Yesterday, at Donald’s and Paige’s engagement party, Paul and I talked with Mike Tucker, another original from Summit Ministries camp. Donald, Mike, and I all met at Summit. Paul, Donald, and Mike had all hung out on the VW trip around the states.

Mike shared about his wife, his two daughters, and what they’d all been doing over the past eight years. The last time we’d really talked, Mike had broken up with Betsy and was stressed out about it. A month later, they had reunited and married soon after.

Somewhere in the conversation, Mike said, “I used to be all idealistic and God’s gonna use me to change the world. Now, I don’t think about it. I’ve lost a lot of ambition and I’m okay with it.”

I totally understood. He’s closing in on 40 this year. I’m not far behind him. The 20s were full of enthusiasm, ideals, hopes, and dreams. Paul and I were going to marry, travel, and later on, have a couple of kids. Instead, we completed college and got pregnant soon after.

The kids I don’t regret.

That college degree, I do. Not only did it delay what we wanted to do until we were strapped with kids, it also bound us financially. It bound us in a huge way. It has been a monster that has consumed us and robbed us of our identities and our future.

I can’t tell you how bitter I am about that stupid, stupid master’s degree in teaching that not only wasted a year of my life, but has been a parasite on my family system for years.

Which brings me to the 30s. I believe that for my generation, the 30s is full of disillusionment. We realize that enthusiasm and ideals only go so far. That it’s “hard to get by just upon a smile.” 

Back when we were turning 30, we visited some friends, Scott and Dawn. Scott kept saying, “The 30s is the decade of power.”

I repeated it like a mantra. “This is my decade of power, my decade of power, my decade of power.”

Instead, it’s taken me twenty years to find out what I used to know as a child — that I want to write.

Why do we leave what we know, simply and humbly, as a child? As a child, we know that Jesus loves me, this I know. We know what we love, what gives us joy, what we like, what we don’t like.

All of my 20s was spent in denying all that. Grow up! You can’t always get what you want. You have to suffer to be mature. You have to push through the difficulties. You have to do what you have to and not what you want to. You need to set wants aside.

To a certain extent, these things are true. But difficulties will come without looking for them. We don’t need to martyr who we are. If we follow a destiny, obstacles will come naturally. Instead, we pile up for ourselves avoidable difficulties — denying who we are, trying to be who we aren’t, focusing on fixing our weaknesses rather than flying in our strengths.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned and I will strongly attempt to pass onto my children is to:

know thyself

If I could have known myself sooner, I’d be so much further along. But I was trying to follow so much advice. I was trying so hard. I was trying, trying, trying, to be a good person.

I feel like Tucker. Disillusioned, but hopeful about it. Like maybe losing the illusions is the first step towards authenticity and truth. Like maybe the first step is to stop trying.

(Now, please. All you do-gooders out there, full of cliches, and sympathy — I know that everything on my journey can be used. I know that all things work together for good. I know that you can never know what will come in handy around the corner — but please, right now, I want to mourn about lost time and I don’t feel like being comforted. I just want to have a good cry that I didn’t write my novel twenty years ago. So, just leave me alone and let me go at it. I’ll get over it in an hour or so. And all my Pollyanna ideals will return and settle nicely about my shoulders to whisper encouragement.)

I can learn from this mistake. With my kids, I search for what makes them tick. What do they go to when given free time? What do they find to do? If they must do something useful, what would they prefer? Are your kids like Elsa — who’d rather sort the junk drawer than clean the toilet? Or Greta — who loves to whip through the house as long as she can be in the middle of things and not isolated from everyone? Are they like Ingrid — who doesn’t even need to be told what to do, but anticipates the need and is at your elbow with it before you asked? Or Dagne — well, perhaps there’s a place in this world for someone to sit looking pudgy and cute and just needs to get what she wants, right now! (I’m kidding) Dagne loves to help — loves domestic pursuits — loves to cook and clean.

But I’ve gotten off the point. What I mean to say is that we should eliminate adolescence.

I don’t mean to pressure them to grow up to soon. But to help them find useful work in their passions early on. Along with all childish pursuits, sports, and fun activities — I plan to here and there, bit by bit, encourage them to work now in what they love.

Why can’t Elsa upload her portfolio as an illustrator at 14? Why can’t Greta begin singing gigs at coffee shops? Why can’t Ingrid be building things for charities or shelters — assisting at the soup kitchen? Why can’t Dagne volunteer at the ranch for rescuing horses? And start cooking meals for the family?

I just want to give my kids the twenty years I lost wandering aimlessly through life — pursuing a teaching degree that I didn’t really want because that’s more stable than writing, or being such a perfect mom that I don’t have any time for my own pursuits, or living paycheck to paycheck because we have a second mortgage in educational loans.

Life is short.

And it’s never too young to start living it — being useful and having work that you love.

That’s an amazing gift I can give them. A jump start on life of 20 years.