How to thrive after a midlife crisis

With my brother and sister and a birthday cake

With my brother and sister and a birthday cakeToday’s my birthday! I thank God for the gift of my life.

I don’t always recognize what a gift it is. Ten years ago, I asked, “What am I doing with my life?”

I was hungry to learn. I read self-improvement books from the library, one after the other. I don’t remember which author offered this idea, but it stuck with me:

A plant doesn’t grow by positive thoughts. It has to receive light and water while planted in good soil.

This thought made me realize that it wasn’t enough to change my attitude. I needed to change my environment. I applied—multiple times—and found a job at the University of Missouri. It has been my place to thrive professionally for the past ten years.

These are the five things that helped me over my mid-life crisis.

Lead yourself and learn

Become the leader of your own life; have a vision. Where do you want to be? It’s up to you to guide your life where you want it to go.

I wrote down a description of what I wanted to be—a PR specialist—and that is close to what I do today.

I furthered my education and got my master’s degree. My degree helped me professionally and personally. I made friends in grad school I treasure to this day.

Decide on your destination, and lead yourself there.

Keep your eye on where you want to be, not on what is stopping you

I explored my vision and kept my eye on it.

My years of riding lessons make for great life lessons. When you’re riding horses over jumps, you can’t look at the jump. You look where you want to go. If you look down at the jump, you won’t get over it. I can hear the yell of my riding instructor, “Why are you looking at the ground? Is that where you want to be? Eyes up! Look where you are going!”

Keep your eye on your destination. If you keep your eye on the obstacle, you will feel overcome by its size.

There is no obstacle you can’t find a way around. Keep your eyes up!

Feel everything

Change involves discomfort. It hurts to grow and let go of old attachments or familiar ways of living. There is no escape from our feelings if we want to come out the other side.

I believe God reaches us most easily when we are at our lowest and most broken. That’s when we realize how much we need God and others. As social creatures, we can never be independent. We have to live in love and in community. The past ten years tested me. I lost a high school friend and my brother to suicide, and my mother to lung cancer.

I let grief change me; I gave myself over to mourning. The feelings were a wall of cold water crashing on me. My skin felt numb and raw at the same time. My eyes hurt from too much crying; my lids were made of sandpaper. I could go from angry to melancholy to blank to hysterical laughter all in the same five minutes.

As I grieved, I prayed to God with an intensity that I wished would never end. I felt an answer in a new-found closeness to the holy presence. Christ healed my heart.

I believe you are never alone in your suffering. Peace will come. Hard times will change you for the good if you let them. Keep breathing.

Go for it

Go for what you want!

It might not turn out. I’ve had some failures! With failure, you have a story to tell. Failure is easier than regret.

I took a risk to try writing publicly in 2013 on this blog, now I’m a published author. Thank you, my beloved readers, for being a part of this adventure!

Nurture a heart of gratitude

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

I give thanks for turning 45 today!

People complain about aging. I tell you, to be alive at any age is a blessing. When I think of my beloved ones who haven’t reached the age I am today, I know growing older is a blessing. We might gain an ache or two along with our wisdom, but life is precious, joyful and holy.

Have you noticed how older people appreciate the moments? There is such happiness in seeing the beauty of small things: a child’s smile, the way an iridescent blue fly drinks from a horse water trough, snuggling with your spouse in the morning before you have to get up, watching snow fall, playing string with a cat, the sound of waves on the beach.

May God bless me to be an old woman. I’m going to make a great one—puttering around to make hot tea with a small dog underfoot! I might stick my finger in my 80th birthday cake and help myself to the icing before it’s served…

When the midlife crisis hit

Turning 30 was no problem. I hit the mental marks I’d set. I was newly married with a sweet blue-eyed toddler boy, a golden dog and ten acres of land to call home. I didn’t mind turning 30 at all.

At 30, I’d been a stay-at-home mom, concerned with entertaining my young child. I made our bread from scratch every week, watching a show on PBS where a monk showed new types of loaves to try. If my son wanted to spend the day driving his yellow dump truck in “his dust factory,” then I was content to sit next to him with a book. My life at 30 had an easy pace with a natural rhythm.

It was turning 35 that was the problem. Fast forward five years from 30 to 35. At 35, I was back to work as an admin assistant. My son was in elementary school, with expensive childcare before and after school.

I shared an office with a woman who listened to a religious radio station all day. She looked directly at me without smiling as the pastor on the radio blared, “I’m going to talk about the sinners going to hell who are around you right now.” I turned away from her white-hot stare back to my computer that only worked 80 percent of the time. Unfortunately I was held responsible for deadlines 100 percent of the time. I had a volatile relationship with the computer that caused me frequent punishment.

Do you know who leaves the best tips at restaurants? People who have been servers themselves. There are some people who feel that the better title you have, the smarter and better you are. They think that people in low-paid jobs should be lucky to get a paycheck, no matter the abuse. I don’t feel that way. I think anyone who works is worthy, whether your title is janitor, admin assistant or director, you deserve respect. If you’ve ever worked as an admin assistant, you might understand how it feels when someone in power disrespects and condescends to you. Add in a boss who takes credit for your work, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for despair.

I’ve kept a daily journal since I was eight. It became too painful to write the details of my days. My sister suggested I make a cartoon of my days.

The cartoons helped. Who can seem wretched in a doodle? But the cartoons were still too sad to send to my longtime pen pal Shoshannah (who keeps a wonderful blog about her life in San Francisco. I encourage you to check it out: Crosswalk Confidential).

