Our So-Called Life as Pastors: Finding Humor in the Hurt

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Thankfully, my husband, Jon, and I can laugh about all of this now, but these are comments we’ve received over the last four years. Stay tuned: In the coming days, we’ll be sharing about how we’ve found “Healing in (and from) the Hard” because God does, indeed, bring healing in various ways, shapes, and forms.

[What’s inside the brackets: How we wanted to respond, but didn’t. Instead, we just smiled and silently ‘quacked’.]

•(To Jon) “I don’t believe you are following the Holy Spirit, so I’m leaving the church.”

[Really, this is their code for: “I don’t like what you’re doing, but I’m gonna make it super-spiritual, so it’s about you and not me needing to take personal responsibility.”]

•”The church is doing great: attendance up, strong and solid vision, we now have lots of kids attending, but we’re leaving.”

[😳Uhm, okay?!?!]

•(To Jon) “Your sermons are nothing more than what people could get in a counseling session.”

[Jada’s response upon hearing this, “Perhaps, they need counseling. I know I’ve benefited greatly from it.]

•(To Jon) “All this church worships is coffee and Seahawks.”

[Uh, wow! If that’s your takeaway, you’ve really missed the big picture, not to mention every sermon, prayer time, etc.]

•(To Jon) “I wish you would preach from the Bible.”

[Oh, you mean memorizing and quoting that entire biblical passage wasn’t enough? Stupid, Jon!]

•After Jada preached from Acts 2, this not-so-anonymous comment was received from a ‘mature’ Christian who teaches Bible studies, “What does any of this have to do with the blood of Jesus and my salvation? We need more sermons like that!”

[Jada’s not-so-internal response upon reading the comment card, “Uh, is this a joke?! Seriously! Have they never read the entire book of Acts, or about church history, or the book of Philippians? Taking note of what Paul had to say about the importance of Christian community.”]

•(To Jon) “After attending for nearly three decades, we’re not leaving the church, but we won’t be around much (🤔) because we don’t believe in women pastors.”

[Jon’s internal response, “Oh, you don’t have to believe in women pastors, simply believe in Jesus.” and “How have you attended a Free Methodist church for this long, but not heard about the distinctive of valuing women and men to lead and serve equally at all levels in the home and church?”]

•(To Jada) After preaching her first sermon at our current church, “Well, for a woman, you did a good job. I’ve never heard a woman preach like that.”

[We’re sure there’s a compliment in there, but we failed to find it.]

• (To Jada) “We like the preaching, but the music barely gets a passing grade.”

[Geez, guess I need to turn in my two music degrees, and stop teaching music. Because obviously, I know nothing.]

• (To Jon) I don’t like how you pray.”

[Hmmm…didn’t know I was being graded.]

•(To Jada) “You mean you get paid?”

[Her internal response, but she’s quite sure her face forgot to ‘play poker’, “Uh, yes, I work pretty much full-time here. Does your wife get paid to work at her job?”]

***This was a list that we compiled at the end of last year. We waited to share it until we could truly find the humor in it, and until we had the courage to be appropriately vulnerable. Now, we are compiling one about “Healing in (and from) the Hard”.

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Grief: An Ever-Present Companion

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Yesterday, as I was waiting to be called in for my eye appointment, I began feeling anxious. I text my friend to ask her to pray for me. Thankfully, my husband was with me, and he began ‘talking me down’, so it wouldn’t turn into an all-out panic attack. I wondered why I was anxious about getting my eyes tested. Never before had I been anxious about this.

Then, it hit me: On the day that my daddy died, I’d called to make an appt. to get my eyes tested at this very place. That evening, my nephew called to tell me Daddy had died. The next day, I had to call and cancel my appt. That was four months ago today. It took me four months to reschedule my appt. One that was long overdue.

