Tuesday, March 1, 2016

on avoiding my fortieth birthday

I have been so brave about turning forty until this week- when I will actually  have to turn forty.

Such an unfortunate turn of cowardice on my part.

For three years now, the big 4-0 has looked like an oasis in the distance, a shining brass trophy awaiting my grand victory, and a bandaid long in need of being ripped off. I have felt forty since I turned thirty-seven, But feeling forty and actually turning forty are two different things, apparently.

I’m kind of chickening out.

I called my parents and told them I was having a hard time with my new decade. They were very empathetic, and equally aghast that so many years have passed already. My mom laughed and said, "Our daughter is forty, and we still feel fifty- or younger." This birthday thing has gotten a little out of hand in the world.

I have banned any and all fanfare and surprises. I want forty to wash over me like a baptism of renewal. I want to see a stairway to heaven, or hear the audible voice of God, or see an angel bending low and whispering hallelujahs to me as moral support.

Poor God. My requests of Him are so often ridiculous.

I will probably settle for a good piece of chocolate cake and the sound of my kids cracking jokes after dinner under the twinkly lights on our back patio.

And I’ll try to keep perspective by remembering all the lessons I have learned over the years.

Five years ago, Morgan and I took a trip to Santa Barbara. We stayed in an adorable vintage white stucco motel right on the beach. The windows all had green shutters and our room was perched all by itself up on the top floor, like a little treehouse. We spent every night in our  California paradise with all the windows and shutters flung open. In the mornings I walked the hilly beach road and stood atop one particular hill. There was a little bench on the edge of the cliff I found very useful. The bench and I became fast friends. Together we watched the surfers bobbing out on the waves and marveled at the vastness of the ocean before I headed back to the motel.

Nature is a key that unlocks wisdom in our souls. Jesus often explained the world through nature. If you want to really be wise, He told us, consider a seed, foxes in a vineyard, and that cursed dead tree. If you want to understand love, look at the birds and fields of lilies. Let the creation lead you to the Creator.

I like to look at the ocean best of all. No one can ever stop its tide or bottle its magnificence. It has no beginning or end. We can’t build a city on it or conquer it. Boats can patrol it, but no country can ever really own the water that flows from one shore to another. We can pollute it and ruin it for a little while, but it will keep moving and heal itself eventually. The ocean knows it can outlive us, so it isn’t afraid of people and our ridiculous way of trying to grab up all we can just for ourselves. The ocean could swallow us up whole and no one would ever know the difference.

It was that bench in Santa Barbara that showed me how much time is like the ocean: unstoppable, unconquerable, vast and gloriously present at all times. It isn’t shocking we struggle to wrap our minds around the way time passes through us and swallows up the moments and days and years of our breath. Time is relentless in our lives.

A girl can do what she can to try to stomach it, though.

I shaved the side of my head yesterday. Well, technically, my friend Ashley shaved the side of my head. But it was my idea. You can call it a midlife crisis or you can call it a wicked rad undercut, but I call it a stroke of courage. Brazen acts stoke the fire of my brave heart.

Who knows what else I will need to do to get through Saturday? I may hit up a tattoo parlor or color my remaining hair shocking pink. Or maybe I could drive straight to the airport and hop on a plane to somewhere far away and enjoy a nice dinner in a foreign land with people all around me speaking a language I don’t understand.

Then forty and I can sort out the meaning of life over coffee and tiramisu without interruption.

Whatever I do, I will plant a flag and squarely in this new real estate called my forties. I’ll be like explorers on the moon, sticking a flag in the ground no one will ever really own just to declare my feet have walked here in great trepidation and awe.

Treading lightly is the only way I know to make my peace with the passing of time.

Forty means everything and nothing when I consider the oceans of earth and all that is beyond us. The whole universe sings with spinning, shining celestial bodies. All of it is one grand explanation of God’s Love. Even my shaved head and the tattoo I’ll probably never have the courage to get make a melody uniquely glorious to God. I just need to listen carefully to learn the words.

Forty years from now I’ll probably be able to sing it better than I can today. But with these past forty in the rearview mirror, all I can do is tell you this one certain truth: Life is one big tangle of beautiful and terrifying stuff, and it is exquisitely worth the struggle for joy.

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