As of today, you are a past-tense timeframe. This is my farewell to you, still-young-but-not-too-young decade of life.
I think it’s interesting how we boil people down into their decade. A flippant, “He’s in his early twenties,” may explain away juvenile behavior, while an awestruck, “She’s in her nineties,” produces wonder and respect. It’s as if our roles, worth, and basic identities are wrapped up in the number of years old we are.
And if 50 is the new 40, does that make 40 the new 30, 30 the new 20, and what…20 the new 10? If so, we really gotta raise the legal drinking age.
For me turning 40 causes doesn’t cause too much anxiety about the years of wear on this body. I’m pretty content to grow older (but why with the stiff joints and the way my eyelid skin falls down?!?). Overall, saying goodbye to you, Thirties, causes reflection on the events of life which have culminated in this milestone birthday. You were a decade full of events which have shaped me, and for that reason you come along with me into the decades of life which remain.
Though my long-since-past twenties held innumerable life changes, growing from an insecure college kid to professional educator to newly married homeowner, you, Thirties, gave me changes in my core.
The moment I held my first daughter in my arms the day before my 32nd birthday, my inner reality shifted. This, I realized, would be my new calling. Caring for this helpless child would be the hinge around which the rest of my life swung. Life seems to be much about shifting away from the illusion of self as the center of the world and toward a greater Reality. And snap, did having a baby ever change my reality!
Then another squirming little delight appeared on the scene when I was 33. You, Thirties, brought my two daughters into my life! I cannot ever stop celebrating these miracles. And with these two babies, you brought friends. So many friends who were in the same phase of life and desperate for coffee and conversation. These friends continue to carry me as I leave you behind.
I thought more children would fill our home in your decade, Thirties, I really did. Whether through birthing babies or adopting, I thought by now Sylvia and Valerie would be big sisters.
But we both know what else you brought me. Loss. Disappointment. Death.
I remember when Avery Rose was miscarried, when I found her little perfect body and buried her, I was in shock that this had happened to me. To me. Of course, it happened to me; why wouldn’t it? It happens to so, so many sweet moms and dads. But to be the one to carry my own irreplaceable child, to helplessly watch as a terrified observer as my child died…this put loss in my depths. And a few months later burying a tiny Everett next to Avery Rose caused a heaviness of hope I am still weighted with.
Oh Thirties, as if losing those sweet and desperately wanted children was not enough, of course we know what else you brought. The pain and beauty of my time with Elliot. The memories, Thirties, of the traumatic pregnancy with my son, but so much hope and promise in those months…I can’t think of those days without tears! Day after day hospitalized trying to save my little boy. It still feels very cruel, Thirties, to have felt so sure God was protecting Elliot, to have been so certain we would bring him home, to have lived in brief elation of loving him behind the incubator glass…and then. The moment that ripped my soul.
He was so perfect. To hold my little son while he died, to know my time with him on this earth was over—Thirties, that beat me up. If Elliot’s death was an automobile accident which left me paralyzed, I’m still just barely mobile. There has been some recovery, but my limbs will forever move with the stiff recall of trauma.
And you know that in your decade this thing called faith has been weird. When I was 30 or so, I thought I knew what I knew, and I believed I was right. I knew about God, I understood the Bible, I felt confident about how I was supposed to live, I believed prayers were always “answered.”
Now at 40, I know none of that. I don’t really know who God is, except that he is love. The Bible (let’s be honest) is sometimes just bizarre. How I should live is a conundrum that I can’t figure. Prayer is a mystery.
But I think what I found in your days and weeks and months, Thirties, especially after the death of my child (which really was my death too), is wisdom. Eeek. Now I really sound like I’m getting old.
I don’t have more knowledge or “right” opinions. If anything, I have less of those assurances. But wisdom seems to have transcended me into a realm less fickle.
Wisdom doesn’t need to understand God or how he works. Wisdom tells me again and again that God’s love cannot fail. The difference is that this faith continues to bring me back to hope in Christ, rather than hope in any outcome. It’s not easy, Thirties, having fewer answers now than when your decade began. But I suppose this wise ol’ faith is steadier.
Because as each year rolls by and I say hello to new decades and goodbye to others, I am only journeying closer to the God in whose love I say I trust. Eventually, my decades (and my joints) will wear out and I will go to be with Him, even as I am already in Him. You began the teaching, Thirties, that this present reality and eventual destination, the kingdom of God, is the one and only certainty.
So many happy memories in your 3,000+ days. I remember all the fun and work of toddler years. The joy of Christmases and snow days. The sweet short honor of being a foster mom to one special little boy. The laughter of silly inside jokes only our family gets. Trips to the mountains, play dates, and library story time. A decade of marriage with my best friend. Watching two little girls grow.
And in the days which have unfolded, grief and trauma have helped me embrace the suffering endured by others. You’ve given me a bigger heart of compassion and diminished my propensity to judge. The Christ-love which held me through the worst days has flowed more naturally from all my broken cracks.
You’ve helped me hold the tension, Thirties, that life can be sad and disappointing while simultaneously abundant with promise and joy. I really wanted our adopted son to be home by now. And I’m very disappointed that he’s not. But the smiles of my girls and the blue of the sky and the flight of birds are beacons which compel my grieving heart to live and love without reserve.
So goodbye, Thirties. I am a different me than I was when you began. Likely the same will be true when my forties have ended. I think I can carry you with me as a teacher. But I must admit I am glad to say goodbye to you. I am ready to move on and embark on something new. I don’t know about 40 being the new whatever, but maybe it’s a bit of a new me.
And that’s something good on a birthday.
Your Favorite 40-year-old