The Wandering Thirty-Somethings


What do I want to do with my life?  If I could capture the thirty-somethings in a single sentence, that would be it.  Sure, you think about this question from time to time before you’re thirty, but it’s always with an air of optimistic ambition.  Mommy, I want to be a princess.  I want to be an astronaut.  Maybe I’ll be a doctor.  Or a novelist.  Then college rolls around and let’s be honest, you’re a little distracted by all the cute coeds, and you major in something fascinating but less-than-marketable like sociology or humanities.  Or, you get that accounting degree, and realize crunching numbers isn’t as fulfilling as you’d hoped.  And if, somewhere along this journey you also get married, it only becomes more complicated.  You may be one of the fortunate few who’s found their niche in a field they love, while your spouse is the barista with a Humanities degree.

One way or another, you find yourself going through the motions with an irritating sense of dissatisfaction.  What do I want to do with my life?  The question is no longer dusted with optimism, so much as frayed with panic.  If you’re a Christian, you may phrase it a little differently: What does God want me to do with my life?  Yes, we know the biblical commands.  He wants us to be holy, to love Him more than anything else, to make disciples of all nations.  But specifically, what does He want me to do?  How does He want me to fulfill His commands?  As a godly doctor, a missionary, a piano teacher?  How??  

And so emerge an array of different thirty-something approaches.  There are the Plodders, who accept the fact that work and passion may not fit in the same sentence.  They work in order to do the things they are passionate about.  Then there are the Risk-Takers.  They are the start-your-own-business, move-across-the-globe, take-a-year-off-and-write-that-book kind of people, who would rather try and fail then settle for ho-hum.  There are the ADD Go-Getters who find a new career calling every thirty days.  The In-Transition-ers who live in a constant state of waiting.  Waiting for the kids to get a little older, the savings account to get a little heftier, the right door to swing open.  And of course, there are the Frustrated Bloggers, who eat Rice Krispy treats and write to try and make sense of it all.

Naturally, there are exceptions, too.  There are the thirty-somethings who live like the fifty-somethings, with an enviable sense of “arrival.”  Fulfilling job, fat mortgage, deep roots…ah, establishment!  I will confess, this is the life I long for.  As a former missionary kid who often felt rootless, I long to put roots down so deeply it takes the apocalypse to lift them.  But in the midst of the thirty-something what-do-I-do-with-my-life epidemic, I have found one comfort worth treasuring: Wandering can be worshipful.

I think there are two types of wandering in the Bible.  There is the godless, Israelite-like wandering as a result of unbelief.  This wandering is truly aimless, and unless something changes, hopeless.  But there is also a nomadic type of wandering in the Bible.  Abraham living in tents.  Jacob sleeping on a stone.  Joseph sitting in prison 200 miles from home.  Surely, each of them must have felt just a little bit lost sometimes.  Uncertain, clueless, and even afraid.  But unlike the Israelites in the desert, each of these men allowed their endless not-knowing to drive them to desperate dependence on Someone Greater than themselves.

Wandering has the ability to cripple our sense of sufficiency.  To expose our vulnerability.  To toss us like a drowning child into the arms of God.  In this way, wandering can be worshipful.  It can be a daily song of faith.  What does God want me to do with my life?  Honestly, I don’t exactly know.  I know He wants me to be a wife, and a mother.  To honor Him in all that I do, and with all that I am.  I know He wants me to have a heart like His, burdened for His mission.  But I don’t know a whole lot of details.  And I’m becoming more at peace with that, for three reasons:

I know the character of God.  I know He is faithful yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Dt 7:9).  I know He is flawlessly sovereign (Pro 19:21).  He has not forgotten me, but rather loves me (Ps 103:17), intercedes for me (Rom 8:26), works within me for His good pleasure (Phil 2:13), and has a plan for my life that will bring Himself glory (Jer 29:11).

I know the desires of my heart.  I know that I want to glorify God more than anything else.  I’m not wandering because I’ve closed my spirit to God’s call, hardened my heart in unbelief, or decided to pursue worldly ambitions.  I’m not saying my motives are always pure, but I am saying the cry of my heart is to do whatever God wants me to do.  Therefore, I can have the confidence of I John 5:14-15.  Because I am praying in line with God’s will, asking for His direction for my life, I can rest assured He will hear and answer me.