What I experienced smack dab in the middle of Costco was simply another moment of unexpected grief. Tears began to flow as I sat in a chair outside of the eye doctor’s office. And wouldn’t ya know, the doctor called me in at that moment. As I sat down in the chair, I said, “Please know, I don’t normally cry at the eye doctor’s office.” And I shared with her the trigger. She said, “Can I give you a hug? I understand.”

After the appointment was over, I walked up to the receptionist’s desk to pay. The lady was wearing a necklace with a dragon fly. I told her I thought it was beautiful and so unique. With tears in her eyes, she said that her friends got it for her in remembrance of her brother who’d recently passed away. Dragon flies were his favorite.

Then, of course, I got weepy, and she knew I had a story, too. So, she asked, and I told her. I apologized for my tears. She said, “Oh, your tears are welcome here. We all understand grief. It hits us out of nowhere.”

Two strangers showed such compassion to me. Two people who are part of ‘the club’. Two women who understand that even when you’re going about your day, looking as if you’re kicking butt and taking names, being productive at home or work, just below the surface, it’s there. It’s always there.

Grief has become an ever-present companion in my life. Specific or random memories and moments can bring it to the surface in seconds. Then, at other times, it’s hard to pinpoint the reason for its appearance. More often than not, it shows up when it’s least expected or at inopportune moments, such as when I’m preaching or leading worship or even as I stand in line at the grocery store or when I’m waiting to get my eyes examined. Grief is always there. I’ve been told that it does get better. Slowly, I’m beginning to realize this is true. Still, you never “get over” it. You never forget the person or the memories or the loss.

For me, my grief journey has been complicated and compounded. I’m not only grieving my daddy’s death, but several other big things, too. It’s messy, really messy, but absolutely necessary. It’s healing, but painful. And in the middle of it all, there’s day-to-day life to live, family responsibilities to tend to, school assignments to complete, and work/ministry/pastoring duties to fulfill. Life seemingly goes on, but it’s not the same. It’ll never be the same. It can’t be. A seismic shift has occurred. And in many ways, I’m thankful for that. Sometimes, change is needed and, ultimately, it’s for the best.

On Thursday, I was at a pastors’ conference, and I caught up with a pastor-friend who shared with me that the last year has pretty much been Hell for him. I agreed, and told him I was thankful for his honesty. In some ways, his honesty gave me permission to be even more honest than I already am. The last 18 months have been Hell. While I wouldn’t want to walk this journey again, it’s made me a more compassionate and empathetic person and pastor. For that, I’m grateful.

Over morning coffee, I randomly came across a blog post from John Pavlovitz, “Acknowledging Our Grief Anniversaries“. As I read his words, it was as if each and every bit of it was written specifically for me. Perhaps, it will be meaningful for some of you, too. 💛 

Pray for Your Pastor

Lord, Thank You For My Pastor, Bill Carroll And His Wife Sue within Encouraging Quotes For Pastors

Today, would you pray for your pastor(s)?

Oftentimes, people ask me how they might best encourage their pastors. Although I can’t speak for every pastor (or pastor’s spouse), I can share what would most encourage me (and my pastor-husband agrees).

What is the one thing that would most encourage a pastor? PRAYER. Truly, as pastors, we need prayer (and so do our families).

Ministry isn’t a 9-5 job. It’s all-consuming, no matter how intentional one might be in establishing boundaries and practicing the spiritual disciplines. The weight of the responsibilities: spiritual, administrative, relational, etc.; the desire to shepherd, lead, and care for others; and the sincere love of the church is always on a pastor’s heart and mind.

As pastors, my husband and I are committed not to act as if we have it all together, because we don’t. We hold our marriage, family, ministries and pastoral callings close to our hearts. And we don’t take those relationships or responsibilities lightly.

We also realize that our battle isn’t merely against ‘flesh and blood’. There are battles for which we fight, but are unable to see with human eyes. For some, this may sound absolutely absurd, and I understand. But for those of you who know about that of which I speak, I am not hesitant to ask for prayer.

How can you encourage your pastors? I truly believe it’s through prayer. Might I suggest a few ways for you to pray for your pastor(s) and their family?

