Faith, Grace, Life, Philosophy, Reflection

Growing Old Graciously

Folded hands by Horia Varlen on flickr.jpg

There was a series of ads for a popular anti-aging cream a while back that ended with this tagline:

“I don’t intend to grow old gracefully.  I’m going to fight it every step of the way!”

The line was delivered by a beautiful, feisty woman; one who didn’t look her age and one who, by her own admission, had no intention of allowing her beauty to fade as she grew older.  This was ostensibly her main goal in life.  As if wrinkles somehow negate a woman’s beauty.  As if youth were a commodity more precious than experience.

But is it truly a measure of ‘aging well’ that we should remain unchanged by the passage of time?

Aging, and how (or whether) we change as we grow older, has been on my mind lately because I’m on the cusp of a milestone.  As I’m a sentimentalist, this birthday feels like a significant event in my life; and, as with all such things, anticipating this milestone has caused me to evaluate the past and make plans for the future.

To me, the mirror isn’t the only place we should pause for reflection.

There’s so much to celebrate about the decade I’m leaving behind.  In the past ten years I have borne children (I had only my eldest in my twenties); I have moved countries (twice); I have travelled (with kids!); I have studied (and I’ve been a student in the school of life); I have written (and been published!); I have served (and been served).  I’ve grown.  I’ve matured.  And, most of all – I’ve softened.

I’m not just talking about the physical softening and the extra exertion of gravity on a body as it ages; I’m talking about a softening of the heart.  The years have had a tenderizing effect on me; many times when my heart is full, so are my eyes.  I no longer contain my emotions as carefully as I once did; I am no longer in such firm command of the inconvenient welling-up of love, or sympathy, or heartbreak.  And yet – I’m stronger, too.

I’ve seen more death, so life is more precious.

I’ve seen more life, so death has more significance.

I know more about people, so I can relate better and sympathize more.

I know more about myself, so I can play to my strengths and work on my weaknesses.

flaws quote

And there’s more to come.

In the decade ahead, what will I learn, and how will I grow?

This is what I’m hoping for:

I hope that I will grow more tender – and yet stronger, too – with each year that passes.

I hope that I will reach out more to those around me; to shake off the guilt over what I haven’t done in the past and embrace the opportunities that present themselves in the future.

I hope that I will honour my belief in the paramount importance of Relationship by nurturing the relationships I feel privileged to enjoy, while also opening my heart to new friends.

I hope that I will be quick to listen and slower to speak; I hope that the perspectives of others will always inform and interest me.

I hope that I will continue to listen and heed God’s call upon my life; my time; my service; and my heart.

I hope that, while my body ages, I will continue to be renewed by His grace.

Lamentations 3

I hope that, whether or not I grow old gracefully, I will grow old graciously.

 

Maybe my reflections will give my friends pause to consider their own.

How do you intend on growing old?

 

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Faith, Life, Personal Growth, Philosophy, Reflection

Books and Covers

Books and Covers by judy and ed on flickr

It was one of those church concerts you so often just stumble upon in European cathedrals.  A visiting Welsh girls’ choir was performing, and I nipped in and grabbed a pew just as the choristers filed in.  They arranged themselves on the sanctuary steps and very shortly a divine sound echoed into the cavernous reaches of the church.

As an old choir girl, myself, I was interested to see how some of the choristers employed techniques for improving resonance and maintaining pitch (including opening their mouths widely to let the sound out, and smiling to prevent the notes from falling flat) – but, in spite of the general professionalism of the group, a few girls looked as if they just weren’t trying.

One girl in particular drew my eye.  She was plumpish and round-shouldered, and she carried a neutral – almost sullen – expression on her face.  She barely opened her mouth when she was singing, made no eye contact with the audience, and seemed altogether uncomfortable.  I kind of wondered why she was there at all.

I was surprised when I saw her step forward at the end of a song.  I figured that somehow she had been chosen to introduce the next piece, and I wondered if she were going to mumble an introduction the way she seemed to be mumbling the songs.  I watched as she took a deep breath.  The piano started with a few bars – and she began to sing.

