When I turned 29, I tried to find a good list of 30 things to do before 30. Upon reading a few of these, I discovered much of the list had already been marked off or the things were just not of interest to me anymore. So I, being the writer I am, decided to compile my own list of things I am thankful I learned or did or am still learning. It's long. I'm a writer. And it's my birthday.
30. Learned to make a good cup of coffee in a variety of ways and to appreciate quality-roasted coffee beans. I know that seems like a strange thing to be thankful for; but sometimes it’s the little things. After my second girl was born, one of my best friends sent me a package of specialty coffee and I got teary-eyed I was so happy. Pregnancy hormones? Coffee-connoisseur? You decide. Right now, my favorite coffee bean is a medium-roasted bean with sweeter qualities (brown sugar, maple, etc.) using an Aeropress with some half and half and a little raw sugar. It’s something I look forward to each day when I wake up and that makes getting out of bed more enjoyable for this not-much-of-a-morning-person. Honestly making a cup of coffee each morning is something I began in Nepal. When life seemed chaotic, it was a routine that remained each morning. And when we moved back to the States, it kept me going each morning. So now, it’s just something I love to do.
29. Do something you love. Don’t work to simply make more money (unless you love what you’re doing). Do something that inspires you and brings life-points to you. If you have to stay in your job, remember that it’s just a job. And find ways to increase life-points in other areas of your life. Just don’t live a miserable life because you think you have to conform to the world. Be transformed into who you are supposed to be in Christ. Make sacrifices in order to BE His.
28. Began to take care of my body and mind. Stopped drinking carbonated drinks and only drink water, 100% juice (in moderation), or coffee/teas; limited my caffeine intake to one cup of coffee a day, and began to eliminate processed foods. Now, I don’t mean to say you need to be a size 0. My mama-body knows well how bodies change and morph as seasons go on. But I’m learning to appreciate my new body and to care for it (extra pounds, skin, curves, and all). Rest and Sabbath are vital. All of these things changed my mood and my heart and increased my energy.
27. Life has a way of humbling you in the best of ways if you let God change you through the process. The simple things in life truly hold the greatest of riches. Don’t forget to make memories in the ordinary days. The way my husband listens and holds my hand, the way my oldest daughter laughs or tried to run when she’s 16-months-old, the way my youngest smiles and tries to talk to me, the smell of my grandparents’ houses, swinging on the porch with my papaw, my mom’s hug and her singing, my dad teaching me how to do something, my brother playing the guitar, sipping on coffee with a friend. It’s in the ordinary that we spend so much of our time. Make sure you pull out every second of joy from it, bottle it up, and keep it.
26. Learned the importance of a creative life and expressing creativity—whether through artwork, writing, photography, or through other mediums. I learned to make a quilt. In a quilting quad. With other amazing girls who laughed with me, cried with me, and talked about missions and the Lord and glorifying Him in all nations. We drank hot tea and sat on the couch sketching out quilting patterns. It was as heavenly as it sounds. Remembered that a high school teacher said I had bad handwriting so I learned calligraphy and to be creative using handlettering. Took a weakness and made it a strength and a creative outlet.
25. Discovered that high school years are not the best years of your life…not even close. And, as much as I loved Samford and my college years, those were also not the best. Honestly, the “best year” seems to be the one I’m in at the time. And I’m thankful for the growth and love each year brings.
24. Adopted a puppy. This seems so silly, but I believe it made me a better mother to have had a puppy to discover patience with, to learn to care for something outside of myself, and to have a buddy who unconditionally loves. Dogs are good for the soul.
23. Music is therapy. Find some you enjoy deeply. And don’t be afraid to sing your heart out. Even if you cannot sing. Sing. Make up the lyrics. Dance.
22. Stood on the equator and shared the gospel on a mountain in Ecuador, flew into the second shortest runway and loved on kids in an orphanage in Honduras, ran a 5k in the “most diverse mile in America” in Clarkston, GA, saw the cherry blossom trees blooming in Washington D.C., ran my first half marathon in Disney World, honeymooned and explored the waterfalls and beaches of Jamaica, spent a summer on the most beautiful island of Cape Breton, drove up the east coast from Alabama to Canada that same summer, worked with Rohingya refugees in Malaysia who are the most persecuted people group in the world, walked the streets of the Bronx and heard the stories of the people there, learned to kayak in Smith Lake, danced in the rain, rafted down the Ocoee, slept under the stars too many times to count, drove to the beach in the middle of the night just to see the sunrise in the morning, slept in the mountains beside waterfalls, went to Disney because we had the airline miles to spend, learned to navigate the metro system in DC and it helped us navigate the metro in Delhi, petted tiger cubs in Thailand on my first Mother’s Day (when Nor was still in the womb), stood before the highest mountains in the world and worshiped with believers in Nepal. I’ve heard it said that traveling is like reading a storybook and when we don’t travel, we only read one chapter. I want to read the whole story. All of these places and things were experienced with best friends or my husband and/or daughters with me or within me; and each experience was made all the sweeter because of their presence in these places with me.
