And I knew right away that the girl in the center picture could be my daughter. I saw it in her eyes.

Her name is Nagese. Her picture is framed on my mantel. Her letters are on my fridge. She’s lived all eight of her years trapped in a poverty I know nothing about.

But while she is poor in lifestyle, Nagese is rich in spirit.  She loves her brothers, she’s learning to read and write and think. She writes to me about the colors of sunrises and sunsets in Ethiopia and I’m transported there. She asks me about my two cats and the children who live in my village. She is learning to play the flute. She has a serenity that seems almost miraculous given the time and place of her life . . . her small and extraordinary life.

Most likely, Nagese’s life will be shorter than the 8-year-old girls I know in the suburbs. But richer or poorer, Nagese’s eyes teach me to see beauty. Her generous spirit compels me to not hold back.

What I learned at 40 was that giving makes me richer.  Being rich is less about investment portfolios and more about being able to invest in someone who desperately needs what I can give. It’s about making room inside myself for someone else. And setting a place at my table for those who are hungry—many times for more than food.

I’ve learned what I truly need often gets filled up in the giving. Instead of fearing that my limited pool will be drained dry, when I give, my life becomes a river that miraculously flows deeper.

“In Sickness and in Health”

The question remains for the single woman, how do you deal with the absence of something that should have been but never was? A true love that we crave that remains elusive? A promise someone made but never kept?

Whatever the answer, it doesn’t begin with “If only . . . ,” nor does it end with “that’s not fair.” Again, the answer comes from a healthy view of how I fit in the world.

One of the natural risks of living single is thinking too much about yourself. It’s a danger that comes quite honestly. Reflection can quickly spiral into a prideful self-absorption. What am I getting out of this? Am I happy? How does my life compare with hers? Why did this happen to me?

But this self-pity pushes away everything good in life. A self-centered outlook is at the heart of every broken relationship—every failed marriage, every estranged child, every lost friendship. Think about it—it’s true.

At 40 I realized the only way to survive is to treat self-pity like cancer: detect it early, take its threat seriously, and get it out of my body before it’s allowed to grow.

This is not to say that you don’t view life realistically. Some things are unfair. Some challenges are tougher than we might have expected. And most of us never thought we’d have to face it alone.

But at 40 I learned that my story is still being written. Every day I can craft a different ending than what self-pity would dictate. I can refuse to allow the wrapping of life (the health crisis, work challenges, family issues, etc) to distract me from what is good.

This shift in thinking doesn’t happen automatically or quickly. None of us will be Mother Teresa by the weekend. But as I talk through, try on, and come to terms with my own story, I can give myself some needed grace.

At 40, I told myself to lighten up and laugh more every day. I started to make a conscious effort to forgive and go on. I reminded myself that the struggle which makes me toss and turn in the dark will look different in the morning.  Instead of fussing, I began to focus my mind on how my challenges strengthen my soul.  And to be grateful that life is greater than my perception of it. And be glad for it . . . glad for it all.