• Pray for their spiritual health that it might be authentic and ever-deepening. Not routine, formulaic, or mundane.

•Pray for an unwavering ability to distinguish and hear God’s still, small voice amongst the competing noise of life, in order to lead effectively, shepherd diligently, and love unconditionally.

•Pray for them to identify and regularly connect with someone who can be a “pastor to the pastor” in order to purposefully and intentionally care for their soul and spiritual needs. This may be a soul friend, a spiritual director, or even another pastor.

•Pray against discouragement and attacks. Pastoral ministry can be brutal, discouraging work. Daily, pastors walk alongside of the hurting in their congregation and community, doing their best to navigate horrific and hurtful situations – divorce, death, spiritual doubt and disillusionment, and so much more. In addition to congregational concerns, pastors also have to navigate difficult, real-life, personal situations in their own families.

•Pray for their health and for rest that is refreshing and restorative. Pray for times of recreation that will allow their ministry mind to be turned ‘off,’ so they can simply ‘be’ and not feel as if they always have to be ‘on’.

•Pray for them to develop authentic friendships with safe, trusted ones who will simply allow them to be a person, not always on-call as a pastor. To intentionally connect with others with whom they can be completely real and vulnerable—sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly without judgment or criticism.

•If married, pray for their marriage to be protected, nurtured, and strengthened. To have consistent date nights and meaningful conversations, void of discussing church, work, or the like.

•If they are parents, pray for their kids. To know and love Jesus. To have a true connection with Him as their personal Savior. To find their identity in Christ alone, not in their pastor-parents’ job(s) and, especially, not in other people’s (unrealistic) expectations. Pray for the children of pastors to be resilient and understanding, specifically when pastor-parents are unable to attend their activities due to the demands of ministry or when last-minute meetings and/or emergencies arise.

As a pastor, this is what would greatly encourage me. And I believe it might encourage your pastor, too.

How else might you pray for and/or encourage your pastor(s) and their family?

Daddy’s Tribute

 

 

This last time my daddy spoke to me was on Sunday, May 21st at 5:38AM. I remember this so clearly because my husband, Jon, had just finished up a missions trip to Asia, and he’d texted me even earlier that morning while he was in Hong Kong before flying home the next day. Consequently, I hadn’t fully fallen back to sleep. So, when my mom called to tell me that Daddy had an episode and that the Hospice nurse had been there, I was wide awake and intently listening.

I asked her to hold the phone to his ear, and I told him that I loved him and for him to go to Jesus when he was ready. As I paused to fight back tears, he said very slowly, with hardly a verbal sound, but more like a hushed grovel that required much effort, “I…….Am…….Dying!” See, my daddy and I have always been straight-shooters with one another. And I believe with all of my heart that he knew I needed to know and that he wanted to be the one to tell me.

As well, it’s not lost on me that he passed in the month I was born, or that I’m now the age he was (43) when they adopted me as a baby. He always said that I kept him young. Growing up, I hadn’t a clue that he was considered to be an ‘older parent’. In fact, it never even occurred to me until one day a dear friend from college said, “Do you realize your dad is as old my grandfather?” Honestly, I had never really thought about it, because he never acted like he was older than my friends’ dads.

Most of his life, he worked multiple jobs at once, including serving in ministry as a bi-vocational pastor. And he always kept up with me and all of my shenanigans and activities; attending every piano recital, orchestra performance, awards ceremony, and sporting event. No matter if I was playing second-base on the softball field, running up and down the basketball court, or simply cheerleading on the sidelines, he was always there. After I went away to college, even after I moved out of state, he continued to be there for me. Would you believe that one time he surprised me and showed up to my final concert in Kansas City, KS? My parents drove through the night from Louisiana to be there because I was moving to WA State right after, and they wanted to see me while I was still “in the area”. Those few hours were precious!