21. Read and write. Chose to read books I didn’t always agree with in order to sharpen my understanding and be able to think deeper. And tried to balance those with foundational books that would encourage a faith and correct understanding of Scripture. And just read to learn. Being a lifelong learner is one of the most rewarding benefits of education. I hope to always be a girl who reads. And write—journal your prayers. Express yourself through writing. You’ll never again be the person you are today or in this season of life. Write to remember.
20. Love those who are different from me. They may have a different personality from you. But that means they can help balance you not harm you. Take a deep breath and learn to see the good in them. It’s there. It takes time to let go of your differences. Refugees, internationals, people from different ethnic backgrounds, religious backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, other white people who are a complete opposite personality type. There is a quote that a dear friend gave to me years ago from a Starbucks cup that reads: "People need to see that far from being an obstacle, the world's diversity of languages, religions, and traditions is a great treasure, affording us precious opportunities to recognize ourselves in others." - Youssou N'Dour I believe we can also see a glimpse of our Creator through His creation. He created the world, with its diversity, and we can learn from one another and possibly discover something about ourselves and God from one another.
19. Simplified life. We naturally did this through selling what we owned twice within a year. We haven’t had cable or satellite since 2009. We love to focus on relationships and our family. But, yes, we still have Netflix and watch shows online…we aren’t hermits. Another good friend once said, “Good in, good out.” This stuck with us and helps guide what we allow into our minds and heart. Simplicity in life outwardly helps simplicity and contentment inwardly.
18. Discovered my personality type (INFJ/P), that it’s held by less than 1-3% of the population, and that the Lord uniquely created me and I don’t have to be afraid of my personality, feelings, or passionate heart. And I learned I need to work on balancing my personality type with ESTJ/P at times. Basically I can become an internal processor of my intuitive feelings and need community, outward expression, and times of deep thought to stay balanced.
17. Invested in something. Not talking about money. Invest in people. Let them invest in you. Share the gospel with people. Invest in your marriage. Invest in your kids. Invest in your parents. Invest in your community. Invest in the youth or children at your church. Invest your time and abilities and person. Invest in friendships that build you up. Commit yourself to these people. Let go of harmful relationships. Boundaries are a good thing.
16. Join with a covenant community (a church) and learn to love the Bride (Christ’s Church). People will let you down. They will frustrate you. Guaranteed. But there is much more benefit to unification than division. We need to be a Church of unity. We need to speak for Truth. Speaking only out of love does not mean speaking out of tolerance for everything. Love speaks truth with grace even when it’s not what people want to hear. But we can speak it with love; and still stand beside one another as we seek His Word and Truth together.
15. Realized the importance of prayer. I will mention the spiritual disciplines later, but this one deserves its own place. Prayer—not to change the will of God but to align our will to His. To allow Him to lead us to places, people, opportunities for His Name to be known and His glory to be among all nations. Pray for people groups, those serving overseas, those around you, your friends, your family. Pray. Set your mind on things above. Be in communion with God. Converse with Him.
14. Forgive. From my childhood to my teen years to my college years to my young adult years, forgiveness needed to occur. Not only me forgiving others but me forgiving myself. And then to ask for forgiveness from those I wronged—both people and the Lord. I have failed miserably through the years. I know I had (or probably still have) a habit of silently retreating when I have wronged or been hurt; and this hurt many people through the years. So much baggage will weigh you down in life until you let it all go to Christ and let grace and mercy be what carries you forward. A professor once said, “One day you will do that which you thought you would never do.” It’s true. Ask for forgiveness. Be the one willing to admit fault first. Humble yourself. And then freedom will be experienced like it never has before—when you truly forgive and are forgiven.
13. Appreciated my parents. They tried their best and loved us well always. And I so appreciate them more now that I’m older. They are the best mom and dad for my brother and me. And I’m incredibly thankful God chose them to be ours. And when your parents become grandparents and love on your own children, you realize just how wonderful they truly are.
12. Learned to laugh. Each day. Have fun. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Have sing-a-longs, dance in public, have inside jokes, wink. If you aren’t having fun, then no one around you is either. Be someone who brings a smile and a laugh to life.
11. Met and held onto friendships spanning over the last decade. The friendships I have are never surface level. If you and I have ever been close friends, I still consider you a close friend…even if we haven’t spoke in years. Small talk has never been my thing. These friendships are the ones that feel like being wrapped up in a warm quilt by a fire and sharing life and stories. They are the ones who breathe life back into you when you need it most, who cry with you when you fail or when you are suffering, who make you laugh until you cry, who will run with you, and who get your random/sarcastic/witty/dry humor and who also get your heart and encourage you to be you. They are the ones who will sing songs with you, sit with you at a coffee shop, hike trails with you, and sit on your couch doing absolutely nothing. They are the ones who will sit with you on a porch as you’re 7, 8, 9 months pregnant and allow you the space and time to find Hope and dream again.
10. Found a mentor…or two…or ten; and mentored others. I have met some of the most fascinating, inspiring, brilliant, beautiful, and encouraging women along my journey. Their imprints are all over my life and ministry. They have spoke words of life back into me at my darkest hours, have stood with me through successes or failures, and have supported me through all of life—no matter what. Living life with people; sharing the Word with them—it’s what we were meant to do.
