Everyone is a big liar about turning forty. It isn't the new thirty, or even the new thirty-five. It is forty, and it may take me a while to get used to it.
I haven't been able to explain why this particular birthday has been so hard to process. After all, I love my life. I'm more fully myself at 40 than I was at 30. I am in a deliciously happy marriage. I have four kids who, despite my neurotic ways, think I am super awesome wicked rad boss (or whatever proper slang works these days). I'm having so much fun and being so challenged by speaking engagements, making art for people, and writing out my heart. I'm not afraid of wrinkles or losing all my hair (yet). I have a killer collection of vintage globes, for Pete's sake! Those globes alone mean I should be just fine- no matter what number is associated with my age.
Yet this birthday has come with a mysterious side of existential angst I can't shake. Forty feels like the end of something.
I've had a hard time discerning what has ended. But the feelings are taking a more tangible shape today, and I suspect forty is the end of the becoming. "Becoming" is the whole goal of our youth here in this western land born by coming-of-age tales. I have become who I am: a wife, a mom, a minister, a speaker, a writer, a lover, a crier, a feeler, and a dreamer. I love who I have become. Now I just have to figure out how to be who I have become.
Maybe that's what the second forty years will teach me- how to be at rest in who I have become. Certainly most midlife crises revolve around this theme: Is who I have become enough? I suppose to avoid a full-fledged crisis, I just need to follow forty to the land of acceptance and peace.
On my birthday, my dog Penny woke me up with her barking because she wanted me. That dog loves me way too much. I wish she had been my dog in middle school. I might have weathered the competitive social climate better if I had known I could be a goddess for simply sitting with a cozy blanket in my lap and scratching a dog behind her ears.
I stumbled out of my bedroom to quiet the lovesick dog and found a trail of letters leading me to the coffee pot. Morgan had left these for me. I sat with my coffee in my coziest chair and read each one slowly, savoring the kindness. Many, many friends wished me happy birthday by writing words that made me laugh and made me cry. I am loved more than I deserve.
I don't mean that in a pitiful or even self-deprecating way. The whole point of love is that no one deserves it. It isn't love if we deserve it. We can deserve praise for a job well-done. We can deserve honor for faithful service. But love is only real love if it far exceeds what we deserve.
I have not earned these friends or their love. My dog loves me because I take care of her. But my friends love me because they are brave enough to wade through my weaknesses and find my heart. They see the God who valued me enough to live and die to bring me home. They choose to love me because they know He loves them the same way. It's a gift to be homeward bound with people who live the gospel that way.
Forty years of becoming has led me to this place, where love and friendship do what amazing vintage globes can never do: cushion the fall from youth. Morgan keeps reminding me that the end of one thing always means the beginning of something else. So I'm just waiting to see where this new thing leads, taking one grateful step at time.
Hello, Forty. I'll get used to you eventually. Of course, by then, I may be fifty. But I'll figure that out when i get there.