36 Lessons from My 36 Years
Today I turn thirty-six. (For the record, that is not yet middle age. I Googled it just to make sure.) In some ways, I feel like I’m just getting started. So much is happening in the present, and I have big dreams on the horizon. And yet when I take a peak into the past, I grow tired. So much has already happened, like I’ve already lived a hundred lives. These gray hairs of mine were certainly earned.
I don’t at any moment pretend to have life all figured out, but I have learned a few things along the way. Some big. Some little. Some lessons that are just for me. Some that are still in progress, that I know in my head but am still trying to push down into my heart.
I share them with you—all thirty-six lessons in no particular order—because maybe in one or two we can find common ground. Or perhaps a lesson I learned by scraping my knees on the sidewalk you can learn with a much softer landing.
1. Ask God the hard questions.
By holding back, we’re holding back a piece of ourselves. We remain guarded—and that’s no way to know God better.
2. My way is not the only way.
I’m a firstborn with a tendency to think I’m right. But I’m learning there can be more than one good way, as a woman, wife, mom, writer, homemaker, church person, and Jesus follower.
3. Don’t go to bed angry.
This lesson came from childhood, but it’s become very practical in adulthood, especially to foster good communication and forgiveness (essential ingredients) in marriage.
4. Never pass up an opportunity to eat Taco Bell.
No, it’s not Mexican food. Some may not even call it food. But I love it, and I don’t care who knows it.
5. Get to know a person’s story.
Context always helps me better understand current behavior. It helps me extend grace when someone is difficult to like or to love.
6. God is always enough.
All the time. In all things. Even when we do not know it. He is enough.
7. Reflection makes like richer.
One of the reasons I write is to help my heart and mind slow down, to take time to reflect. And what I’ve found is that the more I reflect, the more I see God and am grateful for what’s in front of me.
8. Don’t go in to debt.
Staying out of debt is so much easier than getting out of it.
9. Hard things are often good things in disguise.
Even when something takes extra work, is painful, or seems tedious, we cannot forget to look for God in it. Sometimes it’s the hard things that grows us the most.
10. People are more important than projects.
“Achiever” always seems to show up in my list of personality traits—it’s one of my top five in StrengthsFinders and my Enneagram wing. My to-do list always seems to be nearby, but people always come first.
11. I am seen by God—and that is enough.
This lesson has to play on repeat in my heart, so much so that I got “El Roi” (which means “the God who sees me”) tattooed on my arm.
12. When people are uncomfortable with your suffering, love them anyway.
It’s hard when people don’t know how to help or they say something that comes off insensitive or trite. But just as God extends me grace, I too must pass it on.
13. To have good friends, be one.
Waiting for people to come to me will always result in loneliness. I must be willing to seek before being sought out—even when I’m the new girl.
14. Don’t wait for things to fall in your lap.
Money, opportunity, friendship—rarely do these things materialize out of thin air. We must go after them, to show God and others we are willing to work hard and do our part, all the while holding life with an open hand.
15. Do the dishes right away.
If you don’t, they will absolutely sit there for three more days until they finally start to stink.
16. Life is too short to hang on to bitterness.
I’ve had to work through some serious bitterness—and it always wants to creep back in. But that’s not how I want to live. Those slimy, grimy fingers steal joy and rob us of relationships—with God and others. It’s simply not worth it.
17. Don’t take four kids to the grocery store. Ever.
You’ve been warned.
18. Communicate and clarify expectations.
What’s going on in my head is rarely a mirror image of what’s happening in my husband’s (or anyone else, for that matter). Healthy relationships thrive on knowing my own expectations, voicing them, listening, and being willing to adjust.
19. We need people.
I’m an introvert, but as much as I need solitude, I need people more. I cannot know the fullness of God without having all flavors of people in my life. It’s called “the body of Christ” (of which I am just a part) for a reason (1 Cor. 12:12-31).
20. There’s sacredness to be found in suffering.
God comes close the brokenhearted, to those who cry out to Him (Ps. 34:18). And in His presence, there is grace.
21. Accept your limits and establish healthy boundaries.
No one can do everything and be everything for all people. (Read “I Can’t Be Everyones Chick-Fil-A Sauce” by Amy Weatherly for a little extra motivation.)
22. Complaining breeds bitterness.
The more we let discontent take over, the more it morphs into bitterness. And bitterness is a beast to shake.
23. Be a good steward of YOU.
How we take care of ourselves mentally, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, financially, physically, socially (the list goes on…) all affects our souls. They affect our relationship with God and with others. And for that reason, we must learn soul-care methods that foster wellness.
24. Apologize immediately and often.
This one is especially important with my kids. They need to know when mama has messed up and what repentance and restitution looks like. Plus, the longer I let my wrongs fester, the uglier they become.
25. Never paint your fingernails.
They will without a doubt chip five minutes later. Every. Time.
26. God’s grace isn’t always pretty or invited.
Grace is always a gift, but sometimes that gift must hollow us out before it can make us whole.
27. Being an introvert doesn’t mean I dislike people.
It just means I like them better after some quality alone time.
28. Motherhood is magical—just not in the ways I anticipated.
Being a mom is hard, often thankless work. It’s rarely what we anticipate. While the job in and of itself cannot make us whole, it can certainly be a tool God uses to change us, if we let it. And there’s heaps of beauty in that.
29. To get to know God, I must create space for Him.
My daily schedule doesn’t just nicely open up to make time with God—especially not in this busy season of life raising four young boys. I’ve learned I have to create that space, to draw near intentionally and often, if I’m going to know Him and see Him in my daily life.
30. Look people in the eyes.
I don’t want to be in such a hurry that I miss the humanity in the people around me. Whether I’m at the grocery pickup line, the library, or walking down the street, I want to connect with the people I pass, even if only for a moment.
31. Stop trying to be anyone but myself.
I fight the tendency to people please—to be who I think others want me to be—most often in my writing. But in doing so, I lose not only the story God has written in my heart but also the voice He’s given me to tell it. Plus, being myself is just more fun and freeing. Being anyone else is too much work.
32. God is always good—even when we cannot see it.
Life and feelings often fight against who we know God to be. But if we can lean in to Him in the storm, His goodness will always emerge (Ps. 27:13).
33. Don’t be afraid to ask.
I’m the world’s worst salesperson. Just ask my husband. But I’m learning that if I really care about something, I need to be willing to go after it—in my own organic, authentic way. And while hearing “no" is rarely fun, it’s part of the process that leads us to “yes.”
34. Surround yourself with truth-tellers.
We need people who will speak truth laced with love, who will point us back to Jesus with their presence and their wisdom. We must be humble, invite correction, and listen well, because here is where we can see God more clearly.
35. God is never out of reach.
The Bible promises “come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8). His abundance and grace is never far away. He is waiting for us to find Him in the beautiful, broken, and in-between spaces of life.
36. Hold life with an open hand.
I once heard Christine Caine preach how “everything is a vapor.” Time passes quickly. What we have been given can just as easily be taken away. But instead of letting that rack us with fear, we can surrender. Daily we can find that balance between living well and not holding on too tightly. Because in that in-between space is lasting joy and inexplicable peace.
Wow. That was a really long list. Thirty-six is a big number… I think I need to go Google “middle age” again…