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Dear 60-year-old Ursula:

Well, how are things? It’s hard to imagine life 30 years in the future, so I won’t make predictions, but here are some things I’ll be praying for you about.

I hope you are healthy, both physically and mentally, that years of hiking, running and yoga have kept you fit. I hope you and Spencer are still happily married, and have recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of your first date on Valentine’s Day 2004. I hope you are able to see Marie (and your other children? grandchildren?) often. I hope you have a strong community of friends to share life with. I hope you sit in Bible study knitting hats for babies.

Ursula, I hope you feel beautiful, with white hair and a few wrinkles around your eyes. I hope your wrinkles are from smiling and not from frowning. I hope you really understand how much God loves you, that God’s love is as tangible as the slice of chocolate cake you just ate for dessert. I hope you wake up in the mornings laughing with joy. I hope that gratitude is your first instinct, that if any thought runs obsessively through your mind it is simply Thank you God.

I hope you see the good in people. I hope you’ve welcomed so many people into your home that you’ve entertained angels without knowing it. I hope you’ve given away enough money to save thousands of lives. I hope you’ve been the best mother and wife you could be, that you’ve put the needs of your family ahead of your own.

I hope that love is the verb that best defines you.

Love,

30-year-old Ursula

Dear 15-year-old Ursula:

Greetings from the future! It is the year 2014. You are a successful film and stage actress and drive a Mercedes hovercraft. Last year you made People’s Most Beautiful People list, and this year you’ve been nominated for an Academy Award.

Okay, just teasing you a little bit. I’m choosing to write to you at 15, because I’m now 30. I hope that in doubling my age I’ve learned a few things about life. Perhaps this means I can soon expect a letter from the 60-year-old me? Maybe by then they’ll have better technology for communicating across the space-time continuum.

First, I will encourage you to enjoy high school for what it is. A time to learn and make friends. Thank you for not caring about being accepted by the “popular” group. That’s very wise and admirable! You’re choosing instead just to make friends with people that you like. This will be a blessing to you during your high school years. Most of these friendships will fade after high school as people move away, so enjoy the time you have with these fun friends. I know you want all your close friendships to be lifelong and some will — but not all. Life is filled with surprises, including the surprises of which classroom acquaintances bloom into long-term friendships, and which BFFs fade into the memory banks.

This is also the year that you’ve started going to church and chosen to get baptized. Thank you also for making these wise choices! Seeking to know and follow God is, in my opinion, the most important thing you can do in your life. Your faith will bring you peace and joy and will ultimately lead to you meet your husband and develop many significant friendships. As a sidenote that is perhaps related, thank you also for not being interested in drinking and partying — you will need all the brain cells you can get to help you through the sleep-deprived early parenting years.

Do not be afraid to try some new things and meet new people. I know you’re shy and afraid that new people won’t like you. Don’t let that stop you from participating in activities you want to participate in. Be nice to people and they will like you. Except when they don’t, because sometimes they won’t. (Well, those people are jerks, so you shouldn’t pay them any mind). Also don’t let your fear that you might not be good at something prevent you from trying it. If you want to run on the track team, then run on the track team. Maybe you won’t be very good, but you won’t know unless you try. Likewise, if you want to join the choir or start a photography club — you should do those things! You won’t have as much time and energy when you’re in college and beyond.

Lastly, don’t worry so much about academic success and getting into an elite college. I mean you should do your best in school, but don’t give yourself a heart attack. You don’t really want to go to an elite college anyway — it’s just not your destiny. You’ll get a good education and meet your husband at the University of Oregon. But maybe you should reconsider the journalism degree? Marketing perhaps, or something else with the potential for good pay?

Love,

30-year-old Ursula (wife, mother, freelance writer, substitute teacher, world traveler, ice cream enthusiast)

 

I hope there will be cake and puppy hats in heaven.

I hope there will be cake and puppy hats in heaven.

Throughout my life I’ve often felt like an outsider, as if I could never be part of the in-crowd. Maybe you can relate to that, and then again maybe you can’t. Since we’ve just moved to a new town, we’re outsiders now because we don’t know many people. At our last church, even though we’d been a part of it for years, I felt like an outsider after my daughter was born because the church was mostly made up of younger people without children. In grad school, I was one of the few married people. In college, I didn’t feel like I quite fit in with the Christians because I was too liberal, and I didn’t quite fit in with anyone else because I was too Christian. Likewise, when I worked at Christian schools, I always felt I had to keep my liberal political leanings under wraps, so I couldn’t really be myself. As a kid, I didn’t know how to make friends, had uneven bangs and snaggle teeth, and was occasionally ostracized by the popular girls.

I assume that everyone feels like this at one time or another, that the sense of not quite fitting in is part of the human condition. Though maybe there are some attractive, outgoing, charismatic people who truly have never felt this way. There have been times in my life when I have fit in and it felt pretty great. In fourth grade, I attended a spring break sports camp where I somehow managed to be extremely popular — everyone wanted to be my friend. (I guess because I used to be good at sports? Or maybe I dressed well that week?). In high school, although not part of the “popular” clique, I did have a big group of nice and fun friends. And most shockingly in college my future husband (who when I’d met, I’d immediately dismissed as too good-looking and popular for me), wanted to date me. Thanks, but I don’t want to be a part of any club that would accept me as a member….(ha!)

