A bookstore with a gift certificate. Ah! Talk about feeling blessed.
A week before we flew back to the Philippines, I enjoyed some leisurely moments browsing the shelves in the local bookstore. I was nearly ready to leave when I happened to see The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. On a whim, I bought it, and I am glad I did. Rubin spent a year studying happiness and approaching resolutions and goals in a new light.
One thing that inspired me was her list of “over-arching principles” that she called her “Personal Commandments.” They were to be the anchor lines of her year-long study.
After reading her list, I thought about what my list would be. I have had many “keepers,” little nuggets of wisdom that have helped me in times of decision or discouragement, or that have simply lifted my vision on the common day.
What would I put on my list of personal proverbs? What about you?
Here are my top ten…
1. Be Shelley.
No matter how I would like to run from myself at times, or at least change some minor (and a few not-so-minor) aspects of myself, I am Shelley. I am who God has made me to be. My basic personality is what it is, including my likes and my dislikes. God in His all-wise sovereignty knit me together. He chose my looks, my ethnicity, my family, my time and place of birth. Even my strengths and weaknesses are tailor-designed for His purposes. I am wonderfully and fearfully made. Even so, at times I am tempted to insecurity and frustration with the ever-aging, ever-fallible woman in the mirror. May I be who He has made me to be! Praise God, He is not finished with me; He is continually making me new and making me more like His Son Jesus. I am Shelley, a child of God.
2. Every fear is an opportunity.
I heard this from Elisabeth Elliot years ago, and then I heard that she got it from Corrie Ten Boom. Perfect—a truth from both of my spiritual heroes. I do not think I struggled much with fear…until I had children. That is when fear became an ever-present darkness that threatened to overshadow even my brightest moments. I had to choose. Could I trust God? Would I? If we never feared, why would we need to trust? Instead of running or struggling with fear, this proverb turns fear on its head, using its power for good. Now I try to view fear as an opportunity. Every time fear rears its ugly head and whispers scary imaginings, I have a chance to run to my Daddy. I will change every fearful “What if…?” to a faith-filled “Even if…!”
3. The final chapter has not yet been written.
My dad has wisely said this on many occasions. There is always hope. People will fail—fail miserably at times, with my own failures being especially painful. Sometimes a person or a situation seems so beyond hope. However, we are not the Author of Life, and the final chapter has not yet been written. Even Paul was a murderous Saul. No one and no situation is beyond the power and hope of Jesus Christ. Let us pray and watch. Let us hope—and then pray some more.
4. Leave every place better than you found it.
This proverb has been around for a long time. It is a simple truth that Israelite mothers probably told their children as they once again packed up and moved on during the 40 years in the wilderness. It is nevertheless large in my heart. It has compelled me to wipe bathroom counters, pick trash up off the floor, and just try to be a blessing as I go—and as I leave.
5. Wherever you are, be all there.
Thank you, Jim Elliot, for this powerful sentence. Too often I am visiting the past or studying brochures on the future. I need to be all here. May I focus and really listen to the one talking with me…look at my children…serve here in Manila. Today. In this place and this time. If you are single, be all there for Jesus. If you are married, be all there. When joyful and easy, be all there. When difficult, be all there. God has a curriculum for me, and He will not waste a single day, a single circumstance—if only I will “show up for class” with an open hand and heart.
6. Love can only be gratefully received, never demanded.
Love, friendship, affection, attention, a look, a hug, a call, being included—the list is long, and my cup seems bottomless. It is never full when I try to fill it with the love of human beings. The truth is, my family and friends were never meant to fill my cup. When the Lord fills my cup, love from others is a blessing that runs over and spills onto others. In my flesh, I become needy and demanding. By His Spirit, I can gratefully receive love from others as the amazing, mysterious gift that it is.
7. Choose relationship over convenience.
Once when my children were young, my grandmother died many states away. My mom was going to make the long drive out to her mother’s funeral alone. She did not mind. She knew my busy schedule, my husband’s busy job, our four young children, and all my “etceteras.” Nevertheless, my heart was not at rest. Then a question came very clearly to me: Years from now, which will you remember and which will matter—how difficult it was to go with your mom or how glad you are that you went? I knew instantly that no matter how inconvenient it might be, I needed to be there for my mom. The funny thing is, even as my sister and I planned to go with her, my mom’s plans changed when her sister wanted the two of them to fly out together. I did not even end up going. From then on, however, I had a new guiding principle: choose relationship. When weighing all the difficulties, or the pros and cons of doing or not doing something, choose on the side of relationship. Years from now, I will always be glad I did.
8. Leave it in God’s hands. He is doing more than I can know or imagine.
I love the story of brothers Abishai and Joab in I Chronicles 19:10-13, fighting on two different fronts. In verse 13, Joab says, “Let’s be strong and fight bravely, and may the Lord do what is good in His sight.” I love that. Let us do all we can and fight bravely, and then leave it in God’s hands. He will do what is good in His sight. John Piper said that in every situation, God is “doing a thousand different things that we cannot see and do not know.” Maybe something that seems to be a negative or a loss now is actually an incredibly beautiful puzzle-piece to a bigger, glorious “Yes” later. I cannot see it all now, but my Father is a big God. I can leave it with Him.
9. “Take a picture with your mind,” in the special and the ordinary moments, and tuck them into your heart.
I have some precious pictures that will never be seen in an album. I have often wrapped my arm around one of my children and whispered into his or her ear, “Be sure to take a picture of that with your mind.” Just tonight my 14-year-old son was telling me about a special moment when snow was floating down upon his uplifted face. It was years ago, and he remembers taking a mental picture, capturing the moment in his heart. “I still remember exactly what that looked like,” he smiled wistfully. This Christmas was our first one back in America in three years. One afternoon my parents, my nephews, and my children were all helping my mom decorate the house. Christmas music was blaring, opened boxes of holiday trimmings and ornaments were scattered about, my dad was dancing around in his pajamas, and kids were hanging up decorations or asking where something should go. My mom and the children were joyfully singing along with the music at the top of their lungs. I suddenly just stopped and took in the whole scene. Tears stung my eyes. I took a picture in my mind…and tucked that precious treasure into my heart.
10. The best is yet to come!
What victors we are in Christ! He has won the victory. He has written the Story of Stories, and wonder of wonders, He has even given us a part in several chapters. He keeps us. He holds us together. He is the Author and the Finisher. He turns our trials into gold. He spins black threads into the beautiful tapestry. He has even given us a preview of the glorious-beyond-words future that awaits His children. Oh, sing my soul! He has been good to you. When I am down, I will raise my heart and hands with praise, knowing that the best is yet to come! When I am riding on clouds of peace and joy, I will sing with amazement, “And the best is still yet to come!” And when I lie on my deathbed, I will smile and put my hand in His, knowing that His footprints go before me—and that the best is yet to come.