Four Decades Of Figuring Stuff Out

I am 40 years old. I have walked this earth for 14,600 days (with the exception of a couple hundred there at the start when I had to be carried or carted around). And GOSH, I have learned a lot during these four decades of screwing up and evaluating those mistakes and trying to do better. For what it’s worth, here are a few things I have learned and realized over the past 480 months.

Sometimes when people don’t feel safe, they act like jerks. The things that make people feel unsafe vary widely, but when I encounter someone who is behaving like a jerk, I try to consider that they could be feeling threatened or afraid. This doesn’t discount their jerkish behavior or mean that I have to accept it, but sometimes when I understand the reason behind the behavior, I am able to be more compassionate. Sometimes.

I used to be terrified of IV’s. When I found out that starting IV’s was going to be part of my job, I was devastated. I’d invested a lot of time into this career and it was going to be a bummer to walk away. Spoiler: I didn’t. I faced my freaking fear and mastered the IV needle. I hated it, but I did it anyway. Fast forward 15 years, I applied for a job that I really wanted and the only edge I had on the other applicants was the fact that I could start IV’s. The lesson: the thing you hate right now could benefit Future You. You don’t have to love it, but recognize that there might be a bigger purpose.

Baby carrots don’t taste like carrots. Sure, they’re convenient and I have certainly eaten my share of the crispy orange finger sticks over the years, but they really don’t taste like an actual carrot. Real carrots are crispier and carrot-ier. If you haven’t had a real carrot in a while, do yourself a favor and try one. Get out the vegetable peeler and go to town. Then slice that sucker up and prepare to be reminded of what a carrot really tastes like.

I am a better person when I spend time in the bible regularly. I just am. I’ve read through the bible several times and I do little daily scripture writing assignments. These practices have become a constant in my life over the last decade, pretty much unwaveringly. However, I can tell that my motivation has changed a little. When I first began digging into the bible, I think I did it because it is what “good Christians” should do. But over the years, I realized that it had become almost an act of defiance. You see, I am a bit of a natural born cynic, and I just cannot/will not take someone else’s word for how God wants me to live my life. Sure, I’ll listen to the opinions of others and I love having conversations with people about why they believe what they believe. But when it comes down to me and my faith, I’ve got to parse that out for my own self. The best way I’ve learned to do that is by reading the bible and when I don’t make time for it, I can tell that I’m not my best self. It’s fascinating to me that we can all read the same words and interpret them differently. I’ve come to believe that’s probably not an accident. I think God can impress on each person exactly what they need to be their best self and minister to those around them. And, hot dang, that’s just pretty cool.

I tend to have a lot in common with the people who bug me the most. This has been a very unfortunate realization. 

I’ll never know or understand how I lucked into being married to the best guy for me. We are not perfect, but we are a dang good team. We call each other out on our crap, we push one another when we need a nudge, we are a united front, and we really are best friends. I KNOW how cheesy that sounds, but it’s true. But there’s also this: as proud as I am of our marriage and the life/family we have created, I live in nearly constant fear of the bottom falling out. I don’t have to look very far to see marriages as old as ours crumble and that terrifies me. I fight that nagging fear regularly. But I’m learning to make friends with that uncomfortable feeling instead of constantly trying to fight it. I’m trying to recognize that MAYBE what I have called “fear” could be a healthy form of avoiding complacency. I’m also learning that borrowing worry from the future can only suck the joy from today and today is just too good to not fully appreciate. 

Most of us forty-year olds will be a bit wrinkly. Sure, there are those who got lucky with great genetics or who have been more diligent about their daily skincare routine, who use sunscreen appropriately and who, as a result, have defied Mother Nature for the time being. For the rest of us average forty-year olds, we’ve got some skin creases. I’ve always thought it wouldn’t bother me to look older. For heaven’s sake: I AM OLDER, why should I be surprised or bothered that my face would reflect that? But I was. I was both surprised and bothered the day I looked in the mirror and a middle-aged woman stared back at me. Do you know some causes of wrinkles? Aging, sun, stress, and alcohol. So, in order for me to undo what is happening on my face, I would need to somehow stop getting older and cut the following things from my life: my entire summers spent at the lake, wine, and my children (whom I love dearly and would admit are the joys of my life, but also add a smidge bit of stress). I just can’t give all that up. Another option would be Botox, but I’d rather put the money it would cost toward a trip somewhere. So, for now, these lines on my face aren’t going anywhere. However, I am unwilling to make some bold, dramatic “I’ll never get Botox” statement, because who knows what tomorrow may hold (see next paragraph)?

I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out who I am. Sometimes I would think I figured it out. I would discover something new or develop a habit and think, “this is Me.” Once, I found a recipe for homemade Wheat Thins. I made them, they were delicious, and was sure this meant I was a Make-Things-From-Scratch-Mom. Nope. One summer I had a beautiful garden and I figured this meant that I had become a Gardener. Not really. I found some handy recycling bins on Amazon once that fit perfectly in my pantry and I just knew that I was for sure a Recycler. Kinda. The thing about figuring out Who You Are is this: you can put a lot of pressure on yourself without even meaning to. Like, what kind of Make-Things-From-Scratch-Mom would buy their Wheat Thins in a box from the store? This kind. And what sort of Gardening Recycler would a) buy a can of green beans and then b) throw the empty can in with the regular trash? You guessed it, me. Turns out “who I am” is always changing and evolving. I will have recycling seasons and I will have paper plate seasons (sorry, environment, at least they’re not Styrofoam). I might grow a tomato plant on my back porch, or I might buy my tomatoes from the Farmers Market (heck, let’s be honest, I’m probably going to get my tomatoes from Wal-Mart via grocery pick up). I might have wrinkles today and get Botox tomorrow. This is just how it is, and I’ve learned to leave margin for change. Making bold “this is who I am and what I believe and what I do not believe” statements tend to bite me in the butt, so I am learning to avoid them.

Family is a really big deal. Family is messy and stressful and weird. Doing family well involves creating and respecting boundaries. It involves grace and forgiveness. It involves being a cheerleader when the people you love are doing the things they love (even when that means sports and you kind of hate sports). Doing family well will require sacrifice, you’ll give up time and sleep and money. But the reward for all of that? The very best network of people who are exactly who you need. People who honor your weird self, who build you up, who cheer you on, and who love you in spite of your idiosyncrasies. The benefit is worth the risk. Investment in my people is worth the cost and I’m exceedingly grateful for all of those in my life who have invested in me.

What a gift it has been to live these last forty years. A freaking gift that I don’t deserve but that I am so thankful for. 

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