Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The times (and our bodies), they are a-changin'

"We'll do a biopsy."

They were not words I was expecting, and they made the chill in the exam room a little more tangible. On top of some of the other health issues I'd had over the winter, this was a little discouraging. Later, as I left the doctor's office, I thought to myself, "Well, that's the first time for that, and probably not the last."

While anyone of any age can require a biopsy, as we get older, it becomes more likely. As we move past our forties, the risk grows for conditions like breast cancer, ailments of the reproductive system, colorectal cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Changing estrogen levels affect our bones and the way our bodies work in general. It's about more than hot flashes and weight gain, although menopausal symptoms are nothing to laugh. They can be very difficult to live with.

Thankfully, my situation turned out just fine. But it could have easily not been fine. While I spent a couple of uneasy weeks, I needed that reminder that my body is aging. Everyone's body is aging, and everyone's body is ultimately vulnerable. God is in control of our bodies no matter how much effort we expend taking care of them. A woman can eat her gluten-free crackers and locally-grown chicken, jog five miles a day, never smoke or drink, and be a size 5 until she's 70 years old, but she has no control over whether she will be diagnosed with something serious. Modern medicine is great, but anyone can get leukemia, breast cancer, brain cancer, or any number of serious ailments.

God created our bodies, and he created them exactly how he wanted them to be. The Fall means our bodies will age and die. We will become weaker, and our bodies will change. As much as we would like to think we can make time stand still with the right amount of exercise or the right diet, we will not put off the inevitable. And why would we want to? Aging is a reminder of what is to come: eternal rest in the presence of God. That is something we ought to be longing for. Have you ever noticed how senior saints speak with anticipation about getting to heaven?

I'm not being prepared for eternal life on earth where youth and physical perfection are highly prized. I'm being prepared for my heavenly home (John 14:1-3). As I get older I want to be healthy and strong enough to serve while I'm alive, but I hope I am also becoming more concerned with dying well; with remaining faithful in the face of suffering, praising God with each day granted to me, and not resisting and railing at the changing nature of my physical body. This is a time to continue storing up our treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys.  I can't stop my body from aging, but I can look for the opportunities to learn more about God and draw closer to Him. I suspect that this is a lesson that those with long term physical limitations and challenges have already come to understand. For those of us who have had good health most of our lives, the lessons are not as quickly learned.

As we move into the middle years, we should avoid the temptation to pine for the days when we were younger, or waste time and resources trying to stay young. It is a time to press on toward the goal for the prize of upward call of God in Christ Jesus, even if our bodies are a little creakier or a little heavier. It's a time to see the strength in Christ that is ours.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Still the Same

I'm getting older. I'll spare you the list of the ways I am aging. It's just a reality. When I go places with my adult-size children, no one thinks we're siblings. I’m not even mistaken for a cool young aunt.

Nobody ever told me that I would still feel the same at 42 as I did at 18. Or perhaps they did and I wasn’t listening. Or maybe it’s just me. The physical changes greet me each time I look in the mirror, but I don’t feel different on the inside. I’m still shy. I’m horrible at small talk. I will go to ridiculous lengths to avoid a simple phone call. Shouldn’t I be different? Full of wisdom or something?

It’s easy to get bogged down in the bad ways I’m the same—the same faults and the same bad habits. Have I learned anything at all?

I’ve learned that time goes quickly. It frustrated me to hear this when my kids are little. Some days—like the days when all three were sick—seemed to drag. I’m now astonished, though, at how old my kids are. This makes me slightly better at treasuring the time with them.

I’ve learned that most of my worries were fruitless. I’ve done more than my fair share of worrying, and most of what I worried about never came to pass. And anything that did come to pass was not made easier due to prior worrying.

I’ve learned that everything looks better after a full nights sleep. Or a full stomach. In other words, my physical state often influences my emotions. I’ve always known this about toddlers, but it’s ridiculous how long it took me to realize it also applied to me. That problem that seems hopeless at midnight is not quite so daunting in the light of day.

I used to think that people woke up one day full of all the knowledge they needed to be adults. Now I know that it’s a gradual process. Time goes fast, but people change slowly.

Friday, June 20, 2014

More than our motherhood

I think, for me, one of the more surprising things about middle life has been the realization of life beyond my mothering. By that I mean I know I still am, and always will be, a mom but no longer is my perspective so very myopic to view all of my existence, and yours, through that narrow lens. In fact, not only do I understand myself to be more than my motherhood, I am realizing how much our current Christian conversation skews itself that direction.

