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June 2013

The 20 Something Years: On Freedom, The Future & Enough

Shauna Neiquist, Bread & Wine
{Photo Credit}

It's 5 AM, like every morning I'm watching the sun light the day with a stack of books, and coffee in my favorite Kate Spade mug with seize the day written inside, thinking about what it means to have a "deep sense of gratitude, while longing for something more."

Over the weekend I was listening to a friend's life story starting from high school until this point in her mid-twenties. It was like listening to a script written for a prime time series complete with great loves and rich experiences, and I found myself comparing my story to hers. 

Have I lived enough for twenty-seven? 
Have I risked enough? Loved enough?
Did I waste time? Could I have done more?
And ultimately, Am I enough?

How do some people get to live those beautiful charmed lives while others are plagued by family chaos, health conditions, and heartache? It's not logical, and there's no map or formula to blessing.

Blessing is independent of performance, this is the essence of grace and the gospel. Yet all too often I find myself asking God from a place of entitlement and ingratitude what Esau asked Jacob, "Father, haven't you reserved any blessing for me?" {Genesis 27:36}.

God often asks me in return how I'm stewarding the blessings He's already bestowed, like my freedom.

There is a magical caffeinated feeling that freedom produces like anything can happen and it just might last forever. Los Angeles pulses with this energy and it's one of the reasons I miss it. However, on the other side of the shimmery energy of freedom is uncertainty. This is a paradox because we're called to live in freedom, not paralysis by the very gift of it. 

The key to living any season well is avoiding the temptation to evaluate our lives based on only one chapter of the story. It would be like evaluating Monet's Waterlilies by looking at one tiny corner. 

It's time to let go of that longing for the dots to connect and the pieces to fall into place, and cultivate gratitude. This is the season for long dinners on patios over wine and dessert, it's a season for late nights downtown, and early mornings of solitude and literary binges. This season is about creating a way of life I love, without forcing my way through, bullying life into submission.

Our mission is to resist the urge to compare our lives, in favor of creating a life that's original to us, and therefore uniquely ours, and consequently, incomparable.

If we choose not to embrace this season of becoming and possibility, before we know it we'll end up tethered to mortgages and school districts, without having fully lived through this season of freedom and flexibility.

"She talked about how she felt like a grown-up - meaning she felt trapped in a job she didn't love to pay a mortgage for a home she didn't love, all the while plagued by the nagging feeling that this was supposed to make her happy" {Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet}.

What a gift to be young, free, and independent, with our future in front of us?

"It is up to our generation of twenty somethings to challenge the pressurized idea that today's young women must have it all and to champion the concept that the twenties are a time to discover our identity and goals while building a firm foundation for the rest of our lives" {Christine Hassler, 20 Something 20 Everything}.


From wherever we sit this morning, in whatever season of life, let's use our moments of uncertainty to cultivate a deep sense of gratitude, which will serve as a compass, keeping us profoundly grounded and rooted in grace.

How are you cultivating groundedness and gratitude in your own life? Please share in the comments.

Love wins,

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The 20 Something Years: 27

Why Birthdays are Important

Tomorrow is my twenty-seventh birthday. This year I forewent the annual pink pool party in favor of poolside rest and reflection on what I'll take from my twenty-sixth year into my twenty-seventh.

As I pull out of Quarter Life Crisis: Part Duex, twenty-seven feels humbling. Somewhere in my twenty-sixth year, I forgot my mission and lost my fire, and fought hard to get it back. If you've been following Jesus for any period of time, you've probably hit this point of burnout that feels like life hit a dead end. If you're not following Jesus, you've probably also hit this point, but may not have counted on God to make up the difference between where you are and where you want to be.

Twenty-six will be the year I renewed my committment to live in such a way that God's love for us is undeniable, and that Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead to take our lives from Friday to Sunday, making Him exactly who He says He is.

"You are chosen by God. You are God's instrument to do His work and speak out for Him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference He made for you - 
from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted."

{1 Peter 2:9-10, MSG}

We all want to wake up in the morning with purpose while living within the context of God's will for our lives. The road to good and perfect {James 1:17) is wrapped in tough life-shaping lessons and decision points.

