As I approach my 27th birthday, I look back on the last ten years and marvel over all I have learned and how I have grown. My 27 year-old-self looks just about nothing like the youth of years past, and not just because I have 3 babies under my belt and the stretch marks that come with them. I have changed because God has been gracious to work His way in my life beyond any dream I had ever conjured in the days I scribbled names in notebooks and browsed the internet for potential careers.
I’ve matured, married (quit college), and become a mom and missionary. But mostly, I’ve been molded by the hands that created me which so graciously continue their work on me. In the bending, in the being re-made again and again, I’ve learned a few things. If I could go back and give my teeny bopper self (you can say things like that when you’re my age, y’know) some words of wisdom, I have a few things I would say. I hope you’ll be touched and challenged by this “Letter to My-17-Year-Old-Self.” Please share it with a young gal you know who might benefit from this perspective!
Dear Young(er) Me,
I’m writing you from ten years down the road you’re walking now. Life hasn’t been easy but it has been blessed. I write you this to encourage you to keep the faith and following God. I have some things I want to share with you. I know I can’t change anything but maybe some looker on will see some wisdom in these simple lessons.
Make plans, but only tentatively, knowing the Lord will likely change them. I promise, you’ll be glad He did. Make progress and strive for change, but allow God to do the heavy lifting. You have big dreams in your heart, but they’re too big for you. Even when the dreams are good and the work is fulfilling, they’re heavy and can be a burden. You need Jesus. As much as you want to, you can’t do everything and you sure can’t save the world. Thankfully, He’s already done that job.
Devote yourself, first, to God before any other relationships or commitments. Trust God to build your tribe, adding and taking as He sees fit for your personal growth and peripheral influence. Know that devotion to Christ, though admirable, is not always inclusive and inviting to those that prefer to remain on the fringes. It’s OK to be weird or a little radical in your pursuit of God, though you may lose some friends along the way. God will bring the people into your life that will encourage and build you up as you seek to please Him. And the seasons in between, you will learn of the sweetness and love of Christ in a way you would never have otherwise. And you’ll be thankful for these times that left you vulnerable and aching for the Vine.
I am well-acquainted with craving. When I was living overseas, I found myself craving the most random things. I craved turkey sandwiches, sweet potatoes, and sour candy. I also craved convenience and comforts of home. Even more, I found myself craving connection with other believers and a more intimate relationship with Jesus as the loneliness in my heart grew and grew. I was surrounded by unbelievers and understood little of the spiritual offerings at church in my second language. I realized that I had to fill myself with God’s word and busy myself with His work. Only then would the intense longing, the craving subside.
Back here on American soil, I have access to all the things I’ve craved for the last two years. What’s surprising to me is that nothing is as good as my memory made it. Nothing quite satisfies. Along with this dissatisfaction with fulfilled cravings, I sense a frustration upon seeing the culture of craving around me. Of course, this is amplified in the holiday season as we all create wish lists and seek to find the one perfect things our loved ones lack to stick in an overstuffed stocking. I try to remember this. Maybe this isn’t an accurate representation of America. But maybe it is. And maybe it’s also an accurate representation of my heart. Whatever culture I live within, I take my heart with me. And my heart is filled with longing, with craving.
I was created to crave Jesus. I grow and thrive in communion with Him, feasting on His word. I don’t want to suppress my appetite for the things of God by filling myself with the sweet and sugary tastes of this world. They satisfy my tongue but starve my spirit. This focused feasting might not change the local culture, but it will change me. That’s a good place to start.
He stared at my back in the queen size bed we share. The inches between us loomed like a brick wall lined with barbed wire. I sobbed. He sighed. He must have felt as helpless as I did.
I suffered under a border blockade which prohibited the entry of petrol, propane, and essential goods in a country I never planned to live in. We faced winter with fewer than four hours of electricity to heat our home each day. It seemed I was at the mercy of an evolving government, the paper-thin houses, and my freezer-burned spirit. I was furious with my cozy Stateside friends who didn’t understand and my husband who couldn’t fix it.