As I pondered what to write for this week, I considered an exploration of a theme I've seen repeated in various articles I've read lately. Written to young moms of young children, these articles offered encouragement for those times when worship is inconvenient. A good word, one I would have reaped great benefit from in my own season as a young mom when, hello, worship not only seemed inconvenient but impossible.

However, when I read those articles today, as an older mom, I couldn't help but think to myself that worship is still inconvenient even now and it has nothing to do with the age of my children nor my stage of life. Worship is inconvenient because it is unnatural. In other words, worship doesn't suddenly become convenient when your children sleep all night long.

But that's another post for another time.

I'm glad those articles were written to the young moms out there, don't misunderstand me. I am only observing that the truths they proclaim apply to us all. I am reminded of a post I published on my personal blog a little over a year ago. If you'll indulge me, I have reposted it below (with a few modifications) for your reading pleasure. Sisters, we are more than our motherhood. Let's seek to encourage one another to press on to be like Christ no matter our stage of life--young, old, middle, single, married, mother, grandmother...

********

It seems women are everywhere across the Internet landscape. Whether we are talking about women's issues in politics, women's roles in church, or what defines a woman according to Biblical standards, women as subject seem to comprise most of my twitter and blog feeds.

I am a woman and one would think that, as such, I would be encouraged by this push toward keeping women at the forefront of conversation. And, I suppose, to some extent I am. I understand and share some of the frustration expressed by many who seek a stronger, louder voice for our gender in the public square as it were. In our current culture there are certainly gender specific issues deserving discussion and evaluation and correction.

But not all I read is encouraging. In fact, I wonder sometimes if we do not do ourselves a great disservice by framing so much of our dialogue and critique in terms of our gender. I do believe that God created us uniquely as women and as such different from our male counterparts. As I stated earlier, I believe that there are real issues facing churches and our culture at large and in many of those cases women play a critical role in asking and answering the hard questions. But, those sorts of situations aside, must everything about us be defined by our womanhood?

For example, in the current evangelical blog world, if we can delineate and define such a thing, there seems to me to be a plethora of articles and blog posts across major sites written to women mostly by young moms about being young moms. While I applaud the efforts on behalf of these mostly male dominated sites to include women and while I do agree that young moms are in a uniquely difficult stage of life, as an older mom I often want to say "I am more than my motherhood." In other words, must our conversations about who we are as Christian women continually center around being a mom and a housewife? What about infertile women? Or single women? Or older women? Or empty nesters? We do these sisters a great disservice by implying, however subtly, however inadvertently, that motherhood is the pinnacle of Christian womanhood.

Years ago I read an article about women's ministry. I don't remember where I read it nor who wrote it. The author--whoever she was--in no uncertain terms asserted that all ministry to women must be couched in the Titus 2 directive. All ministry. All instruction. She contended that any lesson taught to women should have its (singular) application drawn from the imperative to "love husband, children and care for your home" as outlined in Titus 2:4-5. I remember this article so very clearly because it shocked and saddened me greatly.

In that author's view the sum total of all that a woman needed to know about the Word, about God, about the gospel, about theology and about doctrine, has its only benefit in how it helps her to love her husband and children and care for her home. How she shortchanges us! I think of my recent experience at The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference where I heard theologically trained women exposit the Scriptures. No mention of housekeeping nor the narrow application to motherhood that I could recall but instead the encouragement, the mandate even, to women to study the Word, to know the Bible, to wrestle with the truths of who God is and who we are and to rejoice in His plan to redeem sinners for His own glory. Kathleen Nielson, Nancy Guthrie, Paige Benton Brown, Nancy Leigh Demoss--these smart, intelligent women used their gifts to propel their listeners toward a deeper knowledge, a richer theology, a greater sense of awe and worship.

It was women teaching women, to be sure, yet the truths taught transcended gender. In this respect, I am not only more than my motherhood, I am more than my gender. The call of God in my life has everything to do with me being a woman, yes, of course, but it also has nothing to do with me being a woman and everything to do with me being like Christ first and foremost, always and only.

Originally posted at lisaspence.com, March 2013

********

Speaking of The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference, this time next week Staci and I will be in Orlando for the 2014 conference. We are pretty excited! Will any of our readers be joining us? We look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Twists and Turns of Life

According to Paul Tripp, one thing that is true for every middle-aged person is our lives have not worked according to our plan. He writes, "Our lives have taken twists and turns that we could have never imagined. Some of those turns have left us amazed and thankful while others caused profound pain and loss. In all our planning and our careful decision making, we are still caught up short, surprised by the details of our own existence."1

When I read this, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry because life has not turn out the way I planned. As providence would have it,  most of the unexpected and devastating game-changers occurred after I turned 40. Not a very warm welcome to midlife.

