“I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22.”
The iconic Taylor Swift song was released when I was 16. From that time on, I spent every year looking forward to the day I turned 22, just so I can finally claim the song. *not even kidding*
Since I spent so much time looking forward to 22, I failed to actually think about what it would be like to turn 23. And because the days surrounding my birthday were terribly busy, it took me a while before I got to sit down and process the past year with God, and what this new year would mean for me moving forward.
For some, 23 isn’t that big a deal. Others who are ahead in years even consider it young. But for me, it is here and now. It is my present. It is a present.
With that, I want to share precious things my 23rd year has taught me. Hold on to your horses, because this post is going to be a long one:
1. Don’t under-celebrate.
You got to book an Uber quicker than expected? Praise God. You got to be part of the dean’s list? Have a nice dinner. You got engaged? Bring out the balloons!
The book of Leviticus is full of commands, but did you know that one of the commands there included a 7-day celebration? Deuteronomy even tells us that the newly-married get to have a year-long honeymoon!
We’re too good at feeling bad about we’ve done wrong. We have to start feeling good about what God has done right. Celebrate.
2. Speak words that bring life, as much as you can.
For someone who likes words so much, I used to be very bad at encouraging people. It’s simply because I don’t want to say things I don’t mean for the sake of “encouragement.” I still don’t.
However, I have learned to be more generous with my praises. If I like what you’re wearing, I will go out of my way to tell you so. If I think you did something excellently, I will openly express it. If I appreciate your mere presence in my life, I will make sure you know it.
I have a mentor who tells me she loves me after every phone call and every encounter, because she never wants me to think otherwise. She makes sure to reassure me of this love every time we get to meet. Her husband, who is someone I work with, does the same thing. Because he has so many international trips, he expresses his appreciation for the team before every departure. He jokingly says we should remember them as his final words to us should anything happen.
And while God forbid something does, we never really know when we get to say our last words, so make sure every single one is spoken in truth and love.
3. Rest with God, in God.
Funnily enough, I learned to rest because the people I work with reinforce it so much. They want to make sure that we keep a healthy work-life balance and that we get to have our Sabbaths.
It’s still a work in progress, but I have learned to be deliberate about setting apart time for God. “Seclusion”, as our department head likes to call it. I have also learned to be unapologetic about taking my rest, even if it means having to turn down certain plans; even if it means waking up earlier than I want to.
I can’t re-iterate this enough: protect your time with God. And I’m not just talking about taking 20 minutes off your day to quickly pray and read your Bible. I mean the sitting-at-His-feet, unrushed kind. Don’t be so busy doing things for the kingdom that you neglect to have time with the King.
4. Set healthy boundaries.
I used to say yes to every volunteer opportunity and every hang out. I couldn’t find it in me to say no, because I would end up feeling really guilty and selfish. It was also difficult for me to express how uncomfortable I was when someone violated my personal or emotional space because it may have been just me being fussy. Even when I knew I was already being taken advantage of, I couldn’t find it in me to turn a person away when I have already seen their need. All of this made me feel so worn out that I avoided meeting certain people for several months.
When I thought about it, I came from the misplaced belief that I had to bend over backwards to accommodate people. I realized that when Paul said to be all things to all men, he didn’t mean be everything and do everything all at the same time. I learned that it is more loving of me to say no to a manipulative person, because this would make them stop their cycle, if at least with me. The more I allow myself to be pushed over, the more I enable them.
And so I came to this conclusion: selfish boundaries are sinful and no boundaries have no wisdom. We want to keep growing in righteousness and wisdom.
5. If you don’t take captive of your thoughts, your thoughts will take captive of you.
Our generation has romanticized the idea of dwelling in our pain and misery. “I’m just an overthinker”, we like to say.
But God has given us the power, through the Holy Spirit, to have a sound mind. We choose what we think about. When the lies come, we can choose to turn them away. 2 Corinthians 10:5 and Philippians 4:8, always.
6. Be deliberate.
The words I speak. What I read. What I buy. What I listen to. What I spend time on. The way I live my life.
7. Keep your friends close.
With everyone in different seasons and places, it has gotten harder and harder to gather together. I know this firsthand, all too well.
In light of friendship though, this shouldn’t matter. Schedule and re-schedule until you can see each other, no matter how many times you have to. And when you finally agree on something, make sure you see the plan through. God-centered relationships are hard to come by. Protect yours.
8. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you made 5 years ago.
God has already forgiven you. You should forgive yourself too. His grace is enough to restore and redeem.
9. Life is full of wonder.
Every second. Every day. Everywhere. Keep your heart receptive and your eyes open. God’s beauty, revealed through creation, doesn’t run out. He is in the details.
10. Trust the character of God.
Last February 15, a good friend my age died of lupus complications. I was preparing to leave for her wake when I received a call from my dad, informing me that my siblings got into a car accident.
It was the “cherry on top” to a month full of twists and turns. More than ever, I felt how I was not in control of anything. I didn’t understand a single thing that was going on in and around my life at the time.
If this was the me before, I would have gone off the rails. I used to panic over every little thing that I was unable to control, moreso if the stakes were high. However, this time around, one thing echoed in my heart, undeterred: I can let go because the Lord is kind and faithful, always and no matter what.
Do I understand? No.
Do I need to understand? No.
