"He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity in man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end."
(Ecclesiastes 3:11, ESV)
(Ecclesiastes 3:11, ESV)
I learned to take care of myself. One of the first things I discovered when I moved out of my parents’ house shortly after my brother died is that I didn't know how to take care of myself. I didn't realize that I needed to buy food until I opened up the cabinets and there was no food. When I was sick, my first instinct was to simply stay in bed and wait for someone to come take care of me. Consequently, I was not very good at taking care of others’ as well. Being aware and responsible for my own physical needs and being responsible about eating well, exercising, and getting sleep (haha) was a steep learning curve for me and in many ways I still miss my mother whenever I’m sick. But learning to take care of and support myself supplied me with a self-confidence I wouldn’t otherwise have. I mean, at least I know I can survive on my own!
I learned to mourn. While we are on the topic of steep learning curves, this one might have been the steepest. Mourning is never simple or easy. After my brother died, I discovered that I had a lot more to grieve than his death. His death was by far the greatest loss and the instigator for every other consequential loss, but a lot died when he died and it was difficult for me to know how to mourn it all. There was the loss of my family as I knew it. We were something different now, something broken and eventually something new and whole with time and healing. There was the loss of home as I knew it. Home wasn’t the same without Ben and I had to redefine my world, where home was for me. I had to mourn the death of an era, the death of my innocence, and come to grips with this broken, weak, and grieving version of myself. I had to confront all these things and mourn them before I could move beyond them.
I learned to love others. Grief brings out the worst in you. It holds a magnifying glass up to every single one of your flaws and sins and when you’re living in close-quarters with loved ones who are similarly grieving, well, you can just imagine the kind of intense sanctification that ensues. After my brother died, I learned that I really didn’t know how to love others. I never loved my brother as much as I should have and while I was blessed with a sweet friendship with him, there are still many things I regret about our relationship, words I regret saying, words I regret never saying, and love I never demonstrated. I hope I have grown a little since then. I know I still have much to learn.
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven."
(Ecclesiastes 3:1, ESV)
Everything comes in its season. Life is inherently transient. We never stay in one place. Families change and grow. People move. Loved ones die. We move, we grow, we change, and we age. I used to think that the best thing I could do with a good thing is hold onto it for dear life, but when we think about our lives as a series of transitions, it actually opens us up to be more thankful, grateful, and present in the moment. It helps us place everything—our loved ones, jobs, pursuits, relationships—in God’s hands, hold onto this short life loosely, anticipate eternity every single day, and accept whatever season God places us in. One thing I deeply appreciate about my family is that we are not adverse to change; rather we take every transition in its stride or at least do our best to. I believe this ready acceptance has helped us stay so close together even as we all grow up, spread our wings, and move on to different phases of our lives.
I learned to budget. Supporting myself on my own income and learning how to budget my time and resources has been instrumental in my growth as an adult. I spent the last couple of years getting out of debt and this year is the first year I have actually started enjoying budgeting. It’s exciting, sometimes stressful, and I'm not always the best at spending my money responsibly or intentionally, but ultimately I have fun managing my accounts and saving for the future. I hope to write a little more about budgeting on this blog in the future, but for now all I want to say is that having to support myself on my own income has opened up my eyes to God’s provision in my life. Specifically, giving and tithing to the church each month has been a testimony of his goodness. Because even during all those months I was struggling to get out of debt and practically flat-broke by the end of each month, I still had money to give to the church, I still had more than enough!
I learned to set boundaries. One thing I learned from my first year-and-a-half of school, after I dropped out of school, was that I had no idea how to set boundaries in my life for my time, energy, and personal resources. Those boundaries had always been predetermined by someone else. But over the last couple of years I have learned to simply say “no” when I don’t have the time or energy to do something or, better still, when I simply don’t want to do something! It’s good to have a willing spirit, but it’s better to be able to follow through on all your willingness and that’s kind of impossible if you overextend yourself by saying “yes” to everything. This is still something I struggle with, but with each passing week I “take the reins” of my own time and energy more and more and it’s an awfully liberating sensation.
I learned to know my own limits. It’s not easy to admit to your own limits, especially in our culture’s day and age where we’re told “we can do anything!” and you have no excuse for not doing everything. But it’s actually vital to our success and well-being to know our own limits and maintain them. So I don’t have as much energy as so-and-so? So I don’t have as much natural talent as someone else? So I'm not as intelligent as some? So I don’t have that specific gift or opportunity? That’s all right. I have limits. My body has limits. My mind has limits. My opportunities are limited. Knowing and accepting those limitations is the first step to expanding them, finding direction, and finding your place.
I learned how to establish myself as an individual in a greater community. Moving to a new city completely turned over my previously established community. I had to learn how to start from scratch, so to speak, make new friends and connections, and get involved in a new church family. That’s not to say I completely abandoned my old friends and family. They just took a different place in my life, a more revered place, almost. What’s that saying? “Make new friends but keep the old...” Reaching out to my church family and the broader community of a new city gave me a lot of confidence as an individual, confidence that no matter where I find myself in the future, I know how and where to find a community and I’m not afraid or inept at reaching out, making new friends, and rooting myself in a community of people.
What are some lessons you have learned over the last year through your circumstances? What has God been laying on your heart recently?