Of course, there is always the temptation to avoid facing the unfulfilled expectations and shattered dreams. Isn't that what lies at the heart of a midlife crisis? The world is more than happy to distract us with its endless store of diversions, but the Harley or the face lift or both can't fill the deepest need in our souls. Only God can help us make sense of what has happened to our lives.

So here are a couple lessons that I have learned along the way…

Turn the vessel upside down - Christianity is not a religion of the stiff upper lip. Just read the Psalms.
I am weary with my moaning; every night, I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes.  Psalm 6:6-7
Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased?Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?  Psalm 77: 8-9
Not a peppy and uplifting modern worship chorus. But these raw words are in the hymnbook of the Old Testament. God has given us these laments to help us pour our hearts out to Him and grieve for the losses we've experienced. As Charles Spurgeon says, "Turn the vessel upside down; it is a good thing to empty it, for this grief may ferment into something more sour. Turn the vessel upside down, and let every drop run out; but let it be before the Lord."2

Believe God and rest in the gospel - During one of the darkest times of my life, I was tempted to let it go, like the song, and ditch Christianity, especially if my circumstances were the reward for being a believer. But God did not let go of me. In addition to the Psalms, the Holy Spirit drew me to Isaiah 53, the prophetic account of the suffering Messiah.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53: 4-6
To borrow from my pastor's most recent sermon3, if God delivered me from the deepest darkness of my sin and poured out His wrath on Christ as my substitute, I can trust Him with the temporal darkness. He has not abandoned me because He turned His face away from his Son on the cross. Without a doubt, these verses kept me when despair threatened to pull me under. No warm fuzzies or happy emotions, just the truth of the gospel.

~~~~~~~~

We've arrived at midlife by very different paths through very different trials. We don't know what twists and turns await us in the future. But whether there is joy or sorrow, we know that God has not forgotten to be gracious. Calvary is the evidence of that. May this be our anchor past, present, and future.

                                                                                                                                          
1. Lost in the Middle: Midlife and the Grace of God, Paul David Tripp, Shepherd Press, 2004, pg. 31.
2. Job's Resignation, Sermon 2457 by Charles Haddon Spurgeon (emphasis mine)
3. I highly commend this sermon, A God-Centered Believer With Depression, by Pastor Ryan Davidson given June 15, 2014. Even though it deals with depression, it applies to the struggles and disappointments we face in midlife.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Seeking the City and the God Who Built It

"In this world," wrote Benjamin Franklin, "nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Electric Ben names two constants in our lives, and one is the ultimate reminder that there are no constants. Nothing, beginning with our own lives, lasts forever.

Since nothing lasts forever, maybe we should say the one constant in this temporal world is change. If you've reached your middle years, you know this because you've lived it. What's more, you know that even positive change brings loss with it, because moving from one thing to another means leaving something behind. We all lose even when we're moving forward. Age brings increased awareness of the constancy of change and loss, and knowledge of the ever-present insecurity of our lives.

Even marriage, the most secure of this world's institutions, has change and loss written right into the vow that establishes it. We "forsake all other" and "keep me only unto thee," a promise to never change allegiance in ever-changing circumstances—"better or worse, richer or poorer . . . "—but only "until death do us part." And death, as Ben Franklin reminded us, is one of this life's certainties, a certainty that grows more obvious as we grow older.

Because we live where nothing lasts forever, we are constantly reminded of our own limits and the limits of our world. We can’t—at least I can’t—help but long for more: for something beyond this world, for something fully forever alive, for something that satisfies permanently.

A longing for more is another of the blessings of the middle years—and the year after the middle, too. The losses we experience force us to stop seeking our fulfillment in this world and begin looking to another world, where there is, for certain, no losing and no dying. For a believer, growing older should grow faith, so that like Abraham, we look forward to the heavenly country, to the city built by God—the permanent city, the one with foundations (Hebrews 11:10, 13-16)—where we can be forever with our eternal, unchanging, wholly-satisfying Lord.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The stuff of middle life: the quiet hours

In 2012, my youngest child went away to university. I thought I was used to having kids away; after all, I had watched my other two leave for school. I figured this empty nest thing was pretty much old hat for me.

