On the Other Side of Middle

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”  

E.E. Cummings.

Yesterday I turned 40.  It really happened.  No amount of stomping my feet, and covering my ears while yelling, “Nahnahnahnah,” stopped the calendar.  I even asked my mom what time I was born, thinking I had a full day left of my 30’s… nope.  3:30 am.  So before I even opened my eyes, the deal was done.  40.  When I opened my Bible I found myself in II Corinthians 4:16 which says, “Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”  Nice.  Listen Paul, I know that was meant as an encouragement, but to a girl on her 40th birthday it felt a bit harsh (and found me reaching for all the skin care products I could find). I remember my parents turning 40.  It was all “Over the Hill” and black balloons and buzzards.  Nobody better be coming at me with that!  I have celebrated with good friends, with a surprise visit from my precious family, with PadThai and Vanilla Coke, and am still looking forward to a romantic weekend getaway with the hubs.  It has been much more sweet than bitter.

It is interesting having a January birthday because each new year literally ushers in a new age for me.  Most years this happens under the rush of putting away Christmas and getting back in the groove of “real life” after the holidays, but this year holds more weight, I suppose.

40.  It’s a weird age.

I feel as though I am straddling some invisible line, trying to find secure footing on one side or the other.  Middle aged? The middle of what?  Because right now I am in the middle of raising these four children.  I am in the middle of laundry days and American History and endless ballet rehearsals and tween emotions and YMCA basketball.  I have a kindergartner for goodness sakes!  But, man do I feel my age when I go into his classroom.  Every other mom is fresh-faced and excited to be there with a toddler in the stroller and a baby strapped to her chest.  And I can barely muster up the energy to buy the cupcakes… because I have been to approximately 4,327 school parties/feast/programs at this point and I’m over it.  Because, you know, I’m 40.

The footprint is well-worn on that side of the line, deeply embedded in the rich, comfortable ground of what I know.

Like any responsible 40 year old woman, I asked for a puppy for my birthday.  You see, we lost one of our old girls over Christmas, (you may remember her from Well-Worn Words), and my count is off.  We have always had 4 kids and 4 dogs.  That is the deal.  So now all of a sudden, when we have 4 kids and 3 dogs, my headcount is off.  (I may lose count of chickens, cats, and rabbits around the Ranchito but I know how many kids and dogs I have!) Obviously I need a puppy to fix it!  I have texted my husband countless pictures of red-merle, blue-eyed, fluffy Aussie babies.  He has texted back all the angry faces.  I have even named her in my heart! And it’s my birthday!!

But in the name of true transparency, I admit, maybe it goes a bit deeper.  Do you know what I know?  How to take care of all the people, all the animals, and all the things.   I got it.  I have passed that test and it is part of my sure footing on the old side of the line.  Give me something to care for, a baby anything, and I know my role.  It’s simple, right?   I just spent the weekend with my precious sister-in law and even more precious angel niece.  My sis-in-love is just finding her footing on that side of the line, getting a vision for her days, learning to be present in the diapers and and schedules and first words (and she is rocking it, I must say)!  She hasn’t even been to a single class-party yet.  Bless her heart.  Easy it may not be but simple, it is. (Trust me young moms!) Just keep them alive!  Then maybe you teach them what the cow says, how to sign for more yogurt bites, that they need to say “please,” that the “A” says “Ah.”  Right?  Here is how to wash your hair, how to tie your shoes, how to ride a 2-wheeler, how to multiply by 7.   My good friend (and fellow 40ish mom of 4) said it’s like looking at your life through a toilet paper roll (that apparently only you are capable of changing out).  The view is focused, honed-in, simple.

And then, a day like yesterday happens, and life snatches the homemade telescope, and you find yourself blinded by the panoramic scene.  My eyes are blurred, searching for the focal point, trying to adjust to the light.

It’s slippery on the other side.  This fresh ground is unsure and uncharted.  I don’t know which rocks will hold me and which ones won’t.  I don’t know where the dangers lie and I can’t see very far ahead.  But there is something a bit ill-fitting about the old footprint on the other side, something a bit suffocating and crusty.  And I think I might be up for the challenge of discovering new paths.

