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In our youth, we race headlong into this one life filled with idealistic optimism. The world is an expansive unknown stretching far beyond us and filled with unending possibilities waiting to be harnessed. At this stage, there are no limits to what can be accomplished, no unforseen roadblocks or impending disasters, and no reason to believe our dreams will not be realized.

But then, as it’s prone to do, life happens. Some of it by our choosing, and some coming upon us as an unexpected downpour, and we discover that life isn’t perfect. After some repeated saturation, we may look at our life and declare, “This is not how I expected things to turn out.”

At this point, we often choose a pity party, sometimes even a tantrum, stomping and flailing about how unfair it all is. Or, we can towel dry our hair, gather courage and hope, and discover ways to dance despite the downpours and drink of the falling drops. Because here’s the truth: the most fragrant beauty radiates after the rain, and sunsets are most spectacular as the storm clouds recede.

Even though you never asked for any of it, even though you thought you would be further along in your journey, or imagined your life differently, this is it. No matter what has passed, or what you thought it would look like, you cannot change one single bit. This is your one life. And you have a choice. Will you let what has happened this far shape you – rearrange you if needed – to grow, to overcome, and to fully flourish?

We ignore the blessings we’ve been given when we focus on how our lives failed to unfold how we imagined, when we linger on the wreckage of what went wrong, the injustices enacted against us, or the ways we’ve let down ourselves or others. In our misperceptions, we forget this place isn’t meant to be perfect, and neither are we. This is a rehearsal, of sorts, for things to come. When the last curtain is drawn, and we arrive at our final destination, then and only then will all be as it should.

I rather adore this verse:

“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” ~ 1 Samuel 16:7

It reminds me that using the world’s measuring stick to determine success is rubbish. That God’s measurement for a successful life looks dramatically different. It’s possible that the very place we find ourselves, and the very person you and I are right now, is just where and who God would have us be, however inglorious, unattractive, desperate, downright ugly, or devastating it may be at present. That’s meant to be encouraging!

However disappointed we are with this patch of life so far, God doesn’t see your journey in any way wasted. However hard we buffet life’s storms, however unwelcome we make trials, even downpours can usher in beauty, refine character, and construct in us an enduring peace and patience the likes of which we had yet to know, not to mention prepare us to walk with added fury – a true force to be reckoned with – for the next leg of our journey.

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I like to think God looks at us – and our lives – rather like we used to as a child: full of possibility and hope, and without limits. And maybe, just maybe, from here on in, we would take His outstretched hand in ours, be led through the storms, navigated through the roadblocks and disasters, and follow Him out the other side, joining Him in puddle jumping, reclining by His side mesmerised by the sunset, while drinking deeply of the fragrant beauty of His love. Maybe then we will see our one life for the truly miraculous gift it is. Besides, by now you realize the best is yet to come anyhow.

I’ll leave you with this reminder:

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in the world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and the saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” ~ Ephesians 2: 7-10

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  1. Start a list of things you can be thankful for.
  2. Ask God to help you redirect your heart and thoughts to thankfulness. Develop a habit of replacing disparaging thoughts with thankful ones.
  3. Pray over each disappointment/disaster, handing it to God to make beauty out of. This may take time, but it’s worth it!
  4. Memorize a passage of scripture as encouragement during the downpours.

 

 

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I don’t know what goals you made for the coming year, but whatever the pursuits, I hope we guard ourselves from what we’re conditioned is success. I hope we go against the flow and discover that true greatness isn’t found in the amount of material things we own. It’s found in both small and great, brave and beautiful, selfless and everyday acts of love. It’s there in the breaths in between the many activities that compete for our attention and masquerade as all-important.

At the end of your life, what you’ll most remember won’t be the countless hours of overtime you worked, how much money you saved, or how successful everyone said you were. What will matter most is that you loved.

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This year, let’s not wait until tomorrow to say “I love you” or “I’m sorry”, to play on the floor with your toddler or go out for lunch with your teen, to visit a friend or to use the good dishes you’ve been saving for a special occasion (every moment you’re alive is a special occasion), because in the end, the things that matter most, aren’t things at all.

How you loved will matter, and all the other “important things” will fade in significance. It will matter if you cherished your loved ones, spent time with the people who mean most to you, and made sure they knew (both in word and deed) that they were dearly loved. It will matter that you made a dent of difference in this weary world to some or several weary souls.

I hope this year we remember that all the money in the world can’t buy us time. I’m not saying money is bad, but how we use it – like time – will matter. Chasing hard after money or stuff may squander never-to-be-regained time that we could have used to fill a need or create precious memories that far outlast stuff.

A successful life may not appear as we’ve been told, and may not even be glimpsed upon by another human. Success doesn’t require a medal, a degree, or a certain position. It doesn’t mean perfection.

“Success means doing the best we can with what we have. Success is in the doing, not the getting – in the trying, not the triumph.”  ~Wynn Davis

No matter what point it’s at, a life lived with intention, purpose, commitment, contentment, compassion, and most of all love – is a successful one. This kind of quiet success is hidden amid the beautifully ordinary ways we give of ourselves to another and live life with arms wide open.

You’ll see a successful life tucked amid the mother’s nighttime vigil beside her sick child, the husband’s whispered prayer for his ailing wife, the tears shed alongside a friend, the meals served to one without a home, the band-aid applied to a child’s skinned knee, funds given to a stranger in need, or the dignity of care and repeated visits to an aging mother in a nursing home who has long forgotten who you are. It’s in all the many ways we show up and give our all without giving up. Success of this nature is a by-product of living life loving.

You’ll find the real deal hiding amid the everyday resilience and tenacity of the human spirit anytime we: rise above a fall, continue onward after a mistake, forgive, refuse to listen to the naysayers, muster courage to try hard things, decline herd mentality, live selflessly, or hang on to a dream. It’s in the stubborn refusal to release our hold on hope when others have long since let go, or staying the course when others are long gone. Surprisingly enough, you may even notice success in the giving up of a crowded life to make room for a more spacious one.

May this year be one filled with hope, joy, true success, time well spent, and most importantly – filled with love. And by all means, use the good dishes (and if not, give them away)!

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13

 

 

 

 

Recently, I had the immense privilege of speaking to a group of graduates. This week, I thought to share the speech with you. Enjoy!

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Success. How does one measure it? Is it by the school you attend? The degree you attain? The position you hold at work? The size of your bank account? The size of your home? The price tag on your car? Can it be measured by what others say or think of you? Can it even be measured at all? And if it could, what would it look like? Read the rest of this entry »

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