June 5, 2021
I am 40. It pains me to have to admit it publicly. Actually, it’s worse: I will be 41 next month. I despise getting older, and thinking that today is the youngest I will ever be, ever again. I once heard that 40 is the oldest of the young, and the youngest of the old. Thanks, but that actually makes it worse. Humanity’s middle child.
So many people say that they absolutely love being in their forties or that they couldn’t care less how old they are. Why is that not the case for me?
I never thought I would be one to have a mid-life crisis, but here I am, smack in the middle of one. (Oh my word, what if this is only the beginning?! Eeek!)
I am terrified that all my adventures have passed me by…how much travel will we realistically enjoy from here on out? I am also very aware that I must increasingly devote much my my physical attention and energy into being present for my aging children. No longer are they riding on my train, but they’re establishing their own now. I want to be nearby and available for them when they need me.
The other factor is how much I notice my mobility beginning to fade. In youth, my hips prepared for childbearing six times! And somehow, somewhere between my fourth and fifth child, it seems all the ball bearings got shot. So now, if I thoughtlessly hop up too fast out of a sitting position, my hips remain frozen in place…they can’t fire off like they used to. I’m often limping or hobbling around like an 80-year-old woman. Should I be worried?
There is something else. I have developed facial dysmorphia. This is the condition where I *only* see my facial flaws. I see nothing else, and I perceive them to be far, far worse than they actually are. If I am looking into a mirror, I hyper-focus on that dang 11-wrinkle between my eyebrows. I am constantly thinking about whether I should #agenaturally, or go ahead and Botox my face into position, in a very vain attempt to postpone the inevitable.
I don’t like being inauthentic though. If anyone ever, EVER told me I looked young after having Botox, I would shrivel from embarrassment! For one thing, it’s a huge sign of first-world affluence to pay that kind of money to remove a wrinkle between my eyes. Secondly, I couldn’t pull it off without apologizing profusely. I wouldn’t be able to cope with keeping it a secret; I know myself. I would announce it very loudly, “It’s fake! I got Botox! I am actually just a shriveled raisin with enough money to fake it!”
But…that wrinkle could go away! Sigh. Jury is still out on whether I will pull the trigger.
My face dysmorphia has caused me to take many, MANY selfies, only to determine how much this wrinkle shows up in real life. The other day, I was busted so hard in front of a bunch of visitors. My daughter screen-shared my photos onto our family TV. And there, laid out before everyone, was a grid of random pix; many of which were selfies I took in various lighting. UGH!!
Finally, being 40 stinks, because I know how fast this decade will fly. My thirties evaporated like a vapor. I will be 50 in no time flat, and it truly haunts me. 30 was a quarter of my lifetime ago. And yet somehow feels like 3 years ago? How does this work. It’s pretty disheartening.
As you can see, and so can my therapist, I am an avid pessimist. So Let’s end on a high note. I have noticed two good things about getting older.
- My house has never looked better. Because time is the only thing that can compose the adorning elements of a home.
- I never forget to floss anymore. Because every single thing I eat gets stuck in my teeth.
There are upsides.
May 28, 2021
24 hours into our 3-year tour in the UK, I knew I would have a ton to write about. I haven’t begun to do it for a few reasons, but primarily I never want to come across as disparaging toward our host nation. It’s not that things were bad there at all. I just had a super hard time getting my land legs.
There is so much to say!
We didn’t have a course to prep us for what we should expect upon arrival. This was the first mistake. I honestly thought that England would be pretty much like America, only with a posh accent. It’s the 21st century, after all! I guess I assumed that humanity transcended most national customs by now…at least among us fellow English speakers!
Honestly. How different could it be?
Well you know what they say about assumptions. I made an @$$ out of you and me, America. For that I am sorry.
Here is one such example.
Whenever I met new friends in the UK, a pressing question burned in the back of my head: Am I fulfilling the stereotype you have in your head about Americans? I have an obvious accent, my voice is naturally loud, I ask a lot of questions, and I have five kids in tow. I always felt rather conspicuous wherever we went.
This feeling had not improved by our first Christmas there. The vicar of our church and his amazing 88-year-old mother-in-law welcomed all of us into the fellowship hall to enjoy a seasonal lunch. We exchanged niceties and he asked me, “What are your family’s plans for the Christmas holiday?”