There just may be room to run.

I am working through Lara Casey’s PowerSheets this year, defining the things I want to let go of, naming my fears, and charting my goals.  I have also been praying through my “word of the year.”  Initially I wanted it to be something like “present” or “intentional” or “cultivate.”  Those felt deep and sounded good.   Do you know what I landed on?  PERMISSION.

My Word of the Year: Permission

I cringe a bit even as I type it.  It feels selfish and shallow and not at all what I am usually about.   But as I faced the fear that maybe 40 is too late for new callings, I began to write things like, “I will give myself permission for creativity, permission to ask for help, permission for space and margin, permission to refuel, permission not to live in the Red Zone, permission to GO FOR IT!”  Lots of permission.

On the old side of the invisible line that I suppose is marking “middle age” in my life, everyone is having a big ‘ole pep-rally for “Simplifying.”  And I get it.  Splash in the mud-puddles, take a nap, say yes to messy, clean out the junk drawer,  ignore the Cheerios on the floor.   But, I’ve sort of been there, done that.  Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”  Do you know what most of my days consist of…

Clean Countertops

wiping the countertops clean.  All day.  Every day.  Clean the countertops.  So, in the end my life will amount to clean countertops?  Vacuumed floors?  Empty laundry baskets?  Or, can I transition with grace, over to the other side where the ground is pliable and unpredictable?  Do I have the courage to let my eyes adjust to the light of the unknown?

Suz and LesleyIn his second letter to Timothy, Paul says “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.”  II Timothy 1:6-7.   My mother is a stunning example of this for me.  There are few women more simple than she.  She is extraordinarily easy to please. Picky is not even in her vocabulary.  She is emotionally sure and stable, never one to rise and fall on a whim.  Her world is pretty small and she likes it like that.  Her countertops are spotless.  But every Wednesday morning for as long as I can remember she has taught in-depth, Precept Bible Study for 75-100 women.  And she brings it like a boss.   She gets up there, with her handwritten notes, her overhead projector, and her unparalleled knowledge of the Word and she straight up fans into flame the gift of God without an ounce of timidity!  When my eyes adjust, that’s what I see over on the other side.  I want to be just like her.

In Jen Hatmaker’s book “For the Love” she has a chapter entitled “On Turning Forty” that I revisited this week.  She says, “I know what I am good at now and I do it.  I’m not apologetic and uncertain and aw-shucks about running my race.  I no longer tiptoe through my own life, doubting my gifts and my place, too scared to go for it, seize it, pray for it, dream it. When you are forty, you no longer wait for permission to live.”  Exactly.

So I am giving myself permission to put down all the “mommy books” and blogs and anthems that pull on me to default to the simplicity and safety of what I know, that make me melancholy, that make me feel like I am closer to the end than the beginning.  Philippians 3:13-14 says, “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”   I trust that my calling is in front of me, on the other side of middle, not behind me.  And I trust that it is bigger than clean countertops.  And I’m giving myself permission to go for it over the next 40 years!  And I have no idea exactly what that will look like but I also trust C.S. Lewis when he says, “You are never too old to set another goal or dream another dream.”

So here is to the other side of middle, to new paths, to fanning the flame, to permission and to 40!  Join me on the journey?

But, Babe, if you’re reading this, I STILL WANT THE PUPPY!  Red Merle puppy

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Over The River and Through The Woods

Happy December!  I know it’s been a little quiet around here lately and I just wanted to let you know where I have been… Over the River and Through the Woods a bit.  I have been honored to be featured on a couple of different sites as a guest blogger for three different articles.  I would love for you to check them out and read along about a few more of my adventures.

over-the-river

Laundry Day: Although it falls under my job description here at the Ranchito to do the laundry for the family, a girl has her limits.  Recently I realized that my husband is not the only “laundry stuffer” around here and there are times I don’t bring my grimy attitudes, my smelly pride, or my dirty thoughts to my willing Jesus.  Anyone else?  You can find that article here.

