On Aging: Why You Can’t Second Guess, Live in Regret or Wait for A Do-Over

Last Sunday I woke up on the first day of the second half of my life.

A card leaning on the mirror of my dressing table with Happy Birthday in H’s handwriting reminded me that breath is a gift. And I’m aging.

I stared into the mirror backlit by sun streaming through an open window, wishing the fine lines away; wondering over passages of time and the sly swiftness of sagging skin.

Why couldn’t I have been scheduling a professional photo shoot for my first book jacket a few decades earlier, when products for reducing puffiness around the eyes weren’t part of my morning ritual?

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After five months of physical separation from my daughter, our first morning together in London she crawls onto my unmade bed with a bag of cosmetics in her lap saying, “I want to show you the new things I bought.”

Did I mention my daughter is here? In London? For a month? And I am no longer out-numbered by testosterone?

After she pulls each product out with an explanation attached, I invite her to sit at my dressing table where she tutors me on a new-to-me way to apply foundation.

As we walk to church, I point out which way to look before crossing the street because it is now the opposite of what I taught her as a toddler. We pass our favorite curry restaurant and make note of the number of pubs in the span of a short distance.

And I realize I also woke up to the first day of the second half of parenting.

We walk into the church of stained glass windows where I lose myself in the community hug of welcome and is this your daughter and I just found out today is your birthday.

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“Who are all those young people sitting together over there,” I ask Jan, the Vicar’s wife.

“Oh, I think they’re from a school in San Diego,” she says, “it starts with a P. Pa, pah, poi, she stutters trying to remember. A Nazarene school, I think.”

“Oh! Point Loma!” I exclaim while throwing my purse on the ground and jumping up from my seat. I have less than one minute before the guitar starts strumming. Conversation will be an unwanted interruption during worship.

Taking bold liberty, I stand in the middle of a section of seats like a conductor cueing a student choir looking for eye contact and loudly ask, “Does anyone here know Caryn Christensen?”

All I receive back are blank stares and odd looks.

When I ask again, waving my arms for attention, a palm slowly raises shoulder height in shy hesitancy.

“I do,” says a girl rather sheepishly.  “She was my elementary school teacher.”

I introduce myself and learn her name is Ellen. Sit behind her, lean in close so we can hear each other speak and explain why I’m asking if she knows our mutual friend.

My confidence that someone in the group would recognize the name wasn’t a fluke or even a prophetic leaning. It was a sign of God’s nearness and love for me on my birthday.

You see, a few days before, Caryn messaged me, asking where I live in London. She tells me her best friend’s daughter is living short term in the Kensington area with a group of students. “Is that anywhere near you?” she asks, “If you two are anywhere near each other, I’m hoping you have an opportunity to meet.”

This is becoming commonplace – people connecting me, their American friend living in Europe, with friends and family who are visiting the city. And I love it!

“Yes,” I tell her, “our church is St. Barnabas Kensington, we’re in the area.”

We end the conversation with hope that our worlds will somehow collide in London knowing I’ll soon be on holiday in France.

Ellen has no idea Caryn and I am in virtual conversation about her. She is oblivious that her elementary school teacher is attempting to connect her with a blogging friend, because we are both passionate about Jesus.

And that’s why the serendipity is meaningful for all of us.

It turns out the host couple for the student groups bring them to St. Barnabas shortly after their arrival to the city, because it is one of their favorite churches in London.

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The day I awakened to begin the second half of my life could’ve happened anywhere but God knew it would happen in my favorite place, the city of London and the place I call home now.

I could’ve celebrated without my daughter except God knew being with all the members of my family was the only gift I asked for.

Caryn could’ve chosen to ask me where I lived any day of the week or not asked at all for that matter.

That group of students from Point Loma could’ve chosen another church to visit that Sunday but they didn’t.

They could’ve visited our church on a Sunday my husband wasn’t speaking and never realized he also was once a student at another university in California. And missed all his jokes about Zonies in California during the introduction.

H could’ve chosen to speak on any subject for his sermon that morning. But on the Sabbath which was my birthday, he told us how God illuminates our eyes, our heart and our path; how we reflect the Light of the world around us.

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When you are tempted to second guess the past, live in regret or wish for a do-over, remember that God sees you. You are known. He remembers. The details of your life aren’t random.

He is the divine quilt maker, pulling all the threads of your life together into one vibrant tapestry declaring his faithfulness. A Father knows how to put a smile on the face of His children best. He thought of you first, when you were still in darkness.

“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah That your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!”  Psalm 67: 1-2

How is His face shining upon you lately? Tell me in the comments.