Although I always knew my daddy was a hard worker, I didn’t realize the sacrifices he made for me until I got older and matured a whole heck of a lot. For my dad, a typical day began at 4AM. He’d get up when it was still dark, so he could feed all the animals and milk the cows before heading to his ‘day job,’ which until I started high school was at a sawmill. To earn additional income for our family and to make it possible to attend all of my activities and events, he worked overtime every single Saturday, making sure to get off by 12 noon.

From an early age, my daddy taught me the importance of hard work and honoring one’s commitments. He instilled in me a desire for lifelong learning and standing up for personal convictions. He encouraged me to dream big dreams. Then, he did all he could to help me see those dreams become realities. From the time I was a little girl, he always told me that I could do anything that I set my mind to do. To this day, I still believe it. He taught me to be strong and independent, as well as soft-hearted and others-focused.

But most importantly, he modeled to me a genuine faith, and welcomed all of my questions and doubts that came with working out my own personal faith in Christ. He always reminded me to trust God in all things. And told me it was okay to have doubts and questions. Questions didn’t mean I had a weak faith. He assured me that they were an opportunity to grow and deepen my faith. And he encouraged me to make sure that I was searching for the answers in the right places!

Speaking of church and faith and God, my daddy lived the ways of Jesus. Now, he’d be the first to tell you that he’s not perfect and that he has a stubborn streak. Or that our family has experienced our share of hardships and difficulties. Some of which we are still navigating. Still, through everything, he has never doubted Jesus, or His love. A few years ago, he told me that even though he was a pastor, he thought God had used him the most whenever he was working at the sawmill or when he was driving a log truck. He counseled people after work, performed weddings, officiated funerals, and was “Jesus with skin on” for many folks.

And from the time I was a little girl, my daddy told me I could do and be anything that God called me to do or be. And ya know what? I believed him! I think he saw something in me from an early age that took me a little longer to figure out: I was called to vocational ministry.
And for the last twenty years, he has prayed for me, encouraged me, and supported me in a multitude of ways in the various ministry positions where I’ve served. Even when I left a “sure thing” job, teaching at a university, to take a leap of faith into the unknown world of church planting, he didn’t think I was crazy. And five years ago, he made the long trip from Louisiana to Washington to stand right beside me at the service when I was ordained an elder in the Free Methodist denomination. I think that was one of the most special memories for both of us. My daddy was my biggest encourager, my strongest advocate, and my most faithful supporter.

Daddy and I, we always “got” each other. And he understood me like nobody else did. All of my life, he has been my sounding board. I’ve only known he had Alzheimer’s for about four years, if that. And one of the ways, I discovered something was ary was because he began passing the phone off quickly whenever I would call. Now, neither one of us are what you would call “phone people,” but we would talk to one another. I would cal him about everything. Not because I wanted him to solve my problems, or tell me what to do. I simply processed life with him. So, not being able to talk to him, and process things with him these last few years has been torture.

Everything that I have read states that people in the end-stages of Alzheimer’s aren’t able to recognize their family members, and they can’t communicate/speak. And as hard as that is to comprehend, I prepared myself for it. But the very last time I saw him, which was in April, Daddy did recognize me. Maybe he didn’t recognize my face, but, perhaps , he recognized my voice? As soon as we got to my folks’ home, I laid down beside him in his bed and sang songs to him, quoted Scripture to him, and prayed for him. But he was also able to communicate with me.

And right before we got on the plane at DFW in Dallas to fly home, I called my parents to speak to him. Truth be told, I wanted to hear his voice just one last time, but I wasn’t really expecting him to be able to say anything. The week we had spent with him, he really was only saying one or two words over the course of an entire day. But during that brief phone conversation, he said to me, “Dada, love!” Although he had a hard time pronouncing the ‘J’ in my name, he knew who he was talking to!

Then, a few weeks before he passed, I received another gift! I heard his voice again, even though the words I heard were not what I wanted to hear. In those brief seconds on May 21st, he very clearly communicated to me by telling me that he was dying. Even my doctor was dumbfounded by all of this whenever I told her about it at my last appointment. She said medically-speaking, it was unbelievable that he recognized me or takes to me. And me? Well, I choose to believe it was God’s gifts of grace to me.