The One Up Christmas:  Jump on in to last year’s crazy Christmas morning at the Ranchito and hear about my family’s favorite Christmas tradition!  My sweet Nannie left us with the desire to One Up each other at Christmas in all the best ways.  How can you outdo one another in showing honor this Christmas and give the gifts that will last?  You can read more about The One Up Christmas and several other lovely holiday articles at Scribes with Scrolls’ Christmas issue here.

Are We Refusing Refuge? Did you know that Jesus said that He wants to gather us as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing, but we were unwilling?  His Father heart breaks for the refuge He knows he could provide while many times we stand out in the cold refusing it.  I would love to have you come sit with me and marvel at the weight of His offer as we ask ourselves the hard question, are we refusing refuge?  Read along here:

Thank you Dear Readers for following along with my crazy little life, for listening in on some of the lessons Jesus is teaching me, and for allowing me the privilege of possibly encouraging you on your journey as well. You are precious to me.

Blessings,
Lesley

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A Long Growing Season

This little gem is the very first fig from my fig tree.  It is actually the one and only  piece of fruit I’ve gotten this year from my new, baby trees that were a gift from my hubby for Valentine’s Day (Who needs roses when you can have fruit trees)!

chris-fruit-trees

We planted 2 apple and 2 pear (for cross-pollination, obviously), and a precious little fig tree in the Spring.  To my delight a tiny pear appeared in early May and I watched it everyday.  I visited it and checked on its progress.  We would hang out.  I would touched it and squeezed it.  It just generally left me happy like all growing things do.  Then one day, my sweet-green-almost-ripe pear was gone.  Not on the tree, not on the ground, GONE!  I felt like I lost a friend.  My guess is that a dog or a child bumped it off and it fell to the ground where any number of Ranchito critters feasted on it.  So sad.  I then turned my attention to the budding little fig tree.  I resumed my visitations and anticipated its ripening with a more cautious eye.  Do you know that it took this one fig weeks to grow and ripen?  Weeks.  And once I finally picked it, it took me approximately one and half minutes to wash it, cut it, and eat it.  Now, if I had been feeling fancy and wanted to put it on a cracker with some goat cheese and honey, it might have been more like a 5 minute snack but none the less, my little fig was gone quickly.

Currently, I have 5 baby chicks residing in my bathroom.

skye-chicky

I know that this is a totally normal situation so we will not belabor the obvious point that the floors are heated and they need a constant temperature of 95 degrees the first weeks of life so they HAVE to live in the bathroom (I’m talking to you, Babe.  It DOES NOT sound like we are sleeping in a zoo- much).   Do you know that it takes about 24-26 weeks for a chick to start laying eggs?  That is about 6 months of protecting, feeding, and nurturing before they produce their first egg.  Before they “bring anything to the table,” so to speak.  And do you know that once a hen starts to lay, it takes her body about 24-36 hours to naturally lay each egg?  Isn’t that amazing?  A few mornings ago I had a couple of extra children around the breakfast table and we went through a dozen eggs before 8:30am.  In one sitting.  Just like that.  That was either about 2 weeks worth of hard laying for one girl, or 12 chickens’ full day’s work.

None of this is revolutionary, I know,  but it has certainly, humbly taught me a couple of lessons lately.  First of all, maybe we take the Lord’s amazing, ingenious provisions for granted.  I know I do.  In a culture and time when most everything is accessible to the masses by a simple trip to the grocery store, we are so far removed from the starting places of what we consume.  A tiny seed, that finally becomes a tree, that finally buds a tiny fruit, that takes weeks to mature and ripen.  Just one.  And we throw 5 or 10 in a plastic bag without thought.  Meat that started as an embryo.  Eggs that took sweet hens at least 6 months and 24 hours to gift to you.  I don’t know what to say except maybe we give a little extra thanks tonight as we sit in front of a meal that our creative God provided through endless steps and journeys.

Also this eloquent point:

Stuff takes a long time.

