With my 28th birthday taking place tomorrow, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the things I have learned thus far in life. So, in light of turning 28 years old, here goes…
1. It doesn’t matter what people think.
I don’t really care what people think about most of the choices that I make in my life, but that is something that hasn’t always been true.
My middle school and high school self definitely cared what people thought of me, but once you remove that weight off of your shoulders, it really sets you free to become who you want to become and to do what you love.
I will continue to be myself, whether or not people like it.
2. God must always remain my top priority.
When I am feeling depressed, lonely, or in pain, it’s so easy to turn to God in prayer. But it’s also easy to forget about Him when things are going well rather than praising Him in thanksgiving.
Just like friendships will fade, family is not perfect either. But God is my perfect father who has been by my side through every obstacle.
He is my main focus, since Heaven is my goal. He is the source of all joy. He has to come before everything else in my life – money, friends, relationships, work…everything.
Without Him, I am nothing.
3. Family will be there during the toughest times.
Friendships sometimes weaken, relationships end, and once that happens, it is family who will be there to support me no matter what, even if they don’t necessarily agree with my decisions.
4. True friends are people who lift you up and who push you to become the best version of yourself.
I don’t need to have tons of acquaintances. I would rather have a few solid friendships, and those true friends are people who will push me to become better and to make positive choices in my life.
A true friend will be honest with me and let me know when I may be making a bad decision. She will let me know that the guy I’m interested in might not be the best choice for me. She will support me during the tough times and she will be there to laugh with me through life’s adventures.
A friend is not someone who I need to prove myself to; rather, a true friend will love me for me.
5. Exercise should be a priority.
Now that I’ve endured a 9-year continuing battle with Lyme disease, I’ve tried many different treatment options. But when it comes down to it, exercise seems to be the best remedy, at least for me. I did the antibiotics (doxycycline, tetracycline, ceftin, biaxin, and mepron). I cut nightshades from my diet (tomatoes, white potatoes, peppers, eggplant). I used herbal supplements (fish oil, resveratrol, andrographis, cat’s claw, astragalus, garlic, B-12).
And I absolutely believe that a combination approach will always work the best for Lyme. However, exercise would have to be my top choice. When I run, I feel free. It removes any sadness or stress. It strengthens my body. In order to maintain my health as well as my sanity, I need to exercise on a regular basis.
6. Yoga is much more than glorified stretching.
I don’t know why yoga always had such a negative connotation in my mind. I thought it looked boring and easy. But now that I’ve been going to hot yoga since February, I’ve come to love it.
It has strengthened my body, increased my flexibility, decreased my stress and tension, and made me a faster runner. And it’s definitely not easy.
7. Dessert is absolutely acceptable.
I eat healthy and I pay attention to the foods I put into my body. I try to eat as much organic produce as I can, I opt for grass-fed beef, and I avoid farm-raised fish. But I am against dieting and tight food restrictions since they usually don’t work anyway.
So while I eat healthy most of the time, I won’t give up desserts. I have a sweet tooth and it’s not something that I’m trying to lose.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat massive, decadent desserts every day. Sometimes my dessert consists of 6 Reese’s Pieces or two Starbursts. But still, I love dessert and I don’t plan on changing that.
8. Material objects do not provide lasting happiness.
I’m not a very materialistic person, so this is something that I’ve always known, but it amazes me how many people my age still seem to believe that new car or computer will cause them great happiness.
I don’t own designer clothes. With the cost of one designer blouse, I can instead buy at least four shirts at cheaper stores. I don’t think I’m any less happy because of it.
I’ve never had a new car. I prefer used. Then, if it gets some scratches, I don’t really care, since it already had some to start with.
9. Financial stability is nice, but wealth is unnecessary.
Do I seek to be poor? Of course not. I am happy that I am financially stable, but wealth is not my goal.
I want to be able to provide for myself in terms of the things that I need in life, but I don’t need to buy that beach house or that Maserati to consider myself successful.
If I one day have a family, I hope that my husband and I can provide a level of stability without spoiling our children. I want to be able to do the things that I need to do, but I don’t want to be so wealthy that I forget what it is like to struggle.
10. A yearly vacation is necessary.
So many people never go on vacation. Others go once every few years. For me, yearly vacation (or vacations even more often than that) are an essential part of life.
