Aging With Self-Confidence

Story 1: 

In my house we have an anatomy atlas and one of the things it illustrates (literally) is the human body at different stages from childhood through being elderly. These drawings are all beautiful and fascinating: fascinating to see how the fat redistributes during different stages for different (useful) reasons, fascinating to watch the hair change colors, the eyes shift in proportion, the skin go from baby soft to muscular and tight to soft and delicate again. But when my 5-year-old son showed this to his grandfather, someone I highly associate with the Sean Connery chest-hair-sporting version of James Bond, the man recoiled. This didn’t really surprise me. Our culture doesn’t maintain that there are a lot of uses or respect for the elderly, and I can imagine my father-in-law (my 69-year-old tennis winning, whiskey drinking, paterfamilias who takes care of things as part of his identity) not wanting to give up his present role in favor of the dismissal and irrelevance that culture says might come.

Story 2:

Today I needed to help my Mom take a shower because she just had a total knee replacement and can barely walk. Like all people, my Mom’s body bears the marks of what she’s spent her life doing: the stomach scarred by bringing four children into the world, the shoulders bent from mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, and filling out paperwork, and the fingers twisted from pitching hay to horses for 60+ years. And I’m proud of her, she wasn’t too self-deprecating, but she still made one comment that told me she’s aware that she looks different than the young women she sees on tv.

And, heck, I’m only 33 and when I look in the mirror I don’t see a tv bod either. But right now the only thing that worries me about that is my potential to have a lack of confidence as I grow older. It worries me because I feel like I owe my husband, my kids, and the world more than that. I owe my husband my self-confidence because he needs my help leading our family and our community. I owe my children my self-confidence because they both need to know what a great woman, worker, spouse, and parent looks like. And I owe the world my self-confidence because it needs more examples of capable female leaders, fearless artists, and compassionate people of faith.

The lack of celebration and appreciation around older people’s bodies in media and in life does us a disservice because it puts an impossible pressure on us to be or stay a certain way forever, and it gives us no examples of how to cope well when we inevitably fail. In fact, even that statement equates aging with failing, which is ludicrous to begin with. And that’s my whole point: whether in media or not, somehow aging has to be equated with beauty, worth, and relevance (not that we need to get back to the powdered wigs, but you get what I’m saying). And if WE don’t become kick-ass old people who consider our old bodies to be awesome and relevant and lovable and beautiful, how will our children ever do the same?

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Photo courtesy of toutlecine.com

 

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Translating Numbers As A Parent

The other day I read the book of Numbers from the Bible for a project I’m doing. I read the whole thing in one sitting (it’s 36 Bible chapters, which is about 31 pages). And though, as the title suggest, it is chock-full of stats and names, I was surprised to find that I loved the story, but I was even more surprised that the reason I loved the story is because I’m a parent.

In these 36 chapters, the children of Israel complain. A LOT. They complain that they only have manna to eat and not meat (manna which God completely provides for them, btw). They complain that the land (which God is just handing to them) is full of scary people. They complain that desert living is worse than being slaves (Come on now, do you even remember Egypt?). They complain when they can’t find water for themselves (so God magically makes water gush from a rock).

This complaining annoys God like crazy, and I get that. My kids won’t eat most of the nutritious food I give them, they just beg for cupcakes. My kids get whiny about going to summer camp because it’s in a new place (even though it has all these amazing, fun things to do). They melt down when I ask them to put on their own socks because they think it’s too difficult (and after 20 minutes I end up doing it for them – which is probably bad parenting).

And I get annoyed. I’m annoyed by the noise. I’m annoyed by their unwillingness to persevere. I’m annoyed by the time and energy (both theirs and mine) that they’re wasting. But most of all – and I think this is what happens to God in the book of Numbers – I’m annoyed because what their complaining actually says is “we don’t trust you enough to even try doing what you’re asking us to do.”

God rescues the Israelites out of a cruel slavery. God provides for their every need. God sets them up to have abundance and a future. And yet over and over, they refuse to trust God. And God reacts, like a parent throwing up her hands and yelling, “What have I ever done that would make you think I’m untrustworthy?! I’ve done everything for you! Okay, you know what? Fine. Do what you want.” God is at the end of what has so far been a very long rope, and plagues ensue.

Another thing that God does over the course of the book is try to instill good values in the children of Israel, values like keeping one’s word and being trustworthy (because these are things that God practices unceasingly). But instead of listening to their Almighty Parent, they devolve into fear, they break their covenant of faithfulness, and they opt out of God’s promised gifts of blessing. So God takes the blessing, the promised land, away (and gives it to the next generation instead).