In the morning, as I stood shivering, waiting for the shower to heat up, negative thoughts creeped in and claimed territory in my mind. I wished desperately for the rage to run right down the drain with the hot water. At the time, I wouldn’t have admitted that I was angry at God. I would have said I was overwhelmed and exhausted. I played the victim well because I believed I was absolutely powerless.
We had endured the hardships of an international move followed by natural disaster and economic crisis, but our marriage had now been threatened. Each night, we went to bed with cold hands and struggled to turn up the heat between life-long lovers wrapped up in ice cold sheets. Our intimacy had been killed by the chaos and cold that made up our days. The negative thoughts came around again to tell me what I already knew: I had lost all control.
“We traveled for two years and visited over 200 churches sharing about our missions endeavors. We spent A LOT of time on the road and racked up thousands of miles. Along the way, we made lots of pits stop. Generally, we just stopped for fast-food and potty breaks, but occasionally something else would demand a stop. We were too tired to keep our eyes open anymore. Our toddler ran out of juice. Flat tire. Nauseous pregnant lady. Saw friends getting off and exit and had a spontaneous double date at Waffle House.
These unplanned stops often weren’t welcome on our journey. They seemed to be an inconvenience when we just wanted to get from point A to point B. But they were necessary. We needed to stretch. We needed to rest, run around, stretch our legs, and nourish our bodies. We needed the pit stops.
I think of the pit stops along the way of our journey to the mission field. The financial support that got a slow start. The family member that spent months ill before passing away. That car accident that rocked our world, took our baby, and canceled a whole month of meetings. The waiting and waiting and waiting for a visa that never came. These things were all unplanned and unwelcome.
But these times were all a part of the journey. They have made us the family that we are, serving in the country where we serve. During these times, we have been forced to seek the Lord and know His heart better. We have learned about ourselves and about each other.
We’ve learned to thank God for the pit stops.”
Day 28, EAT (Five Minute Friday)
We sat hunched over half-full plates forcing spoonfuls of chicken, rice, and lentils into our mouths as our host sat watching us. We were doing our best to finish a special meal in honor of the Dashain holiday at our language tutor’s home. We had lost track of the courses but were sure this was the end.
With a sweet smile, she placed TWO GIANT, HEAPING bowls of Asian noodles before us. We stared at the remaining spread in disbelief. Our kids weren’t much help. Our daughter turns her nose up at anything that isn’t pizza, and our son was just over a year at the time but was given a grown child’s serving. My stomach was churning, telling me to stop. But with a forced smile and a feigned word about how delicious it was (nothing tasted good at this point), I kept eating. And then….she brought me some plain yogurt. Yay.
She asked me several times if I didn’t like it. I knew she wanted me to finish it and ask for more, to convince her once and for all that it was tasty and I was thankful. I knew how hard she worked to prepare this meal for us (slaughtering the chicken and all!). My desperate prayers for freed up stomach space went unanswered, and I had to admit defeat.
Sometimes our efforts to live for the benefit of others and the glory of God just don’t cut it. We are limited and unable to perform the tasks that spell out gratitude and love. We hope and pray that those whom we labor to love will see our efforts and know that we did our we will inevitably fall short.
We will let people down. We won’t be able to fulfill what we promise. We won’t find the strength to love like Jesus. We occupy bodies broken by the Fall and are unable to live perfectly and honorably at all times (or most of the time!). We trust God to work on our behalf, to communicate the words we fail to speak, and to show the love we fail to display.
We will strive and struggle. It’s all part of this thing called sanctification. We need heaping spoonfuls of grace and answered prayers for the strength to do more. We make right the things we can make right, and we ask God to take care of the rest. Sometimes that’s all we can do.
Do you struggle with guilt over your shortcomings in service to others?
Do you need heaping spoonfuls of grace (like I do)?