9. Exercise those spiritual disciplines. Read the Word through in a year (or two years or just read the Word), pray, meditate, serve, teach, give, go, send. It’s called a discipline for a reason. It’s not going to be easy. But you will see results for when you do exercise these disciplines. They are vital to your life. Over time, you will see the strength from them. See #8 for when you fall short.
8. Have grace. Let grace be the theme of your life. Have grace for yourself and others. You will be your biggest critic. You will also not want to forgive as quickly as you should. Let grace reign because grace has been there all along.
7. There is something to being right at the right time in the right way. (Thank you, fairy godmother). Let those words sink in. So many times we want to prove we know best. And, maybe we do, but there is an art to presenting it well. I’ve learned to slow down, be patient, be kind, listen, and be honest. Don’t speak your opinions just because you have them. Don’t rush decisions when you are not sure or are stressed. Don’t act out of complete emotion. Take a moment and breathe and pray. Seek counsel. Pray again.
6. Found the importance of family and adding margin to life. Americans are some of the busiest people I know. We pack each hour full of activity. We see our kids maybe four good hours a day (maybe) and are too busy on the weekends to slow down. Then we wonder why we aren’t connected to our kids, why they don’t think discipleship and the Lord is important, and why they would rather spend time with their friends. As parents, we must invest in our children. We must say no to some good things for the best thing—spending time with our family and discipling them. Show them the Lord is important. Talk to them about Him. Serve with them. Share His Word with them and others together.
5. Moved overseas. It was some of the best and most difficult times of my life. Everything I thought about the world changed and grew. I miss it every day, I miss our co-workers from all around the world, and I miss our people. And I’m so thankful for every second, every person, and every experience we found along the way. Be thankful for the process.
4. Ran some half marathons. Ran and biked a duathalon. Ran some 10ks. Ran some 5ks. Ran. Walked. Got off the couch and went and moved my body. No matter where you are on your health journey, it helps to remember that the first step is always the most difficult and it’s better to “stop talking and begin doing” as Walt Disney would say. The connections between the physical act of running and my spirituality ended up being some of the deepest and most meaningful parallels.
3. Brought my best girls into the world through hours of a painful and joyful labor. The gospel is all over labor and delivery. It’s the joy set before you that you endure pain. At the end of suffering is an eternal love that spans generations. My girls are kind, funny, fierce, smart, beautiful, and have all the hope of the world in them. They are a light, a refuge, and my love. They remind me of how the Lord thinks of us: with grace and pure love. He doesn’t get mad at us for our faults; but wants to love us and help us through them. The best piece of advice I got for parenting when I was pregnant the first time was: “delight in her always.” This is a motto I have tried to take into all of life and it makes it much sweeter.
2. Married my husband when I was young. And he is the most patient of all men. We have had the honor of growing up together and it’s been beautiful. Never perfect. But beautiful. I didn’t appreciate him the way I should have the first few years of our marriage. But after more than a decade with him, I am learning to appreciate him better. He helps me be who I was created to be in Christ and has never once tried to do that other than through him being Christ’s and loving me patiently. He’s held me through tears, laughter, labors, sickness, joys, and when nothing at all was going on. It’s in the ordinary, day-to-day life that he shows his true self and it’s just as full of grace as always. He loves God with his full heart and that love spills over into his love for me, our girls, the church, and others. He is kind. He is loving. He is a natural leader. He abides in God. He is a man of complete integrity. He teaches me what it means to love and be loved. That’s a special partner to find.
1.b. Lose control of your life. Find it in Christ’s sovereignty. Finding the best things in life take the most commitment, the deepest sacrifice, the ongoing forgiveness and acceptance of grace, and sometimes long-suffering, patience, and humility. But in losing your life, you are sure to find it.
1. a. Suffering happens. We lose people to death or circumstances; and it is truly the most devastating of all of life’s occurrences. I have watched dear friends bury their 6-month-old daughter and another friend bury her young husband as she held her two babies in her arms. It still brings tears to even think of these losses. But I also remember the Hope and Love which each of these families continues to portray to the world through Christ. We were meant to live forever together with those we love. We were not meant to lose anyone to death or relationships ending. And only in Christ are we promised hope for our future and a restoration of all that is right and supposed to be. We will still have suffering in this world; but we can take comfort in knowing Christ relates to us in our suffering; and more, He is with us in our suffering. But, dear God, the pain of death and separation is real.
1. Learning to be conformed into the image of Christ for the sake of others—it’s a process we are all in and I am certainly still on and always will be. We can choose to let go and let it happen or run from it and try to control our life. But we are all in the process. And it’s so worth it to let it happen and be who you were created to be in Him. You have an enemy who wants nothing more than to destroy you. Sickness will come, heartache will come, suffering will come, death will come, earthquakes will come, arguments will come, insecurity will come, failure will come. It will all be there. But remember who you were created to be in Christ. Sometimes we want to take off the “for the sake of others,” but why else would we do what we do or be who we were meant to be other than to glorify God that all may know Him?
Here’s to the next 30 years.