What I’ve Learned in My…

I finished an amazingly insightful book on female leadership by Jo Saxton this week, and I’m sure it will be in my top five lifetime reads. One of her last assignments in our online book club was to journal five lessons of leadership we have learned. I did that today and while that was helpful and meaningful, and I plan on blogging about it. I started to think about what I have learned in various “decades” of life.

Maybe it was also partly because I spent a few hours with my dad, so my mom could get her hair cut. Time with my dad these days, brings about a lot of reflection and thinking about the past. He doesn’t have the luxury now with dementia (we’ve been told he probably has multiple kinds of dementia) to reflect and remember like he used to do. In fact, some days, he doesn’t remember much of anything. Today, his repetitive questions were, “who are you married to, how long have you been married, how old are you?” I answer them with grace and patience because it is out of his control and mine.

All this gets my mind going down the path of remembering. Add in coffee with a new friend and my mind is sent into overdrive remembering, reflecting as we share our stories. These aren’t just the everyday memories I’m thinking on but the bigger life lessons. I want to remember them, wrestle with them and continue to use them to produce fruit in my life.

I feel it’s only fair to warn you as you take this journey with me down reflection lane, not all my lessons are free of pain or a nice neat tidy bow, but they all build on each other to an amazing place of renewed hope! So if you feel a little discouraged, keep reading, there are blessings in the pain.

So here’s the snapshot version of what I have learned in each decade of my life minus the glamorous, fully filtered selfies!

In my 20’s, I had high hopes for the freedom of being an adult. We started off building amazing friendships, figuring out our professional paths and figuring out our identity as a couple. The perfect life, living the dream, until pain made it’s way in. There were glimpses of pain, but when it came in a series of three, whoa, it caught me off guard!

The details of the pain aren’t as important really at this time. My biggest take away was that life as an adult had way more pain than I anticipated. I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t handle it well. I lost my way. I was still active in church, still trying to walk in faith, but I was caught off guard by life.

In my 30’s, bring on the compounded pain, rejection, broken trust and seeking fulfillment in the wrong things – my job, friendships, my marriage, shopping, TV, anything to escape from any painful reality. All leading to withdrawing from life, depression, anxiety, increased panic attacks, failed attempts at serving God out of abundance. My biggest take away this decade – I was a mess, I didn’t have it all together. That’s not a life realization that builds self-esteem, I can assure you!

My skills, gifts, talents had carried me through, but I had neglected some deep character building with Jesus actively involved. It shattered my reality when I realized I couldn’t live up to people’s view of me. This part of the path is long and winding, so I won’t walk through it today with you. I will skip ahead.

Imagine being on this winding, dark, rocky, uphill path, no water, no food, no sun, rain, cold, misery and finally seeing shelter in the distance. That’s how I look back and see this Bible study God used in that season in my life. Thank you Pam for being obedient to step out and lead it. You may never know the oasis it was.

The study was based on a book, A Confident Heart by Renee Swope. As I read through the book and focused on writing out verses that were meaningful, the Biblical truths she shares in the book started to break through some of the bondage I was in from my pain. I truly believe during that time God broke me free of my struggles with depression and anxiety! Praise God!

I learned during that decade that God’s grace and mercy are greater than I ever realized and that my understanding of it would never be fully realized until heaven. I learned that I had lived in arrogant self-righteousness not seeing myself as I should. I learned that I needed to stay connected to God’s truth to navigate this life and that He is the ultimate life-giver. I am so thankful for this huge turning point in my life.

On to my 40’s, where life still has pain, but God’s mercies are new every morning, and we can choose joy in the midst of any circumstance. Not everything in life has resolved as I’ve moved into my 40’s. There have still been winter seasons. In some ways, it gets even harder because there can be no end in sight for potential pain. Guess what? It keeps happening and to greater degrees! Because of this, I am so thankful for the renewed hope that has become my anchor.

Because I’m still in my 40’s, my life lessons for this decade are still in the works, but I’ll share what I’ve learned in the first half. I’m learning I don’t want to just be comfortable in life. I want to truly seek out how to surrender to God’s purpose in my life. I’m asking what legacy do I want to leave? We don’t have kids which can be a built in legacy, so it has me asking, what legacy can I leave when our lives look different without kids?

I’m thankful to care less what people think about me as I age, in a good way, not a totally obnoxious way. Insecurities start to decrease as we become more rooted in Christ removing ourselves and seeking to live out a surrendered life. Less of that matters, what a relief, right?

There is post-traumatic stress, but have you ever heard of post-traumatic growth? It’s a real thing – Google it! We can grow in our pain, and I’m learning how powerful that is! Pain doesn’t have to mean stress or depression or anxiety. It can increase our capacity to give away love and to serve others.

I’m learning to give away encouragement freely. In a world of hiding behind media to share our viewpoints, we get exposed to more discouraging words than we do encouraging. Our words have power. If you think something positive about someone, share it and share it face to face. Don’t hold back and don’t expect anything in return. Just give it as a gift.

I think I do need to stop a moment and backtrack so you don’t misunderstand. I was still serving God in the mess. Even at less than my capacity, struggling through my faith, pain and brokenness in those early decades, there was still fruit. He used all that then, and he continues to use it now. Nothing is wasted. He works it all for good. Thank you Jesus! So even if your life is an absolute mess, God can use it.

What does life look like right now for me? It’s perfect!

No, not really.

I have so many unanswered questions swirling around in my head. I’m thankful that God can quiet them for me and they don’t lead to the anxiety they used to or discouragement. Just some of the questions in my head today (and yes this is just today because they change constantly and compound)…

How do I respond when someone I love becomes something I didn’t see coming and not in a good way?

Who do I go to when a person of strength in my life is gone and isn’t able to be there for me anymore?

How do I give empathy to a friend in pain so they see how much I love them and how much I wish I could take away the pain?

How do I grow as a leader and breakthrough my weaknesses as a leader?

How do I continue to grow as a wife?

How do I continue to surrender and not settle in life?

And the questions are endless.

So I take all those thoughts captive and lay them at Jesus feet. Pouring light through his Word into my mind.

Your pain is your pain, and I can’t rank it against mine. I can encourage you to seek God’s truth, share your pain and anticipate post-traumatic growth. It’s coming in a few weeks, months, years, decades, I don’t know, but it’s there in the distance! Keep moving forward and keep your eyes searching for that shelter in the distance!

Psalm 25:4-5
Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

Hebrews 6:19a
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

Romans 8:28
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 5:1-1
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

These things are true all the time!

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