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7 Books to Savor

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“I’m an author too,” she says with a smile after we introduce ourselves.

While I am speaking from the stage about Sabbath to a group of clergy spouses, Susanna’s eyebrows arch, her body leans forward as she listens to what I’m saying. She’s taking notes; the kind of person you want in each seat of your audience.

But it wasn’t until we sat in a circle with plates of salad on our laps during a break that she tells me about her book, published with Simon and Schuster.

She opens vistas on the shores of a familiar landscape in my heart and we can’t stop ourselves from wading into the warm waters of books; our thoughts swimming with details about the writing life.

We float for a while on the need for support in the inevitable solitary nature of becoming authors.

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Weeks later, at her generous invitation we meet at Osterley House and Gardens (because we both love gardening too) for a picnic lunch, a walk and conversation about her next book proposal. A conversation that surprises us both because it’s easy, as if we’ve always been girlfriends though grown up on different continents.

This is the magic of books isn’t it? With each page read in a story, our lives become entangled with the beauty of our humanity and you look forward to the moment you meet again to savor the next chapter.

I left Susanna’s house holding her book in my hands and the story of the way it was birthed written on my heart. An early moment in our journey to London I won’t soon forget.

A book that is now one I reach for daily on the top of my reading stack. And when we find a book we love? You know you want to share it, right?

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We were careful about not packing too many books to bring on the crate when we moved to London. Still, you will find a treasure trove of bindings from favorite authors on all three floors of our house. On shelves, bedside tables, lying on the floor of the family room next to a comfy chair and piled high on my writing desk.

Normally, I read several books from different genres at once like a tapas meal; savoring each voice and content in small doses. Do you do that?

Books are for parts of your day like pairing food on your plate. Light-hearted and amusing books for breakfast, spiritual inspiration for a quiet time, memoir for tea-time during a writing break. Page turners are for after the dishes are washed and luxuriating on Sabbath.

My stacks are a smorgasbord of authors encompassing vintage classic, memoir, spiritual inspiration, best-selling fiction and something that challenges me to think differently. Here are the titles:

A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie, Updated and Revised by Susanna Wright – These daily prayers for morning and evening gifted to me by Susanna are infusing my prayer life in ways I didn’t expect. I can hardly move on to the next day’s prayer because every page is inspired and rich. If you long to energize a tired quiet time, I highly recommend it.

Wild in the Hollow by Amber Haines – This memoir is her debut book and it is stunning, like all of the things she writes. I found Amber’s blog a few years ago and her poetic way with prose never ceases to inspire me to be better at crafting sentences. This is a raw, honest account of a woman’s brokenness and redemption. So vulnerable, she makes me want to live free and brave like that too.

Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro – Books on writing inspire my thinking and creativity in a way that is different than reading fiction. Highlights throughout, it is inspiration for a new writing group I’m leading this autumn.

House at Riverton by Kate Morton – I’ve read every one of her books except this one, her first, and it doesn’t disappoint. Kate has such a way of keeping you away from all house work to find out what will happen next. And then she will surprise you with the ending. Every. Time. Her next book, Lake House, is available in October. I have an alert on my phone.

A Room of One’s Own and A Writer’s Diary both by Virginia Woolf – Dani Shapiro (above) mentions A Writer’s Diary as being a book she returns to often for inspiration so I downloaded the sample on my Kindle. When my friend Dea was here in London, I took her to my favorite bookstore, Persephone, and they had both of these titles. So, she bought them for me as a gift. Because friendship, shopping and books for people who are passionate about words.

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy – I started this a while ago and then got distracted until the movie came out recently. There is a reason why books are referred to as vintage classics. The word imagery sticks to your memory and returns again years later in conversations, new places visited; in prayers for others when you least expect it. Brilliant, as they say here repeatedly – about everything.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain – I’m savoring this one because I’m the only extrovert in a house with three introverts. Need I say more?

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – I finished this book a while ago but I couldn’t do a list without telling you how much I love this book, given to me by my friend Elizabeth. He is a master at building layers of plot and crowds of character; writing scenes in a way that haunts. A writer’s writer for sure.

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What are some of the books you are reading that you love and want to give away to friends and family members? Let’s share what we are reading in the comments.

 

On Starting Over {and Focus}

Ten paces behind H and Harrison, I walk slowly, passed hundreds of tents stacked like doll houses on the floor of God’s living room. Marquees shake violently in the wind naming each distinct community – St. Johns, Holy Trinity, St. Stephens, Emmaus Road – markers in a tapestry of nylon, metal and bunting framed by vast windmills and small sheep.

