Gifts From My Twenties
Crossing the 30 threshold in a few days has me thinking back on the past decade. Things I’ve experienced, people I’ve met, places I’ve been… The story my twenties has told.
A story that made me an aunt for the first time just days after turning 20.
That brought me into a community I loved at Evangel as I was finishing college.
And sent me on my first missions trip.
That gave me my undergraduate degree – and more importantly, wonderful friends who earned that degree alongside me.
That made me the wife of a man who is so much better than my heart knew to ask God for.
That taught me about life and ministry through the lens of a crisis pregnancy center.
That moved us into our 600 square foot house…
That empowered me to venture into the world of seminary and to climb what appeared to be the impossible mountains of Greek, Hebrew, and exegesis of the Scriptures.
That brought tearful good-byes [or rather, “See you laters”]…
And new adventures…
Oh. And laughs. Lots and lots of laughs.
Here are a few of the less tangible gifts my twenties have given me:
A core trust in Jesus alone. Almost ten years ago, my church family experienced devastation that shook most of us on a deep level. Layer by layer, the Lord stripped away false comforts from each of us. Many of those false comforts were people – people who had been leaders and people who were simply longstanding, important parts of our church life. I remember encountering a line by Oswald Chambers during this uncomfortable, scary season. “In all the world there is no one but you, dear God; there is no one but you.” What a timely word it was. And how very real this truth became to me.
It resounds in my heart to this day, and I know it will forever. Sure, we are to come under spiritual authority, and God has designed things so that we need each other. We need to receive from other people in order to grow. But what must also be held in tension with these things is the fact that only God is perfect. He alone is our Constant. Our unshakable Rock. The One who never changes. And the One who will never disappoint us. So no matter how much we love, honor, and open our hearts to other people, our deepest trust must be reserved for Him alone. When we direct this deepest trust where it belongs, we aren’t sent into a tailspin when the person we thought was perfect turns out not to be. And actually, keeping our trust in Jesus serves as a guardrail against putting people on pedestals in the first place.
The realization that there are no “normal” families. I remember thinking when I was younger that most people around me had “normal” families. You know, families with no secrets. Families with no dysfunction, chaos, or longstanding issues. Happy-go-lucky, problem-free families. Coming of age and living through my twenties has given me the unexpected opportunity to take a closer look at some of those “normal” families I thought I knew. With this zoomed in lens, I was surprised every time at how quickly dysfunction became visible. Dysfunctional marriages, dreaded-but-necessary family gatherings, moments of breakthrough followed by setbacks, lifelong secrets, mismanagement of money, fear of confrontation… The list goes on and on. Even wonderful families had problems.
After a number of these closer encounters, it finally dawned on me that the whole idea of a “normal” family – at least what it had meant in my mind – was a myth. My family was never any more broken than the next person’s. When it comes down to it, we all come from families that are good in some ways and broken in others. Some people just try a lot harder to hide their brokenness. And the ones who appear the most together on the outside are often found to be the most broken upon a closer look. We all need a Savior. End of story.
A love for morning coffee. Why did I fight this for so long? It was just a little over a year ago while we were in Nicaragua that Andrew and I developed an everyday coffee routine. We were so tired on that trip that we needed the caffeine to get going each day. So we discovered Nicaraguan coffee and have never stopped drinking it since.
It’s amazing the difference that warm cup of goodness can make. I wake up in the morning denying I have to get out of bed, wondering if God is even real… and certain that I’m being overtaken by classwork and life in general. But by the end of that one cup, my entire outlook on life has rebounded. Maybe I should take extra courses next semester! I think to myself. Maybe I’ll clean this entire house after I finish schoolwork! There’s NOTHING I can’t do today!
Caffeine – such an epiphany. If only I had known this all those mornings I tried so hard to wake up without it.
Respect for people who practice discretion. I guess there are two senses to this. First, I’ve come to deeply value trustworthy people. They are precious few. People with whom you can be your true self and to whom you can expose your worst parts without fear of being misunderstood or talked about behind your back. People you can really reach out to for prayer…who really care…and will really pray…and will really keep a conversation confidential. This type of person is a rare find.
The second sense I’m talking about is a type of humility. This kind of discretion keeps a person from broadcasting their most recent expensive purchase, even when it would be justified. I think lots of people have genuine excitement when they post about their new homes, cars, etc. and that’s perfectly fine… But over the last few years I’ve noticed something pretty wonderful. It is precisely some of the most materially blessed people who do not broadcast their material possessions. I’m thinking right now of some particular friends who moved into a very nice home not too long ago – a home much nicer than the ones so often posted on social media…and yet, they posted nothing about it. Something about their discretion in that instance struck me. It has stirred respect and sown a desire in me to live that way.
An appreciation for the fact that valuable things in life have no short-cuts. If I want intimacy with God, I have to invest time in it, fight for it, guard it, honor it, and cherish it. Knowing Him will not come cheaply. And the same goes if I want a good marriage – it must be pursued and fiercely protected. If I want meaningful friendships, I have to invest time and thought into people. If I want to be fit, I have to exercise. A lot. If I want a graduate degree that actually means something, I have to do A LOT of reading, writing, and studying. And keep doing it until I finish. Valuable things come with a great price.
Value for waiting on the Lord. This story from recent years was a huge factor in my learning to wait on the Lord. His timing is always, always best. And I’ve found His timing to be linked to His provision.
Grace for myself. God is on a mission setting me free from the impossible standards I used to set for myself. Over the last few years, He has been teaching me how to live from a posture of rest. For example: how to do my best on an exegesis paper, enjoy the process by looking for treasures hidden in the work, and release my finished product to Him, not to a professor. Something interesting has happened as I’ve followed Him down this road: doing my schoolwork with His approval in mind has freed my heart to enjoy the journey and to see my assignments as finished when I submit them rather than when I get my grades back. Simply finishing each task and knowing that He is pleased is all I need. A good grade or positive feedback is just icing on the cake. Having come from a deeply engrained perfectionism, I still intentionally remind myself of this new order God has established as I approach new assignments.
And though it’s still in process, I now have much more grace for my appearance than I did ten years ago. I look back and can hardly believe how flawed I felt for so long. Between figuring out that I was short [as my classmates consistently pointed out to me throughout school] and that I didn’t like my profile [who takes the time to assess the way their face looks from the side, anyway??], I could hardly enjoy life for many years. There was a constant fear that someone was going to look too closely at me and see that I wasn’t beautiful like so-and-so. And there always was a beautiful so-and-so around, confirming my feelings of inadequacy. Now that this dark cloud is lifting, I see that He never wanted me to look “like so-and-so.” He made me to be me. And sure, a continually better version of me – but only because I’m growing in my ability to reflect Him, not anyone else.
Ahhhh, the power of Grace. It’s beautiful.
It’s with this posture of rest that I am stepping into my thirties. Years that will inevitably bring change, uncertainty, laughter, challenge, and joy. And years that, like my twenties, will always have His presence as their answer.