Advice I Would Have Given Myself 5 Years Ago…

6 06 2013

As graduation season strikes us with its full fury–how many times this month have you seen “Honk if U LUV Class of 2013!” written on someone’s car?–I find myself thinking back to my own college graduation.

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years already. I feel like I’m still in college, most of the time. Until I catch sight of college students and realize how babyish they look. And recall that I no longer get carded at restaurants and bars anymore.

I started thinking recently about the advice I’d give my starry-eyed college-graduate self if I could speak to her now, as the five-years-out-of-college version of me.

Here’s some of the sage advice I would have given myself five years ago:

You’ll never have much money. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be happy.

As someone who grew up never knowing want, I was horrified when I graduated from college and found myself living at the poverty level with my first job as a church work intern. In what seemed like a never-ending four years of my dear husband going to graduate school, we struggled daily with our finances. Trying to support two people on a salary smaller than a janitor’s salary (and truly at the local poverty level) meant a total restructuring of my lifestyle. I had to learn how to shop at Goodwill. I had to learn to decorate an apartment on a shoestring budget. I had to ration my gas and plan out my trips around town. On several occasions, we couldn’t even afford to do laundry–so we took to hand washing our clothes in our bathtub and draping them all over the apartment to dry.

I had plenty of freak-out moments in desperate fear that we couldn’t pay our electric bill or that we couldn’t afford to buy two gallons of milk at the same time…including one memorable incident when I started crying in the middle of the grocery store, realizing that I was destined to use coupons to buy food for the rest of my life. “We’ll never be able to afford name-brand cereal!” is one phrase I remember wailing in misery.

In the last five years, I’ve come to grips with the fact that, as church workers, my husband and I won’t ever have much money. But in terms of happiness and contentedness? In terms of knowing how to live simply and enjoy friends, family, and our dogs without worrying about accumulating material objects or planning lavish vacations? We’re blessed.

Don’t buy cheap towels or cheap shampoo.

As much as it tempts you to buy drug store shampoo on sale, it’s not worth the dull-looking locks. Same goes for those brightly colored towels that lure you in like a moth to a flame. They just cover your laundry machine in a fine dusting of miniscule lint–albeit a nice brightly colored lint–and they will never actually absorb water well. Ever.

With my husband, Tyler, at our college graduation from Concordia University in Irvine, California...

With my husband, Tyler, at our college graduation from Concordia University in Irvine, California…

Learn how to say “no”.

This is still a lesson I’m learning the hard way, although I realize its importance. You’d think having so much do that you can’t even escape for a break during the day would occasionally slow me down…but it doesn’t. I have the horrible proclivity to say “yes” to everything asked of me, and it’s in saying “no” to many of those things that the secret to a healthier, happier, and more balanced life lays.

Don’t give up what makes you happy. 

In the rush of my busy life, I’ve given up too many of the things I truly love doing: painting. Writing poetry. Walking in the woods with my dogs. Arranging flowers. Find the things that make you happy, and hold onto them–even if the time you have to enjoy these pleasures may be brief. Sometimes you might have to fight against people who’ll push you to give up what you think is happy, in favor of their personal values. For years, I was pushed to give up writing this blog by employers who told me not to be so candid, and then who used my own words against me to grade my job performance. I clung to the simple belief that I love to write, and that people appreciate my literary frankness. Incidentally, the year that I was pushed out of writing my blog the most was the year I received the WordPress “Freshly Pressed” award–twice, incredibly.

Laugh more and take life less seriously.

Worry is deadly, and stress runs high when you’re an adult and have to provide for yourself. And things are always the worst at night, for some reason. So many issues–whether real or imagined–can be lessened by having an optimistic attitude and by chuckling about it. Not that I do, all of the time. But I see the value of it now, more than I ever have.

Don’t cut your own bangs.

Pony up the extra $10 and go to a real salon. Not a strip mall chop-shop, and certainly not that beauty school that has cut-rate stylings from students who are still learning the ropes. Your bangs are the window to your soul, after all. Oh wait…maybe that’s eyes. Ok, but no one can see your eyes when your bangs are too long…so it’s pretty much the same thing.

Realize the power of being a mentor.

Being a mentor to several wonderful young people has changed my life. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve seen God at work in incredible ways through these very special relationships. Recognizing the impact of mentoring has given me a new seriousness about modeling my faith, and training up a new generation to find its place in this world. If I do nothing else with my life, I know that I’ve loved every moment of mentoring and I’m excited to see what God does through His children. Our world sure needs it.

Darkness and light can be found in the most unexpected places.

Just because you’re in church work, doesn’t mean everyone is forgiving and filled with grace. Some of the most hurtful, angry people I’ve ever encountered in my life have been connected to churches–whether on staff or in the congregation. I’ve realized that often, people take their problems out on others–it’s not always personal. That being said, however, I’ve been attacked and bullied and targeted and pushed around more in the last five years in church work than the rest of my life combined. Sometimes it feels like I’ll be facing a life of continual hazing. But in so many ways, I’ve seen God at work in the most unexpected places–through seemingly horrible and painful situations and hurt and wounded people. And seeing the Holy Spirit so powerfully at work–even in the midst of anger, unforgiveness, denial, and pain–is breathtaking.

Be real.

I know, it sounds so cliché. But it’s so easy to wear a mask in church work, and as a Christian: say the right words, don’t admit what you’re really feeling or thinking, smile and put your best foot forward all the time. But…isn’t the whole point of our faith to admit how broken we are? How messed up we are, how we stumble along the path, how we lose our temper, and try to do things our way, and screw up royally? I might have a degree in theology, but I sure don’t have all the answers. I question, I doubt, I worry, I freak out, I lose faith, I forget.

In short, I’m a mess.

But to me, the most beautiful thing about my God is that He meets me where I am. He kneels in the dirty mud puddle of my life, lifts my chin up, and kisses my tear-stained face. I don’t deserve it. But His love is overwhelming.

So why pretend to anyone else that I deserve it, when I know I don’t?

After all, when we take off that mask, it’s so much easier to see the Holy Spirit shining through us, isn’t it?

Now, we’ll just have to wait and see what sort of advice I’d give myself in the next five years or so…

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