lessons spiritual

10 Things I've Learned in 45 Years

8:28 PMHeather

This past week was indeed my birthday. Which always has me in a state of reflection about my years on the planet. And last Saturday, that anniversary hit 45. 


Now, when I was a teenager, 45 seemed old. I know, I know. How cruel of me. The ignorance of youth. But now, here I am. Hitting 45, although mentally, I sorta got stuck seeing myself as the 20-something that I used to be. Until it gets to be about 8:30 and I find myself yawning because I'm ready for bed. Or when I have to reach for my either my readers or my iPhone flashlight app in a restaurant to read the menu.

Yep. I own it. I'm the big 4-5, and dadgumit, I've earned every day of it so no need to lie about it.

One the most wonderful things (absolutely no sarcasm, I promise) about aging is that life lessons hit home and it's absolutely true that with age, comes wisdom. I've learned a thing or two along the way, and I'm still working hard to put these lessons into practice as I embrace who God made me and how I'm bent and other wonders of the universe.

1. I'm really an introvert at heart. This may seem rudimentary to some of you, or if you know me, maybe you're not surprised by this? Or maybe you are? Anyhow, it's been a very windy road to learn my natural tendency. I was painfully shy as a child, or at least how I remember it. A speech impediment brought bullying and life on an Army base brought no lasting friendships. So, I threw myself into creative pursuits like drawing and sewing to pass my time. 

As I grew older, I threw off this shy demeanor like it was bad fashion. I banished it and worked very, very hard to become more outgoing. I joined about every club there was in high school (not a major feat, trust me, in a little town like Lampasas, Texas). I even danced on drill team, out there in the middle of the field for all the world to see. Then, I went off to college where I knew no one and started all over again. Next, I became an adoption social worker, requiring lots of being an extrovert. Although it was hard work, I thought I was winning at it. I could stand in front of a large room of prospective adoptive parents and absolutely love the chance to educate them about adoption. It felt natural to be a public speaker. I spent all my days on the phone or interviewing and visiting clients.

I thought I conquered it. I thought I had proven that I was the coveted extrovert that I had so highly valued.

But here's the truth I'm finally just embracing with complete acceptance. Or attempting to, anyway.

I hate talking on the phone. I do. I hate calling people I don't know. I recently took a temp job where I had to cold call prospective customers. And it made my palms sweat and I was filled with dread. 

Oh, I still love public speaking and teaching, and I do love to hold the attention of a group of friends regaling them with tales that I hope are humorous. 

But, I realize that I'm actually an introvert. And that's okay. It's okay to be recharged by time alone. Shut out in my master bedroom, banishing all of my beloveds so that I can be by my own little lonesome self.

It's okay to admit that when I get in a crowded room, I feel a sense of anxiety when the people press in. I can stomach it for a while. But then I want to rock in fetal position in the corner because it stresses me out.

Taking my kids to the State Fair of Texas? Or attending a sporting event in a crowded venue?

Sacrificial acts of love.

Totally drains me after a while.

And that's okay.

2. You can't please all of the people all of the time. While this may also seem rudimentary, I am a natural born people pleaser. I want to be approved and accepted and I want everyone to be having a good time. I feel sweat dripping down my armpits when a guest in my home for whatever occasion is obviously wishing they were somewhere else. 

Let's all be happy! Let's all be peaceful and get along and sing Kumbaya.

The slightest indication of displeasure in a social setting? QUICK. Figure out how to right that before something awful happens like unhappiness or heaven forbid, a conflict or confrontation.

Look, there is no such thing as world peace at all times. I STILL have to talk myself off this ledge on a regular basis. Oh, yes, lots of positive self-talk. Or preaching the truth to myself.

Here's the deal.

I tell myself, "no one is happy or peaceful all of the time." And, "Just look at celebrities! They are all adored and applauded until they are shamed and booed. People are fickle." And I remind myself, "work heartily as for the Lord, NOT MEN, knowing that from the Lord you will receive an inheritance" (Colossians 3:23).

Old habits here die hard. But I'm stretching myself to be released and healed from people pleasing and to instead fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of my faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).

