Why I Can Finally Appreciate the Past: Reflections on 4 Decades of Life

appreciate your birthday photo

I’m now two years away from the big 5-0.
When did THAT happen?

It’s my birthday! Time for a self check-in (as I sometimes do), to evaluate – and appreciate – where I’ve been and where I’m going from here…

This week as the big day approached, I spent some time reflecting on the series of stages that has made up my life so far. Each stage has had its own set of circumstances and challenges – each one to be appreciated for shaping my past and the future me that I have yet to meet. In the process, here is what I’ve learned (so far!).

Looking Back

What I’ve learned from my 20s: to appreciate my mistakes and failures.

In my twenties, I was a young bride, a young mother, a recent college graduate, and a brand new teacher. I floundered around a lot trying to figure it all out. I was a “type A” gal with dreams of the perfect family, the nice house, a good job, and the 2.4 kids. I even bought a mini-van! It was a life of keeping up with the Joneses (the Kardashians weren’t a thing yet). I spent too much, ate too much, and aside from my beautiful daughter being born, I had some colossal failures. Today, believe it or not, I appreciate those failures for helping me learn some valuable lessons – mainly that our choices really do have consequences (go figure!) – as I would soon discover in my next stage of life.

What I’ve learned from my 30s: to appreciate that life isn’t perfect (and that’s OK).

As my twenties morphed into my thirties, I was blessed with the birth of my amazing son, I completed my master’s degree and got that stable job, but my quest for the “perfect” life was no closer to reality than it ever was.

If you told me in my twenties that at age 35 my family would be so over-extended in debt that we’d sell our house and move in with my parents, or that at 36 I would be diagnosed with cervical cancer, or that at 38 my husband would leave his two children and me after 17 years, I NEVER would have believed you.  I’m sure my story is not unique. We have all gone through some “gunk” in our lives. Still, it tested my faith. Big time.

I went into overwhelmed-auto-pilot-survival-mom mode and just basically medicated myself with Quarter Pounders and M&Ms (only slightly an exaggeration). It was a rough few years, but without going into the details, thank goodness my kids and I emerged in one piece, and I can now look back with a perspective not possible back then.

That was then, this is now

NOW I appreciate that some of those things that I thought were so important in my twenties were just, well…not.

NOW I appreciate the advice that you shouldn’t date (or marry) a jerk and expect to change him into a non-jerk.

NOW I appreciate that spending less than you make is not only smart, it’s required if you ever hope to retire with dignity.

And NOW I appreciate that health and fitness isn’t just a fad, it is necessary to sustain life.

Ok, now for the forties, which I’m still in, but I have learned a few things so far.

I’ve learned from my 40s… to appreciate myself for who I am.

Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. ~ Joshua 1:9

In spite of my past poor choices, I’ve experienced many unbelievable blessings and I have continued to learn so much in this fourth decade of my life.

  • I’ve learned that I can stop apologizing to myself for my “stupid” decisions.
  • I’ve learned that I’m doing a pretty awesome job being a single mom.
  • I’ve learned that divorce isn’t the end of the world.
  • I’ve learned that we are physically able to do much more than we think we can, if we just work at it consistently (my Insanity results will prove that one).
  • I’ve learned that debt is dumb and cash is king (thank you, Dave Ramsey)!
  • I’ve learned to stop comparing myself to others, especially to impress people I don’t even know or who could care less in the first place.
  • I’ve learned that what other people think really doesn’t matter all that much.
  • I’ve learned to forgive people – even my ex (he was probably just winging it, too) because forgiveness releases the forgiver not the forgiven.
  • Most of all, I’ve learned that in all the stages of my life, it has simply just been better when I bring God along for the ride.

There really is no “perfect” life. Life is a series of decisions and actions, each one bringing us from one stage to the next. It’s such a gradual process that if we don’t attend to it, we probably don’t even notice it happening. We spend much of our time just getting through our days that we don’t often look back to appreciate how our past has molded us into who we are – mistakes, mishaps and all.

On milestone  birthdays, or maybe even on a quiet Sunday afternoon, taking stock of my life every so often not only helps me appreciate the past, it helps me continue striving toward a future that contains more of what’s important.

Here’s to many more birthdays where I can enjoy life, be healthy, smart, strong, courageous, forgiving, fit, and faithful.

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