"Some of the most life-shaping decisions you make in this season will be about walking away from good-enough, in search of cant-live-without."
{Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet}

The crux of every life decision should be the questions: is this good enough or is it can't live without? Is this God's best for my life? If the answer is "no," (and we know when it is, despite how we'd like to justify it), we must walk away. 

I can't think of a more colossal time burn than chasing things and people who are not for us or do not want us. God has a plan for our lives and we have to be free from distractions outside that plan. This is one of the hardest and most critical lessons twenty-six taught me.

Another is that my issue isn't so much that I don't know what I want, it's that I want it all. I want beaches and mountains, fashion and food, Vogue and Voltaire, farmer's markets and Fitzgerald, more books and blogs, more time and energy, more dinner parties and recipes I've perfected, and ultimately, more passion, purpose, and relationships.

Taco Tuesday Dinner Party

I love the most. I want to do the most, be the most, and have the most.

"I want more food, more time, more people, more places, more parties, more everything. More is a big theme in my life. I think life is delicious, eating, drinking, reading, traveling, - everything. I want everything. I'm hungry for everything, all the time. Bookstores make me ravenous, as do city streets and airports and glossy fashion magazines. So much to see, taste, touch, try, do.

I'm looking a little deeper these days at this feeling: where did it come from? What's it about? Is there something better than more? There will be more life to experience tomorrow. And the next day, and the next day. And I don't have to be running after it all the time. Breathe, rest, practice the idea of enough. Practice the idea of living well, and a little more slowly. Practice believing that it will all still be here, waiting to be devoured freshly, after a good night's sleep.

Full life is not the same as a full calendar. Full life is lived when the whole system works together, when rest and home and peace live hand in hand with taste and sparkle and go" {Shauna, Niequist, Bittersweet}.

Living in want of more is living from a place of lack, and there is a very fine line between  Poolside Reflectionexuberance for life and gluttony. Life is not about the most, at best the most is a myth masquerading as success. At worst the most is the devil's clever trick of letting us waste our time so we never get around to making a dent in this world for the kingdom of God.

The Bible teaches us that "life in Spirit" (a.k.a. inspired), is learning to live in the tension, gracefully walking on a tightrope balancing ourselves and the fire within us. 

We cannot do it all. Everything worth pursuing requires sacrifice; requiring surrender of time, money, idenity, pride, and usually all of the above. Twenty-six was the year I finally stopped whining and started writing consistently, sending Paper & Glam into the weekly rhythm I've been talking about for two years. It meant giving up Saturday morning volleyball in the park, late night dinners, and adventures after church on Sunday, but the sacrifice has been worth it.

"I feel like I'm doing what I came to do, in the biggest sense. Doing the hard work of writing makes me feel like I'm paying the rent on a cosmic level, doing the thing that I can do to make the world a little better decorated.

Get up. Create like you're training for a marathon, methodically, day by day. Learn your tricks, find a friend, leave the dirty dishes in the sink for awhile. This is your chance to become what you believe deep in your secret heart you might be. Do the work, learn the skills, and make art because of what the act of celebration will create in you" {Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet}.

Pink Pool Party 25th Birthday
In the end, only three things matter:
how much you loved, 
how gently you lived, 
and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.

A Field Guide to Being Found

Happiness by Ghandi

How do we make decisions about the future without knowing what we want?
How can we be satified with our lives if we don't know what we want? 

The end game of our twenties is to walk into thirty looking out on lives and identities we love, because they're honest and true to who we are and who we're committed to becoming. Our twenties are about learning to live our truth.

What if we're still finding our identity and truth?

If we watch how we live, it reveals what we believe, and where our lives are leading.

Where, and with who, do you spend your time?
Who do you choose to date? 
What do you read? 
How do you spend your money?
How do you sign your e-mails and decorate your home? 
How much sleep do you get each night and what do you eat? 

The answers reflect our truth. Our lives reflect what we believe about ourselves, about God, and about life itself. 

If the way we live doesn't line up with what we say we believe, the dissonance wreaks emotional havoc. We're all guilty of allowing dissonance between what we believe and how we live. Donald Miller says it best in Blue Like Jazz:

"We live what we believe. If I live what I believe, then I don't believe very many noble things. My life testifies that the first thing I believe is that I am the most important person in the world. My life testifies to this because I care more about my food and shelter and happiness than about anybody else. 