I know the final destination.  Last of all, I know that one day I will live in that permanently rooted place of endless belonging, for which my soul aches.  It won’t be in sunny Georgia, or Metro Manila, or the heart of Africa.  It will be etched in eternity.  To any other wandering thirty-somethings who love Jesus and are weary in the journey, the final destination is coming.  And when it does, it will be even more satisfying than a fulfilling job, fat mortgage, and fifty-something sense of “arrival.”  It will be true arrival, home.

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Getting Real about the Girl Behind the Grin

Remove-Mask_sepiaSometimes I feel like a total mess.  I’m not talking about day-old mascara and greasy hair.  Those things may have bothered me in a distant teenage life, but now?  Please!  I’m just thankful I still have hair after the number of times it’s been chewed, yanked, and caught in zippers.  No, when I say I feel like a mess it’s not on the outside.  It’s on the inside.

Anybody can take a hot shower, tidy the kitchen, and put on a bright smile.  But beneath the smile I often feel like a frazzled storm of unfinished tasks, thinly concealed irritations, throbbing inadequacy, and weary battles to believe God.  It’s as if my outside and inside are disconnected:

“Yes, sweetheart, Mommy’s listening.”  (Say my name one more time and I’ll slam my head in the dishwasher.)
“Can I get you more manicotti?”  (Good gravy, I’m going to be doing dishes til midnight.)
“We’re just waiting on God!”  (Who I’m beginning to fear is never going to show up.)

Of course there are those moments when the inside erupts onto the outside:
“For the love of all things sacred, give me some SPACE!”
“I just don’t feel like God loves me!”  *sob, sob, sob, sob, sob

But for the most part I’m pretty talented when it comes to the outside.  I know how to put on a cute outfit, camouflage the mess, and get the job done.  And that’s what scares me.  Because unlike most people, Jesus has never been fooled, nor impressed by the outside.  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” He cries in Matthew 23:27.  “For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”  How’s that for a metaphor?  So what do we do when our whitewashed exterior is as thin as a coat of nail polish and our interior is daily filling with decay?

Dear sister, we limp back to the cross.

The cross reminds us that life was not always this way.  That once, long ago, there was no outside/inside disconnect.  Once, all the joy and perfection we pretend to have on Facebook was truly felt in our souls.  Mankind was at peace with God, with one another, and with self.  Then sin entered the picture and just like that, all of creation broke.  Nature, animals, mankind–together we began to groan under the weight of our own brokenness  (Rom 8:22).  And nothing could remedy the problem.  Not outward appearances.  Not religious practices.  Not cute guys, or big homes, or double-stuffed Oreos.  Nothing, except the cross.  When Jesus died on the cross He absorbed the full weight of sin–the penalty, wrath, bondage, and brokenness.  And He rose victorious.  That single act has the power to obliterate the outside/inside disconnect.

As Tchividjian wrote, the cross reminds me that “Because Jesus was strong for me, I am free to be weak.  Because Jesus won for me, I am free to lose.  Because Jesus was someone, I am free to be no one.  Because Jesus was extraordinary, I am free to be ordinary.  Because Jesus succeeded for me, I am free to fail.”  You and I don’t have to pretend we’ve got it all together on the outside.  We need only draw near to Him by faith, and in His sufficiency find our rest.

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Making Peace with Family Systems (or Why Everybody Fights So Much Over the Holidays)

Years ago in a Marriage and Family class, my professor drew big circles on the whiteboard to represent family systems.  He talked about “closed” systems and “open” systems, and all sorts of other terms that eventually filled his circles with arrows and scribbles and a general sense of disorder.  This holiday season I found myself thinking a lot about those circles.

Every day I live in my own circle.  It’s the “Me and Husband Family System.”  It has its own set of priorities, entertainment preferences, conflicts, and agreements.  This Thanksgiving we loaded up the minivan, drove four hours, rang my parents’ doorbell, and stepped back into the “circle” that raised me.  Mom and Dad’s family system.  It was as familiar as my mom’s fried rice, and yet it fit like skinny jeans after a pregnancy.  How can something that made you who you are, no longer fit who you’ve become?  

My answer came three weeks later when Christmas rolled around and we spent a week living in another “circle,” the one that raised my husband.  I realized that marriage is a little like tossing two family systems into a bag and shaking it until they smooth each other out.  In the end what you take out of the bag is entirely new.

