Sunday, August 15, 2010

On Turning 35

In two weeks, I'm turning 35.


I don't feel 35, but then, I guess I really have no idea what 35 ought to feel like. It feels a little crazy if I think about it too hard, a little bit dizzying, like three glasses of Prosecco on an empty stomach or too many rides on the Top Thrill Dragster.

I know it's probably cliche', but I keep starting to have that internal discussion with myself that goes something like, "Are you where you're supposed to be? Have you totally screwed up your life? Should you be someplace else?" This is ridiculous, of course, especially for someone who knows with every fiber of her being that God is in the driver's seat. Whenever this conversation starts, the down-to-earth, practical side of me kind of mentally slaps (gently) the other, emotionally-driven, worrier side of me, and she shuts up for a while.

Who am I at 35? I'm a girlfriend for the first time in about a decade. I'm a Managing Editor (a job title that would have sounded so glamorous to me two years ago. The truth is, I don't actually edit anything, unfortunately. What I do feels more like air-traffic control, except that it's in the publishing business). I'm a writer-who's-working-on-it. I'm a runner. I'm a Christian who feels like she's spiritually crawling on some days, leaping and dancing on others.

Who am I not at 35? I'm not a wife. I'm not a mother. Does it seem like these are things I should be? Well, yes. They do. They are things I want to be, in the deepest parts of my heart and soul. Do I struggle with this not being part of my present? Yes again. The season of wedding-after-wedding has ended, and I got through that in one piece. Now it's the season of baby-after-baby, and I'm getting through that. But there are random moments of panic when I wonder if my eggs will be all dried up by the time I get to attempt the pregnancy thing. I figure that's a normal fear for a 35-year-old woman, and yeah, I know there are "so many advances in fertility treatments, and more all the time," but thinking about that feels panicky, too. So when I feel panicky, I just tell God about it, and He always just says, "Trust ME," and I take a deep breath and let the panic out and let the peace in. Because I DO trust Him. He's earned it.

The wife/mother thing aside, there are great things about being 35, things I wouldn't trade in return for being younger. At 35, I know myself at a level that feels really good. I know what I need to be healthy - what I need emotionally, what I need in relationships and in my work, what I need to feel balanced, what I need in order to be able to feel connected to God, what I need in order to be restored when I'm worn out. It feels good knowing these things about myself because it means I can make sure these needs are met, and I can take care of myself on a deeper level than I could at 30, or 25, or 20.

I know, too, what I want to do with the rest of my life. Well, I always knew what I wanted to do, I just didn't know how to actually do it, how to make it happen, and so I kind of shelved it and ignored it for years and years until it became clear that it was going to be impossible to keep living that way, just plodding along, not doing the only thing I was made to do. It only took three careers to figure it out - but I guess that's not bad, compared to some people. Anyway, I have an actual plan now. I'm praying God endorses it.

At 35, I also know some things about my character, things that make me feel solid and grounded, because I know I can rely on these parts of myself to show up when needed. I know that I'm strong, that I'm resilient, that I have the ability to bounce back after crises and major transitions and deep, wrenching loss. I know that I have courage, guts, moxie, whatever name you want to give it. I know that I have passion and conviction and creativity and drive. Some portion of these traits developed thanks to my mother and her example, but I think God has refined them in me, made them more holy and Jesus-ish.

I'm more accepting of my flaws at 35. I have accepted that I will have selfish moments about which I will feel very bad, but which will happen anyway because I'm inherently selfish, as we all are. I have accepted that I will hurt people without intending to because I tend to be incredibly blunt, and that I will probably never stop having to apologize for the way I say things. I have accepted that I will always struggle with patience. And no, these aren't my only flaws, but they're some of the ones I deal with day to day.

I have accepted that my body will never be perfect, that I will probably always be fighting against 5 or 10 or 15 pounds that want to hang around. But I've also learned to be amazed by my body and its capabilities. It's a rather miraculous creation after all (not surprising, really, knowing God). It can run several miles without stopping. It can bend and flex and lift and move in rhythm to music. It can think and write and sing and laugh and take me anywhere I want to go.

My friends Ashley and George are working on a new design for this blog right now, and when they sent the prototype, I thought it was probably time for a fresh author photo to go with it. So my friend Michelle, who is a stellar photographer, designer, and all-around creative genius, took about a hundred photos of me in an alleyway in downtown Grand Rapids. She did a great job - there are shots of me laughing, looking pissed off, smiling seductively, gazing into the distance, and so on. There were almost too many to choose from. I chose the photo we all (Michelle, me, friends and family) seemed to like best, but the photo below is the one I keep coming back to, because it evokes how I feel right now. There's a sense of relaxed waiting in this shot, if that makes sense, like I'm watching something come towards me. I'm leaning against the wall, but it looks like I'm poised to casually push away from it at any moment and start moving towards whatever I'm looking at. There is motion behind the stillness - I'm not just doing nothing here.

