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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.
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!”
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.”
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.