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We have arrived at Pontins Camber Sands, a holiday park in East Essex tucked in tight by arms of the sea.  It is the home of FOCUS, an annual summer event boasting 7500 participants.

Here for H’s work, we insert ourselves on the top of a steep learning curve in the HTB community. I’m sliding down on my bottom while H is on his feet.

A few moments pass when H and Harrison pause mid-sentence, turn around in tandem and face me. Consternation quickly erupts between them, a mirror to the look on my face.

Perhaps it was my eyes swollen round and fixed, mouth gaping open or the slowness in my gate that evoked their quizzical exploration into my sudden malaise.

“What in the world is wrong with you,” they ask.

Between you and me, all the feels in my ENFP personality were standing up and saluting their broad chested logic. Those unadulterated looks from my thinkers are commonplace, not only among an extravagance of tent dwelling Christians. I used to make excuses, feel the need to explain the easy sway of my body from clarity to confusion. But I don’t do that anymore. I own my humanity.

We don’t need to make excuses for fearfully and wonderfully made.

I had no place, no hidden crack or extra room in my memory for what I was seeing. Thousands choosing to sleep on cold, hard earth; the howl of wind keeping them awake for one whole week of . . . . Vacation?

Perhaps this explains why Bear Grylls is one of the 7500?

When rain arrived and the wind picked up I was glad we chose to stay in a “chalet,” more accurately described by many as an army barracks with a warm shower and stove to cook. But God wasn’t to be found in the wind but  . . . in a gentle, quiet whisper — those words scrolled through my mind endlessly everywhere I went.

When God wants to pour you out like Daniel, Joseph and Moses, He erases all the ways in which you have learned to define life. All the ways you have chosen to simply live faith. All the ways in which you’ve become too familiar with how He shows up.

I’m starting over.

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This is not the kind of starting over that looks like words written, wadded up and tossed in the rubbish bin. It isn’t about making a decision to end something important and re-invent myself or failing and being humbly put back together by circumstance. No, it’s not about learning how to perform familiar tasks with uncharacteristic verve inspired by a fresh outlook.

The kind of starting over I want to tell you about isn’t any of those things and yet, it is all of them.

This starting over is about God exchanging your adult heart to remember what it means to be a child again. It is an unexpected birth in mid-life, a tributary discovered mid-stream in thought, a revelation hatched mid-sentence in the story of life.

When the wind and rain cease and sun warms up community interaction, my mouth is no longer hanging open. But my heart remembers the teenager.

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The teenager displaced and dropped off in a new town, alone among a throng of strangers in a crowded community swimming pool. Watch girls dive for pennies for hours while sweat drips off my forehead.

Walking into a church for the first time certain everyone can read the brokenness on my face.

How small it feels to be the only student performer whose parents are missing in the audience. How redemptive it seems to have your best friend’s parents fill in the gap.

I remember the faces of Laura, Jenni, and Kelly on the first day at each of three new schools as an adolescent and how kindness diminishes the awkwardness of starting over.

We think starting over is about a roof, income, and bread but God is saying, “No, starting over is about me, the Kingdom and trust.”

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Starting over means listening for answers to questions you aren’t asking because you are over confident in where the path is leading. And trust doesn’t require your assumptions.

Trust owns how God made you when everything around is foreign like Daniel confidently eating fruit when everyone else is eating meat.

Trust is humbly stuttering in your American accent to connect with people because like Moses, you know God is your mouthpiece.

Trust is leaving the comforts and familiarity of home to embrace influence God is orchestrating. Influence like Joseph, among people who don’t know your name, spiritual legacy or how you’ve been successfully tending sheep in other places.

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On our drive home, hearts full of wise words, warm faces and worship, brush strokes of purple, gold and salmon shade sky a brilliant masterpiece. Our necks stretch like baby birds hungry for glimpses of beauty. Through open spaces in walls of stone and ivy we spy streaks in the sky until the strain turns into a sleepy haze pushed into my son’s pillow.

I awaken to stars shimmering like twinkle lights dangling at dusk in the trees of London and the smell of bread baking in an oven filling up my senses. Except I am the only one who smells the aroma and hears the whisper.

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

Metaphors are all around us. Do you see them? Can you smell them? How do they taste?

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If you are starting over, this is the most important thing I can tell you. Remember what it feels like to be a child again and the vulnerability will lead you and those you influence to the Kingdom.

You will remember that life is not about where you sleep, the weather, or who knows you, but that God’s got you, no matter the circumstance. He will pour your life out and stretch your tent pegs at precisely the right moment.

Glory!