This is what life feels like right now: a season of relaxed waiting and watching, with movement imminent. There is work to be done and there are moments to savor and enjoy, but there is change coming, and I'm watching it get closer, I'm getting ready for it, I'm waiting for my cue to move forward, but there's no tension in that. I feel relaxed about where I am, and relaxed about what's coming (except for the random moments of irrational panic about the viability of my eggs). I don't know if this is what 35 should feel like (can we really attach "should feel like" to any stage of life?), but for me, this is what it does feel like. It doesn't feel perfect, but it does feel right.

I know that most of the time we are all waiting for something to arrive, even if that something is just a change in ourselves. At five, I was waiting to start school. At twelve, I was waiting to be a teenager. At fourteen, I was waiting to be a high school student. At seventeen, I was waiting to start college. At 23, I was waiting to get a job. The list of things I have waited for goes on and on, and most of them are natural things, things we all wait for. I think, at 35, I have accepted that I will always be waiting for something, because that's just how life is, and that the key isn't to try to stop being in a place of waiting, but to really live in the waiting - to not let the waiting be a "pause" button that stops your life from moving, but a part of the thumping of your heart, a part of the energy that propels you to enjoy the place you're in as completely as you can, because eventually there will be another season, then another, and another.

I feel better having written this, because it's helped me realize that I am happier and more at peace at 35 than I have ever been.  If 35 just means continuing to be me, continuing to live this life that's obviously so grace-filled and overflowing with God's blessings, continuing to work and dream and wait and be challenged and grow and enjoy, then 35 sounds pretty good. I think maybe I can handle it. :)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Good Reason to Keep Your Fat Pants

I was a fat girl once. Not anymore, but I was. No, really, I was.

That was about eight years, 100 pounds, and five sizes ago, not to mention about 25 points on my cholesterol score.

In my closet, I have one remaining pair of size 20 jeans to prove it. I take them out from time to time, just to remind myself.

My journey from fat to fit is kind of a long, not-so-dramatic story. There's no gastric bypass surgery, or Alli, or Atkins Diet in it. There IS a lot of God and learning and label reading and food measuring and calorie counting. And a lot of miles. Walking miles at first, then biking miles and running miles.

I'll just say this bluntly: being fit is hard work. But I'll say this bluntly, too: it is 100 percent worth it. I wouldn't go back to my old body or lifestyle for a million dollars. Or ten million. Or, well, you get the idea.

Some days, though, I still feel fat. Okay, there are a lot of days when I still feel fat. Probably too many. I completely understand the eating disorder epidemic among teenage girls, who look in the mirror and see fat where there is none - I can't explain it rationally, but I understand the feeling. There are days when I feel like I haven't lost a pound (yes, eight years later), days when I want to cry over the little roll of pudge that's still hanging out around my waistline, and will probably never disappear. Never mind that in reality, I look amazingly better than I did eight years ago. I still feel like the same fat girl, some days.

I took off 105 pounds altogether over the course of four years. I kept it all off for two, and then, over the past two years, I've gained some back. Not a lot. Just some. I haven't needed to buy new clothes, but there is a pair of grey pants hanging in my closet that I can barely squeeze into. I'm not pleased about this.

I've taken a good, hard look at my habits, and it's clear that some little things have slipped along the way: I've skipped too many runs during the average week; measuring my portions has gone by the wayside here and there; I've given in to too many Treat Fridays at work; I've eaten out too carelessly. So I'm making changes to rectify the weight gain. And it's slow (after all, I'm eight years older than when I first started losing), but it's working.

When I feel that it's going too slow, when I am bitten by the Discouragement Bug, that's when I pull out my fat jeans.

Most weight loss books will tell you to get rid of your fat clothes and never look back. For the most part, that's good advice. If you lose weight successfully, buy new clothes, and don't have the old ones to fall back on, it can be a good motivator to maintain your weight loss. And for the most part, that's a good idea - I got rid of everything but that one pair of jeans.

They have served me well.

Whenever I'm having a "fat day," I pull out those jeans and put them on. They come all the way up to my bustline now, and I fit comfortably into them with my arms at my sides inside the waistband. They look ridiculous, and I love it. I look in the mirror and clearly see how far I've come, and the fat girl in my mental mirror shrinks to normal size.