August 24, 2016

What I Realized on my 40th Birthday

On July 24, I turned 40 sitting by both the ocean and my favorite person in all the world, my husband Kyle. We sifted the sand through our toes, dipped in the turquoise water, and talked nonstop, breaking only to stick our noses in books or watch people stroll the beach.
Every few hours, starting at breakfast, Kyle handed me a small stack of letters--some from friends, some from family, and some from mentors in my life. I'd turn over each letter in my hands, attempt to guess by the handwriting on the envelope who'd written it, and then tear into it eagerly in order to devour the writer's words. Kyle's was a beautiful gift to me, not only because I'm a word person, but because I felt as if I were surrounded by the people I love on a milestone day.

Several times that day, I cried hot, messy tears. I had not an inkling of fear or dread about stepping into a new decade of life, so the tears weren't of that variety. Honestly, aside from a few aches and pains, I don't care much that I'm getting older. No, the tears that came fast and often were simply watery signs of gratitude.

I said, "Thank you, God," dozens of times that day. For my little family. For the people that surround me in everyday life. For the ministry God has given Kyle and I to steward. For the opportunity to write. For the past and the present and all the hope I have laid up for me in the future. It was, simply put, a day of laser-sharp clarity, and I received that clarity as a birthday gift from God Himself.

For the previous nine months, I'd longed for that kind of clarity. Do you ever know so certainly that God is transitioning you in some quiet, unseen way but you are equally unable to articulate or understand what is happening? That was me. It had been going on for so long that I'd started feeling as if I was missing something or not hearing God correctly. I knew God was at work, but I didn't have the foggiest idea what He was doing. I just kept telling myself to wait on Him instead of attempting to figure it out on my own, and I kept bringing to mind the few things I knew for sure: faith, family, friends, and serving people in the name of Jesus.

That all sounds really peaceful, but waiting on God can be anything but. This past year has been a difficult one for me, mostly in ways that I still can't articulate. I've changed in ways that don't necessarily feel right and good. There is a stark self-protectiveness I've built up around myself as I've tried to navigate through, uncertain.

On my birthday, it was if God pulled back the curtain of blurriness and I could see again. And it turns out that the few things I'd known for sure were the main things. What I saw behind the peeled back curtain were the most important parts of my life--my relationship with Christ, my husband, my children, my closest relationships, the ministry to which God has called me--all laid out as gifts before me. Everything else sort of fell away. My heart had been pacing back and forth, waiting, trying to discern what God intended me to give my time toward, but they'd been staring back at me all along.

When all else fell away, I was thinking, talking, and dreaming about the most salient treasures and, yes, also the gifts God wants me to steward. Somehow, I'd made the waiting more complex. In fact, it'd been less waiting and more stripping.

For these gifts to remain the priorities God intends them to be, the activities and relationships not coming to mind were just as important to recognize. I needed to let them fall away, and what I realized is that when lesser things in my life rightly try to fall to the peripheral, it's my tendency to pull them back. God has been trying to change me in a way that honors Him more, and I've resisted it so much that I've created my own confusion. I was looking for more, while God was clearing away to less. I was uncomfortable letting things fall away, when God was calling me to enjoy a simplified, joy-filled life. I was, at the very root of it all, uncomfortable changing. I wanted it all, while God wanted the best, and the best isn't everything.

All those good gifts God laid out so clearly before my eyes are the most beautiful parts of my life, but none of them come easy. They require my sacrifice, my service, my time, my very life. Why am I waiting for life to get easier, thinking I'll know deep satisfaction then? A life of ministry to which the Christian is called is always going to be a surprising concoction of profound joy and profound toil. Struggle and sacrifice (and weariness) don't mean I haven't figured out God's will for my life. In fact, when it's mixed with sweet joy and hot tears of gratitude, it means I very much have.