I bid farewell to my 30’s last week.
Some good-byes are difficult but not this one.
I have a new sense of freedom as I celebrate another year of life.
A friend recently asked me, “What do you feel free from?” Well, for many years, I wrestled with issues related to my identity, my dreams and goals and gifts, all while trying to please people who had their own ideas of who I should be.
I’m walking away from decades of giving permission to the poison whispered in my ears: “You’re not enough…You have nothing to offer…Do more and you’ll be accepted…Be ‘this’ and we’ll include you…Work harder…God expects more from you…You should be married by now…You should have kids by now…You’re just a SAHM…You should only be a SAHM…Be more perky and outgoing…Sit down and shut up…Rest is for the weak…Saying ‘no’ means you’re selfish and lazy…”
Toxins. All of them.
I’m in the recovery phase now, better prepared to resist the lies, feeling strong and free and well-loved by those who matter, especially the One who’s brought me to the BIG 4-0.
As I reflect on years past, I’m grateful for the growth and I’m ready to discover new lessons as I move forward in faith. In looking ahead, I offer a glimpse of what I’ve learned on the road to forty:
1. Embrace your personality and gifts. In my early twenties, I thought I was extroverted, that I adored all things people-y, and that I shouldn’t take a break from serving others. I got the sense from church and ministry culture that extroverts were more like Jesus so I tried to live with that persona. I shunned my own needs so I could serve others with endless energy, much like I imagined Jesus had served. Turns out, that’s just warped theology.
I didn’t know or like myself enough to set healthy boundaries with people who were more like leeches than actual humans. I let them suck my time and energy and manipulate my opinions and decisions because that’s what good little Christian girls do for people–for God.
Hearing oft misunderstood words like ‘ministry’ and ‘service’, and ‘sacrifice’, spoken by those in authority, pushed me to give in ways I never should have. Then I railed against my loved ones when I crumbled beneath the weight of my exhaustion and guilt. People-pleasing ‘for Jesus’ stole my joy, emotional health, and mental space.
Through prayer, personal counseling, and time to heal, I’ve learned that the agendas of others do not determine my decisions or personality, that saying ‘no’ is revolutionary, and that my voice matters, too. I’ve finally embraced my introverted self, my INFJness and I’m stepping into my 40’s without feeling the need to please the ones who demand that I be their version of who God made me to be.
In related news, if you aren’t familiar with the Enneagram, Google it–like yesterday.
2. Jesus is Love, Truth, and a bit of Mystery. He’s the Son of God who loves us completely and perfectly. He is fully divine yet fully human–a union my mind cannot grasp. The more I read of His character and life, the more questions I have and yet the more sure I am of His faithful love.
His practical care for the outcasts, those rejected by their culture and religion, those struggling with dark secrets and sin–even His enemies–both encourages and challenges me.
Do I love like that?
Do I love those who cannot return a favor?
How do I love the kid that bullies my daughter or mocks my son with Down syndrome?
How do I love without enabling a narcissist?
How does my faith in Jesus shape my ideas on war, poverty, crime, laws, justice, and all issues related to our humanity?
How do I live at peace with everyone–as far as it depends on me?
What does it mean specifically to love Jesus? And what does it mean to be loved by Him?
I wrestle with these questions and more. I’m learning to accept what I know to be true in His Word and I’m trusting that some mysteries may never be understood in my earthly life. And that’s okay. He doesn’t ask me to be certain–He asks me to trust.
3. Marriage can be fantastic–and maddening.
In 15 years of marriage, I’ve found that love is best served up through tiny, seemingly insignificant decisions to care for the one I married. It’s one big fat, selfless relationship and some days and seasons are really hard. I offer a few suggestions:
Listen to each other.
Try not to yell. It’s a waste of energy.
Don’t badmouth your spouse, especially publicly.
Pray every day together.
Be honest about your needs.
Keep dating. Schedule dates no matter how tight your time and finances. Trade a night out with another couple. Or go cheap (like we do): put the kids to bed, move your phones out of sight, pour the wine, make the popcorn, and actually look at each other. Our rule: we don’t talk about the kids or the jobs. Talk about your personal and marital successes, failures, areas to improve, hopes and dreams–whatever.
Have lip synch competitions–add your kids or other families into the mix. These are gold, especially if your spouse has all the Petra songs memorized. I’m not naming names.
Laugh daily. Share hilarious stories or find YouTube videos of people fails. Watching people trip and fall and smash those perfect wedding cakes is strangely satisfying. Guaranteed to make you chuckle.
4. Parenting is more of an art than a science. Remember when you didn’t have kids and you held in your hands the most precious parenting advice? All those how-to’s made sense to you, didn’t they? And then you had kids and you just laughed and laughed because you realized you didn’t know jack.
There are great resources available today for those of us in the parenting trenches but one (or a hundred) books, classes, etc. will rarely be effective for every kid. We have a tween, an elementary kiddo, a preschooler with Down syndrome, and a toddler. I birthed our two oldest and we adopted our two youngest, who are the most beautiful biracial kids east of the Mississippi. I’m not biased AT ALL. Obviously, there is no one formula that works for our brood but we still access a variety of helpful books, podcasts, and classes because awareness and education are useful and effective in helping us along.
