Last week I turned 32.
I hadn’t thought much of my birthday until it crept up on me, being so busy with the kids. I planned a small get-together with our friends and family for Independence Day, and we usually roll my birthday celebration in with it. It makes it easier, being in the same week.
At any of our get-togethers, it is imperative that there be four times the amount of food that we actually consume. Coming from a Chinese family, it would be a disgrace for anyone to miss out on any of the delectable dishes. In my former years, my sister, Tracey, and I insisted on cooking everything ourselves – more kudos to us if we cooked it from scratch – amounting to about five hours of prep the morning of, after we had prepared most of it the night before. What crazies we were, even if we loved it!
Thankfully, we’ve toned down our hostessing mania. Now, I buy most of my pre-made dishes from Costco and allow my wonderful guests to bring dishes too. I realized, food is not everything! I should be a Mary, not a Martha… and I had a few more kids.
After a boisterous time of celebration, my actual birthday was a quiet day of repose and reflection. Best Sister in the World, Tracey, took care of the kids for me in the morning while I went out by myself shopping for some new clothes and things.
Best Brother in the World, Aaron, came over in the evening to watch the kids so James and I could go out for dinner and a movie. What great siblings I have!
Anyway, those are the events surrounding my birthday. Nothing out of the ordinary, yet, what I’d like to share more than those events are my musings on this day.
Retail therapy does this to me. While doing something as superficial as picking out a new blouse and driving from store to store, I pondered over the significance of turning a whole year older.
Sometime during my retail experience, it hit me. Life is fleeting, life is transient. Life is, as Ecclesiastes says, “Hevel, hevel” – or vapor, in the English.
This year, like no other, I’ve experienced that firsthand.
Which led me to ask some hard questions about my own life. Am I satisfied with the way my life is going and with the choices I’ve made? Am I where I thought I’d be at 32?
Part of me had a mini third life crisis right there in that fitting room. I’m not so much talking about the external aspects of my life – you know, what kind of house we live in, how much money we have in the bank, and other things that are so easily given and taken away.
I’m talking about my relationship with the Eternal One, whom I will have to face one day and give an account for the hours and days and years that I had on this earth. Was I proud of the way I had used my 32 years thus far? Was I as close to him as I thought I’d be by now? Am I applying His word and wisdom in every part of my life? And perhaps, most tellingly, am I a better wife and exemplary mother to my kids?
This self-reflection has been an ongoing theme this past year for me. Part of it has been brought on by the grieving process after Zeke’s passing – everything in my life required recalibration. Part of it has been the materials that I have ingested and invited in to my head, including a lot more of God’s word.
The great evangelist, Jonathan Edwards, lived by 70 personal resolutions that guided his life, which he read over once a week. Number five stated, “Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.” His perspective was constantly on the eternal – a resolve to do whatsoever he thought “to be to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration.”
That afternoon, I lamented over the many times and moments that I had wasted. Foolish things I had expended my time on and put my hopes in, only to prove worthless after the fact. Times and incidences when I really didn’t follow God’s word – whether it be in our finances, in putting my own desires before the good of our marriage, or in following the world’s views on motherhood. How I have suffered by not living by God’s word!
Don’t get me wrong – I am so grateful for where I am today. I remember being in my twenties and having so much inner conflict. Many things were up in the air and many questions were waiting to be answered.
As a young married couple, we moved around a lot up and down the West Coast, we experienced a lot of instability with my husband’s job, while I wrestled with questions about my own calling – Where should I finish college? What career path should I take? Should I go to law school? What about having kids?
Thankfully, many of those questions have been answered and I am at peace with the path our family has taken.
I admit, though, I spent a lot of time drifting as I sought to answer those questions. I spent a lot of time doing things to live up to other people’s expectations and just went along with what others were doing, even as I became a mother.
Thankfully, God redeems. There’s no better teacher than learning by our own experiences. God wants us to interact with the world and live our lives fully. Mistakes are made, we move on. Yet I pray that I won’t make the same mistakes over and over again in order to grasp the truth of God’s word. Isn’t that our prayer for our children? That they’d grow and learn what we’ve learned without having to go through what we’ve gone through?
I know God uses all our individual testimonies and backgrounds. He has a way of redeeming even the ugly, dreadful, and tragic parts of our lives for His glory. I only wish I had come to those moments of revelation and understanding earlier in my life.
I’m not trying to be hard on myself, I’m trying to be truthful. We only have one life to live and we must vigilantly assess whether it is the life we want to live, according to God’s word and His calling for us.
A modern book that I’ve been pondering over this year is Essentialism, by Greg McKeown – the disciplined pursuit of less in order to achieve the things that are really important. Are the activities that I’m engaging in, great or small, leading to the life I envision for me and my family?
I paused for some self-reflection right there in that fitting room. I couldn’t totally answer those questions right then and there, but for the rest of the day, I reflected on how I would go about my life a little differently now, motivated in part by the fact that I was now a whole year older.
I have invited a lot of these moments of naked honesty lately. I don’t think we should shy away from these crisis points – if I can even call them that – because they are necessary for our growth. It’s human psychology. We must have some level of dissatisfaction with ourselves or our lives before we can muster up the motivation and the courage to make any lasting changes. If we are nonchalant about how we are living, not caring whether we do this or that, we will just do this or that.
This year, I’ve resolved to live more faithfully, in my daily life. Because what I do on a daily basis will eventually amount to the sum of my life. I know I’m not going to change instantly in every area of my life – some things will have to wait – and that’s okay. I am a work in progress.
And as a mother, I really don’t have a lot of margin. How I wish I had known how much time I had before I had children! But alas, God redeems. It’s diapers, nursing, and more diapers right now. Writing in between. Meals. Late night conversations.
I shared with my husband what I had been thinking about earlier in the day as we drove to dinner. I told him how I was grateful for how we’ve built our family, yet at the same time, I felt like I was getting older and shared some areas I wanted to change in my life – being totally dedicated to my bible reading, focusing on becoming a better mother, putting our marriage relationship first, being much more intentional with the few hours I do have, and adding regular exercise into the mix. I mean, come on, I’m now over thirty. I have to get this body moving if I want to keep it moving decades from now.
These conversations have been frequent between us. He’s made drastic changes in his life after Zeke’s passing. He quit his corporate job and took a position at a small software company which gave him much more freedom to lead and advance. Honestly, I was a little hesitant. I had gotten used to the perks of the big company and the stability of his employment. But like he has told me before, we have to let go of the good in order to get to the best.
This year, I want to be closer to God. I need to be closer to Him. I want his wisdom to infuse every part of my life. I want to live as close to His word as I possibly can – because I know how futile it is when I don’t.
Every time I read the bible, every time I recite a scripture, every time I spend time in his presence, I should see the world a little differently, do my life a little differently – as it says, to “be transformed by the renewing of the mind,” “to put away childish things,” and to put on the “new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”
God’s given humans this remarkable ability to change and grow – whether it be little habits in our daily lives or a total transformation and redirection of our lives. Yes, the best is yet to come.
As the evening drew to a close and we pulled up to our driveway, a deep feeling of satisfaction came over me. Yes, it was a good birthday – celebration, reflection, and anticipation for what’s ahead. So what do I love about getting older? Growing older in the Lord, learning more about myself, and becoming more and more the person God’s called me to be.
I look forward to another year of being conformed to the image of His son.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.Romans 12:2
Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.
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