That doesn’t mean I have to shell out thousands of dollars to fly to Hawaii, Fiji, or Cabo. I’d be happy with a week down the shore, a weekend getaway, a trip to see Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon.
Growing up, my mom never had much money, but vacation was always a priority. She saved all year so that we could go to Long Beach Island for one or two weeks and for that I am grateful. Everyone needs time to hit reset, time to forget about work and problems at home and simply relax.
11. Volunteering benefits the volunteer as much as the people being served.
I love traveling overseas on mission trips and serving the poor of the world. But what is always amazing to me is how I end up being served, how I end up learning so much from the people I think I am going to help.
The Rwandans I met last summer were the happiest people, yet the poorest I’ve ever met. They had nothing. Some of them lived in one-room homes that were constructed from mud. They had torn clothes. One pot to cook with. But their smiles could light up the room and their prayer was incredibly heartfelt. They worshipped God through their song and dance like nothing I’ve ever seen in America. I was humbled to meet them.
Everyone should participate in some sort of community service. It doesn’t need to be overseas; it can be down the road at the soup kitchen, or helping out with Habitat for Humanity.
12. A simple smile can brighten one’s day.
I try to be friendly and welcoming to everyone I come into contact with. I say hello or wave to people I pass on my runs. I care to hear the answer when I ask the supermarket cashier how her day is going. I smile. A lot.
Just like that famous quote about how we never know who may be falling in love with our smile, we also don’t know what obstacles the people we encounter on a day to day basis are facing. Our smile might seem insignificant, but it could be what lifts a person’s spirits and makes them feel loved.
13. Love is powerful.
I have a tattoo from 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. This verse reads: “If I speak in the tongues of men or angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophesy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have the faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
Love is what it all comes down to. If you volunteer only to convince people that you’re a good person, it’s meaningless. If you help the poor while judging them and looking down upon them, you’re not really helping. We must do everything with love.
14. Struggles strengthen and shape us.
Nobody wants to face pain, but it is those moments when we come close to rock bottom that we learn from the most. It is those times of weakness that build us up.
During the various obstacles that life brings, it’s often difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but looking back, it becomes more clear how each struggle helped us to grow.
15. We must take pride in our work.
I love my job as a teacher and I take a great deal of pride in that. I wish more people felt the same way about their jobs.
But even if you don’t have your dream job, you should still take pride in it. I didn’t always have the perfect job. I was a custodian for two years during college, but I still put forth my full effort. I vacuumed every little corner in the library and I washed every smudge off of the windows. Was it my dream job? No, but I still did it to the best of my ability.
There are custodians in my school who are the most positive, energetic people. Did they grow up hoping to clean schools for a living? Probably not, but that’s where they are at the moment and they are carrying out their responsibilities without complaint and with their full effort.
My generation is full of entitled people who think that they deserve that position as CEO with very little work. They don’t want to accept anything lower than their dream position, but for most people, that dream job won’t ever happen without the stepping stones that lead to it.
16. We need to stop judging others, comparing ourselves, and being so critical.
If I spend my time judging someone, I will have no time to love him.
There will always be someone with a better job, prettier face, more toned body. We live in such a cutthroat world that leads us to compare ourselves to everyone. I can’t say that I’ve never done this before; we all do.
But this judging just hurts us as well as the people we’re looking down upon.
We don’t know what someone has experienced in his life. We don’t know why people make the decisions that they do. We must spend our time loving them rather than critiquing them.
17. We must savor the moment.
We need to be present in the moment, rather than waiting for the future or living in the past.
So many people waste their life away hoping for the future. The high school student thinks that life will begin after graduation. The college student is waiting for the “real world” that will open up to him after earning his degree. The girl who spends her days hoping for her future husband. The married couple longing to have children. The older couple waiting for retirement.
Every day is special and we must acknowledge that, rather than wasting our time waiting for what we want next. Be happy with today.
18. We should strive to remain child-like.
As the Bible says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
As children, we long to become adults. And sometimes as adults we take life too seriously.
It is not just good, but necessary, at times, to be like children and to have their childlike faith. We need to step back from our hectic lives to embrace laughter and silliness once in a while.
Children can accept the idea of God and Heaven so much more easily than many adults. They have that childlike faith that God really wants from each of us.
