“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
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.
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…
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?
In 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!