Half Way to Entirely

C.S. Lewis described the human condition as a process of always becoming more of what we already are. These are cautionary words for me at this point in middle age, particularly as I consider the possibilities. In Lewis’s The Great Divorce, the Teacher speaks regretfully of a seemingly harmless woman who has come to the end of her life, not as a “grumbler,” but as “only a grumble.”

It begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. . . You can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine. (74, 75)

Thanks be to God, it seems that this tendency can work in positive ways as well, and the poet Hayden Carruth bears witness to this, declaring in his “Testament”: “Now I am almost entirely love.” Whatever sifting and sandpapering process brought him to that state, his words inspired Jennifer Wallace as she collected an offering of her own poems.

In Almost Entirely: Poems (Paraclete Poetry) the reader is treated to the process of a woman becoming. As one who is “predisposed by nature to question everything,” (17) Wallace reconciles her doubts with the presence of a God who is well able to take in hand her persistent wondering. In the process, God shows up in both surprising and ordinary ways within the pauses:

  • In the foreordained turning of the head to view a crow in flight or a “squirrel passage, or a person with whom I share an ever-present reaching toward.” (20)
  • In a poignant pondering of “life’s second half”:

“Tell me, someone:
with the spade of days remaining,
how to turn the soil
and where.” (34)

Finding Joy in the Cup of Shadow

Far-from-glib reflections excavate grief and plumb the depths of disappointment with God, borrowing  words from C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed to lament that faith can sometimes feel like “the rope that holds until we need it.” Wallace riffs on Psalm 23 when her “cup of shadow” (24) overflows, and she asks for grace to unbolt the door and walk into a season we’re so tempted to deny.

For most of us, by the time we reach middle age, the jarring truth has been well-established that “the world won’t behave, not even for me.” (39) We are ruefully accustomed to the phone call that describes the disappointing diagnosis of a parent, a friend, a spouse. These are the days when we awaken to an early dawn and begin to take attendance:

“Whose time will come next?
Storm taken.
War taken.
A tiny fracture in a cell.”

Even now, there is grace to find joy in a dusty yellow warbler who hops “in the autumn dogwood near the gate . . . on its way to Venezuela” (49) and to rejoice in the memory of a beautiful, normal day (77).

In every season of life, we dwell in the conflicted joy of The Two Pockets:

“In one is the message, ‘I am dust and ashes,’ and in the other, ‘for me the universe was made.'” Receiving the second in light of the first is the course of health and wholeness. This is enough. A simultaneous comprehension of these two truths will set us on a path that is almost entirely hope.Many thanks to Paraclete Press (here in beautiful New England!) for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Almost Entirely: Poems (Paraclete Poetry), simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Thank you for joining me today on the path of hope,

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The Wonder Years: 40 and Even Better

Some mornings, crawling out of bed feels more like crawling out of a car wreck. Arthritic feet and ankles protest against the floor, and I straighten a stiff back mumbling, “I’m too young to feel this terrible.”

Two summers ago, when the gang landed here on Memorial Day I broke my toe playing kick ball. (Let it be known that I DID make it to first base.) All summer, whenever I tried to put my foot into a dress shoe, I was reminded that maybe I should have been more careful. Could I be getting too old to play kickball with abandon?

Leslie Leyland Fields has hung a glorious and fitting banner over these years past the mid-point: The Wonder Years! These are the years in which we may hear (or tell ourselves!) that we are both “too young” and “too old.” However, with gathered wisdom,The Wonder Years: 40 Women over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty, and Strength  shares insight from warrior-women who have lived and loved past the mid-point, offering both a resource and a tribute to women over forty.

Firsts

Crossing the threshold into middle age often frees women to embark upon new, first-time adventures, to explore career options, to pursue possibilities, and to take a few risks. Of course this will look wildly different in every life. Luci Shaw writes beautifully about her heroic 120 mile rowing expedition at the age of 71, while Brené Brown settled into a tamer understanding of creativity and found herself painting gourds.

As Fields explains in her editorial notes:

“There’s no one single party line. You’ll find convincing support to slow down, to speed up, to launch out into new places, ministries, relationships, and ideas. Prepare to be inspired!”

Lasts

Naturally, in the process of moving forward in The Wonder Years, there are burdens and obligations, stages and seasons that are left behind. Shelly Wilder waves the pom poms for menopause, and Michelle Van Loon recalls the moment she cast off the weight of regret she had been carrying over a past decision. Irrational obsession with appearance and youthfulness, perfectionism, and over-commitment all find their way to the discard pile as one by one, wise women share in their essays how they discovered that “even the releases we think look like losses can actually be occasions for greater grace.”

Always

In this fifth decade of life, I know there are some things that will be with me forever:  family, ministry, writing, gardening, gathering people around a table on this country hill. These have all become convictions–activities and responsibilities that have been engraved on my DNA. Several essays in The Wonder Years urge readers to continue this very thing, to lean into whatever brings light and holy joy into the room.

