ended up winning the gold medal without breaking a sweat and a conversation broke out around the office at how her approach to rubber band archery closely resembled her approach to everything that she does. Her colleagues raved about how if there was skill she didn't have or a program she didn't know how to use, she would pay close attention as it was taught and she would work at it diligently until she became as good or better at it than the person who taught her. Everyone in the office started seeing this quiet, sweet lady in a different light and by the time the closing ceremonies came around last week, when a photo of the rubber band archery champ came up on the screen, the whole office clapped and cheered.
It took stepping outside of the normal routine to be able to see her uniqueness for what it was. Now when we step back into the norm, we will have a new found respect and a clearer picture of who she is and what she is capable of.
How can you create opportunities in your family, your job, your church, your group of friends to shake off the old routine enough to give people a chance to let their uniqueness show and give yourself a chance to notice it? Give it a try! You'll be glad you did.
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!