Even though I know that dying is a part of living, I never really imagined life without my daddy. This is going to be hard. My parents adopted me when I was only 22 hours old. Along the way, there have been many questions. Some questions have been answered; others haven’t been. What do know is this: I may not have had Vincent Briley Bown’s DNA, but I am most certainly his daughter. And he’s gonna be deeply and dearly missed. I love you, Daddy!

 

 

My Story: Part 1

Most of my friends know that I am adopted. I am very open about this part of my life. Over the years, some have said, “Jada, there’s a story there, and you need to tell it. People need to hear it!” For years, I have balked and drug my heels because several of y’all are real-life authors (i.e. you make your living writing books), and you actually know what you’re doing. And me? Well, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing or where to begin. Not to mention, I didn’t feel that it was my story to share. Well, at least it wasn’t only my story to share. There were other main characters, ya know? Now, however, I am rethinking it all, and taking a cautious, slow step into the unknown. Who knows if it will ever turn into something, or if it will simply be me engaging in creative, therapeutic journaling. Still, I’m putting pen to paper. Well, actually, fingers to keyboard, and I’m free writing. I don’t have all the details, there are gaps in the story, and holes in the timeline. But this? Well, this is my personal experience, and what I know to be true. Here’s the start of what I have.


My husband turns into the parking lot, finds a place to park, and cuts off the ignition. I glance his way. We briefly lock eyes. Then, I quickly turn to face forward. Staring out the window. Sitting in silence. Neither of us saying a word. My hands are trembling. And I am freezing.

Here I am, less than 100 feet from the man who gave me part of my genetic code, and I am seriously shaking, hardly able to catch my breath. I’m closer than ever to getting answers to the plethora of questions that have raced through my mind over the last forty years. Finally, in a place to discover whether or not I inherited ‘the nose’ from him, because it surely doesn’t appear to have come from my biological mother. But more than anything, I simply want to say, “Thanks for letting me live.”

See, I don’t want anything from him. I don’t want to ruin his life, especially if my birth was some deep, dark secret that he’d rather keep hidden in the past. And I surely don’t think he owes me anything. If that were the case, I’d have contacted him twenty years ago whenever I was first told who he was … who I was. But I didn’t do it then. And I’m not so sure I can do it now.

And so we sit. And we wait. In complete silence. Well, other than the sound of my heart practically pounding outside of my chest and the deep breaths I am taking to try and remain calm and grounded.

Thoughts are racing through my mind. What will he think? Will the shock of seeing me cause him to have some sort of medical emergency? I mean, he is living in an assisted care facility. So, he must have some medical issues. And there’s no denying that I am her child because I look just like her when she was younger. Well, except for that nose. From the photos I’ve seen of him, there’s absolutely no doubt I inherited his nose. For goodness sakes, why did it have to be the nose?

Twenty years ago this summer, I met my biological mom after one of my concerts. A concert that wasn’t even on the schedule at the beginning of the tour. Even more ironic, it was in my home state, which wasn’t even slated to be part of our geographical area, but that all changed two weeks into tour. And that’s how it came to be that I ever even got to meet her.

But I’ve never met him. In fact, I didn’t even know who he was. Then, two years after my biological mother and I met, she passed away. At that time, I was given his name. I’m quite sure he doesn’t know mine. Heck, he may not even know I exist. But how couldn’t he? I mean, all my life, we have lived less than 15 minutes from one another. And once, when my daddy pastored a little country church, we even lived in the same town. To my knowledge, we never crossed paths.

But that all changed a few years ago. That’s when our worlds collided, but I was the only one who knew.

Three years ago, my daddy who has Alzheimer’s was hospitalized with pneumonia. Part of his recovery time was at an assisted living facility. That’s how both of these men, each with significant connections to me, wound up in the same place at the same time. One lived on the residential side of the care facility. The other was temporarily residing on the rehabilitation side.

