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Turning 35…And What is Success, Anyways?

“You know you’re beautiful, right?”

He whispered to me the morning after my 35th birthday, while my body still lay half-paralyzed from the exhaustion of the past week….a late night stay in the ER with my sister-in-law who was enduring painful appendicitis, two days of homeschool co-ops, one of which I taught at, late night meetings, grocery trips, and the throwing of a ten year old’s birthday party the day before…all amongst the normal rhythms of caring for seven children, feeding, bathing (sometimes), parenting, and shuttling them all.

Through tears, I whispered back,

“I don’t care if I’m beautiful or not….I just want to be successful.”

Not necessarily successful in the corporate world, or running a massive ministry, or even being a super hero soccer mom or homeschooler…

Just successful at what I set out to do.

But how do you measure success when motherhood of many is the place where God has stationed you in life? Perspective smears ugly when it feels that all I gaze upon is dirty dishes (again), and laundry scattered (again), and children needing to be retrained on how to actually be nice to each other (again). It all blurs into one continuum of things never quite done, and goals never quite accomplished, patience that is never quite held. It leaks into the soul and starts name calling. Failure. Failure. Failure. It just slowly and quietly, almost by osmosis, becomes your mantra, not that it continues without a fight…. intermittent bursts of energy, new resolve, and fresh ambitions to outrun the steady drumbeat of those negative names. But gradually you lose steam, lose focus, lose patience and the mantra catches up to you again…you.aren’t.measuring.up….dum..dum..dum…aren’t.measuring.up.

My husband draws me back from the wandering of thought into the deep recesses of the soul- life evaluation that I’d rather not look upon.

He breaks into the drumbeat with a different sound, one not so familiar, but refreshing and hope-giving.

“Do you want to know what success is?”

“It’s loving your husband well and investing in your marriage.
Which you do.”

“Its showing up in your kids lives and faithfully serving them and teaching them, even imperfectly.
Which you do.”

“Its spending time on our knees each morning to cry out to God to work in your family and community.
Which you do. ”

My retort is that I just sometimes want my success to be a bit more tangible. More visible….like keeping up with the housework and being able to SEE clean and organized spaces. Like having a blog that I actually POST something on more than once a quarter. Like having a church body that is thriving and growing and alive with numbers being added weekly. Like having countable souls who have met their Maker and Creator in our ministry. Like remembering stuff and being on time to appointments.

But faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Why, Oh, why must it be so invisible…like a path that you walk along but can only see the step you are currently on?

Maybe, because God’s Kingdom is an invisible one.  Built and structured on FAITH, which is the secret back door leading to knowing and experiencing and resting in God. A God who prospers His people (Deut.30:9, Jer. 29:11).

Maybe the secret to outrunning the “Failure. Failure. Failure.” mantra isn’t really outrunning it with more accomplishments,

but maybe by running INTO the Living God who promises to be my Refuge and Fortress, my Strong Deliverer (Psalm 91:2, Psalm 144:2).

Maybe my success, isn’t about what I do, but about how quickly I run into what has already been DONE. (John 17:4)

For when I run into Him, as my Refuge and Fortress, He slams the door of His Stronghold flat in the face of the voices that overwhelm.  The whispering mantra “You aren’t enough. You aren’t enough” can’t be heard when one is behind the Door, the Gate who is Enough. (John 10:7, ESV, Colossians 2:9)

Life inside the fortress of the Living Savior, is a life of Love.  His perfect Love for the Father. The Father’s perfect love for Him. The sweeping of self up into that Perfect Love makes the accusing voices fade under His favor… and you just want more of Him, and experience more of him, and then His love that you’ve taste and feasted upon flows out from you into the lives of those you share life with. All without your really even realizing it. And this…this real love just might lead to real success.(I Corinthians 13)

Maybe the goal of a list of stacked up accomplishments, or even the goal of non-bickering children, or a clean house, or a well-run schedule is just an idol, a counterfeit of what true success is, a false fortress to run to in order to escape the failure mantra. A fragile structure constructed by my own efforts and resolve, which are never sustainable, and never enough.

Tim Keller writes that, “When an idol gets a grip on your heart, it spins out a whole set of false definitions of success and failure and happiness and sadness. It redefines reality in terms of itself.”

And so maybe, it’s a GRACE that the house is never fully clean, or the children still aren’t perfect, or my schedule seems too much for me, or the church-planting endeavors aren’t the height of ministry success. Maybe they are the exact roadblocks needed to redirect me to the True Way, the Real Door, right into the Shelter of the Most High (John 14:6, Psalm 91:1)

and finding myself in Him is the most successful thing I can do….

for His success becomes my success.

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God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

Galatians 2:20