Tomorrow is my 47th birthday. I’m wondering what I’ve learned along the way as I’ve walked on this earth for almost five decades.
- I take myself far too seriously. I’ve done this since I was kid and perfected it as a fine art during my teens and 20-something years. So in the last decade I’ve tried to have more fun, be silly, let myself make mistakes and even — GASP — fail. Mom and Dad, a lot of my teachers and several friends over the course of my life were right: the world did not come to an end just because I yukked it up or failed at something. So these days I try to have more fun and surround myself with people who remind me of the importance of being silly on occasion.
- Reading is the best skill I ever learned. I will never be able to thank my mother enough for reading to me and encouraging me to read after I learned how to do it on my own. Recent studies have shown that people who read novels have more empathy for actual people. It seems those skills one acquires for rooting for the protagonist to overcome every trial and win the day translate into supporting real people and trying to understand them in real life. Not to mention my favorite reason for reading: I can go anywhere and be anyone. As a kid I hung out with Laura Ingalls Wilder in Dakota Territory and helped Nancy Drew solve mysteries. And I wasn’t limited to earth. I also flew across the galaxy with Meg in A Wrinkle in Time and defeated a Nazgul with Eowyn. When I opened a book there were no limits. That’s still true. Last year I discovered Victorian London with Thomas De Quincy and his daughter Emily in David Morrell’s trilogyof the two, and I just got done exploring all sorts of whacky metaphysics and what happens when time machines and gods go wrong in Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul. I’m so convinced that reading is the single most important skill anyone can have that I volunteer at Literacy Chicago to help other people learn this priceless skill. That brings me to the next thing I’ve learned.
- I need something bigger than myself and the little bubble I live in to remind me of how big the world (and universe) are and to do something to make the world (the whole world — not just my little bubble of it) a better place. I’ve always been very active in whatever church I’m a member of. I’ve always gravitated to churches who work on the ground the make their worlds better places to live in than the ones who are just hanging on till Jesus comes back. As I mentioned above I also volunteer with Literacy Chicago and RefugeeOne. RefugeeOne is a great nonprofit in Chicago that helps refugee families get settled in the city. I’m also looking into affordable housing in my neighborhood. Homelessness is a huge problem in Chicago, but there is little affordable housing in my neighborhood to help my homeless neighbors transition from shelters to homes they can afford. I’d like to find an organization in my neighborhood that is working to correct this problem and help them.
- Marry your best friend. This is the only reason I married at all because I sucked at dating. I was just fine hanging out with friends and had no problem making conversation and relating, but put me on date, and I was the most tongue-tied person you’d ever met and everything I knew fell out of my ears. Fortunately I fell in love with the man who had been my best friend for eight years, and he fell in love with me. Our friendship also gave us a very solid foundation for our marriage (Eleven years in May! Whoo-hoo!). You don’t have to marry your best friend, but I strongly recommend you be more concerned with making friendship the foundation of your marriage instead of romance. Friendship overlooks a lot of sins and pecadillos romance won’t.
- Don’t be scared to ask for help. Part of taking myself far too seriously was thinking I had to do everything and figure out everything on my own. No wonder I was exhausted and sick for most of my 20s. When I got over myself enough to ask for help when I needed it, I discovered what great friends I really had. They’d always been there waiting, more than willing to give me a helping hand, a listening ear and some great advice, but they needed to know that I needed them. No one can make it through this life on their own. We all need help. Don’t be scared to ask for some when you need it.
- A good psychiatrist might be hard to find, but once your find one never let them go. I have clinical depression. In the past 10 years I’ve discovered that I need a good psychiatrist to help me navigate the valleys depression throws me into. Last year when I was going through another bout of depression over major life changes I was going to have to make, my psychiatrist helped me see and think through the different ways my brain, habits and past were trying to sabotage me. I found new ways to cope and new ways to think and handle the anxiety and depression, so I could actually function. I also put some areas of my past to bed, so that I could live in the here and now and base my decisions for the future in reality instead of the warped view the depression gave me.
- Be grateful. We live in a cynical society with a news machine that wants to convince us of how horrific everything is. But as a Christian, I am called to be a person of hope. I believe in a God that not only creates, but re-creates. A God that not only gives life, but resurrects life. Hope is the antidote to a cynical society that tries to convince us that nothing will ever change, so why bother? The best way I’ve found to cultivate hope in my own life is to be grateful for the good things I have: my health (most days), an incredible husband, a loving church, great friends and a beautiful home to name a few. There are enough cynical voices in our culture trying to bring us down. Don’t let them. Be grateful. Cultivate hope then share it with those around you.
Those are seven of I’m sure the dozens of things I’ve learned in 47 years on this earth. Right now they are the most important things I’ve learned. What are yours? What are two or three of the most important things you’ve learned so far?