Sometimes it’s beautiful, like a stone polished with friction.  And sometimes it’s broken.  Sometimes we realize the pieces we were given were never whole to begin with, and trying to build something healthy is like assembling a bicycle with broken parts.  Even if we can make it look normal on the outside, it will never race down a road.  So how do we make peace with family systems?  Here’s what I’ve been mulling over:

Recognize that every family system is flawed.  From the moment sin entered the world, nobody had a shot at doing this “family” thing perfectly.  So, what if we just admitted it?  What if we gave our parents, and our in-laws, and our parents’ parents the freedom to be human?  To have made mistakes that impact us and yet to be treated with dignity, love, and forgiveness–the same way Christ has treated us?

Acknowledge the specific failings of the family system.  I think there are two unhealthy tendencies for dealing with the failures of a family system.  We either want to sweep them under the rug, or we want to frame them on the mantel.  Neither is beneficial.  Think about your own children.  Would you really want them to pretend they haven’t been hurt or negatively impacted by the mistakes you’ve made?  To quietly grow bitter toward you?  Or worse yet, to repeat those mistakes?  As terrifying as exposing the failures of a family system can be, when it’s done with a commitment to love one another, it can be liberating.  Messy as a bachelor pad, but liberating.

Lay the past to rest.  None of us own a time machine.  Which is why framing past failures on the mantel is so devastating.  Nobody wants to be defined by their mistakes, nor made to pay for them again and again.  At some point we have to deal with the ugly under the rug, then forgive and lay the past to rest.  Throw it in the trash with the turkey carcass and all the other things we’re officially “done” with.  That is grace.  And we all need it.

Accept personal responsibility for the family system you’re creating.  Believe me, I know how comforting it can be to blame someone else for all the things you dislike about yourself.  Your inability to trust.  Your penchant for shutting people out.  That anger problem you have.  But the hard truth is nobody will be held accountable for our lives except us.  The beautiful side to that truth is we’re not slaves to the past.  In Christ we have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pe 1:3), everything we need to grow, to change, and to overcome.

As I move into this new year, I’m reminded again that Jesus is the essence and the fullness of Hope, one of my favorite things about Him.  There is no hurt He can’t heal, no relationship He can’t restore, and no failure He can’t redeem.  His presence within us is our hope of glory (Col. 1:27).  Our only hope of glory.

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An Ode to my Twenties

My dear twenties,
Photo Scan for JeanneIn seven days I will celebrate the start of my last year with you.  29.  My farewell year to a decade well spent.  I’ll have you know I’ve liked you a lot more than the teens.  You are the decade that got rid of acne, gave me a job that didn’t come with an apron, and taught me how to spread my wings and fly away from home.  You introduced me to love, turned me into a bride, and washed away the insecurities of adolescence with the affection of a man I never deserved.

ry=480You are the decade of burnt dinners, tiny apartments, and tender beginnings.  The decade that laid a little body into my arms and in one swift moment made me a mother for life.  Where adolescence taught me to be strong because I have not, you taught me to be strong because I have.  You tutored me with kindness instead of pain.  With blessings that made me ache to be better than I am.  No matter what the future brings, I will remember you as the decade that gave me the gifts that would come to define my life and my legacy.

My dear twenties, you have been merciful to me.  A decade of joy, lavish with grace.  I used to view you as the ticking-clock decade, the race-to-the-deadline decade…in which case I would have just one more year to run a marathon, write a novel, and finish having children!  But I know better now.  Your goal has never been for me to gather accomplishments and pin them to my chest before I’m thirty.  Because you are not the finish line, but the starting line.  If childhood and adolescence is the “ready” and “set,” you are the gunshot decade that gives us a swift kick in the pants and tells us to “Go!”  Take your life and your blessings, and live!  Put wings to your dreams, and courage to your feet, and don’t be so afraid to stumble along the way.  Thank you, dear twenties.  I look forward to one last year with you!

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Freedom from Fearful Parenting

photo-22Fear was the first thing that ever drove me to God.  It wasn’t fear of God, it was fear of everything else.   As a small child I lived in constant fear that my parents would die.  By the time I was eleven-years-old I had developed an enslaving fear of demons that I would battle for nearly four years.  I remember telling my mom I didn’t believe I would ever break free.  But I did.  One painstaking day at a time, my parents taught me to quote Truth in the face of fear over and over again, sometimes thirty times a day.  And then twenty.  And then ten, as the bouts grew smaller and my faith grew bigger.  Until one day I realized I couldn’t remember the last time a fear of demons had controlled me.

That journey radically influenced my perspective of fear.  It took the “fear” out of fear because it taught me that fear is conquerable.  It taught me that fear is really all about deception.  It’s about fooling us into forgetting the character and reality of God.  I love the way the Jesus Storybook Bible captures the account of Jesus calming the storm.  “Why were you scared?”  Jesus asked.  “Did you forget who I Am?  Did you believe your fears, instead of me?”

Even as I type the words, my heart whispers yes.  Yes, Jesus, even as an adult I forget who You are.  I am tempted, continually, to believe my fears instead of You.  Recently, a new mom contacted me to suggest I write about fear, specifically in parenting.  This is a portion of what she wrote:

Since becoming a mom, one thing that I didn’t expect was the fear that has accompanied my  new role.  Fear that I’m not doing a good job, fear that I’ll hurt him, fear that I hear him crying while he’s napping and I’m in the shower, fear he will wake up in the middle of the night screaming, fear that he’s not eating right, fear that he’ll have allergies…the list goes on and on.

Can you relate?  I sure can.  Parenting has this unique way of opening up worlds of fear we didn’t even contemplate pre-children.  And unfortunately (as wiser moms have taught me) the temptation to fear doesn’t bid you farewell when your kids get older.  It only grows and expands like spaghetti in a pot.  Either get a handle on it, or call Strega Nona!

So how do we get a handle on it?  The same way I did seventeen years ago.  By claiming the Truth in the face of fear, moment by scary moment.  In regard to parenting, here are some common fears I’ve brainstormed.  (Feel free to add more in the comments below.)

Common Fears Trustworthy Truths
Physical Life-threatening sickness or injury will befall my child. “All the days ordained for (my child) were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”  Ps. 139:16
My child will fall into the hands of evil people (kidnapping, abuse…etc.) “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.  And even the very hairs of (my child’s) head are numbered.  So don’t be afraid; (your child) is worth more than many sparrows.”  Matthew 10:28-31
Something will be “wrong” with my child developmentally. “For You created (my child’s) inmost being; you knit (him/her) together in (my) womb.  I praise you because (my child) is fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”  Ps. 139:13-14
My child will experience unique suffering because of a disability. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore (my child can) boast all the more gladly about (his/her) weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on (him/her).  For Christ’s sake, (my child can) delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when (my child) is weak, then (my child) is strong.”  2 Cor. 12:9-10
Emotional/Social My child will be rejected by peers. “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?  Or am I trying to please men?  If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”  Gal. 1:10
My child will experience failure in school that damages his/her self-esteem. “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.”  Rom. 8:28My child’s identity must be rooted in Christ (Eph 1, 2 Pt. 2:9).
A trauma we’re going through in our family (such as divorce or chronic illness) will adversely affect my child’s emotional well-being. “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him…”  2 Tim. 1:12
Spiritual My child will reject God. “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”  Jn. 6:44“(The Lord) is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  2 Peter 3:9
Ungodly peers will influence my child. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  Pro. 22:6“…He who began a good work in (my child) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Phil. 1:6
I am an inadequate spiritual leader; I will “mess my child up.” “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph. 2:8-10
The sinful strongholds in my life will be passed on to my child. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  2 Cor. 5:17

Obviously, I don’t believe we should claim these verses then sit back and do nothing to prepare our kids for ungodly influences, or counsel them through family trials.  The Bible calls us to train our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4).  But ultimately, their lives–the days and experiences allotted for them–are in the hands of God (Acts 17:24-27).

Years ago, my mother spoke a Bible verse over my life.  “Him shall you fear, Him shall you dread, and He shall become your sanctuary” (Isaiah 8:13).  I didn’t understand it at the time, but it’s beautiful to me now.  The secret to freedom from fear is fear of God.  If you and I tremble at the power, dominion, and Lordship of God Almighty, we will tremble at nothing else.  We will remember that the Captain of the Storm is still in the boat.  And He will become our sanctuary.

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Give Thanks with a Broken Heart

A photo I snapped on our walk today.  Someone small who fills me with BIG gratitude!
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Today I was overcome by gratitude.  It came from the most surprising place.  Not from sunny toddler dispositions or sudden good news.  Instead it peeked its head out of broken-heartedness.  Have I mentioned that lately I’ve been a little brokenhearted?  I’ve been reading Psalm 23, wondering how God would refresh and restore my soul in this season.  I think I expected Him to refresh it with joy, and instead He refreshed it with sorrow.  He gave me a glimpse into the lives of two women relentlessly pursuing Jesus in the reality of their suffering.  One of them prayed over me in a parking lot.  The other touched me through a computer screen.

You will probably never meet the beautiful woman who loved me like Christ in a parking lot.  But you can meet Larissa, the one who touched me via technology.  I heard her story for the first time last year, but watched it again today when it ran through my Facebook feed.  This time I found her blog and cried as I stepped into her world–a world so different, and yet so similar, to mine.  Larissa is married to Ian, the love of her life who suffered a traumatic brain injury while they were dating.  I was moved by their video (posted below), but even more so by their blog.  While the video shares the big moment of their wedding, the blog shares all the hundreds of small moments to follow.  The small battles for contentment, faith, and gratitude in the wake of tremendous loss.  I’ve never been closely related to someone with significant disabilities, yet Larissa’s journey to see God in the reality of her life is so like my own.

As today wore on, I found myself overflowing with thankfulness.  I praised God for using believers to refresh the hearts of one another (Philemon 1:7).  I praised Him for messy lives that bring Him great glory.  For His never-ending love.  For the hot water in my shower and the pillow on my bed.  It’s like my eyes were opened, and everywhere I looked I saw thanksgiving.  A garment of praise instead of despair, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, a crown of beauty instead of ashes (Isaiah 61:3).  Isn’t God incredible?  Who else could pour sorrow over sorrow and turn it into joy?

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If Only Everyone Could Just Like Me

Alone in a Crowd

True confession #879: I long for the approval of people.  I mean long for it.  There was a season in my life when I felt the anxiety over people’s approval so acutely that I called my mom one night and told her, “Every night I go to bed and the last thing I think before falling asleep is that I hope I don’t wake up in the morning.”  As usual, my mom surprised me.  Rather than panicking (which I thought would’ve been entirely appropriate), she challenged me.  “I don’t believe you don’t want to live another day, Jeanne.  You just don’t want to live another day in this bondage.”  And just like that, I felt the first rays of hope.  Because I realized it was true.  I did want to live; I just didn’t want to live like this.  

Living in the idolatry of man’s approval is like living on a weathervane.  You swing here and there, back and forth, your emotions as unpredictable as the wind.  Then one day you realize that in all this time you’ve gotten nowhere.  You’ve just been spinning in circles.  Everybody loves me!  Everybody hates me.  I’m brilliant!  I’m foolish.  I’m wanted!  I’m rejected.  It’s always the same song, sung over and over in a thousand different scenarios.  And the star of the song is always the same.  Me.  

I used to view the idol of approval as “people-worship.”  I was worshipping other people’s thoughts and opinions.  But the truth is, I’m not just concerned with their thoughts and opinions…I’m concerned with their thoughts and opinions about me.  Which means the idol of approval isn’t really about people-worship but self-worship.  The person I’m bowing down to is me.  The person who consumes my thoughts is me.  The person holding me captive is me.

So maybe it’s time I started singing a different song.  Here’s one that’s been humming through my mind all morning–

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face!
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Do you believe it?  Do you believe that Jesus is so radiant, His grace so glorious that when we fix our eyes on Him, the things of earth–all those circumstances in which we’re so concerned with our own dignity–will grow strangely dim?  Do you believe HE can outshine you?  Outshine your problems?  Your reputation?  Your insecurity?

I do.  I do because I’ve experienced it.  Turning your eyes upon Jesus is like jumping off the weathervane and dancing in the rain.  It’s cleansing and liberating and refreshing.  Not only does Jesus Christ define my worth (2 Cor 5:17, John 1:12, Ps 139), He calls me to Himself (Gal 1: 10), reminding me that the story is so much bigger than whether or not so-and-so likes me.  The story is as BIG as His love, as AGONIZING as a bloody cross, as POWERFUL as an empty tomb and as URGENT as a coming King.  Surely that is reason for you and I to take our eyes off our bellybuttons, and together with the Psalmist David, declare, “My eyes are ever toward the Lord” (Ps 25:15).

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