Two men. One who was my father. The other who was my daddy. One who shared my DNA. The other who shared my life. One who knew me well. The other who didn’t know me at all. One with whom I have shared many real-life memories. The other with whom I have only created imaginary ones in my mind. Neither of them had a clue who the other was, or how their stories intricately intertwined, but I knew.

And here I am. Sitting in the parking lot with my husband who takes my trembling hand into his and leans over to whisper in my ear, “Are you going to go in?”

Robotically, I respond, “I don’t know.”

© 2010-2017 JADA SWANSON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Silent Saturday 

It’s Saturday. The day after and the day before. The day smack dab in between His death and His resurrection.
And there’s silence.

We have accounts, vivid details, actually, about Jesus’ death and resurrection. But the day in between, nothing.

No details. No information.

Just silence.

And this causes me to contemplate, to imagine, to wonder.

It was Sabbath for the Jews, so they’d be at the temple. Typically, this is where Jesus would have been found. Talking to the priests and leaders. Maybe even turning over some tables, expressing a bit of righteous anger. Remember?

But not this Saturday.

Instead, He was in a tomb. Not only silent, but silenced by death. No breath, no blood, no life.

All was silent.

Where might His followers have been? In hiding? Fearing for their lives, too? Trying to figure out what to do next?

How might they have been feeling?

Scared? Confused? Grief-stricken? Disillusioned?

And what about Mary, his mother? Remember the young girl, only thirty-three years prior, who’d said to the angel, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.”

I’m a mom, and I can’t begin to imagine my son dying, especially in such a horrific way. Much less, watching it all, up close and personal. Observing those who were casting lots and hurling insults at my son, my beloved child.

If I were her on this day, my heart would be heavy, filled with grief. Maybe even anger. Then again, my heart might be numb. Too much. Too soon. Too painful.

Might she have been questioning everything? The angel’s visit? Her response?

Knowing a little, but no where near the entire story of her son’s existence. At this moment, and on this day, she was a mom. And her son was dead. The one she bore, the one she fed, the one she watched grow from boy to man.

But now, what?

Only silence.

We commemorate Good Friday, the day of His death, and Easter Sunday, the day of his resurrection. But have you considered the significance of Saturday, the day in between?

What does this silence represent?

In our lives—well, at least in mine—sometimes, God is silent. Sometimes, I have questioned whether or not He’s there, or if He’s listening.

But here lately, I’ve found solace and strength in the silence. For it’s been in silence that I’ve learned to hear, really hear, God’s still, small voice. But more than merely hearing it, I’ve learned to trust it, to expect it, and to heed it.

The time in between may be silent, but it is never wasted. Never, ever wasted.

For, you see, Sunday’s a comin’!
[Jada Swanson, 4/15/2017]

© 2010-2017 JADA SWANSON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

18 Things I Would Tell My 18-Year-Old Self

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Recently, I was asked by a dear friend from Colorado to contribute a few thoughts for a special scrapbook that she was creating for her soon-to-be 18-year-old daughter and recent high school graduate. I was deeply honored. I’ve known this delightful young woman since she was about five years old. And last summer, she served as an intern at our church in the Worship & Arts Ministries.

As I put pen to paper, I reflected upon what I wish I would have known when I was 18-years-old. Those things I wish someone would have told me in order to be better prepared to navigate this new journey called Adulthood. Now, there may be some points on this list for which you don’t agree, but that’s okay. Not to mention, I’m sure I missed a few things, here or there. What might you add to the list? 

18 Things I Would Tell My 18-Year-Old Self

(in no specific order)

1. Set various types of goals: personal, spiritual, vocational, financial, travel, educational. Make them manageable. But at the same time, a little hard work is good for you, too!

2. If you don’t take anything away from these ramblings, please be sure to really understand and embrace this reality: You are and always will be enough, and you are absolutely never too much.

