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I turned 38 this week. The night before my birthday, my knee was swelling up and I had to take ibuprofen and put pain cream on it. Apparently this is what happens when you turn 38.

My birthday is on September 11th, which, for the past 17 years, has been a really tough day for our nation. So I tend to celebrate all month long and look for ways to embrace this idea of getting older, rather than trying to ignore it. (Hello, #birthdaymonth).

Esther Littlefield with birthday cake | 5 Things I've Learned in 38 Years

Today I’m sharing 5 things I’ve learned in my 38 years, in the hopes that it might encourage you or get you thinking. So, here we go.

1. Life is almost never what you expect it will be.

I tend to be someone with high expectations, and this applies to myself, others, and life in general. I believe good things can and will happen. But sometimes, my expectations are not met. That’s because life is not predictable, and there’s simply no way of knowing what’s going to happen 1 or 5 or 10 years from now.

Probably the biggest way I learned about this was at the age of 13, when my dad died suddenly after a vehicle accident. You can read that story here. I’ve also learned this lesson through experiencing marriage challenges and raising a child with anxiety.

2. God is faithful and wants to give you good things.

Although life can be unexpected almost all of the time, I also have learned and experienced that God is always faithful, and that He a giver of good gifts. There have been some really amazing gifts along the way that I never anticipated.

God has brought healing into my marriage. And my daughter’s generous and kind heart blesses my every day. I’ve also experienced the blessing of unexpected friendships that have become some of my closest relationships and people that I cherish dearly.

3. It’s important to figure out what really fills you up.

A few years ago, my favorite band was touring in the Northeast, and I missed all 3 shows that were in driving distance. There were some conflicts with my schedule, but I definitely could have attended one of them. Later, they announced a hiatus from touring. I decided right then that, whenever possible, I was going to find ways to do the things that truly fill me up rather than make excuses.

Obviously this does not mean that I’m going to spend my life (and all my money) going out and doing all kinds of crazy stuff. But it does mean that I know the few things that are really life-giving to me, and I want to make sure I make space and time for them. Because when I do them, I’m a much better wife, mom, friend, leader, etc.

Sunset on a lake in Maine | 5 Life Lessons I've Learned in 38 Years

This summer I was reminded of how much I love kayaking and being out on the lake. So I was intentional about trying to do that more often than I have in previous years. It’s something that helps me to connect with God as well as slow down and soak in the beauty around me.

4. Understanding how God has wired you can make a huge difference in your relationships.

I already mentioned how one of the challenges I’ve faced has been in my marriage relationship. The truth is, there are times that my husband and I just see the world from entirely different perspectives.

But it wasn’t until we truly started to figure out how God has wired each of us differently that it all started to make sense. I’m not just talking about the basic men vs. women stuff than many marriage books talk about. No, I’m talking about the different personality types we all possess and how this can really impact how we engage with others in our relationships. Some of my favorites are mentioned on this podcast episode I did with Holly about becoming a better leader.

5. Figuring out your purpose is a messy process.

Every few months, I look at my husband and say, “What am I doing with my life?” It’s become a running joke, and I’m not (usually) serious. But this is an issue that I’ve struggle with in the past… wondering about this whole issue of purpose and how I should be spending my limited time on earth.

woman facing wall with hands on head | 5 Life Lessons I've Learned in 38 Years

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve got it totally figured out… but I do believe I’ve gained some perspective on the issue based on my research and personal experience. And what it comes down to is this: there’s not a clear-cut formula or solution to help you figure out what you should be doing. BUT, there are some clues, and I think when you follow those clues, you’ll be able to start understanding it more.

Plus, I believe 2 things about this: First, if you’re a Christian, there’s are some clear directives about our purpose here on earth. Second, our purpose is often more about WHO were are becoming that about WHAT we are doing. If you want to dive deeper into this topic, you can check out episode 10 of the Christian Woman Leadership Podcast where Holly & I talked all about this.

As I turn 38, I can honestly say that God has blessed me immensely. One of the biggest blessings of this year has been starting the podcast and seeing God begin to use it to encourage other women. Plus, it’s been so much FUN!

And it’s truly amazing to be able to do things that are FUN and help others at the same time.

If we’ve only got one life

I don’t know what the future holds or how much longer I have on this earth. My dad was 38 when he died, so this number has a strange significance to me. What I do know is this: I’ve got a lot more to learn, and I don’t want to waste my moments on this earth.

My favorite band, Switchfoot, which I mentioned earlier, has a song called “Burn Out Bright”. This sums up how I want to live my life:

Does it have to start with a broken heart
Broken dreams and bleeding parts
We were young and world was clear
Young ambition disappears
I swore it would never come to this
The average, the obvious

 

I’m still discontented down here
I’m so discontented

 

If we only got one try
If we’ve only got one life
If time was never on our side
Before I die I want to burn out bright

 

So a spark ignites
In time and space
To make it through this human race
You fight and crawl your way back home
But you’re running the wrong way

 

The future is a question mark
With kerosene electric sparks
There’s still fire in you yet
Yeah there’s still fire in you

 

If we only got one try
If we’ve only got one life
If time was never on our side
Before I die I want to burn out bright

 

I can’t clean up the mess I’ve made
I can’t clean up the mess I’ve made

 

Can’t sleep in the bed I’ve made
Can’t sleep in the bed I’ve made

 

If we only got one try
If we’ve only got one life
If time was never on our side
Before I die I want to burn out bright