It does.  Relationships take a long time.  Building community takes a long time.  Creating a home takes a long time.  Raising kids well takes a long time.  Righting ships that have gone astray takes a long time.  A faithful walk with Christ takes a long time.  Authentic, mature, intimate marriage takes a long time- Like, maybe it takes a lifetime.

When I am plotting my garden, I always have to look at the zone I live in to see what the growing season is for a particular fruit or vegetable.  There are places with longer and shorter growing seasons.  There are certain plants that have a longer or shorter growing season.  What I am realizing is that life, humans, relationships all have very long growing seasons.   We are eternal beings, so I suppose we have eternal growing seasons.  Stuff takes a long time.  It’s obvious in nature.  We can see it, plot it, watch it.  My tiny fig tree will not produce what my friend’s giant tree will with its roots deep and decades of growth behind it.  There is nothing I can feed to my 1 week old chicks to get them to lay a single egg before their little bodies are ready.  But maybe we aren’t so apt to see it when it comes to the things of the Spirit, of relationships, of life.  Growth is certainly organic.  It happens when it happens naturally.  Sometimes all we can do is fertilize and persevere.  You know, like patience, long-suffering, endurance… Lessons we don’t like much when we are talking about things bigger than figs and eggs.

As I studied the book of Acts this summer with the online community She Reads Truth,  I was struck at how many times a small verse would read, “for a whole year Saul met with the church,” “and they stayed a long time with the disciples,” “some time later,” “they remained,” “he stayed and worked with them,” “Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time,”  “this [preaching] went on for two years,”  “when two years had passed,”  “for two whole years Paul stayed there.”  These were all different records of time.  That is a lot of staying, and remaining.  In one verse years are gone, over and over.  This is so humbling to me as I get discouraged in places of remaining myself, when I think something should take less time to produce the outcome, the results, the fruit in my life.

fig-tree

In Malachi 3:11 God says, “the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe.”  What fruit is God growing in this season in your life?  Do you ever look around and feel like it must have dropped like my little pear friend did?  Is it a ministry you thought would be budding by now?  Did you think your finances would be producing a harvest this year?  Did you hope your marriage would be rooted deep today, and instead you are searching for signs of life?  Have you been pouring into someone and feel your fruit has not only been dropped, but shoved back in your face?    Have you been believing for bounty in a child’s life but the storehouse appears empty?  Me too y’all.  Oh my goodness, me too!  But what has our God promised us?

By your patience, possess your souls.  Luke 21:19

Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Galatians 6:9

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.  James 1:12

God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end so that what you hope for may be fully realized.  Hebrews 6:10-11

You see, it’s a long growing season for us.  Someone needs to know that today.  I need to remember that today.  There is no invisible time limit on the things of the Spirit, on relationships, on giftings.   We are eternal.  Your harvest may be right around the corner, and honestly, it may be decades down the road.  We can’t know how deep the roots go for someone else that seems to be reaping what you have been sowing.  Some of us have had scorching seasons.  For others it has been the storms.  You may be amid battering winds right now.  It may be a drought you are facing.   But if you are alive, you are growing.  It is organic.  But you can fertilize that thing with the Word of God, with prayer, and most of all with remaining.

Unfortunately, we can’t just run to the store and grab an intimate marriage and throw it in the bag.  We can’t pick up a little lasting community, or faithful friendships at the drop of a hat.  A deep relationship with the Lord is paved with hours, and days, and decades.  Restoration takes time.  Forgiveness takes time.  A successful business, the legacy of family, a powerful ministry, they all take time.  Stuff takes a long time. Don’t cast that fruit before it is ripe!  Don’t throw it away before the victory!  Don’t walk away before the harvest!  Can we be like Paul and stay?  Can we remain and patiently wait, even among a culture that would say to toss it and move on?   Can we do the work again and again, knowing our God is faithful to His word?   Anticipate the harvest but settle in for a long growing season.  Be encouraged to stay at it.  (Baby chicks in your bathroom make it a little more fun!  Just saying!).