3. Begin now to establish healthy habits in order to take care of the temple that God gave you to steward: drink lots of water, eat fruits and veggies, get outdoors and enjoy physical movement, and go to bed at a reasonable and consistent time.

4. There’s a great big world out there: Go discover it! Seriously, take every opportunity that you can to see the world that God designed, meet the people He created, listen to their stories, eat their food, and take in the beauty of it all. It’s absolutely glorious!

5. Self-care is not selfish. No matter what season or stage of life, this is important. Doesn’t matter if you are a college student, a young adult, newly married, first-time mom, or a senior citizen, prioritize self-care. Take time for yourself, take care of yourself, and don’t feel guilty about it. (Check out Renewed by Lucille Zimmerman.)

6. Be purposeful about finding mentors: faith mentors, relationship mentors, even vocational mentors. One bit of advice: don’t ask folks to be your mentor. Usually, they’ll say no, because it sounds like too much work and/or incredibly time-consuming. Consider inviting them out for coffee to ask three pointed and specific questions. You might pose questions about their business/work practices; their successes and/or failures; their most trusted relationship advice or parenting tips; or their personal faith and spiritual formation practices. Depending upon their desired presence in your life, there’s many ways to engage in this type of connection. Face-to-face coffee chats are ideal. Conversely, much of my mentoring has happened via email or over Skype chats. Be respectful of their time, but learn all you can from them!

7. Establish and maintain healthy personal boundaries in all areas of your life. Trust me, there most definitely will be times when others can’t/don’t/won’t understand or respect yours. No worries. They are your boundaries.  (There’s a great series of books by Henry Cloud & John Townsend on this very topic. Highly recommended reading.)

8. People over productivity. Period. People are always more important. Invest in what matters most.

9. Be an engaged listener. Actively listen to what people are saying. Not merely to respond with your own thoughts, ideas, or opinions, but to intentionally hear what they are sharing.

10. Don’t merely make God a priority, but realize that He is absolutely everything. Make Him the center of all that you do. And understand that your spiritual journey won’t look like anyone else’s. Intentionally practice various spiritual disciplines, not just reading the Bible and praying. Consider implementing times of silence and solitude into your life’s rhythms, as well as purposefully practicing Sabbath.

11. Don’t neglect friendships for dating relationships. No matter how much you love him or how amazing the dating relationship may be, make sure to maintain your friendships. Cultivating a tribe of female friends and creating time and space to engage and invest in those friendships is essential during every season and stage of your life.

12. Don’t allow various media outlets to determine your sense of style, beauty, or self-worth. Be the unique individual that God create you to be. Like wearing stripes with your polka dots? Well, then, go right ahead! Don’t allow a number on a scale to hold you hostage or determine your self-worth. Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it’s reflected from the inside out.

13. Being married is not the ultimate goal for a Christian, male or female, following Jesus is. Pursue this relationship wholeheartedly and unapologetically. Unfortunately, the American church has not communicated an appropriate message regarding singleness. If many years down the road, you find yourself single, please understand there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. You are not less-than, or second-class. And if this has been or ever is communicated to you, it is a lie from the pit of Hell.

14. In the same light, if it is God’s plan for you to get married, pursue someone who loves God more than you, makes you laugh, encourages you to dream big dreams, and definitely someone who views marriage through the lens of partnership and values teamwork.

15. Be a lifelong learner. No matter how much you know, you don’t know as much as you think you do. There’s always more to learn.

16. Financially, always live below your means. Even if you can afford more, bigger, or better, always ere on the side of frugality and generosity. Personally, I like how John Wesley puts it, “Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.”

17. “NO” is a complete statement, a gracious response and a final answer. And it can be said without hesitation, explanation, or defensiveness–just a simple, “No.”

18. Learn from your mistakes, because there will be mistakes. Oftentimes, our greatest successes are borne out of our biggest failures. Don’t be afraid to try something new, to leap into the unknown. You don’t always have to have a plan. Take risks, even if they are more on the calculated side. But, mostly, enjoy life!