The seven of us were going to try to fly 10 hours home in the belly of an Air Force prop-plane. So I began to explain to him the concept of Space-Available (Space-A) travel, and how we were going to attempt to catch the free flight back to the USA.
“You see,” I said, “We have to compete for seats on the flight on a stand-by status only. We really don’t know if we are going to get on the flight until minutes before it takes off. So, our plan is kind of a crap-shoot. Who knows if we will get home.”
The generous vicar and his mother-in-law allowed a beat or two to pass. They stared…long pause. Then he said curtly, “Okay! We do look forward to hearing about this when you return!”
The awkward, abrupt end to the conversation stunned me. I began to ruminate, scanning into space, thinking and wondering. What had I said? How did this adorable Christmas conversation just get weird?
I stewed for a while. As I walked home, a lightbulb went off in my head, “Crap-shoot! Oh my word!!! Crap-shoot must not be not a saying here!! And certainly not a phrase to drop in light-hearted holiday conversation with a Vicar and his elderly mother-in-law. Oh…no…what must they think a crap–shoot is?!!!”
It was done. There was no time to go back and explain myself. I had to make things right, but when?
Turned out, I didn’t get an opportunity to officially apologize my locally-inappropriate idiom until mid-January when I was finally able to explain everything to him.
I awkwardly approached him with my crap-shoot retraction, trying desperately to clarify to him that Americans use the term “crap-shoot” and it is synonymous with “gamble.” There is a gambling dice-rolling game in the USA named Craps. To play the game, you roll the dice—you shoot the dice—you’re shooting craps. It has nothing to do with any other meaning the word crap might bring to mind.
He was gracious.
Later, he even had an opportunity to apologize to us too, after commenting about President Trump from the pulpit and then pointing the American family (us) in the audience. See? I always felt so conspicuous.
May 26, 2021
1 Chronicles 17:16ff
“Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family that you have brought us this far?”
What a succinct statement from a humble king. It encapsulates the essence of God’s hand in directing David’s story. A shepherd chosen to become king. This was so unlikely that it *never* would have entered David’s imagination. But David wasn’t exalted from shepherd to king for the sake of his own personal greatness. His place in the story was for the greater good of the society God was crafting.
God saw qualities in David that He could work with: humility, gratitude, and a resigned willingness. David was entirely willing to work within the confines of God’s direction. His gratitude and praise for God’s wonderful works kept his heart soft. And his humility availed him for purposes beyond himself.
It takes a large dose of gratitude to acknowledge that nothing we have in life comes from anything we have done for ourselves. We were born into a certain demographic, our health is complete luck of the draw, and mitigating circumstances are beyond most of our control.
If we don’t gratefully recognize our blessings, a sense of entitlement will rush in. After all, we can’t help but think we created our own success story if we never reflect on the fact that our situation in life derived from external conditions.
And once we feel entitled to everything we’ve amassed (along with anything that is to come) we will likely develop a resistance to accommodate for others anything we can’t directly construct for ourselves.
If we live with this mindset long enough, we will no doubt assume all our past success and future potential hinge entirely upon our own doing.
A prideful, entitled, and controlling person does not inherently want to be a part of something greater than self. The sovereign of a one-person kingdom is no king at all. This may seem obvious, but look again. Our society actually values those qualities…we just label them more tastefully.
While “prideful” carries a negative connotation, self-sufficiency and self-confidence is taught to us from the earliest years. “Entitled” is a big turn off, but realistically, it’s the same thing as quantifying and recording personal accomplishments. An “unwilling” person is a sour apple, but we are more than happy to welcome a decisive, unyielding person onto any team.
In our culture, self-sufficiency + personal accomplishment + decisiveness = the formula for success and influence.
So why am I so surprised to notice that God’s success rubric is different from people’s. Gratitude + humility + willingness = God’s formula for optimal effectiveness.
Why do we struggle with being a part of something greater than ourselves? We don’t like to play second fiddle. We all have plenty on our plate, yet still think it’s not enough…we must strive for more, more more. But to what end?
David was exalted from shepherd to king because of those spectacular character qualities. But the grand purpose of that promotion went beyond David’s success. Just a few verses later he lays it out for us:
“Do as you promised, so that it will be established and that your name will be great forever.”
1 Chronicles 17:23-24
May 25, 2021
Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet.
I once had a literal neighbor who praised me continuously.
“You always wear the cutest clothes!”
“You have the best flower garden!”
“Your eyelashes are so long, are they fake?”
“I love your decorating style! You should start a business.”
Every interaction was peppered with these kinds of compliments. Initially, I enjoyed the comments. To be completely honest, I felt seen and validated. But after a while, the praise became so frequently that I began to deflect it, with statements like, “Oh yeah, my lashes are real. But I wear so much mascara that my eyelids seal shut if I am in the sun too long.”
At some point, the compliments morphed into flattery and I began to dread our interactions. It caused me to avoid contact at all costs, because I could not cope with responding to it. I knew this person was operating out of some kind of need for reciprocity or friendship, but I simply could not figure out how to engage with it. Gradually our interactions ceased altogether.
What went on here? What did I miss?
After a bit of research on this situation, I came across the Proverb above and it enlightened me. Flattery has an underlying motive: to “net” me into something. I don’t know what. Perhaps friendship, acceptance, or compliance with future requests.
I do wish I had a counseling background so that I could assess this behavior/interaction professionally. I don’t think the intention was to snare or bait me in a sinister manner. However, there was a need there that I could not meet. Or that I was not perceptive enough to meet.
Ingratiation is to appear more amiable to someone so that they might accept them. But the interactions never felt authentic. I didn’t take the bait, and therefore this person had no more use for me. Let it be known, that I crave connection just as much as anyone; but I am an Enneagram 4, and I value authenticity above pretty much anything.
If nothing else, this situation caused me to do a careful self-assessment in this area. Have I ever, or am I currently being ingratiating toward anyone? Not very often, but admittedly, I can think of a couple of instances over the years.
Isn’t it amazing how our scriptures truly have simple yet comprehensive answers to all of life’s complexities? It even has nuggets for the minor, awkward interactions with our neighbors! It will remain just as applicable today as it ever was millennia ago.
May 17, 2021
I had my first boyfriend when I was 17. Other than a broken heart, I really did not get much out of that relationship. I do remember one conversation where he asked me a question that became immortalized in my head for the rest of my days. He asked me, “Leigh, why is everything so high stakes for you?”
He was spot on…but I am not sure how much intuition it took. I mean, I am a pretty easy read.
I took a brief hiatus from writing because I got distracted by one single thing for an entire month. Can you believe that? At the age of 40, I still have no capacity to compartmentalize my thoughts, I go all in, full throttle with no brakes. While I was “away” with obsession, I had no margin whatsoever to write anything. I was so gone in fact, I thought I would never have time to write again. I thought it was a sign from God that my writing days were coming to a close, and that I needed to spend my time on other things.
The distraction flew away as quickly as it had descended. In that instant funny enough, my longing to be behind this keyboard came rushing back.
The distraction was not all a waste; I learned a lot from it. But I am happy to be back.
Why is everything so high stakes with me? Why does it seem like everyone else around me can take it or leave it?
Hustle culture has messed with my mind. I have allowed it to pervade my thoughts. It is a relentless, fearsome slave driver yelling at me, “You are always behind” but there is no finish line, no goal post. It’s just the hustle to get ahead, to climb higher to what? What is up there? Hustle culture has no value in the world to come. LeCrae nailed it in his song “Fear:”
Will I hear
“Well Done” when He turn to me?
Will I hear
“You care too much bout all this stuff that really don’t matter.
You chased the wind and you won it
Got to the top of a two-foot ladder”
At the end of my life, I hope I can say I left everything on the field, but not for the sake of the hustle itself. For the sake of others around me who needed my support.
Jesus asks us to give Him our everything, but unlike Master Hustle, His burden is light. We only need to do two things: love Him and love others.
So I am not entirely sure why everything is always so high-stakes with me, but I have an inkling. When I balance my worst-case scenario versus my best-case scenario, I am not content to live somewhere in the middle of those two.
I have a deep-seeded habit of demanding best-case scenario.