Thirty Lessons to 30

351 days ago I turned 29 years old.  I spent my birthday at the wedding of two friends (congrats again, Gareth & Alison!) painfully aware of my singleness and confused, reflecting on that year and how differently it had turned out from what I had expected; feeling directionless and purposeless.

Determined to make the last year of my twenties count for something, in the weeks that followed I made a series of reckless, and later costly, decisions, in an attempt to inject some ‘excitement’ back into my life.  But, man, did I go about it in the wrong way…

Fast forward ‘til now, those stupid mistakes have taught me some incredible lessons and led to what I can only describe as the most difficult but most defining year of my life to date.  Here are the thirty lessons I’ve learnt as I approach 30yrs old…

  1. Focussing on God and not my weaknesses is the only way to overcome them. I wasted so much time trying to fight weakness in my own strength but it wasn’t until I shifted my eyes off of my sin and back onto Jesus that the chains of sin that had held me so tightly were broken.
  2. My worth is found in God and not in what society thinks, what others’ think, what the weighing scales read, my marital status or anything else. This lesson involved changing mind-sets that had been established in me throughout my life but how liberating to break free of those and, not just know, but finally believe what the Bible states about how much God loves and values me.
  3. There is freedom in being unapologetically who God made me to be. For years I have hidden or dampened aspects of my personality, my gifts or my vision for the future for fear of what others think.  But why should I worry about what others’ think when God Himself designed, created and purposed me this way?
  4. I am not defined by my family, my job, my strengths/weaknesses, by who others’ think I am, by my sin or my past. I am defined by Jesus, who gave His life so that I could live in freedom.  What an injustice if I do not fully embrace that freedom and live my life audaciously for Him!
  5. I cannot do anything in my own strength. In spring of this year I found myself completely drained, operating on ‘empty’ and merely serving God out of obligation or responsibility.  My passion had gone and I was entirely task-driven.  But when I humbled myself again and sought God (this was not instantaneous, but over a period of weeks), my service began to produce good fruit again, and, more than ever before, I was reminded that I must remain firmly rooted in God.
  6. It’s OK to forgive myself. I don’t know about you but I’m a terrible one for self-criticism.  But further to that, this year I found myself caught in a cycle of condemnation, and that was a terrible place to be.  I was reminded (though it took several repetitions to finally accept it!) that if God forgives us, what right do we have to withhold it – for ourselves or for someone else?  So repent, receive forgiveness and move on.
  7. God loves and values me more than I could possibly imagine. I have spent my life trying to ‘earn’ God’s love, or should I say, more of His love.  I think I was under the impression that we all start with a basic level of ‘love’ but our service and aspirations for Him would somehow earn us bonus points.  Wrong!  There’s nothing I can do to earn more of His love.  He simply loves each of us fully and completely.
  8. God really does want the best for me and has the most incredible adventure for me to uniquely participate in. I’m such a control freak that I’ve been interfering and lending God ‘a helping hand’ my whole life.  Fortunately, God knew this about me when He created me so it certainly doesn’t come as a surprise to Him and He’s very gracious and patient with me.  However, God is a sovereign God so why did I ever feel that I needed to control or orchestrate my life’s events in some way?  God’s plan is far better than mine anyway.
  9. Vulnerability is part of a woman’s beauty – there is no shame in it! This was a hard lesson but one that has reaped incredible rewards in recent months.  I think it’s particularly difficult for a singleton who has been fiercely independent since her teenage years.  However, having the confidence and security to be vulnerable with friends and family is not only profitable for me, but also for those I share with.  And that’s a joy to witness.
  10. A truly beautiful woman is vulnerable, free to be who God made her to be, full of joy, at rest, and trusts God wholeheartedly. Society teaches us that beauty is entirely dependent on our external appearance.  I think this is so ingrained in us that we can barely recognise it in daily life.  But God’s definition of beauty is radically different.  And when a woman embraces her God-given beauty, it is evident to everyone around her.
  11. I’ve learnt to love myself. Woah!  Really?!  Well, I’m getting there… I’m not only learning to love my flawed body, but embrace my whole being.  After all, I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
  12. Be obedient. Even when I was frustrated, confused and fed-up, I realised that the assurance of being obedient to God strengthened me and brought many blessings.
  13. Life happens. But it is how we respond to life that sets us apart.
  14. ‘Stuff’ is not important. Don’t place such a high significance on possessions, instead value health, love, freedom, relationships.  God will always provide for our needs.