And then my husband went on a business trip. It's one thing to adjust to having no one coming home at 3:00 p.m. It's another when there is no one coming home at all and you shut the lights out and go to bed in an empty house with only a neurotic Beagle for company. Those three days felt very long, indeed. I can, however, report I was much more prepared for this year's selection of business trips.

For those of us with children, this is the stuff of middle life: the kids don their wings, fly the coop, and leave you in the silence with the dog. This was more of an adjustment than I anticipated. It wasn't those first few days that I struggled with, but rather the months following, as I learned (and am still learning) to live a new normal.

When I mentioned this struggle to friends, I was advised to get a job. I thought about it. As I considered my friends who had returned to work, I was well aware of the sacrifices they made in their lives in order to go to work. I wanted to keep teaching, to be able to drop everything when the kids visit, and to have time for reading and study. And even if we do have a job, it doesn't change the reality that when kids leave home, they leave a space in our lives, and that takes getting used to. It is the way it supposed to be. We raise them to release them.

As I  continue to adjust to their absence, I find Psalm 16 a great comfort. David is completely confident in God. The God of Israel is his Lord, and David has no good apart from Him (Psalm 16:1-2). God is David's "portion," and has given him an "inheritance." When David is at God's right hand, he will not be shaken (Psalm 16:8). His heart is glad (Psalm 16:9). He trusts God not only for his present care but for his future hope (Psalm 16:10). The Psalm ends with these words:
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
David's confidence can be my confidence; your confidence. And confidence in the Lord is what we desperately need when we face new circumstances. We may not know what is coming, but we can know for a certainty that if we are at God's right hand, we will not be shaken.

Certainly, we can get a job, or volunteer, or take on any number of activities on when our kids leave, but those may not completely eliminate the loneliness that can accompany their absence. We are lonely for their fellowship, their companionship, and they are gone. Being busy is good, but only God can properly fill the empty spaces that may be left when our kids grow up and become independent. We have to learn to rejoice in His presence no matter how many people are (or are not) coming home at the end of the day.

Derek Kidner comments on these last verses of Psalm 16:
The joy (lit. joys) and pleasures are presented as wholly satisfying and endlessly varied for they are found in both what He is and what He gives -- joys of his face (the meaning of presence) and of his right hand. 
God is wholly satisfying. We can rest in His presence. We find joy and pleasure because of who He is: entirely good.

The solitude He gives me is good, and because God is omnipresent, I am never alone. For now, the quiet hours are good, and they are filled with the joy of being in his presence, where there are pleasures forevermore.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Things to Guard Against in the Middle Years

I wise woman I knew used to say, “The further I go, the less I know.” That’s how I feel right now. I’m acutely aware of just how much I have to learn, so I don’t feel ready to offer advice.

But I do know that we all struggle. Maybe not in exactly the same way, but we usually have more in common than we realize. I’ve noticed some tendencies in myself that I need to guard against. Maybe one or two of them will be familiar to you.

Feeling Useless


I used to be an expert on lots of things. Not anymore. I’ve made enough mistakes to see that I am not as smart as I thought I was, and I still have much to learn.

It’s tempting to use that as an excuse not to reach out. Sometimes it’s shame. Sometimes it’s pride (because I’d rather not have to tell you mistakes I’ve made). Sometimes it’s self protection (because I don’t want to be ignored in the way I use to ignore older women).

We’ve actually got plenty of Scripture that tells us just the opposite. Titus 2:3-5, 2 Corinthians 1:4, and Romans 8:28 don’t let us off the hook. These life experiences—even our mistakes—have a purpose. We can use them to encourage others in the body of Christ.

Being Unteachable


It’s already happened a few times, and it’s just going to get worse. Some young adult, someone so young that they could be my child, is standing before me in a teaching capacity. What can I possibly learn from them?

As it turns out, quite a bit. Anybody who is faithfully teaching the Bible is going to have something to say to all ages. And because we’ve lived different lives and experienced different joys and heartaches, we all have fresh perspectives. If I dismiss someone just because they’re too young, I miss out on an opportunity to learn, and the chance to encourage them.

Being Cynical


Scripture tells us that all of us our born sinners. If you’ve lived to middle age, you’ve seen it firsthand. People do bad things. People hurt us. People are slow to change.

Believers should know better than anyone how drastically the Holy Spirit can change a person. For us to then adopt the attitude that people never change besmirches the gospel.

I don’t think I’ve put it too strongly. I get it. Life can weary us. But Philippians 1:6 promises that God finishes what he starts. That goes not only for us, but for other Christians too. I could be quite foolish when I was young. (Who am I kidding? I can be foolish now.) God will do his work in others, just as he did in me.