Though many years have passed since my serendipitous discovery of that concert, I still remember the sweetness of that girl’s solo.  Her voice rang out, clear and true, and the audience was transfixed – none more than me.  I sat, awestruck, stinging with my own ears’ rebuke of my prejudice against this girl: the one with the angelic voice.

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As I ran along the waterfront towards home, the sun shone warm above me and salty breezes buffeted the buggy.  In the marina, the sailboats’ rigging lines sang in the wind.

I came upon a carpool of construction workers exiting a beat-up old van at their worksite.  Two of them were burly, with bellies hanging over their belts where their fluoro vests stopped short; another was rangy, with two days-worth of ‘five o’clock shadow’ and a ciggie hanging, unlit, from the corner of his lips.  We called out good-morning greetings as I approached, and in the background I could hear that their music was still playing loudly – as you’d expect.  What you might not have expected, though, was their choice of tunes.  Strains of Tchaikovsky spilled out of the passenger-side door and mingled with the cries of the gulls overhead.

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A global study on happiness was conducted a number of years ago (not ‘The Happiness Project,’ which is somewhat skewed towards richer respondents).  They looked at affluent societies, industrial communities, aboriginal groups, families living in the most abject poverty – in short, the researchers covered a great diversity in living situations.  And they came up with some surprising findings.  What they discovered was that some people living in poverty achieved a greater sense of contentment with life – happiness – than others in far superior circumstances.  I remember seeing an interview with a group of people in a slum in India following the release of this study’s results:

“Yes, we’re happy,” said one woman, “Because we’re together.”

“Together” meant eight adults living in a one-bedroom shack.  Together meant eating their meagre portions of rice in shifts, because they didn’t have enough bowls for them to share their meal at the same time.  Together meant taking turns to sleep, too, because there was only half as much space as they needed to all be stretched out at once.

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“You can’t judge a book by its cover”

We all know this expression, don’t we?  And yet, how often do we heed the truth of it?

A plain exterior can conceal exquisite talents.  Rough edges can hide tender interiors.  Financial poverty can obscure the fact of the wealth of a life shared.

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.

-John 7:24

Again and again, I am reminded to suspend my knee-jerk judgement and look deeper for the truth.  People are so much more than they appear to be.

This seems an especially apt topic for me to cover right now, as I’m going through a bit of a ‘Common Dowdyfrau’ phase.  I look in the mirror, and all I see is what’s wrong with me – overweight, insecure, unattractive…  I know that this is how others might perceive me, too.

And yet, I also know that there is so much more to me than that.

I am a beloved child of God, for starters – no matter how unworthy I feel, I cannot dismiss the worthiness this gives me.  I am a mother – not always a good mother; not always an accomplished mother; but always, always a devoted mother.  I am a wife – loyal, loving, committed.  And I am a writer, an editor, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a niece…  The mirror tells me one thing, but the Bible tells me to look deeper.  My value – and the value of every other human – is contained in who I am and WHOSE I am, and not what I look like.

How much money you make, what school you went to, where you find your friends on the social ladder, who designed your clothes, and how many ‘Likes’ your facebook statuses get – those things don’t define you.  What defines you is who you choose to be on a day-to-day basis, and whose you are (because, whether you recognize it or not, you were lovingly created).

So let’s get past those covers and start delving into the stories inside.  Let’s stop believing that we’ve got other people all figured out because ‘we can just tell by looking at them.’  And let’s each try to be an open book and invite others to know us better so that they can move beyond appearances, too.

Let’s look inside.

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Motherhood, Parenting

Glamourmom

The Glamourmom is a rare type of bird with attractive plumage.  Some say its origins date back to the time of the Egyptians, in which pigments and powders were used to great effect in creating an attractive display.  There are those who claim that this bird no longer exists (see Dodo), or indeed that it never has (see Unicorn); but, in truth, examples of this exotic species may be found throughout the world.  One may find a Glamourmom by nosing out its heady cloud of perfume or by following the envious glances of the Common Dowdyfrau (this latter species exists in abundance around suburban areas, in particular).  A theory exists, although as yet unsubstantiated, that (under rare circumstances) the Lesser Gymbunnikus (itself an exotic) may in fact transmogrify into a Glamourmom with some considerable pain and effort, but that – should it take place at all – this transformation is temporary, at best.