My husband and I are trying to teach our 5-year-old about money: earning it, saving it, spending it wisely, and the value of hard, honest work. But I swear, when he said one day that he didn’t want to help starving kids around the world because there’d be less toys for himself, I wanted to take his whole piggy bank and throw it in the trash. I was so angry at his entitlement, at his lack of empathy, and at his lack of trust in me and my charitable ideas, as though I wouldn’t still want good things for him, too. I was offended and hurt that my own child wouldn’t think I had his best interest at heart. And it seems that God feels the same way in the book of Numbers.

Now I’m not saying that how God reacts in Numbers is easy to digest; trashing a piggy bank and killing hundreds of people are very different and I still have to wrestle with that. But it gave me joy this week to read a difficult book and feel like I glimpsed the heart of God just a little bit better because I have children.

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My husband and kids doing yoga this morning.

Connecting With God After Kids

A friend said she’d like to hear my thoughts on this topic, so here they are. But first, I’d like to acknowledge that there are many stages of “after kids,” and so while I have some practices that I’m doing now that my kids are ages 3 and 5 and in preschool 3 days a week, there were several years wherein I had barely enough sleep, energy, or alone-time even to take a shower let alone connect with God. As such, I’ll write a little bit about encountering God in both stages.

All babies are different, and my husband and I know from our second child that some babies pop out happy and content to cuddle and nurse, sleeping well in their own crib in their own room within a week of being home. But our first baby was a tyrant. An angry, bossy, sleepless tyrant. So for a long time, during the day if I wasn’t bouncing the kid in a backpack while doing my graphic design job or pumping because the kid wouldn’t nurse or washing out cloth diapers or taking the kid for a stroller ride to keep him from destroying the whole house…if I wasn’t doing one of those things I was trying to nap while he napped because otherwise I was sure to keel over.

In this stage, alone-time didn’t exist. Hobbies went out the window. Reading, good luck. Listening to a podcast or audio book/audio Bible, not gonna happen with Sir Screams-a-lot in tow. And like I already mentioned, personal hygiene went out the window, too. I got a shower once every 4 days, maybe, if I was willing to give up a nap. So I was getting angry. I was getting depressed. My marriage was going down the drain and so was my relationship with God.

And then my husband said this: “I never hear any thankfulness coming from you.” Well, yeah. So my counter point was to ask if he would watch our son so I could take a shower once a week without losing my nap, and during my shower, I started to pray.

I only allowed myself to pray thankfulness toward God, even if it was hard to find things to be thankful for. “Thank you for this water. Thanks for the 3 hours of sleep I got last night. Thanks that the baby weight is going away. Thanks that the fight with my husband ended well. Thanks for the sunshine today.”

And slowly thankfulness seeped back into my heart. During that first couple years, these prayers of thankfulness were the only spiritual discipline I could achieve, but God was very present in them, meeting me in the shower, in the tear-stained streams of water, wiping away my dirt and my anger for another week.

Since then, a lot has changed. We had a second child, our first started preschool, then the second started preschool, and now I try to discipline myself to get all my graphics work done while the kids are away. Where have I met God lately? Well, still in the shower. (Why not?) But lots of other places, too.

Probably the most enjoyable way I’ve seen God in this stage of parenting is by going through the Bible and trying to interpret it through the eyes of a preschooler. This project started because my 5-year-old asks a lot of questions: “Why did Jesus have to die? How is Jesus the same as God? Is God in the walls? Why can’t I hear God? After I die, can I keep looking like me?”

Yikes.

So I’ve started trying to explain Bible stories and spiritual practices in a way that might help my kids, and in so doing, I’ve started to have more of a child-like faith again. A faith that believes God is my superhero. A faith full of wonder. A faith that I never could have had to the same degree before I had kids.

So right now I am thankful and I am happy and my life is meaningful, but I know not all stages of parenting are the same. If you’re in a stage that feels impossible, I want you to know that God is still with you and is willing to meet you in any way you can think of. You might have to get really creative because the pillar disciplines of quiet time, prayer, and scripture reading might not fit in your schedule, but there’s good news: God is the Master Creative and you are made in God’s image – bad breath, dark circles, baby weight and all.

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This was my son’s first picture. He looks like he’s saying, “What the heck do YOU want?” Man, were we in for it. 

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