I am learning to believe better things. I am learning to believe that other people exist, that fashion is not truth; rather, Jesus is the most important figure in history, and the gospel is the most powerful force in the universe. I am learning not to be passionate about empty things, but to cultivate passion for justice, grace, truth, and communicate the idea that Jesus likes people and even loves them."

Anna WintourIf you're overwhelmed by the options for and the weight of your future, then you're in good company. One of my heroes, Anna Wintour, played epically by Glenn Close in The Devil Wears Prada, puts it this way: 

"People respond well to those that are sure of what they want."

We love people who know what they want, because we desperately want exactly that. This is also known as leadership. We love good leaders.

The sheer number of options for our future can lead to paralysis. This scene from The Five Year Engagement sums up this phenomenon. I watched this six times and laughed each time because it rings so true. (Disclaimer: It's slightly rated R in a spot where C doesn't stand for cookie.)

The lesson here is not to waste time trying to make the absolute best decision for our life, because not making a decision is as much a decision as any. We have to choose a career, a spouse, and a city, and then choose to love the lives we create.

What if we choose wrong?

It turns out that natural happiness (getting what we want) vs. synthetic happiness (not getting what we want and learning to love it) are equally enduring and satisfying. Research shows that decisions and circumstances won't affect our happiness long term, and we'll ultimately believe what unfolded was the best outcome for our lives.

"Freedom, the ability to make up your mind and change your mind is the friend of natural happiness, because it allows you to choose between all those delicious futures and find the one you would most enjoy. However, deliberation is the enemy of happiness because we overestimate the impact of one choice over the other. We have within us the ability to synthesize happiness, yet we think happiness is a thing to be found. Our longings and our worries are overblown because we have within us the ability to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing: happiness."

{Dan Gilbert, TED Talk: The Surprising Science of Happiness}

Watch the TED talk, it's great, but here are the cliff notes: God graciously gave us both the freedom to choose, and the ability to manufacture happiness with the decisions we make and the circumstances that manifest themselves in our lives. Another words, our decisions have very little impact on our happiness.

How is this possible?
We are the product of our decisions, right?

I thought Dan Gilbert was crazy until he nailed my exact predicament and showed it had no impact on long term happiness with this slide.

Moving to California - Dan Gilbert

For the last six months, I've been weighing LA against Denver, and the deliberation slammed me into a depression. When I stumbled upon this video, it made me laugh at my overly dramatic self, and confirmed my suspicion that deliberation is crazy-making.

If it's true the decisions we make won't affect our long term happiness, and we're struggling to get out from under the weight of our futures, then this spells relief.

Hear me right, smoking cigarettes has a very real long term impact on quality of life, as does our work and who we choose to marry. On the flip side, whether I live in Denver or California, continue climbing the corporate ladder or marry and have children, it won't impact my long term happiness.

We can't control the outcomes of our decisions, but we can walk in truth by making the decisions that are true to who we are and what we want for our lives. The first step to living our truth is to be honest with ourselves and with others about what we want in life, trusting that the right people will come into our lives, and stay.

I'll go first, here's what I want in life:

1. A home that is a sanctuary, in a place where I can put down roots and invest in my community.

  • I'm deeply grateful God faithfully handed me both a home and a community to share it with, and three years later the grace of it still overwhelms me.

2. A career that lines up with my purpose, and uses the gifts God gave me, to know Him and make Him known.

  • To be a writer you have to write. The words on this screen is me chasing after my calling.

3. A marriage that demonstrates God's love for us and gives others hope and belief in a love that wins.

  • Feel free to toss up a prayer here, I'm trusting God's got this one but the years of singleness are tough, amen?

There are many roads that can potentially lead us to the lives we dream of living, which is where the confusion and deliberation starts. The options are infinite, but if we don't know the how, the where, or the who yet, living our truth is always a step in the right direction.

If there is distance between the life we want, and the life we're living, then it's time to start taking steps in the direction of our truth. Here's some simple steps for living truth:

Why Complicate Life?

If you're lost, think of the story you most want your life to tell, and make the decisions that line up with that story.

"Jesus said to his disciples, 'Do not worry about your life. Do not be afraid, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.'" {Luke 12:22, 32, NIV}

Live your truth, and don't give up on your story. 

How are you living your truth? Please share in the comments.

Love wins,