It helps that at my age, I can look back to how tied up in knots I was about how people perceived my clothes, hair and abilities when I was younger. Because of experience, I can gain perspective that clearly reveals that I gave my joy away and allowed others to define me. 

Instead of allowing the One who made me be the only definition that guides me. 

3. The gospel ain't the Sinner's Prayer. I grew up in Southern Baptist churches. In fact, I still attend one. And when I was four, I vividly remember saying the "Sinner's Prayer" to ask Jesus into my heart. My parents were skeptics, given my young age. So they asked our pastor, Billy Graham, to come have a chat with me. (Oh, not THAT Billy Graham). But yet, I somehow think my pastor's name gives even more validity to that decision at a young age.

Recent revelations have brought me to an incredible epiphany.

Mind blowing stuff, folks,that I'm about to reveal.

The Bible does not one time refer to anything remotely referencing asking Jesus into our hearts. Now, Revelations talks about how he stands at the door and knocks, and "if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me," (Revelations 3:20).

The reality is that I've been a bit off base here my whole stinking entire life. So, if you are ahead of me, don't laugh. And if you think I'm talking jibberish right now, read on.

The gospel is not some one time prayer that you say just right and then it changes everything. Now, it can be that dramatic. It might look like that. A one time, profound experience where a definite decision to turn and follow Jesus is made. And nothing is ever the same after those little words of surrender are spoken.

OR...

...it might look more like a journey. Like reading about and exploring and checking into who this Jesus is and what this whole thing is all about, gradually. Slowly. And at some hard-to-distinguish moment, the tables subtly turned and the person begins to surrender themselves to the saving grace of Jesus.

You see, the gospel isn't a one time event. It's a day-by-day, lifelong pursuit to know God. To trust him. To take him at his word. To learn more and more and more about him. To remind yourself continually that it was actually nothing you could ever do that saved you. That none of it depended on you--including how eloquently or perfectly you recited some prayer. But the gospel means grace, that over and over and over again covers our missteps because of the blood of Christ. 

The gospel is continually reshaping our identity by realizing more fully who we have been made through Christ. It's a process of constant renewal. Involving reflection and reminders of the story of God's goodness and holiness and supremacy. And continually being humbled by the fact that I bring nothing to table and he brings everything. It's telling yourself more and more until you have the firmest grasp of this truth... Jesus, God's Son, came to earth to become an enemy of God so that we, who are enemies of God, might be made sons.

It's all him. And all glory and all honor and all praise and all worship and all that we have and all that we are simply are due to Him.

That's the gospel.

Learning exponentially more about who God is and who we actually are. And rejoicing with absolute surrender of ourselves to throw all we are at bringing more glory to his name.

4. Me time is not selfish and rest time is necessary. I'm routinely tying myself up in the ropes of expectations, either expectations for myself or the ones I perceive from others. Then, mix in motherhood, and it brings a recipe for disaster. At least when it comes to carving out me time.

I tend to seek worth in what I accomplish.

So, sitting around and resting or doing nothing is not comfortable or natural to me.

Which is why, in my teens and twenties, I almost never watched television or a movie without doing some needlework or some other busy work so that I was at least "being productive" while I sat around.

I grew up in a family where guilt trips were an refined art form. So I offer them to myself now with great gusto.

My type B husband has always encouraged me with such startling realizations like, "but resting IS being productive! It's self-care," and "recharge so that you can keep going."

And multiple times, we see in Scripture that Jesus himself "went away to a lonely place to pray."

Jesus. The sinless one. Needed some time alone. To refocus. Be filled. Focus on the Father. Recharge and renew. So that he could pour himself out again and again.

I think I'm not alone here in the mentality that "me time" comes when the kids all leave the nest and while the husband is busy doing other things. Because learning to set aside time for ourselves as a priority is not something we tend to do well in our busy world. The concept of Sabbath and rest as a regular rhythm to life is so foreign that even within the church, we have all but lost this ritual.

Who's in for reclaiming rhythms of rest? Rituals of Sabbath? Making them part of our routine? 

If you need desperate help in this area, then you can find out more from the author whose emails I receive weekly. Shelly Miller is the real deal, and she has created a community called the Sabbath Society to help us all learn to incorporate the Biblical teaching of Sabbath into our regular lives. You can find out more about the Sabbath Society community on Pinterest @Surrendering to Sabbath, and with the hashtag #SabbathSociety and #RhythmsOfRest on Instagram and Twitter.

5. Buy the fresh flowers. Life is short. Seriously. And people never lay on their death bed saying they wish they had been busier or had spent more of their time on possessions and things. People in nursing homes rarely mention how much they wish they'd chased bigger cars or prettier houses or better wardrobes. If you've spent any time with an aging grandparent or parent, then you know they have learned the value of cherishing the simple things and embracing the important moments in life.

This is how I'm translating this in my own life.

I love fresh flowers. But, they seem impractical and expensive to me, when living on a budget. It feels like a luxury to have them, so I rarely buy them, unless I'm hosting an occasion or such.

But no more.

Having fresh flowers on my dining table makes me happy. It reminds me of God's incredible creativity and I love how they look and smell.

So, whether it feels pragmatic or not, I'm buying the fresh flowers. I, in fact, have begun to keep fresh flowers in my home all the time.

Yep. All the time. 24/7. And it makes me super happy. It's just a tiny little splurge that greatly impacts me.

And, I love dark chocolate. So, I keep a bag of those little squares, and I eat a couple of them a day, savoring the moment. 

Two years ago, I began making a "vision board" at the beginning of each year by creating a secret board on Pinterest, where I pin places I want to visit, books I want to read, things I want to accomplish, creative pursuits I want to begin, and Bible verses I want to really meditate on during the next year. This sets my mind on the valuable and important things, and I look at it throughout the year to see if I'm staying true to goals or getting lost in the busy things.

I'm learning to put my phone down more and be more present with my children and my husband. While I don't love cooking during the busy week, I try to make the effort for even just simple meals so that our family can sit around the table for family dinners. And even when I don't feel like it, I try to encourage us to linger. And talk. And let our time together evolve into laughter, which it usually does. 

While I usually feel brain dead by the time the sun sets, I'm trying to live in the moment by lying down to read Anne of Green Gables with my daughter. 

Because some day, she may not want to snuggle close and giggle at the escapades of chatty Anne with an "e."

In other words, I'm working harder to stop and smell the roses. Or daisies or whatever flowers I've bought this week. And putting more effort into pausing for the moments. Despite fatigue or inconvenience or any of my feelings. I'm trying to make my motto that if my children ask for my presence, then YES. Yes. Yes, please. If they want to talk or have me host their friends or their massive life group for a youth weekend...yes. Yes. I will choose making memories every time. 

7. Be intentional about what you rehearse. What stories do you retell to others and to yourself? Over and over. What are the events and thoughts and things upon which your mind dwells? This is a very recent epiphany that I am putting new focus to learn. 

Wherever our mind dwells and lingers and repeats and rehearses sets the course of our thoughts, our feelings, our beliefs and ultimately, our actions.

When I repeat times that I was offended or wounded or wronged, whether letting myself think about them continually or retelling those instances to others, I am preaching those injustices to myself. This leads to feeling how right it is that I should feel wronged. This leads to a selfish and prideful mentality that I deserved more. This actually leaves me imprisoned in the chains of these situations.

But, if I refuse to rehearse them and continually give them life by reliving them, then I am learning to free myself. If I choose, instead, to preach the gospel to myself, then I am learning and practicing freedom.

I'm soaking in the book A Gospel Primer, which speaks simply and eloquently to the practice of daily rehearsing who God is and who we are in him. In reading Scripture daily, we can let it inform and instruct our thoughts on God's character and how we are transformed and changed through the cross and resurrection. In praying back these Scriptures, we preach to our minds the truths of the gospel. In listening to praise music and hymns while we go about our tasks of laundry or cooking or cleaning, then we are further preaching the gospel to ourselves.

What we "rehearse" in our minds and in our interactions and in our conversations sets the tone of our lives. It becomes the script and the soundtrack of our lives. 

And it matters. A great deal.

8. Bring back entertaining like nobody's business. My girlfriends and I have noted that we, as a culture, have changed. There's no porches on which to gather. There's not Supper Clubs like past generations. There's not bridge nights with the same groups of friends or bowling nights. In our quest to be the perfectly pinteresting Martha Stewart host, we've just tossed out the idea of entertaining altogether. 

We've simply made things just too complicated.

We don't have to have a perfectly executed and complicated menu with matching place cards and lovely place settings.

For the love, invite the friends over. Into your messy houses and imperfectly messy lives. Truth is, theirs is messy too, so they'll feel right at home. Ask them to grab something for a potluck. Throw out some paper plates and plastic forks and sit around in the living room. Play a game and laugh a lot and don't sweat it if someone spills something.

Because we do not need perfectly executed events.

We need community that embraces the imperfections in us all.

And while we are on this subject, let your kids' friends come over. Host them regularly. Don't worry about planning things out. No need to plot out food or decor or activity. Let them figure it out. Heck, let them cook the food themselves. Let them paint and get messy and get your house messy.

Think back to your own childhood. 

What were the funnest times you had with your friends? Was it themed based parties with matching party favors? Was it a fancy Pinterest planned event? Was it plotted out activities because your mom served her position as Event Planner well?

For me, it was making forts with blankets, making up games, running around the neighborhood playing hide and seek, and other moments that were born out of boredom. Because there was room for our imaginations to be unleashed when we didn't have anything else to do.

9. Let your kids practice grown up things. For the millionth time I shall mention that my oldest launches for college in just over a year. And suddenly, I feel this panic about realizing that the kid I've been raising will, indeed, be a grown-up. He will be independent. Well, mostly. That was always the goal. That has always been the point. To work myself out of a job by letting my kids be the adults I've trained them to be.

Which means I need to actually train them. Toward adult things. Instead of helicoptering and hovering and doing for them.

Let my kids cook dinner. 

Let my kids mow the yard as soon as they are old enough to push the mower.

Let my kids drive the minute they are old enough. 

Force my kids to do chores. And learn to do laundry. All by their little lonesome. Helping out and cleaning house and learning all the things.

Making them work. I mean, at home from an early age. Yes. And for other people as soon as they can. Fill out job applications and learn to advocate for themselves at school. 

Practice, practice, practice for all the grown-up things because they will need to do them when I'm not there to watch and coach carefully.

I don't always do this very well. I admit. But, I'm working harder these days to be the mean mom and force the issue. Gulp and say yes when the newest driver asks if he can drive me. Even though this is hard for me. (why, no, I'm not a control freak....) Tell the high schoolers that they will have a J-O-B and their own bank accounts and will pay for their own gas and their own things like movies and eating out with friends. 

10. Be brave. My words this year are "dream big." While I primarily am seeking to grasp in a deeper way just how limitless my God is, I'm finding that he is calling me to bigger things. Because when I realize that I serve a God who is bigger than I have thus far believed, then I am equipped to do bigger things for him. And this requires me to be brave. 

Timid, conservative, play-it-safe me.

Brave. 

GULP.

Brave. Daring. Going for it. Learning to quit letting the fear of failure stop me and consider instead the regret of never trying. So what if it fails? WHAT IF it doesn't? What if I never give room for God to do new things because I refuse to step out in faith?

OH, that we could all be more brave. Have more courage. More boldness. This actually goes back to #7. If we rehearse the truest things about God, then we begin to thing the truest things about him. And it heals our unbelief. Quiets our doubt. And lets us dare to do that which we think is hard or difficult. It feeds the ability to be brave.

So brave I shall be. 

What do I have to lose? I accomplish no big thing and see no big dream come true when I only attempt small things.

Stay tuned... there's some things coming in this category. And I can't wait to share them.

All in all, I'd have to say that I love being 45. Or, at least, I think I will. I wouldn't go back for all the money in the world. I've loved all the amazing ways that God has been faithful. I've loved the joys and the highlights and the fun times. I've learned from the tough times and I embrace them as part of what has refined my faith and informed my life lessons. 

And to all of you, I say consider the above listed wisdom that has come with my age. Let's live brave lives filled with times with friends and fresh flowers and pausing to laugh and rehearsing the gospel over and over and over again.

And then, let's remember this.

The best is yet to be. 

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