I just have to believe that God is trustworthy – completely.
11. Communicate with your family
This is something my family has been deliberate about, even if it felt awkward and forced at first. It’s something we’re continually growing in as well.
If your family already has a culture of non-communication, be purposeful about changing it. Ask about their day; know what they’re going through; listen. If your family already has a culture of judgement and condemnation, be the one who confronts with life and love; say the hard things; be the safe place.
We have to break the toxicity and complacency looming around families today. Don’t just fight for keeping your friendships close, fight to keep your family close as well.
12. Pray for and about anything and everything.
Nothing too big. Nothing too small. Express it all to God. Just don’t expect all His answers to be yes. 🙂
13. Live beyond yourself
Volunteer. Donate. Go out of your way. It may mean waking up earlier, it may mean having to travel long distances. Nonetheless, be willing to sacrifice your comfort for the privilege of taking part in the bigger picture. God has called you to make an impact and touch the lives of people, whatever that means for you and wherever that calls you.
While we may not be able to do everything (refer to number 5), we also shouldn’t just do nothing. Remember: compassion isn’t just an emotion. Compassion is action. Many people have the heart to help others, few actually do.
14. Be present.
Put down your phone. Look into the eyes of the person you’re talking to. Take a social-media sabbatical. Slow down. Read a good book. Live where you are.
Life is fleeting and you can’t get back all the time you wasted on Instagram. You could have spent all that time learning a new skill. While we’re at it, remember that the characters and stories you’re so invested in on Netflix are not real; the people around you are, and they have their own stories to tell if you will let them.
15. People change.
Allow yourself to change as well.
You may have owned the title “girl next door” and now you want to experiment with make-up and clothes. That’s completely fine. Don’t panic about how much you’re changing. Your identity is not attached to a personality or a label. Your identity is anchored on you being a child of God.
We are all being refined and sanctified, day in and day out. We are all in the process of becoming who God meant for us to be.
16. Have a God-given goal. Chase after it.
We have too many people waiting for their promised lands to come to them. God will lead you, provide for you, and walk with you, but you actually have to be the one to step into your promised land.
17. Mark God’s faithfulness.
Keep a journal for all the things you’re grateful for. Write down His testimonies. Recount His wondrous deeds. Set altar places and remember altar moments in your life.
18. Step out of your comfort zone.
If your comfort zone is hopping from one nation to another and talking to strangers, you may have to slow down and plant your roots somewhere. If you’re someone who would rather stay home, go to new places and meet new people.
19. Steward your memories.
I personally like going back to certain moments in time and reliving what I have experienced in the past. I either romanticize certain events so much that my heart ends up staying there or I analyze past mistakes so much that I end up stuck. Both are not good.
I continuously remind myself that memories are subjective and they will only have as much power as I give them. My past isn’t meant to define me, but I can let it refine me. I have learned to prioritize the good memories over the bad. I do my best not to dwell on “what ifs” and “should haves.” My hope is in the fact that with God, the best is always yet to come.
20. Go to the Doctor.
I know so many people who don’t want to visit the doctor because they don’t want to know what’s going on with them, even if symptoms are already showing. This is very dangerous, not just in the physical, but in the mental, spiritual, and emotional as well.
We cannot get well if we don’t know what needs to be treated. We have to let the Doctor diagnose us and we have to allow Him to heal us.
Most of the time, the process of recovery is more painful than the injury itself. There is constant, throbbing pain. We may have to go through rehabilitation. Operations may have to take place. We have to be willing to endure if we want to be made well.
In stocks, insurance, churches, nations, people.
22. Bring people along on your journey.
It is only very recently that I learned to tell people what I was going through while I was going through it. Usually, I just tell people the story after the event has taken place; once the pruning was done and over, once I got the happy ending to the chapter.
A friend I was accountable to said that she noticed this trait in pastor’s kids, probably because we can’t show the congregation how we had problems lest our parents be judged for their “inability” to “keep their family together.”
Personally, I think it also comes from the fact that in every social circle I have had growing up, my every move was scrutinized, judged, and gossiped about. That caused some serious trust issues and trauma, not gonna lie.
That’s why I am so grateful that God has brought me to this point. Me asking for prayers about something I’m currently going through is a very, very big deal. I find it scary, but I’m also excited to see where God will take this newfound vulnerability.
In the Hebrew language, there are two ways to say “Here I am” – Ani Poh and Hineni. And Poh is what you say to say “I’m here, I’m present”, not so different from number 15. Hineni, on the other hand, carries a much deeper meaning.
When you say Hineni to someone, what you truly say is “Here I am, ready to be given completely to whatever you want of me. Here I am, available and willing to drop whatever I am doing if there’s something else you would want me to do. Here I am, saying yes to what you ask before you even ask me.”
The greatest thing I have learned to say is this: Lord, Hineni. Before You ask, as You ask, after You ask – my answer does not change. Yes, completely. Absolutely. Irrevocably. Unconditionally. Hineni.
The greatest thing I have learned to do is to love Him with my yes and my obedience. Not because I’m such a good Christian, but because He is gracious enough to keep me in line and to not let me go.
See, all of this changing, learning, and growing isn’t so that the world will have a revelation of who I am. The end goal of all of this is that the world will have a revelation of who God is.
He is so, so good.