Because loss and pain are also part of the terrain we’re traveling, we can take strength from the experiences of others:  Anne Voskamp shares a story about going forward in spite of a friend’s cruel diagnosis, and Elisabeth Elliot discovered that when pain was all she had, it became the offering she surrendered in thanksgiving to God.

Madeleine L’Engle and Jen Pollock Michel offer compelling thoughts about time and mortality, for part of moving into the second half of life is the challenge to flourish as we hold life’s goodness close, all the while preparing to release it with grace. And so, The Wonder Years are aptly named for, as we tackle aging head-on, we will certainly find plenty to “wonder” about, while also finding an abundance of wonder to embrace, to rejoice in, and to steer us clear of the misconceptions that lurk and beckon down darker paths:

Reject the notion that an empty nest equals loss of purpose!

Disavow the idea that gray hair and a mature face and form render a woman invisible!

Refuse to fall into an “I’m finished” mindset that gives you permission to start living as if it’s all about you!

God has so much more than this for you!
Begin asking Him today to show you what that might be!

Many thanks to Kregel Publications for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase The Wonder Years: 40 Women over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty, and Strength simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

The Wonder Years, Midlife Women, Aging

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Faith Going Forward: A Mid-Life Following

I can just barely admit this, but I have finally hauled all the cassette tapes — John Michael Talbot, Carole King, Billy Joel — out from under my bed.

And I’m going to throw them away.

Letting go of this one thing may not free my hands to grab hold of an entire universe, but who knows?

This unloading is initiated, I think, by my oldest son’s purchase of a house:  endless boxes and piles of belongings, so overwhelming, and yet minor, inconsequential compared with my extensively curated mess.

Then, there’s the presence of teen sons still in the nest, their growing competence a continual reminder of my slippage toward obsolescence.
The prayer of my heart as I fill the waste basket with relics from the 1980’s is this:

“Oh, Lord, please keep my heart from becoming brittle and plastic,
unconsciously stuck in rigid notions of my own right-ness.
Grow in me a willingness to jettison anything that slows my growth toward You.”

Capture

I’m sharing this post with readers, writers, and thinkers at The Perennial Gen, a website devoted to the process of growing deeper roots in the dirt and light of midlife.

This offering winds up their October theme of health and wellness, and I’d love it if you’d join me over there now to read about what that looks like here on this country hill in Maine.

And I invite you to join the discussion.

  • Has your heart found grace enough to view, in retrospect, your stumbling steps as the exact price for becoming the person you are today?
  • What are you letting go of at this point in your life in order to move forward in health and wholeness?

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Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

No Bitterness in the Wait — Embracing the Aging Dream

Most of the dreams that carried me forward and burned brightly in young adulthood lost their luster years ago.

My twenty-something self would be mortified at the woman I’ve become.
I can imagine her indignant voice, hand on hip, eyes wide:

“What? No gym membership?”

“How many kids did you say you have?”

“What is this shipwreck you’ve made of our resume?”

But then, for most of us, there is a dream or two that sticks around, still cherished and yet unfulfilled.  It reminds us of its presence with a subtle pressure, like a pebble in the shoe.

Dreams with a long shelf life can light a spark in middle age, or . . . they can become the seedbed for bitterness and regret.  Sarah (Old Testament wife of Abraham and matriarch of the Hebrews 11 “faith chapter”) knew well the taste of disappointment and frustrated dreams. Over and over she heard about The Promise, a major topic of Abraham’s heart-to-heart talks with God:

“The Father of a Great Nation,” God had promised.
“Children as innumerable as the stars in the sky,”

God had spoken, and Sarah had worked hard to believe.

Are you finding yourself, along with Sarah, wondering if the promises of God apply to you?

Does is seem to you as if hope is something for the young and the uninitiated?

CaptureI’d love it if you would join me over at God-sized Dreams today for more of Sarah’s story and a challenge to press into the truth of Scripture where we read about the laughter of dreams fulfilled that follows the tears of sowing seed and long waiting.

While you are over there finishing my story about the power of Truth to cast out fear, I hope you’ll meander around the site and be encouraged by others who have set sail on the journey toward their own God-sized dreams.

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In just a couple of weeks, we will begin what I hope will be a leisurely and joyful read of Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry.  The humble bachelor barber of Port William, Kentucky is surrounded by a cast of characters that weave in and out of his story, sharing their wisdom in their turn.  In light of the tragic mayhem of recent days, these words from farmer Athey Keith frame simple truth:  “It might prove out to be that if we can’t live together we can’t live atall.  Did you ever think about that?”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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Living in the Wide Open Spaces

Life has a way of expanding to fill the available space.

Little League games used to occupy Saturday mornings with hours of sunshine (and mosquitoes) and with chatting on the bleachers with other mums. However, a quick glance around my house reveals  our family has aged out of that particular American institution.  We’ve moved on, but even so, Saturday mornings are still booked. These days, though, I’m not a spectator.  I’m experiencing the great outdoors from the seat of a lawn mower.

