Older and Wiser

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June 27, 2001

In a little over a week, I'm going to be an old woman. Or so I've been told by people who discover how old I'll be on my upcoming birthday. It's one of those numbers that ends in a 0. A milestone, they call it. The dawn of a new era. "One foot in the grave," one ornery, mistaken soul dared utter before I could prove how young and strong I still am with a playful punch.

I've been wracking my brain for the past several months trying to come up with an appropriately big way to usher in this new decade of my life. My birthday falls on a Saturday this year, so I have the whole day to work with. I've contemplated a spur-of-the-moment vacation or dying my hair a different color. One friend suggested a tattoo or belly-button piercing (don't worry, Mom, I'm not really considering these!). I want it to be something fun and celebratory, so I'm not tempted to fall into the self-pity trap for being "still single" at my age.

Thankfully my soon-to-be age hasn't bothered me yet. Though I've had several friends tell me how difficult this birthday was for them - single friends who thought their lives would look so different than they do now. My friend Cathy recently mentioned her sadness at reading verses such as Proverbs 5:18 - "May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth." Being the wife of someone's youth is no longer an option for some of us, a point that seems to be confirmed with each passing birthday.

Though I haven't gotten down about my milestone b-day yet, to be honest I'm a little worried about how I'll feel when I wake up that day. You see, I just realized that I'll greet that day alone. As of a few months ago, I'm in my first solo apartment ever, so this b-day I won't awake and be surrounded by family, friends, or roommates. It'll just be me. Older me.

That's when I'm afraid I'll be tempted to think about Lisa, a woman in my church who's only six months older than me, and who has a successful CEO husband, three cute, creative kids, and a huge house full of matching furniture. Will I look around my one-bedroom apartment full of hand-me-down and flea-market-find furniture or say good morning to my Mr. Right, a pesky parakeet who gets all flappy and agitated when I approach his cage, and feel as though I don't measure up? Will the absence of an adoring (or even just snoring) spouse or wet kisses from my own wee ones seem sorely lacking on this special day?

Birthdays make us reflect a bit, and milestone birthdays have a way of making us assess. "Am I on track for my life goals?" "Is this where I'm supposed to be by now?" "What do I have to show for the last ten years of my life?" For us singles, where we look for these answers is crucial. When we look at outward, tangible things - a mate, matching china, a mini-van, or mini-me - we seem to fall short. But I'm learning that's only part of the answer.

Thankfully one of the smartest things I've done in the final days of my current decade is pray for the right attitude with which to approach the next. When I look through God's lens, I see that my apartment is so "me" - vintage (this relates to me style-wise, not age-wise!), within walking distance of two coffee shops, and vacuumable from one outlet in a mere ten minutes. My Mr. Right fills my mornings with happy singing. And though I haven't become a mom, I'm soon to "birth" my first book. I also see that in the last ten years I've helped launch a new ministry in my church, overcome a bout with mild depression, and traveled around the globe. I would be remiss if I didn't count and celebrate these gifts from God in the midst of all my assessing.

Recently in a service at my church, we sang a song based on Micah 6:8 - "He has shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee. But to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." Though our checklist of expectations for any given age may be long and detailed, I love that God's list is short and simple: Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God.

That latter part, walking humbly with God, sounds an awful lot like not taking ourselves - and our expectations of ourselves - too seriously. That's a sentiment I've heard echoed in the words of several older women recently. Each has said that turning 50 or 60 was the most freeing thing for them. Suddenly they didn't care anymore what others said, or accomplished, or even thought of them. They've all loved the freedom of taking themselves less seriously and walking humbly in God's lavish love and unique path for them. And they've all told "young" me that the best is yet to come.

Taking a cue from Micah 6:8 and these older, wiser women, I think I'll start my milestone day hanging out at one of my local coffee shops - with God and a new novel (thankfully, another accomplishment of the past decade for me is learning to enjoy my own company). Then my friends and I will find some fun new restaurant for our usual birthday dinner out - complete with yummy food, nonstop chatter, and loving laughter. It'll be a great celebration of all God's accomplished in and through me (and often despite me!) and for the simple joys of doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. Armed with these goals for the coming decade, I think the best is yet to come.

Camerin Courtney

2002 Christianity Today. Used by permission.