If you follow me on FB, you know the chaos that is our home. And you also know that I don’t have all the answers on parenting–not even a few–but I do know my kids and I have a sense of their current needs.
Here’s what I’ve learned in ten years of parenting:
- Kids need freedom to make mistakes.
- Kids need age-appropriate boundaries.
- Kids need unconditional love.
- Kids need connection.
- Kids thrive with laughter.
The challenge to parenting my kids well is to love them unconditionally in ways that they understand, to know if/when to enforce healthy boundaries, and to maintain a connection to their hearts in the midst of discipline. It’s a tough gig some days.
As for the results? Well, I can’t predict the future or control their choices. Life has no guarantees so there’s no way to ensure that my hard work, effort, and prayers will take root or blow away in the wind. Will my cherubs become entitled, spoiled brats who think the world owes them something? Or will they credit their brilliant parents and stellar upbringing [insert sarcasm] when they win the Presidency, eradicate poverty, and find a cure for cancer? Stay tuned!
In the meantime, we read, laugh, play, dance, screw up, forgive, and pray together, while making time to explore our lives in light of God’s Truth. (And we watch America’s Funniest Home Videos online because I want their laughter to ring in my ears when they eventually fly the nest.)
5. A small group of friends is worth more than 100 acquaintances. I’m indebted to the tiny circle of people who truly get me. Author Sarah Bessey refers to this group as her ‘Somewheres’. Agreed.
I have a select few who know my besetting sins, tendencies, ‘secret’ failures, desires, and fears. They are my Somewheres–a safe place where I can hold out the refuse and humbly ask, “Will you help me work through this stuff?” And my Somewheres assure me of their presence, graciously help me to sift through the mess, and gently but boldly speak Truth when I most need to hear it.
My Somewheres have permission to challenge me. We share mutual trust, respect, and loyalty. They’ve seen the outtakes of my edited life and they’re still for me, consistently offering support through their presence, prayers, and hysterical GIFs. I highly recommend naming your Somewheres and connecting with them as much as possible.
6. Invest in your health. Find a sustainable exercise that you enjoy. I like road running. I crave the time outside to think and process and write essays in my head. Every drop of sweat is a stressor left along the road so that when I walk through the front door in all my sweaty funk, I’m better able to fulfill my roles.
I also *enjoy* (like one might *enjoy* a sledgehammer to the face) high intensity workouts with strength training. This is an effective winter alternative since I don’t run outside in temps below 40–it’s simply against my exercise religion.
As for proper nutrition, I aim to eat what fuels me and I enjoy the occasional treat that I find to be worth the calories. I still have more wobbly bits than I care to see but I feel strong and the scale numbers aren’t climbing.
Now, I’m gonna get bossy for a minute. PLEASE: Make that annual appointment with your doctor. Check your parts and moles in the shower. Get your blood drawn. Schedule the mammogram. Discover your triggers. Call that counselor (or trusted pastor/friend) to help you process your pain, trauma, loss, next step, or just to maintain your mental health. Discover the cause of your fatigue or strange symptoms. Pay attention to and take good care of the only body/mind/soul God gave you.
7. Work and dreams do not need to be mutually exclusive. Dreaming requires a certain level of faith and courage because often our dreams don’t put food on the table or pay off student loans–at least not right away. Dreams feel impractical when they don’t (yet) provide a sustainable living or health coverage. So, we take the job that we hate and feel our dreams begin to shrivel–but we’re getting paid and covering our expenses, right? Maybe we think, “It’ll get better. If I can just get through this time, then I’ll pursue what makes me come alive….” Maybe.
Maybe there’s a third way. Maybe we can take whatever job we need (or can find) for a season while also working toward our dreams.
Author Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
What makes you deeply glad?
How can you employ your gifts and dreams in meaningful ways? How can you use your creativity and passion to help bring God’s Kingdom here? What would that look like specifically in your life?
I currently work as a SAHM–a mutual, intentional decision between Glendon and me. I realize our choice is a privilege that most families around the world cannot afford to consider because many are struggling just to survive. I know many families who’ve chosen to balance parenthood with their careers & dreams and they’re thriving. I also know families in which one spouse would like to work as a full-time parent (and all that comes with that choice) but the budget won’t allow for it. No matter what families decide, there are always pros and cons to consider.
While I’m grateful for the time and opportunity to be at home with my kids in this season, motherhood was never my ‘dream job’ nor my only dream. When I think of what brings me deep gladness, I imagine serving my readers with words that matter–and earning an income doing it. God gave this dream to me and I intend to use it as best I can, even with littles underfoot. For all of you looking for a third way: I get it and I hope that you can find a way to move toward your God-given dreams in ways that serve and heal and bring Truth to our world.
There are countless personal lessons that I simply could not make time or space for in one blog post. The ones listed have proven to be the most significant and life-shaping for me.
Here’s to another 40 years of deeper faith, more laughter, and bolder dreams.