19. We must be aware of current events.
I’m not always the best when it comes to this. Since I don’t have cable, I never see the news, so I have to make a point to look at the news online. Some days I’m better than others.
I know that the news can make us cynical or frustrated, but we have to make ourselves aware of the world.
And we can’t just focus on America. We must pay attention to international news as well.
If you have never heard of the Rwandan genocide, you should go do a little research. If you know nothing about the many recent terrorist attacks, you should spend a few minutes educating yourself.
We can’t give into the “stupid American” stereotype.
20. Experiences are more memorable than tangible objects.
When I think about my experiences in life thus far, these are some of my most memorable moments (and none of them has to do with a tangible object):
-Teaching a group of teachers while volunteering in Haiti
-Trekking with gorillas in Rwanda
-Blowing bubbles while running around with a group of young children in Ecuador
-Hiking up a waterfall with my now brother-in-law in Rio and swimming under one in Brasilia
-Sitting on the hang-gliding platform with my aunt and cousins, enjoying the view of Brazil
-Family trips to Long Beach Island and Myrtle Beach
-Standing in line to get to stand front row at the Eminem/Rihanna concert
-Standing in line to wait for Adam Sandler’s autograph
-Hiking with my dog, Butterscotch, at Tarrywile and Lover’s Leap
-Meeting my sister for the first time at the airport in Rio and meeting my Brazilian grandparents for the first time in Cruzeiro do Sul
I could go on an on, but none of those memories has to do with any tangible object. They are all experiences that are memorable because of the activities I was taking part in and the people I was spending time with.
21. We can’t let fear stop us from living a fulfilling life.
I grew up terrified of airplanes. I told my mom that I would honeymoon at the Jersey Shore because I had no need to travel if a flight was required.
But ever since my first flight during my trip to the Dominican Republic with my mom during my senior year of high school, I have learned how this silly fear of airplanes would have stopped me from experiencing so many places like Ecuador, San Diego, Brazil, Haiti, Rwanda, Texas, and Nicaragua (in a few weeks).
22. We ladies with curly hair need to embrace it.
I used to despise my curly hair. Although it’s not as curly now as it was when I was young, it’s still quite curly. Although I would still love to have naturally straight hair, I have learned how to maintain my curls and how to make them look better by using mousse.
So many girls with curly or wavy hair straighten it every single day, but that just ruins the health of their hair. So will I still straighten it occasionally? Sure. But most of the time, I now embrace the curls that I was born with.
23. We must never stop learning.
I might be going into my 7th year of teaching, but there is still so much for me to learn. We must never become satisfied with our current level of knowledge, as there is so much to know in this world.
Not only do I want to learn more about the best teaching methods, but I also want to become fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, two languages that I can understand and speak (Spanish more than Portuguese), but not fluently.
My mom started college when I was in high school. She graduated with her associate’s degree when I graduated with my bachelor’s. She graduated with her bachelor’s when I earned my master’s degree. There is no age that is too old to keep learning.
24. Jumping pictures never get old.
I love them. I take them everywhere. I may be 28 years old, but I have no shame.
25. We shouldn’t always take ourselves too seriously.
Life is meant to be enjoyed. Sometimes, we need to just let ourselves loose and be silly. We can’t be so rigid that we forget to enjoy the simple moments.
26. Cousins are the friends we get to keep for life.
I love my cousins so much and I have so much fun with all of them. I started off just knowing my two cousins on my mom’s side, but then as aunts and uncles started to get married, I got so many more. And then I met my family in Brazil, along with even more cousins.
I’ll probably always be closest to my two cousins, Doug and Dan, on my mom’s side, since we spent so much time together, especially when going on vacations while growing up. They’re more like the brothers I never had than cousins and I’m blessed to have them in my life.
27. Dogs truly are man’s best friend.
I love dogs and I miss Butterscotch so much, even though he hasn’t been with my for two full years now.
And rescued dogs are the best, since you can save them from previously rough lives.
I had so much fun walking him, hiking with him, and just cuddling up next to him on the couch while watching a good movie.
He licked my tears off of my cheeks when I cried. He could tell when I was not feeling well. He was with me for ten years and he was such an important part of my life during that time.
28. Laughter is the best medicine.
I love laughing. I laugh all of the time.