I was 9.6 years old on New Year’s Day, 1970. The only dates I had ever experienced before that day ended in 1960-something. Saying or writing 1970 seemed very strange. I remember fast-forwarding to the year 2000 in my mind, and calculating how old I would be at that time. I would be 40! Wow! That seemed ancient to a 9.6 year-old.
And, now, the year is 2016, I’m coming up on my 56th birthday, and I’m trying to find a way to justify how 56 is really just the back-end of “middle age.” My body is not doing much to help convince my mind of this, however. My hair is gray and thinning, my eyesight is struggling, and my joints ache. I can eat nothing but grass for a month and lose two pounds, but I will gain five pounds simply from looking at a miniature Milky Way bar. My grown children have to assist me in figuring out how to work my stupid “smart” phone, and my husband is constantly (and only half teasing) about putting a bell around my neck so he can find me when I get lost trying to find my way home. Aging is definitely not for cowards and sometimes it scares me to think of what it will be like if I should make it to 75 or 80.
The good news is, with age comes wisdom, and I’ve learned enough in my almost 56 years to know that wisdom offers more benefits than a youthful body. Here are a few things I’ve learned in life that I wish I’d known when I was younger:
LET GO, AND LET GOD. Life is a twisting, winding road, filled with hills and valleys. Things happen which are simply beyond our control. Until we learn to accept that, we will struggle to find peace. The times in my life when I felt the most anxiety are the times when I felt the need to control everything myself. It wasn’t until I truly surrendered to God, praying for His will to be done in all things, that I was able to find peace of mind, regardless of my life’s situation on any given day.
WORRY IS A WASTE OF TIME AND ENERGY. It occupies so much space that it leaves room for nothing good in one’s heart or mind. My job, in dealing with troublesome situations, is to pray for wisdom and discernment, give my best effort in doing whatever is within my power to correct it, and trust God to do the rest. There are, obviously, times when there is a need for genuine concern, but living life in a state of worry is counter-productive.
LIFE IS A JOURNEY, NOT A DESTINATION. There is no timeline for having everything all figured out with regard to where we will go and what we will do in life. Your “first love” in high school may not be the right person for you to marry. The career you thought you wanted when you graduated from college might not be the career you want or have 20 years later. You will change your mind about some things as you grow older, you will make a few mistakes along the way, and life will hand you some surprises, both good and not so good. Don’t be afraid to try new things, don’t be afraid to make a decision, and don’t be afraid of change. Enjoy the experience of each and every journey.
LOVE IS AN ACTION, NOT A FEELING. You meet someone who makes your heart do flips. You want to spend every minute of each day with him/her, and he/she is all you think about when you are apart. You’ve found your “true love” and you cannot wait to get married and start your “happily ever after.” Those feelings of infatuation make for a great start of a true love story, but if a couple is to go the distance, they must realize that true love is not a feeling; it’s an action. True love is when you make a conscience decision to consider your spouse’s needs and wants above your own. He/she comes second in your life only to God. You treat him/her with respect and kindness. You are loyal and faithful to one another. You work together to build a family unit that is filled with the tools to weather any storm in life. You build each other up with encouragement and support. You hold tight to one another in bad times, and rejoice with one another in good times. There will be some days when you feel madly and passionately in love, and other days when your love feels lukewarm, or maybe even cold. Choose to show your mate love, even on the days when you don’t feel it, because the grass is not greener on the other side, and when you persevere through the hard times, the “ebbs” will eventually “flow” again. When it does, the result is a real loving relationship that is much deeper, much sweeter, and much more dependable than anything infatuation can offer.
BIGGER ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER, AND MORE IS SOMETIMES TOO MUCH. Living in a larger home means spending more time cleaning and maintaining it. Owning more vehicles and other grownup “toys” means more time spent dealing with taxes and licenses and repairs. Wearing a lot of expensive jewelry means worrying about it being lost or stolen. What good is a super-expensive sofa if your family is afraid to sit on it for fear of spilling something? If you over-extend your budget in order to have any of these things, you’ve added the worries that come from trying to find ways to pay for it all. Don’t allow the desire for material possessions to possess the majority of your time. Let enough be enough.
EVERY DAY IS A SPECIAL OCCASION. There is something to celebrate in every day, and the best people to celebrate with are the members of your immediate family. So cut a few flowers from your yard to adorn your kitchen table for a weeknight dinner. Use the good china more often. Sit down at the table as a family and make that meal a special occasion. The best conversations are held around a dinner table.