The good news for those of us who don’t quite fit in is that Jesus didn’t fit in either. Jesus hung out with social outcasts and as a result was ostracized by the religious leaders of his day. Basically, if Jesus had gone to your high school, he would have been a friend to all those kids who didn’t have friends. He wouldn’t have worn the cool clothes or listened to the cool music. The popular kids would have teased him mercilessly and never invited him to their parties. And yet, Jesus forgives again and again.

The moments in my life when I do fit in and feel well loved are small glimpses of heaven. When my daughter wants to “nuggle,” when my husband asks me about my day, when we share dinner and laughs with friends we’ve known for years. In my mind, heaven is like a huge dinner party with all our best friends, and everyone is invited. And that’s good news.

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What about you? Can you relate to being an outsider? And what’s your idea of heaven?

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am reflecting on all that I have to be thankful for right now. It is all too easy to get caught up in thinking about the negative things in life. Giving thanks is a way for us to redirect our focus onto the positive. Happiness researchers have found that practicing gratitude regularly will help increase your level of happiness.

I am thankful for…

Family: I’m so grateful to have my husband and daughter in my life. I prayed for both of them to become a part of my life — and my prayers were answered. That’s pretty cool if you ask me. Also I’m thankful for all the love and support that we receive from our parents.

Good Health: Hurray! It can be easy to take for granted if you’re healthy, but it’s a pretty big deal. I’m slightly obsessed with health. My current thing is drinking a wheatgrass/veggie juice detoxification blend daily. I eat fairly healthy and take a multiple vitamin, calcium, Vitamin D and Omega 3 supplements. If I feel like I’m getting sick I take odorless garlic tablets. (I rarely get sick, though neither does my husband, and he does none of those things ;)) And I pray about my health and my family’s health all the time.

Being in Eugene: A direct answer to prayer! So happy to be home again. Having the support of my parents five minutes away is a huge weight off my chest.

God’s provision: Our basic needs for food, clothing, water, shelter, heat always seem to be met. Hallelujah! Sometimes I worry about not having enough money, because if I look at the numbers, it doesn’t seem like it should be enough. But it works out somehow!

My faith: The biggest gift of all to me is my faith. Ever since I started going to church my freshman year of high school I have held tightly to my faith in Jesus. My understanding of God and the Bible has deepened over the years and I have been able to witness an amazing transformation in my own life. I guess that’s how I really know beyond a doubt that God is real — because the changes in myself have been miraculous.

Other things I am thankful for right now include our new church (which Marie loves!), the library (free books and toddler storytimes), the opportunity to work as a sub in Springfield, living next door to a playground, sunshine these last few days, and the yummy salmon chowder my husband made for dinner. And maybe a good night’s sleep tonight? Going to bed now.

Yesterday was my 30th birthday. I can tell I’m getting older because I have to dye my hair more frequently. Tragically I have been going gray since high school. Also I’m not as skinny as I used to be, though that is probably more to do with a combination of my husband’s amazing cooking and my being a mom.

My 6th birthday party.

My 6th birthday party.

Anyway I had a very nice birthday. I would have loved to have a big party for my 30th, but since we just moved back to my hometown we don’t know many people here. Spencer and I were able to go out to dinner Sunday night with my friend Giselle who I have known since freshman year of high school — which was half my lifetime ago (!). It was nice to spend some time with her as she’s been living in Chicago for the past seven years, during which I’ve only seen her a couple times. She tells me that for my 18th birthday all my friends decorated my locker with pictures of Ben Affleck, but I have no memory of this. I do remember that we ate dinner at the Olive Garden and that my friend Kevin “Prom Date” Bryan wrote me a rap.

On my birthday Marie and I joined my parents and grandmother for breakfast at The Glenwood, where Marie ate about 50 blueberries (also known as “bluebees”). In the afternoon my mom, Marie and I went shopping. Spence made dinner that evening and my parents joined us. We had grilled salmon, asparagus, garlic mashed potatoes, and salad with Chardonnay. Followed by an incredible Sweet Life tiramisu and some champagne. Tiramisu might be my favorite dessert ever. It was the top layer of our wedding cake — because, why not?

And so — goodbye to my 20s. I started dating my husband a few months after my 20th birthday, which means that we’ve almost been together for ten years. My 20th year was quite a life-changing year for me. I strongly reconnected with my faith, started dating my future husband, and spent 6 weeks interning at a newspaper in Ghana.

Have I accomplished the things I had hoped to accomplish by age 30? I had definitely expected to have more success in my career by this age — if you’ve been reading my blog you may have noticed this as a recurring theme. The recession has taken its toll on that aspect of my life, but that is what it is. I seem to be doing pretty well in my personal relationships. That’s really what matters.