  15. Live in the now. I have a tendency to get distracted by “what ifs” in the future.  But I’m learning to not miss out on today’s adventure because I’m too busy dreaming about tomorrow’s.
  16. I’ve learnt to be (somewhat) grateful for my singleness. While it can be difficult, and sometimes painful, for a singleton to be reminded that “singleness is a gift” by all the well-meaning marrieds out there, I am grateful for the space and grace it has given me this year to work through many of my insecurities and become who I am today.
  17. Life is for living. This seems almost too simple, right?  Like, duh.  But I’ve heard all too often, “when I get promoted, I’m going to…” or, “if I’m not married by then, I’ll do…”  You know what?  Life is now.  Regardless of the season we are in, we need to make the most of it.  I’ve embraced this year by going on five holidays and visiting three new countries.
  18. Don’t forfeit your Promised Land. It’s very easy to settle when the road to your Promised Land (whatever that may be) is long, hard and seemingly never-ending.  But the waiting, the lessons learnt, the character refinement is so very valuable and the Promised Land is always worth the wait.  God has the very best for every one of us if we follow His schedule and not our own.
  19. Trust the Process. Don’t always wait for hindsight to kick-in before seeking to understand the difficulties and learn the lessons.  Sometimes it strengthens us in those tough times to catch a glimpse of God’s purpose in it all.
  20. Don’t dismiss crazy dreams. If your dreams are do-able, you’ll manage on your own.  But if they are crazy, impossible, out of this world dreams, then that’s an adventure you can only embark on with God!  I’ve had some crazy dreams in the past (erm, New York City?!) and what an adventure that turned out to be!  Now, NYC seems like child’s play compared to my crazy dreams of today!!
  21. My relationship with God is unique to me. There is no one-sizes-fits-all method for developing a relationship with God.  It’s taken me years to explore what works best for me.  I connect best with God through journaling, music, nature and simple contemplation.  We each need to find what works for us then be intentional about creating that environment regularly.
  22. Preparation time is a gift. Waiting time is not wasted time.  At least it shouldn’t be.  I know God has been at work during times of waiting in my life, but this year I have learnt to be more intentional in my efforts to maximise times of preparation.
  23. God is consistent when I am not. God is faithful, gracious, loving, merciful, providing for me and working behind the scenes even when I wander from Him.
  24. Closed doors are blessings too. Oh how I know this to be true!  Closed doors can be painful at the time, especially if they come one after another, but God has the most incredible plan for my life… I don’t want to settle for anything less!
  25. Rest is not just available on holiday. Yes, OK, so I’ve had a lot of holidays this year and they have been incredibly restful.  But the rest I’m talking about here is not physical rest, though this is important.  I mean spiritual rest.  In the first half of this year I was heavily dependent on my holidays for spiritual rest too, but have since learnt to find rest on a daily basis.  By quietening distractions around me, I have begun to cultivate a beautiful, restful soul from which flows joy, passion, worship, and anticipation for all that God seeks to do in me and through me that day.
  26. What is for me won’t pass me by. This has been a grounding statement for me this year.  As I take a more ‘hands-off’ approach and allow God to fully take the reins, I trust that He sees my heart and knows that, even if I do get in the way of His perfect plan, He forgives me and still leads me to the very best that He has planned for me.
  27. Life with God is liberating and exciting, not a chore. Again, this truth was soon realised once I relinquished control and sought rest.  When we focus on our relationship with God, everything else falls into place.
  28. Nothing I can do can disqualify me from God’s purposes in my life. When we continue to have a willing, repentant heart, God will redirect our steps to keep us within His purposes.  Phew!  I spent many wasted months thinking I had ruined my chances of ever being useful to God again, but He overwhelmed me with His love and acceptance and gently restored me and planted a new vision in my heart.
  29. Don’t disregard promises of God just because they’ve not been fulfilled yet. Over the last few months I’ve been reminded of many promises that God has whispered into my heart, some dating back to my teenage years.  In the time that has passed, I had disregarded them, concluding that I’d misunderstood what God had said, but it would seem that that was not the case.  The older I get, the more I am able to piece together all that God has revealed to me over the years and begin to see the incredible, unique role He has for me to fulfil within His purposes.  What a privilege!
  30. If the voices in your head don’t align with what the Bible says, reject them as lies. I sometimes find it very difficult to distinguish between the voices in my head – a mish-mash of thoughts, feelings, well-meaning plans, God’s voice, and Satan’s lies.  But learning to discern between them is the key to our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.  Identifying and rejecting Satan’s lies was the turning point for me this year.

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