What about you? What tendencies are you trying to guard against in your life?

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Middle Years: There's good news, too!

"I've done my research, ladies, and growing old, it's not pretty." I was a young mom at the time and the speaker's ominous warning, though intended to be funny, filled me with dread. Who wants to grow old? Especially when it's as bad as all that? No one, me included.

Fast forward a few years (or more). I am today in, or at the very least on the cusp of, the stage of life we were warned against, and, yes, the speaker was indeed correct--there are some, shall we say, unpleasantries. Hormones, that extra weight around the middle, wrinkles, graying hair, and did I mention hormones? This is also a time of transition for many of us, an emptying nest and aging parents, for example, and with transition often comes its own kind of heartache.

I have to say, though, that for all its unique difficulties and changes, I kind of like life here in the middle years. There are good things, aspects to be enjoyed, not the least of which being that my kids can not only bathe and dress and cook for themselves but they can also drive themselves where they need to be, can I get a big YES and AMEN.

Seriously, though, here are three facts of life in the middle years that I appreciate...

1. I gain perspective. I like glancing back over the course of my life and seeing both foolishness and wisdom and in and through it all the Lord's sovereign grace at work. Oh, the stuff I once thought was so very important, crucial even, I now know to be insignificant and silly! This kind of perspective comes with time, with maturity--hello, with age!

2. I grow in humility. Quick disclaimer: I am not claiming to be humble nor to have achieved humility. Not at all! But, as I gain perspective and I see my silliness played out over the course of time and the Lord's sovereign will, I am humbled. Y'all may not believe this but I have been known to hold an opinion or two or ten. I might have been rather rash and maybe even arrogant in my proclamation of such. As I grow in grace, I learn to give others the benefit of the doubt, to be slow to speak and quick to listen, to hold my convictions tightly but my opinions humbly. This is a good thing and it comes to me as I gain perspective through time and the Spirit's gracious conviction.

3. I am more comfortable in my own skin. Take a quick visual survey of a group of teenaged girls of your acquaintance. I daresay they are all sporting a nearly identical hairdo. Nothing wrong with that but I think it speaks to a deeper insecurity that seeks to be fulfilled by identifying with someone else just like us. I followed this same insecurity for years; still do sometimes! Where are all the other stay-at-home Bible-teaching reformed moms of four teenaged sons?!?!! Surprise, surprise, there's not many of us. I am learning, oh so slowly at times, to pursue contentment in my vocation and not yours. The joy and contentment and peace I find there in my place being who I am, well, that's a far more effective weapon against insecurity than any amount of brash self confidence or positive self talk. Again this is a good thing and it has taken time, years, decades, to take root in me.

I do not mean to insinuate that these are lessons that can only be learned after 45 years of living nor that I have in fact learned them after 45 years years of living. Rather this is how I see the Lord's grace at work in me in my middle years and I rejoice in it. I am grateful for the gift of age and for the perspective, humility, and contentment it teaches me daily.

So here's a shout out to my sisters and friends also toiling along in these, the middle years. Do you see these same blessings of this stage of life? Are there others you'd like to add to the list? And to my younger friends, be encouraged. Do not despair over growing older. There is only more grace! There is much to anticipate and enjoy! The Lord is faithful at each stage of life, yes and amen.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Welcome to Midlife

Looking back on our teens and twenties, life was an exciting adventure. There was the anticipation of college, the first job, marriage, family, and maybe a little house with a white picket fence. We looked forward to what would unfold with the optimism of youth and rolled with the punches. Now that we've reached middle age, our hopes and dreams may be different, perhaps tempered with a few more decades under our belts, but change doesn't have an expiration date.

We're not getting any younger. We feel the effects of those pesky, fluctuating hormones. In what seems like a blink of an eye, the babies we've held in our arms are taller than we are. Some may have left the nest and returned with wee ones of their own. Our parents have grown older as well. The roles may have been reversed where we are now taking care of the ones who formerly cared for us. There's still so much to learn as the terrain of life shifts under our feet.

Thankfully, we aren't navigating the unknown territory of middle-age without a sure and steadfast Guide. The same God who watched over us then still keeps us now. He's more than up to the task of seeing us through midlife - crises, hormones, and all.

So please join us this month as we tackle the subject of middle age. I  hope you will be encouraged as we share from our different perspectives and learn from the Lord in this season of life.