FIRST-PERSON: Those early years
O'FALLON, Ill. (BP) -- Thirty five years ago my life took a dramatic turn. I married a man who loved the Lord and who had committed his life to serving Him in fulltime ministry.
Just days after we married, we left our home state of Illinois and moved to our first home in Texas, sight-unseen, to an apartment within walking distance of the seminary. Low-paying jobs and fulltime schooling meant that our time there was difficult but sweet.
And it was in those early years that God laid the foundation for our future.
I believe the things God taught us in those early years are a big part of who we are today. While it is true that we can learn from the experiences of others, it is also true that we tend to learn best when faced with our own choices and then living with the consequences.
Even so, I would still like to offer these for consideration to those who might not be required to learn them except by osmosis:
1. Hard work and sacrifice are highly underrated.
The satisfaction that comes from a hard day's work far outweighs empty accolades based on who you are, your position at work or whom you might happen to know.
Sacrifice is almost a negative word in our society, but the principle of sacrifice is a biblical mandate (see Romans 12:1). When we serve others, we become the hands and feet of Jesus. You may think His plans for you are glamorous, but the truth is, you are never more like Him than when you are serving others in love.
2. Going without isn't the worst thing that could happen to you.
Some of our poorest years were the ones that hold the most endearing memories. Counting pennies and sharing an ice cream sundae taught us to be creative with our budget.
It is amazing how much you can do without amid challenging times. We never went without a meal, though sometimes lunch for my penny-pinching husband consisted of pecans collected from the grounds of the seminary. It wasn't like he couldn't just take a PB&J, but because they were free, it was like manna from heaven. If you have never had to go without, I highly recommend traveling to a third-world country and experiencing firsthand what real poverty looks like. Perspective is everything.
3. Faith matters.
I know, you expected this to be in here, and you are probably wondering why it wasn't No. 1 on the list. It's because I know that some folks wouldn't read the list if they thought this was all it was about. Because it is. So I saved the best for last.
The very reason we can look back with fondness on those years that were, by the world's standards, difficult is because we began our journey in faith -- faith in our God whose promises gave us a foundation to build on. If our marriage, our ministry or our family had been built on anything less, the result would have been far different. It's because of our faith that we can learn to be content in any circumstance and trust that God is working out His plan for us, even when it's hard or we don't understand.
Life has a funny way of teaching us things that we could never learn in a book. Just be careful that you don't skim over the pages of your life by choosing lethargy or discontentment. Every day is a gift, and because our Creator God has given you the gift of this day, don't waste it. Don't waste the struggle, the pain or the problem.
Learn from it. Look for the good in it. Use it to minister to others. Let it mold you into the person God wants you to be.
Take to heart the apostle Paul's counsel:
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don't worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
"Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable -- if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy -- dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you" (Philippians 4:4-9).