Life Lessons & Birthday Wisdom

Life Lessons & Birthday Wisdom

Posted on April 02, 2019


One of my older sisters has this practice of asking for “Birthday Wisdom” each year on your birthday. It’s basically an invitation to look back on the past year and share things you’ve learned. As she always does, my sister asked me this recently when I turned 36.

My "Birthday Wisdom" Sister, Beth

After looking over this past year, I see four main takeaways:

1. Trying to change or run from your true self doesn’t work.

I experienced a good deal of burnout and hurt in 2017. There were parts of the year that were very painful. I was unbelievably tired and hurt. Basically, I came to the end of myself in a lot of ways.

This is not always a bad thing. But I attempted to cope--and prevent myself from experiencing more pain--by trying to change parts of me that couldn’t really be changed. I tried to play it “small.” I just wanted to mind my own business, be a stay-at-home mom, take care of my family, and call it a day. I tried to undo the things that I had previously learned about myself. Namely, that I am a leader, a writer, a co-creator.

So I dialed it way down and focused on the care of my family. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with that. Caring for small children is my main priority right now. But trying to cut out those other parts of me? Futility at its finest.

I became miserable. For those of you who are familiar with the Enneagram, I am a Social 8. I care about justice. I care about people. I care about finding healing in my own life and creating opportunities for others to experience that too. I care about communities and creating safe spaces for people to be themselves. I care about truth--both naming it and letting it set us free. I care about change. About seeing the hurt and pain in this world and engaging with it to find redemption.

You can see how my new plan for coping was not my best strategy. The result? I became bored out of my mind. I became stir-crazy and restless. I tried to become someone I was not. It didn’t work. Not even close.

So my “birthday wisdom” about this? Find out who you are and stick to being that person. Don’t bother trying to change the fabric of who you are with the hope of preventing painful situations from happening again. It will just make things worse.

2. Remember what things brought you joy as a child and look into pursing those things again.

For my first ten years of life, I didn’t receive any medical treatment as a result of the cult I grew up in. This was a painful situation for me because I had ear trouble starting at about two weeks old.  By the time we left the cult and I received treatment, my left ear was in bad shape.

At that time, I was swimming at our local pool all the time. There was something about the water that made me feel alive and free. The swim instructor at the pool told my parents to put me on a competitive swim team. They did, but about two weeks into the season, I had to quit due to all the procedures I needed to undergo for my left ear.

Fast forward to March of 2018. My son Drew joined a swim team for the first time. Something inside me came alive again as I watched him swim. All that thrill, playfulness, and joy came back to me. I also felt some sadness, knowing my swimming ship had sailed.

My kids and I swimming

That next week, I saw a sign-up for triathlon training. I thought it was so weird that I had just been thinking about my lost swimming opportunity, and then another one showed up--over twenty years later. At first, my adult brain took over: “Your time is over. It’s too late. Childhood dreams and desires are a thing of the past. Just move on.”

But I couldn’t stop thinking about being on this team and swimming again. So I decided to take the plunge and began swimming three days a week with an amazing swim coach. And it has brought so much joy to my life. It sounds silly, but it’s true.

Me at a triathlon last summer

The point? Don’t dismiss your childhood dreams, even if they seem silly to your adult self. Swimming gives me time to connect with my body, check in with myself, think about others, and connect with God. I think any hobby that gives you the spark of being fully alive is worth being pursued. The quality of my life has increased dramatically just because of an invitation to get back in the pool. Don’t believe the lie that it’s too late.

3. Doing your part in a painful situation does not guarantee the results you want. Do your part anyway.

One of the biggest hurdles in my life is my resistance to being vulnerable. I have been hurt a lot , especially as a kid, and the way I coped was making an internal pledge to not make myself vulnerable. Changing my relationship with vulnerability is something I’ve been working on for a long time.

I have had lots of opportunities to work on this during marriage counseling with my husband Mark. During one session recently, I felt pretty mad. I was frustrated because I had been working my fanny off to be more vulnerable and show Mark my true fragility. Well, it wasn’t going well. He wasn’t responding like I wanted him to.

As I was expressing all of my frustration, our very kind therapist looked at me and said, “You seem to have this idea that if you do your part then you’ll change the outcome.” When he said that, internally my jaw hit the floor. YES, I think that! And who doesn’t??? (Apparently, there are some people who don’t assume that.)

I’m learning that my responsibility is to do what only I can do and control--myself. I can’t control my husband or his responses. So when he doesn’t respond well, am I supposed to throw in the towel on doing the hard thing? No. Talk about giving someone else the wrong kind of power in my life. 

The reason I am doing this hard work is because it’s the right thing to do. Because it’s part of my maturing. Because it’s the best thing for me to do for myself and those around me. Even if those around me never change their stance.

Of course, when we “go first” and change the way we relate with others, often times it does change up the dynamics and the likelihood of further healing is increased. But that is not guaranteed and is definitely not something I can demand in someone else. They get to make that choice, just like I do.

4. Let people speak into and impact your life. Even if they aren’t part of your trusted inner circle.

In September of last year, I planned a little weekend getaway with a dear friend, Joyce. We made plans to stay at this amazing retreat house run by a couple. I knew the wife better than I knew the husband. I just knew I loved and respected the husband’s work and his way of life.  

Joyce and I

After three days of this amazing experience, we had our last meal together with the couple. The husband started asking me about my dreams, and I told him a few things. But I also told him that I couldn’t really pursue these things during my current life stage with small children.

This calm and gentle man looked at me and said, “So you’re an 8 on the Enneagram, and you’re currently not doing anything to pursue these God-given dreams and passions?” I laughed, sensing where he was going.

He kindly told me that he respected the decision I had made to care for my family and make that my main priority. But he also said that completely shelving those other things didn’t seem like it was in my best interest. He went on to say how writing, in particular, is something I could do around the demands of children. That I could write when it was best for me, and put it down when I needed to.

Then, very directly, he said, “I have an assignment for you. I want you to look into joining a writer’s group.” I was floored by his directness and honesty. But it was exactly the nudge I needed. I knew in my knower that his words were the gentle kick in the pants that I needed. And we didn’t need to be kindred spirits to let that be true.

And I actually did what he asked of me. I went to a writer’s group and the series of events that followed are too many to write about. But I will say, that one action started a domino effect that led to me writing on this blog two months later.

So what about you? What birthday wisdom could you share with us or others? What important lessons have you learned in the last year that you want to carry into the future? Yes, these things benefit us, but they also benefit others in the hearing of it. I would love to hear your birthday wisdom too. Comment below to share yours!