If your goal in life is to live small and safe, beware the family business!  With its shifting parameters and employees who double as offspring and then have the audacity to grow up and move on to their own lucrative pursuits, our mowing business is challenging all my known boundaries.  Going from “I don’t do complicated machinery” to driving a zero-turn has been a harrowing experience, and one best accomplished in a wide-open field – for the safety of everyone!

There, with the startled butterflies rising along with the scent of fresh-cut grass, I’m gathered into the wildness of open sky alongside the coziness of trampled grasses where a deer bedded down the night before.

There, everything becomes an invitation:

See the wispy clouds, faithfully tending to their job of breaking up the stunning blue.
See the flock of hungry birds ransacking the honeysuckle bush.
See the honey bees, clearly all Threes on the Enneagram, hauling the makings for a flourishing life back to their far-away hive.

From my seat on the mower, inspiration is everywhere.  I have a job to do:  halt the advance of the Maine wilderness in this one location for this one season.

This I can do.
What a relief.

Capture

I’d love it if you would continue to read this story of how driving a lawn mower is impacting my sense of vocation and my conviction that God is active and present in my crazy, in-between life.  Click on over to SheLoves Magazine for more on the truth that even when our circumstances are shifting and the future seems unclear, we can step through God’s open door and find the wide-open field of His calling.

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Veering into the Serene Providence

Knocking twenty-two years’ worth of dust off a resume stretches the definition of “creative writing” to its limit. After giving my time away for two decades, can I convince even myself that my skills are marketable? Am I still capable of holding my own in the workforce? The questions hang in the air like a challenge.

This job search is not happening at all the way I had planned it. Certainly, I have always expected to return to work someday, but only after the graduation party for boy number four, the culmination of my career as a homeschooling mum.  Naturally, I would observe a few weeks’ intermission — to beautify my future Pinterest-perfect home. Then and only then would I break out the resume and step magically into the job of my dreams  – or else . . .  just crank out a run-away best-seller, the smoke rolling off my keyboard from the intensity of its truth-telling.

However, with reality comes the quaint truth that “making ends meet” may simply mean bringing them into the same zip code. With my teacher-husband home for the summer, why not let him manage the family mowing business – and the family? Why not see if I can land a summer job?

Why not?

Whenever the unexpected happens, I’m thrown against the framework of my theology. Will it hold? Does what I believe about the sovereignty of God accommodate a veering turn that was not anywhere on my road map? In the past, I have found that the disruption of my plans has been a salutary thing – not a sign from heaven that I have disobeyed or ignored God’s direction, but, rather, an assurance that there is a serene Providence* at work behind the scenes, that God has said words of promise over me:  “I have other plans for you, plans which will open a way for you to learn to know Me – which is far better than what you had planned.”

Naomi would agree, I think. Senior heroine from the book of Ruth, she encountered the unexpected when Bethlehem, “The House of Bread” was stripped by famine and left without a crumb. The journey to Moab with Elimelech and their two young sons would have been a desperate act, and it was followed by a decade of every imaginable kind of loss as, one by one, her men — her protectors — died.

Even the comforting presence of devoted daughter-in-law Ruth could not dilute life’s acrid brew that transformed Naomi the Pleasant into Mara the Bitter, (Ruth 1:20, 21). Naomi’s jarring change of direction leaves me breathless. How does a woman ever absorb the loss of a husband and two sons? One thing she discovered (and that I am learning) is that God is the only One who is equipped to recognize a detour while it is happening. It is only from the vantage point of the rear view mirror that we mortals are able to verify the truth that, all along, God had in mind our best interest and the furthering of His Kingdom.

With the sadness of mourning still roaring in her ears, Naomi could never have imagined that her slow trek back to Bethlehem would be a journey toward life and joy – and grandchildren! She could not have discerned that her time in Moab – temporary after all – would reap a bearer of strong genes for the making of the Messianic Line:  King David’s great-grandmother, Ruth, the gleaner of barley who gathered grace as well.

In the interim, therefore, we wait; and we pray for grace to trust God’s motives.  Today, I am feeling the murkiness of the fog of unknowing. This waiting is something I’ve never been good at, and yet I can attest to the deep groove that is formed in the soul by waiting – and praying. Paul Miller in The Praying Life advises:

“Instead of trying to suppress anxiety – to manage it or smother it with pleasure – we can turn our anxiety toward God. When we do that, we find that we have slipped into continuous praying.”

How delightful to think that if I can adjust the angle of all my concerns at this turn in the road (Can I still be the present kind of mum I long to be? Who will direct the church’s VBS?  Will my blog disappear from the planet?), if I can move the trajectory away from worry and toward petition, I will “slip into” prayer.

What a mercy.

“Expect delays,” say all the road signs, and while my detour is only the palest adumbration of Naomi’s jarring ride, I am blessed by her words to Ruth:

“Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out.”

And, Note to Soul:

While you’re waiting, let the memory of past deliverances teach you to hope against all hope in today’s uncertainty, knowing that with every unexpected bend in the road you are veering into the loving and wise sovereignty of God.

 

*The phrase “serene Providence” is borrowed from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s oration on the death of Lincoln.

Photo credit

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I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.