I am very goal-oriented and I would use this opportunity to share my five year plan for my life now, but to be honest I don’t really have one anymore. At least, not in terms of my career. For my life, my plan for the next five years is to continue to be a good mother and wife. To build strong relationships with my family and friends. To continue to grow closer to God and to seek His direction and provision for my life. And to keep writing because writing is an important part of who I am. Beyond that — we’ll have to wait and see.

At the new church we’ve been going to, the pastor has been doing a sermon series on the book of Jonah. It’s a pretty interesting story. As a kid, you just think it’s a silly story — Jonah was swallowed by a whale. But this tiny, 4 chapter book of the Bible actually has some pretty interesting lessons in it.

I’ll give the abridged Jonah story:

God appears to Jonah and asks him to go to Nineveh and preach. Jonah refuses to obey God. Jonah gets on a boat to run away from God and then is swallowed by a whale as a punishment for disobeying God. Jonah repents. God again tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach. Jonah, not wanting to return to the belly of the whale, agrees. He goes to Nineveh and tells them that God will destroy the city in 40 days. The people of Nineveh repent and God saves the city.

Today the pastor spoke about preaching the gospel. He talked about how Jonah preached God’s message to the city of Nineveh even though he didn’t know the people there. He said today we feel like we need to earn the right to preach the gospel to people; we need to become their best friend before we might feel comfortable broaching the subject with them. He said that this is very different than when he was a college student in the 70’s and it was normal for evangelicals to hand out gospel tracts to strangers. He was not suggesting that we should go back to that but just noting that there has been an extreme shift towards Christians basically not sharing the gospel at all.

I do find it interesting because people seem to think that it’s completely inappropriate for Christians to talk about their beliefs yet it’s fine for everyone else to do so. People seem to think it’s fine for an atheist or a Buddhist or a pagan to talk about their beliefs, yet it’s totally offensive for a Christian. I don’t really get it.

But if you’ve read this far, I will share the gospel with you here: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16. That’s the simple version.

Now it’s time to deal with a fussy toddler. I am so hoping we get some sleep tonight, last night was awful.

 

 

Disclaimer: This post contains information about my personal beliefs! If you are offending by hearing about other people’s beliefs that may be different from your own, feel free to stop reading now. No hard feelings.

Throughout human history, people have been pondering the meaning of life. Of course some take a different view —  as one dear friend once said, “I’m not interested in being deep.” I’m amazed at those who don’t seem to give much thought to finding meaning in their lives, as it’s always been kind of important to me.

Well if you know me, you may know that it’s actually super important. I’ve thought about it quite a bit. And I am about to turn 30, so perhaps I am old and wise enough for my thoughts to be of value.

In the simplest of terms, I’ve found that life is about this: Love God and love people. In the Christian co-op that I lived in during college we had a huge art piece on the wall that said, “Love God with all you’ve got and love people with all He gives you.” This does come from the Bible, when Jesus taught that the greatest commandment was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39).

Then you ask, but what does this mean practically in my life? What specifically am I supposed to do each day? Because the meaning of life is really more of an essay question than a multiple choice test.

I think it’s important to make the best possible decisions with the choices we are faced with, in light of the goals of loving God and loving people. We do not have total control over our lives, we can only make choices based on the circumstances we find ourselves in.

I choose to be a part of a church because it helps me with both of these goals. It helps me to worship and learn more about God, and to be a part of a community where I can love and serve other people.

I’m also a wife and a mother. Being a stay-at-home mother to a toddler is a 24-7 job. Being the best wife and mother I can be is my main purpose right now during my daughter’s formative years. Sometimes I get discouraged because I think I should be doing more. I used to be a teacher and I think, perhaps I should be teaching. Perhaps I should be writing books. Perhaps this or that. But prayer has given me the perspective that being a good mother is the most important thing I can be doing right now.

I could go into a long diatribe about my meandering career path, but I will just say that circumstances have led me to surrender to God’s will again and again. I have aspired to great success in terms of this or that career but now I feel at peace just being a mom. It is well with my soul. I am also a writer and am enjoying writing for the sake of writing. Writing is one of the things that brings meaning into my life.

As for you, if you are grappling with this question I would encourage you to pray. Ask God to give you purpose and direction for your life, and opportunities to love others. Then watch for those opportunities. Make the best choices you can with the circumstances you have.

Also, do this: Dare greatly.  If you’re really into this guy and you’re pretty sure he’s into you, but he won’t say it, then ask him what’s going on. You might find that ten years later, you’re married, with a beautiful daughter. Or not. But at least you’ll have tried. Audition for the choir. Apply to graduate school. Call that acquaintance and ask them to have coffee with you. Don’t let fear hold you back.

Maybe this post is overly cheese-ball and cliche. I get like that sometimes, late at night. But this meaning of life stuff really matters.

“But now, this is what the Lord says – He who created you Jacob, He who formed you Israel. Fear not for I have redeemed you, I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” – Isaiah 43: 1

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For further, better edited writing regarding the meaning of life check out the following:

-Storyline by Donald Miller (a workbook to help you find meaning in your life, by one of my celebrity crushes)

-The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

– the Bible

– T. S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets