The Middle Matters

I’ve often thought that the “middle-aged spread” refers not to an expanding waistline, but to the number of years we claim middle age. Because what’s next after middle age? Old? Elderly? We need some designation between the middle and the end.

At any rate, even though I’m on the far side of middle age, Lisa -Jo Baker’s book caught my eye when it was on sale for the KIndle app: The Middle Matters: Why That (Extra)Ordinary Life Looks Really Good on You. I had heard Lisa Jo’s name but never read her, and I’ve not often seen books for this stage of life.

Lisa-Jo discusses the impact of our middle years in eight areas: our bodies, marriage, parenting (which gets two chapters), our homes, failures, friendship, and faith. “Discusses” is probably too formal a word. Each topic is addressed in three to seven essays. Lisa-Jo writes in a breezy chatting-with-girlfriends style.

It’s hard to summarize a series of essays, so I’ll just give you some samples.

One of my favorite chapters is “When You Think Your Love Story Is Boring.” The epigraph of this chapter comes from a teenager quoted in Huffington Post who feels her love life will never be adequate “until someone runs through an airport to stop me from getting on a flight.” Lisa-Jo shares many examples of love demonstrated in the everyday rather than the once-in-a-lifetime grand gesture.

He lays down his life, and it looks like so many ordinary moments stitched together into the testimony of a good man who comes home to his family driving the old minivan, the one with the broken air-conditioning (p. 40).

And this is a love life: to live each small, sometimes unbearably tedious moment… together. To trip over old jokes and misunderstandings. To catch our runaway tongues and tempers and tenderly trust them to the person who now knows firsthand our better and our much worse (p. 41).

He’s never run through an airport for me. But he goes to Walmart at 9: 30 p.m. for back-to-school supplies that we’ve had all summer to get and of course have left till the last minute. When he walks into the living room at 11: 00 p.m. with bags full of the obligatory red, green, yellow, and blue folders and all the million pre-sharpened number-two pencils, it’s the sexiest thing I’ve seen all week (p. 41).

Another chapter that I loved told of a joyous night with Lisa-Jo’s daughter’s triumph in a school program. When Lisa-Jo looked at the photos taken that evening, first she saw the joy. Then, looking more closely, she noticed a picture of her “generous muffin top bulging over her jeans as she presses up next to her daughter” (p. 26). Instead of being embarrassed or deleting the photo, she decided “There was too much happiness to ever diminish it by worrying about waistlines” (p. 26).

In “What You Don’t Know About Parenting,” Lisa-Jo tells of a time her daughter was in another program, where she struggled with what Lisa-Jo thought was pre-program jitters which would be fine once the performance started. But her daughter had full-blown stage fright, tears streaming as she danced her part. Lisa-Jo struggled with indecision as to the best course of action—sweeping her daughter off the stage or letting her finish. “I don’t know if we can ever actually protect our kids from their own fears. Maybe all we can do is show them how brave they are to face them” (p. 90). After the program was over and everything settled down, Lisa-Jo called her mother-in-law to pour out her heart.

And as mothers have always done, she listened and loved me and then encouraged me with the deep understanding born of her own lifetime of learning what you don’t know by simply walking through it. This is what we mothers do for each other—we offer our own failures as proof that our sisters and daughters, our nieces and grands, will make it through the perilous journey of mothering too. Because no matter how many books you read or podcasts you listen to, nothing can prepare you for the fall you weren’t expecting (p. 91).

When heroes fall, Lisa-Jo wants her children to know, “fame is not where we go when we’re looking for something to believe in. Neither is the pulpit nor the soccer field, nor the stage nor the movie studios, for that matter. . . . power and influence and fame can be a slippery, lying slope” (p. 95).

When her son wants to race in the Olympics:

When they ask you if you believe that they’ll make their way to the Olympics someday, what do you—that mother behind the steering wheel who can’t see the future—tell your son?

Do I really want to be the anchor here holding him back? How do I cheer for him while also being a plumb line for truth? (p. 163).

Concerning a twice-monthly potluck hosted at her home: “Some weeks I look forward to it. Some weeks I’m exhausted at the thought of it. But we just keep opening the door no matter how we feel” (p. 136).

A couple more quotes:

Sometimes friendship is a deep conversation. Sometimes it’s a shared ugly cry. But sometimes friendship is the gift of not being afraid of silence (p. 204).

I don’t have easy answers to the hard questions, whether they’re on the news or coming from your doctor or your kid’s teacher or your coworker or a dear friend. I have only the hope of a hand in mine. The hand of this man, Jesus, who isn’t afraid and who builds things that don’t sink (p. 242).

I enjoyed this book and found it very easy to read. Lisa-Jo definitely has a way with words and weaves them with humor and poignancy. Some reviewers felt the book was more of a memoir or only appealed to women in the exact same stage of life–forty-something, married with kids. But I benefited from it even though I am an older empty-nester. Even though Lisa-Jo’s style is not didactic, readers can learn much from what she shares.

(This book will count for the Nonfiction Reader Challenge, where I am doing the Nonfiction Grazer track of basically doing my own thing. 🙂 But this would also fit in the “Linked to a Podcast” category a of the challenge since Lisa-Jo has a podcast [which I have not yet listened to] with Christie Purifoy called Out of the Ordinary.)

Laudable Linkage

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Here are some of the noteworthy reads discovered recently.

What Changed After C. S. Lewis Came to Christ? We think mostly of Lewis’ intellect, but other areas of his life changed as well. “Lewis was always submitting his life to Christ to be changed. He was always renewing his mind. He understood the New Testament concept of the atonement as involving dying with Christ. He continually submitted habits and attitudes to be killed . . . “

Why I Stopped Calling Parts of the Bible Boring. The theologian she quotes is not my favorite, but otherwise I like this. “Scripture is history, drama, and art. And more importantly, it is the surprisingly simple story of God redeeming his creation. But if in our simplifying or systematizing we end up relegating entire portions of Scripture to boring irrelevancy, we have lost the plot of a God who chose to reveal himself to us in the form of a breathtaking story.”

Helping Our Kids Put On the Armor of God, HT to The Story Warren “Every parent yearns for their child to stand in the face of peer pressure, evil enticements, false claims, and even amidst their own disappointments and losses. Fitting them in these six pieces of spiritual armor will help equip and enable them to stand.”

Cinderella, Strong Women, and the Courage to Be Kind, HT to The Story Warren. “Most of us are strong in ways that go unlauded, and maybe we don’t see our daily routine as strength because of it, or we think we have to be fighting for something—whatever that might look like. But we are strong women when we practice virtues like kindness, when we are patient, when we show compassion and turn away wrath.”

Biblical Submission Does Not Justify Abuse (Or Even Permit It). “Her submission is not your responsibility. Loving her like Christ loved the Church is your responsibility, and abusing her in action or word is a gross violation of the direct command that God has given you. Demanding submission as a cover for acting abusively is a loathsome sin and God notices.”

Midlife, Christ Is. “In midlife, Christ is a consolation for all the things I wish I’d done differently. He doesn’t change my past, but he can redeem it. . . . In midlife, Christ is a companion through all the worries and stresses.”

God Loves Your Perimenopausal Body. “To tell you the truth, the shock as this reality began to dawn in my life left me feeling as though my body might have heard the gospel for the first time even though my heart, mind, and soul had been committed to Jesus since I was a teen. All that time, I’d gotten the message at church that my body was a problem, not a gift.”

Awesome June Activities for Kids, HT to The Story Warren. When school is out and boredom creeps in, here are lots of great things to do.

Just in time for Father’s Day, HT to The Story Warren: a “Try not to Laugh” challenge involving dad jokes:

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

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Here’s my latest roundup of noteworthy reads online:

These Bombs Led Me to Christ,” testimony of the “Napalm girl” from the famous picture. HT to Challies.

God Understands Hard, Thankless Parenting, HT to True Woman. “For those of us who feel undone by the various losses of motherhood, we take comfort in a God who grieves with us and for us. Scripture gives us vivid pictures of how God understands the brokenhearted parent.”

When Mommy Grows Up, HT to Challies.

Mom, I’m Such a Sinner!” HT to Challies. “God’s grace brings moments into our children’s lives, as He does in ours, when they feel just how bad sin is. It’s never pretty. A wise parent works with the Holy Spirit’s conviction without minimizing the sting of its pain. As we guide our children’s spiritual development, we agree with truth while bringing balance to emotion.”

50 Good Mental Health Habits, HT to Challies.

Jesus and Joysticks: What the Church Should Stop Making Fun of Video Gamers. HT to Challies.

The Oldest, Most Ignored Social Media Command, HT to Challies.

Have a Heart on Social Media. HT to True Woman. “When you log onto social media and see your favorite tribe picking up pitchforks over the latest cause for offense… pause before you join in. Consider that, as rewarding as it feels to be part of a mob, your goal should be to build up  — not one up — your brothers and sisters in the Lord.”

The Perennial Gen, a blog for mid-lifers, is focused on caregiving and the “sandwich generation” this month. They’ve had some great posts so far that I can solidly identify with.

I’ve seen a lot of online friends talk about opening their windows this time of year. I’ve thought, either they don’t have allergies or they don’t have much pollen where they live. A friend here opened her windows one night and then had to wipe yellow pollen dust off every surface in her home the next day. Someone posted this on Twitter, and it makes me sneezy just to watch it.

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

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Here’s another round of notable reads found recently:

Please Stop the Mad-ness re “Christian outrage” responses.

Tempted to Quit [Church]? Do You Know Why You Shouldn’t?

Faith Going Forward: A Midlife Following. “If the Proverb is to be trusted, and my mostly silver hair is to be seen as a crown of glory and wisdom, don’t let me be guilty of false advertising.”

How to Engage a Fanatic, HT to Lisa.

I’m a Mom Who Doesn’t. You Don’t Have to, Either, HT to The Story Warren.

30+ Thanksgiving Activities For Kids, HT to The Story Warren.

And, this is the night!!! Daylight Savings Time ends tonight, so don’t forget to turn your clocks back before going to bed. I hate losing the hour in the spring but I love getting it back in the fall!.

(Links here do not imply 100% endorsement of site or author)

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Problems, Blessings, and Dangers of Middle Age

Some time back, I saw a few people online lamenting that there weren’t many blog posts written for “middle-aged” women. There are a lot of “mom blogs,” particularly for moms with young children. But blogs for moms of teenagers and adult children or for women past that stage seem to be few. Part of that is because you can’t talk about your teens’ problems online in the same way you share about struggling with your two-year-old’s temper tantrums or refusal to eat anything but cereal. Then, too, middle-aged women are often the “sandwich generation” years, dealing with nearly adult children at the same time as aging parents, so time can be lacking.

It’s also hard to define middle-age. I have joked that the middle-aged spread doesn’t refer so much to a thickening waistline as it does to the number of years we consider ourselves middle-aged. I’m in the far side of my fifties, and “old” is at least another 20 years away in my thinking.

I’m not an expert, and my experience might not ring true for everyone, but I thought I’d share what I consider the good points, bad points, and dangers of middle-age.

Problems of Middle Age:

Might as well get the bad news over first. 🙂

Physical issues:

It’s easier to gain weight and harder to lose it.

Peri-menopause and menopause (for me, peri-menopause – the years leading up to menopause – were much worse than menopause itself). There are a number of sites dealing with the particulars and what you can do for them.

Staring to decline in strength, eyesight, etc. There are all sorts of “aids” for that kind of thing, from “reader” glasses to bifocals, to “reachers” that help us get out-of-the way things, to tools that help get lids off jars, etc. Instead of lamenting on how old I am that I have to use these things, I can be glad that they are available – some were not until fairly recently.

Beginnings of problems with blood sugar, blood pressure, arthritis, etc. Some of these are better avoided than corrected – I’m guilty of “Oh, I’ll deal with that someday” in regard to weight and blood sugar issues. If I had been dealing with it correctly all along, I wouldn’t be having the problems I am now. Of course, sometimes problems in those areas will crop up anyway because our bodies are not eternal. I heard one preacher say that one reason our bodies break down as we age is to remind us of just that and to urge us to be willing to let go of them and prepare for eternity.

Sleep issues. Middle-aged women often have trouble sleeping through the night and trouble getting back to sleep once they wake up. Sometimes that’s due to urinary issues. I am not sure of the other causes, but it’s a common complaint. That in turn affects us emotionally and intellectually.

Emotional issues:

Menopause has emotional as well as physical issues. But that’s not an excuse to just spew negative emotions all over our families: it’s an occasion to lean all the harder on God and draw strength and help from Him.

The “empty nest” usually occurs around this time, and while we rejoice in seeing our kids take steps toward adulthood, don’t really want them dependent on us forever, and know that the goal of motherhood is to work ourselves out of a job, it is still a major emotional adjustment when they leave the home. Even as we come to enjoy some of the perks of having the house and time to ourselves, we miss that everyday interaction with them that we used to have.

Some of the physical issues themselves affect our emotions, and sometimes just having physical issues affects our emotions.

Realizing that we have more time behind us than ahead of us can be depressing when there is so much more we want to do and less and less time to do it.

Intellectual issues:

I keep the post-it note company in business – if I don’t write reminders to myself, I’ll forget what I need to do.

Sometimes we’ll forget a name or fact we know perfectly well, or forget in the middle of a sentence what we were going to say, or enter a room and forget why we came there. Granted, that happens to everyone at every age, but it seems to happen more the older we get. These things in themselves don’t indicate dementia (and worrying about it makes it worse!) But it can be frustrating.

Lifestyle issues:

The empty nest has already been mentioned. Facing retirement, the possibility of needing to downsize and/or move due to declining income, dealing with aging parents and the medical and aging issues of spouses, are all often faced in the middle-aged season of life. I wrote extensively about caring for an aging parent in Adventures in Elder Care.

Pluses:

Settledness. Sure, there can be upheavals, as mentioned above, and sometimes the empty nest, the death of a spouse or parent, or the loss of a job can turn our world upside down and cause us to have to contemplate what to do next. But as a general rule we know who we are, and, if we’ve walked with the Lord for any length of time, we know to turn to Him for help. Previous trials help us face current ones. We know what our gifts are and aren’t. I used to have some pretty serious self-esteem issues, but once I got hold of being “accepted in the Beloved,” those seemed to melt away. One dear young mom I follow is constantly writing about coming to terms with who she is and what she is supposed to do and how she fits in the grand scheme of life and reinventing herself, and sometimes I just want to tell her, “Hon…just live your life. Enjoy your husband and kids, take the opportunities God brings to hand, and just live.” But I doubt that advice would go over well, and it may be that kind of angst leads to being more settled as we work through those issues, so I just pray that God would help her to be settled in Him.

When I see favorite photos of my kids as toddlers, I sorely miss those little ones. Yet I do rejoice in the young men they have become. Though we miss aspects of babyhood, getting to know our kids as they get older and then relating to them as adults is great fun. As they grow older, they become companionable friends.

Middle age can bring more time as kids get older and their needs from us decline. On the other hand, with aging parents having more needs, sometimes we have more demands on our time.

Likewise, middle age often brings more breathing space financially as the kids move away, at least until retirement and fixed incomes.

Perhaps you’ve seen this humorous list of “Perks of Being Over 50” (I don’t know who originally wrote it, but I have seen it all over the internet):

No one expects you to run a marathon.

 People call at 9 P.M. and ask, “Did I wake you?”

People no longer view you as a hypochondriac.

There is nothing left to learn the hard way.

In a hostage situation you are likely to be released first.

You can eat dinner at 4 P.M.

You have a party and the neighbors don’t even realize it.

You no longer think of speed limits as a challenge.

You quit trying to hold your stomach in, no matter who walks into the room.

Your investment in health insurance is finally beginning to pay off.

Your joints are more accurate meteorologists than the national weather service.

Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can’t remember them either.

Your supply of brain cells is finally down to manageable size.

Senior discounts!

Grandchildren are the best part of middle age. 🙂

Dangers:

The “we have always done it this way” syndrome. Being stuck in a rut. This can especially cause problems in church and in dealing with new in-laws as our children marry. There are bedrock truths that we shouldn’t budge on, but in other areas we can be open to new ways of doing things.

The “I know better than everyone else” syndrome in our words and attitudes. Not receiving suggestions from others. Griping about “kids these days.” We have been around the block a few times more than some, but we don’t know everything. And even in areas where we do know better, we can share that in a way that’s helpful or in a way that’s obnoxious and off-putting.

The “stuck in the past” syndrome. We can enjoy our memories and share them sometimes, but we need to pay attention to the people in our lives now and pray and consider ways to minister to them.

The “I’ve done my time” syndrome. “I’ve worked in the nursery/managed VBS/cooked for every event, etc., for x number of years now: it’s time to let somebody else do it.” Granted, for various reasons we might not be able to do all the things we once did. But there is no retirement from the Lord’s service. There is something He wants us to do, even if it doesn’t fit into the organized ministry of the church. See Ways Older Women Can Serve.

Bitterness over life problems, people not treating you as you’d like, etc. etc. The Bible has much to say about bitterness: “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled,” Hebrews 12:15. “Take it to the Lord in prayer,” as the hymn says. Ask Him for wisdom in how to deal with the issues, do your part to keep relationships what they ought to be, and rest in Him.

Stagnation. Not learning, growing, trying anything new. Sitting in front of the TV all day.

Fear of the future. With health and financial issues, as well as potential loneliness, it can be easy to fear or dread what the future might bring. But God has promised to supply all of our needs. He may not supply them just the way I would have preferred. I don’t want to be dependent on my children some day, and I hope that doesn’t happen, but I have to trust that if it does, God has something for all involved to learn. God’s promises don’t mean that I don’t need to plan and use my resources wisely. But I can trust Him to work through and beyond my resources. “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4).

Conclusions:

Come to terms with your mortality. Prepare for eternity by receiving Christ as Savior. Even though we mourn leaving loved ones behind, having our eternal destination settled takes much of the sting out of facing death. But salvation isn’t just about securing passage to heaven: it’s about having our sins forgiven and living now for God, having His help and grace through life and making His priorities ours. Knowing that we have His help for whatever we will go through and living for Him rather than ourselves will make our remaining years a blessing to ourselves and others.

Stay in God’s Word and prayer. We should never stop growing spiritually.

Look at aids (bifocals, magnifying glasses, cane, etc.) as something to help you and extend your abilities rather than something to get down about.

Stay active, mentally as well as physically.

Repair broken relationships.

Deal with regrets.

Confess and, forsake wrongdoing, apologize, move on.

Use money wisely in preparation for reduced income.

Take initiative. Once I heard an older lady lament that she hardly knew any of the teens at church and wished that the youth pastor would organize some way to get them together. Suggest that to the pastor rather than hope he thinks of it, or better yet, host a teen fellowship at your house or the church (ask a few other ladies for help) or just have a few at a time over to get to know them. If you feel alone and neglected, reach out to someone else. Don’t grouse that no one has called you: call them.

Keep learning. Trying new things is good for your brain!

Despite its potential problems, middle age can be quite an enjoyable stage of life.

How about you? Can you identify with these? Are there any other problems, dangers, or good points about middle age that you can think of?

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, The Art of Home-making Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Tell His Story, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word Filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

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Laudable Linkage

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to share interesting links found in my reading. Probably everyone was too busy to read just as I was too busy to gather them. 🙂 Now that we’re back in a regular routine, here is some good reading for your perusal if you have time:

This time of year, there’s a lot written about spending time in the Bible – starting or renewing the habit. These are all good:

Strategizing “Time in the Word” for a New Year. Jen describes the differences between reading plans, Bible studies, and topical studies and when you might want to choose one over the other.

Plan to Abide in God’s Word.

Why to Study the Bible.

7 Ways to Approach Your Bible in 2016.

Ten Check-up Questions For the New Year.

Serpents, Seeds, and a Savior. Rich thoughts from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth on Genesis 2-3 from the perspective of a newlywed.

Gluttony: Gospel Reflections for Foodies and Comfort Eaters. Very helpful way of looking at it.

Caring For Aging Parents.

Why Women Should Study Church History.

The Middle Years: There’s Good News, Too!

5 Ways You Are Ruining Your Child’s Life.

How to Make Reading Resolutions.

A couple about writing:

11 Ways to Write Better.

How to Outline a Novel (Even If You’re Not an Outliner)

Finally, for a smile or two -my son showed me this first video of a raccoon trying to wash cotton candy. It took him a few tries to figure it out. 🙂

http://imgur.com/zH0Tvcn

And last of all, Susanne posted this yesterday:

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

Here is a collection of some thought-provoking posts discovered in the last couple of weeks:

You Are What – And How – You Read from Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. About more than reading.

When Sin Looks Delicious.

The Inner Life — Four Reasons to Have a Quiet Time.

The ladies of Out of the Ordinary have been blogging about middle age this month, a topic you don’t often see on blogs. My two favorite posts so far have been Things to Guard Against in the Middle Years and The Middle Years: There’s Good News, Too!

On Daughters and Dating: How to Intimidate Suitors. Loved this: “Instead of intimidating all your daughter’s potential suitors, raise a daughter who intimidates them just fine on her own. Because, you know what’s intimidating? Strength and dignity. Deep faith. Self-assuredness. Wisdom. Kindness. Humility. Industriousness.”

What do those with disabilities owe those without?

An Outburst Is An Opportunity.

When It’s Time to Leave a Church.

Five Helps for Memorizing Bible Verses.

Three Reasons to Diversify Your Reading. Why Christians should read non-Christian books.

Hope you have a great weekend!