Today I am 50 years old. Most people hate turning 50. For that matter, many people hate acknowledging birthdays at all. I had a party (or rather my husband and daughters and best friend threw me a party) and welcomed my fiftieth birthday with open arms. Why? I am, after all, older and wrinklier and heavier and tireder and slower and have to make more visits to the doctor (and dentist--cf. note on blog title) than when I was younger. I've failed in relationships, and I'm not as accomplished or successful as I would like to be, and I often say the wrong thing in public. I have yet to write, let alone publish, my first book.
But I'm happier. And although happiness isn't everything, it's something--a big something that gives me energy and hope for the rest of the journey. My grandmother lived to 98 years of age (and with her hair naturally brown, I might add!), so I feel justified in saying I could be beginning the second half of my life. I have in some ways my life over again to get things right. Besides all the limitations of age, how will the second half of my life be different?
For one, I hope I am finally beginning to learn from my mistakes. I was reading the other day in John 5 about Jesus' healing of the man at the pool in Bethesda. He asked the man who had been an invalid for 38 years, "Do you want to get well?" Simple question--and it knocked me flat. Do I want to get well? We sometimes have a vested interest in being sick: physically, spiritually, emotionally. Do I want to be a better person? Do I want to smooth out my rough edges? Am I willing to do what it takes to be healthy? Do I want to learn from my mistakes? Do I want to grow? Or do I want to rationalize and justify and complain away all those imperfections and flaws and biases and judgments? One implication of Jesus' question is that he does not heal until we give permission. Is it possible that I'm less healthy than I could be because I have not assented to my own health and growth? If that's the case, then I answer, today, Yes, I want to get well. Maybe on weaker days I merely want to want to get well. Regardless, I will endeavor daily to choose the way of wholeness.
For another, I now know that love really is what makes the world go round, all you need is love, love is a many splendored thing, love is the answer, love, love, love. The two great commandments Jesus taught, paring down the whole law to these principles, are simply love God and love others. I have not always been very good at this, and unfortunately it's often the people I cherish the most who know this about me. I confess to being completely inadequate, to not knowing how to love, to being too worried about my own insecurities to love. Admittedly, it's not easy to love when my own feelings are hurt or when someone is attacking my reputation or my motives or when someone disappoints me. But I get that love is the only answer; nothing else makes anything better. So I will endeavor daily to choose the way of love.
And thirdly (because the best sermons have three points), I can finally trust that I am who I am supposed to be. This "me" is not an accident, it has purpose and calling, its uniquenesses are necessary to some small corner of the world, and I don't have to apologize for being this crazy confluence of strengths and weaknesses, gifts and limitations, qualities and flaws, beauties and uglies, and lots of in-between. Learning to "become what I am" is the greatest gift of getting older. Part of the reason I married my husband a year ago is that, when I am with him, I find it easier to be my best self and so diminish the power of my insecurities and flaws (oh, they are still there and come out from hiding when I least expect it, but I can feel their icy talons loosening from my throat). So I will endeavor daily to choose to be my best self and to quit apologizing for who that is.
Three daily endeavors I think are enough for anyone, but I have no illusions that I have the power to carry them out for even one day. I will depend on the God of love for that power, and learning to live in union with God's love is the only power that makes these goals even possible. I'll make mistakes. I'll fail. I'll procrastinate. But I'll also know that's not the end of the story.
So I had a party and said, "Yes, I'm 50!" I celebrated with friends and family, the people I want to love more fully, the people to whom I'm grateful for loving me, the people in whose presence I am becoming what I am. I have a long journey still ahead of me, but a big part of it is now behind me. I'm not the same person I was 10, 20, 30 years ago, and thank God! Nor am I yet who I will be, and thank God! A friend wrote this birthday wish to me today: "I hope the world is ready for what you are becoming!" I hope I am becoming more whole, more loving, more myself--and more empowered by the God of love.