–          Excerpt taken from A.Kratt-Rick’s A Rare Bird, Indeed

I saw a Glamourmom with my own eyes the other day.  She was dressed in a crisp flight attendant’s uniform, the snug jacket and short skirt neat on her slim form; she wore heels and bright red lipstick (no smudges!), and she was waiting for her Kindergartener to emerge from class.  I must admit, I stared a bit.

There are plenty of pretty Mammas around our school – many of them neatly dressed, even when conforming to the West Coast uniform of motherhood; yoga pants (crusty toddler-prints optional) – and I would never disparage the natural beauty of these lovely ladies.  But the Glamourmom is altogether another breed.  This is the woman whose hair, when long, is smooth and lush – never lank and frumpy; when she wears a short style it looks pixie-ish – not mannish.  Her makeup is always impeccable and she may even go to such lengths as applying false eyelashes and having regular manicures.  Undoubtedly, inside those stylish heels, her feet are also uncalloused and her toenails well-groomed.  In short, this is a woman who Takes Trouble.

Me, on the other hand?  Well, I remember a time when I used to Take Trouble – although I never achieved the kind of cool elegance of a Glamourmom.  To begin with, when I went through phases of being especially careful about my appearance, I didn’t have any kids.  The last time I flew internationally (just over a year ago), I was packing up all the necessities for the flight – and I had to chuckle at how times had changed.  When I was kid-free, I’d include in my carryon: Breath-freshener, Visine, moisturizer, make-up remover, make-up, eyecare stuff, perfume, hair-styley things… (the list goes on).  But with kids, it has been all about Gripe water, Tylenol, kid snacks, breast pump, bottles, Rescue Remedy, extra outfits, entertainment and novelties for the boys, etc. (another long list – but almost none of it for me, and especially none with the aim of improving my appearance before disembarking).

Before I’d go away on holiday (holiday? Ha!), I’d spend weeks exfoliating, layering on self-tanner, moisturizing, waxing, grooming and otherwise preparing to look my best in all the vacation photos.  These days, if we do get away, I expend more energy on finding co-ordinated outfits for the boys (easier to organize, and cute in photos) and preparing them for the inevitable upheaval from their regular routines than I do on my appearance.

So, life has intervened: four kids, a recent shoulder surgery (putting paid to any efforts at fitness during my convalescence), and general exhaustion have taken their toll – and I have discovered that I have now become a perfect specimen of the Common Dowdyfrau.  Things just got a bit too tricky, and I forgot to care.  Until I have a night out, that is – and then I scramble around, trying to figure out what fits and what I might have worn to the previous night out (so long ago it was) so that I can just throw that on in a pinch.  The last time we went out I settled for a silky tunic with microsuede leggings (supposed to look like real suede – wishful thinking) and threw on some earrings, which I promptly snatched off when I realized that they looked clunky next to my decade-old glasses (my contacts are bugging me, but I’m not ready to bite the bullet of replacing them) – I was not going to spend the whole night squinting at West through red, rheumy eyes.  So it is clear that I am no longer practiced at looking my best.

However (and this is a big however), we birds are a resourceful bunch.  I have looked in the mirror (as it were – I *obviously* don’t often actually look in the mirror) and realized that I have let my plumage fade.  It’s time to fluff those feathers and make some changes.  Now, don’t go expecting any miracles – my life isn’t an episode of ‘What Not to Wear’ (sadly) – but I think that a few tweaks are in order.  Decisions need to be made:

Hair – too long to be flattering (on me), but just long enough to stick in a ponytail.  So maybe just a touch-up on the highlights and leave it at that

Makeup – yes (that one’s easy.  Have lots, just need to apply)

Clothes – will be ruthless in culling old maternity things from my wardrobe (even if they are ohsocomfy) – keep transitioning into leggings; not ready for pants with zips

Shoes – polish/replace/consider a heel (considered it – not happening)

Self – smile more (doing that) and do a bit of running again (have begun.  Just need to keep going.  Maybe tomorrow)

OK, so maybe not big changes.  Still, all my boys want at this age is a Mamma who can keep up with them and give them cuddles.  That might be hard to do in heels and tailored clothes – right?

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