BE MINDFUL OF THE KIND OF ENERGY YOU ALLOW INTO YOUR SPACE. Someone once said that “energy is contagious, whether positive or negative.” It’s true. When we think of negative energy, we usually think of someone who tends to be pessimistic, but that is just one kind of negativity that can rob you of your joy. If someone thinks arguing is a sport to be enjoyed on a regular basis, that person is putting out negative energy. An individual may consider him or herself to be a positive person, but if he/she is controlling, condescending, arrogant, and/or a know-it-all, that person is putting out negative energy. Life is too short to spend it being around those who fill your space with negative energy.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE ALONE. Being alone and being lonely are two different things. Learn to enjoy time spent with yourself. It gives you a chance to clear your mind, clean out the cobwebs, to think for yourself, and to reflect on life. I love traveling with my husband and family, or with close friends, but I also love traveling solo every now and then. There is no specific agenda or time-frame which I have to follow. I can stop and look at the world’s largest ball of twine if I want. I eat whatever sounds good to me, whenever I feel hungry. Best of all, I have time and space to think, to write, to just be. Spending time alone is a wonderful way to recharge, giving you the energy necessary for whatever is next on your agenda.
YOU’RE NEVER TOO OLD TO PLAY. Go walking in the rain and jump in the puddles. Build a snowman when it snows. Teach your kids and grand kids the games you played and songs you sang when you were young. Play in the ocean. Sing in the shower. Create something. Build something, just for fun. Playing helps you stay young.
THE BEST MEMORIES ARE UNPLANNED. You spend hours planning the perfect trip. You dole out tons of money to take your kids to expensive theme parks or special events. You leave no stone unturned in attempts to make certain your family’s summer vacation is packed full of wonderful experiences. Years later, the memory they cherish most is that night when burning a few leaves turned into an unplanned, spur-of-the-moment neighborhood bonfire, with dinner being whatever each neighbor grabbed from their fridge or pantry on their way over. Don’t worry so much about the details. Enjoy the unplanned, unexpected moments.
MAKE UP YOUR MIND TO MAKE THE BEST OF EVERY SITUATION. We all have to spend some time doing things which we do not necessarily enjoy. There is no way around it. There is, however, a way to make those tasks more enjoyable, and that is by committing to doing them to the best of our abilities. If you find yourself dreading housecleaning day, be grateful that you have a house to clean, turn up the music, and give it your all. If you are required to be at a specific business event on your day off, volunteer to help with any work that will keep you busy. It will make the time go faster, and you might score some extra points with your boss! If you find yourself spending a lot of time caring for an aging parent, don’t waste time worrying about all of the other things you should be doing while you’re with them. Be honored that you get the opportunity to help your parents when possible. Sit and talk with them, and really listen to what they have to say. I promise you, the day is going to come when you wish you could have that time with them back again.
THE BEST GIFTS ARE UNEXPECTED ONES. It’s fine to give your loved one flowers on Valentine’s Day, but it’s more special when you give them flowers on a Tuesday in June, for no particular reason. Cheaper, too! A handwritten note will be cherished much more than a signed card. An inexpensive gift given to someone for no special reason will be remembered long after the more expensive Christmas or birthday gift is forgotten. There have been a couple times when I’ve given my children gifts – on my birthday. I still remember the looks on their faces.
ACTS OF KINDNESS BENEFIT YOU MORE THAN YOU KNOW. There is nothing quite like the feeling of doing something for someone you don’t know, expecting nothing in return. Once you get past that “greed monster” inside of you, that whispers, “But I need this money to buy a sweater, or a purse, or new tools,” and go ahead and give it to someone who is struggling a bit in his or her life, the feeling of elation that comes from knowing you’ve made someone’s day a little brighter is much more gratifying than that new sweater, or purse, or tools. I once found myself praying over my desire to be of help to someone in some way, but funds were tight. The next day, a young woman literally tapped me on the shoulder while I was shopping at the grocery store. She was carrying a hand basket with a pack of bologna and a loaf of bread. She asked if I could spare a couple of dollars so she could buy the items. I did not have my purse on me, only a debit card in my pocket. I asked her a few questions and learned that she had traveled to our town with her boyfriend to visit his dying grandfather. I don’t know if she was telling me the truth, or not. All I know is that I saw a young, hungry, frightened girl. Maybe her parents didn’t even know where she was but, if that was the case, I’m sure her mom and dad would have wanted someone to help her get some food. I told her to pick out whatever groceries she needed while I finished my shopping, and that I’d meet her by the checkout counters in a few minutes. I was a bit worried because, as I mentioned earlier, my funds were tight, and I didn’t know if I’d have enough money to cover it. I decided to pay for her items first, so I could put some of my own items back if needed. When I met up with her a few minutes later, she had added a pack of cheese, a bag of pretzels, some strawberries, and a tube of toothpaste. That was it. I was worried that it might be $100 worth of groceries, but it only came to about $25. I paid for her items and got $20 in cash, which I gave to her. I told her not to spend it on booze, weed, or cigarettes. She cried and hugged me. God works in mysterious ways.