I asked myself, “What am I doing with my life?”

I believe in personal growth. With effort, intention, courage, a little luck and the willingness to change, anyone can improve their lives. I felt miserable at 35. Next week, you’ll find out more about how I survived—and thrived due to—my mid-life crisis.

Blessing

Lord, bless us with hope
when we face situations that test us.
Ease our heavy hearts.
Loosen our tight places of stress.
Comfort our overactive minds.

Remind us of your constant love
when the hours feel impossible
when we feel brought down so low
we can’t get up.

Tell me your thoughts!

What was a time in your life when you felt less than successful?

4 free lessons from the Little Drummer Boy

daisiesAs I begin my new book project, I struggle with that voice that says, “You’re not good enough.” While I can’t quiet the voice, I can remind myself that this book is my offering to God. I’ve been thinking of the Little Drummer Boy.

My mother was one to listen to Christmas songs year-round, or at least starting in August. She would break out the Mannheim Steamroller vinyl and turn the stereo up to at least 7.

She loved the classics as well as electronic music. One of her favorite songs was the Little Drummer Boy. This song tells the story of a young boy with nothing to give the baby Jesus. With Mary’s blessing, he plays his drum.

Without fail, my mother cried every time it came on.

I seem to have inherited her Little Drummer Boy crying syndrome. Now when I hear the song, I remember her feeling so touched. It brings tears to my own eyes.

The simplicity of the story means each generation can learn from the little drummer boy.

Give now. Don’t wait to be an expert to give your best to God.

The little boy didn’t say, “Wait, I need to take some drum lessons and get better before I offer my song. I will come back in a few years.”

As I was talking to my husband about the song, he said he imagines the little drummer boy played the drum the way young children play drums, in a clumsy, charming way. The song doesn’t say, “Then the very best child drummer—a kid so good that had he been on YouTube 2,014 years in the future, he would have had 1 million views—played for Jesus.” It only says that he played.

Be a proud beginner.

As adults, we get caught up in looking like we know what we’re doing. How we look seems to matter more than what we feel and experience. How many new things do we avoid because of fear and the idea of “I don’t want to look stupid”?

Children are beginners at everything, even self-consciousness. They haven’t learned to be self-conscious.

What if we approached something new with an attitude of openness without worrying about how we look?

Remember it’s OK to look like a beginner. It means you are beginning something new!

Offer what you have with your heart.

The boy was motivated by his love for the Lord in this song. He could have gotten caught up in self-pity that he had no frankincense.

Whether you are offering a prayer, a smile, a glass of water or a devotional—do it with spirit and goodwill. Let your love for the Lord motivate you. Whatever you have to give, if you give it with love, it will be enough.

Be present to the moment of giving.

The boy wasn’t half-drumming, distracted by the score of a game. He focused on what he was giving.

How often are you present? All the time? Most of the time? Or like me, sometimes, here and there, when I am not distracted by ponies and to-do lists?

Think of a Japanese tea ceremony with its deliberate patience. Instead of tossing your offering in an off-hand way, present it with intention.

Center yourself and give part of yourself. The recipient of your generosity will feel your presence. You will gain more from the giving.

Give well.

Blessing

Lord, let us give what we can now:

Smiles to the lonely,
Peace to the troubled,
Food to the hungry,
A hand to the stumbling,
An ear to those not heard.

If we don’t have big tithes
or fancy prayers,
time for overseas missions
or prayerful retreats,
let us give what we can now:

A kind word,
A welcome,
A thank you.

Let us be the people who turn around
someone’s day.

Guide us to become people who give
as you give:
extravagantly, excessively,
endlessly.

Tell me your thoughts!

How have you been blessed this week? What will you give out of love for God? What would you like to learn?

How to stay motivated mid-project

lightLast week, I mentioned my process for starting new projects.

Beginnings have their own momentum. The middle of a project can bring the doldrums. During my two and a half years in grad school, my first year was skateboard ride down a hill. So exciting! New faculty! New friends! New projects! It was all exclamations points!!! Then came the third semester, the middle of five semesters total for me before graduation.

Due dates seemed too soon. The workload seemed too heavy. The glamour of the beginning had worn off. The syllabus seemed like a hard boss with no mercy. The exclamation points were gone. It was one | wall | after | another |.

Do you know that feeling? The initial thrill is gone, but you’re still far from completion.

Here are 7 ways I used to keep myself motivated.

Accept that you’re not in control

Sometimes you can’t pick the work that needs to be done. The syllabus or your job demand what they need, not what you want to do. As the serenity prayer suggests, accept what is out of your control with as much grace as you can. With any meaningful project, you will have to slog through some unpleasant parts. I love having a pony. Do I love mucking? But pony poop is part of pony having, so every weekend, I grab my rake.

Accept that you’re in control

This is like the second part of the serenity prayer. What can you own about the project you’re doing? Even in tight deadline situations, you can choose little things to make your work easier. Is there a photo you can post next to the computer that cheers you up? Do you have a favorite color rake?

Bribe yourself to get through short tasks

I broke my project into tiny tasks that could be completed in 10 or 20 minutes, and thought up prizes for myself as rewards. It might be having a cup of tea, making toast with extra butter and jam, painting my nails, calling a friend, watching TV or taking a bath.

Pick prizes that will bolster you, but not take too much work or money.

Get silly

It helps to bring back a sense of play to your work. Put on energizing music and dance around. When I was building my web portfolio for grad school, I also built a spoof website in parallel.

Get competitive

Find someone who is doing the same thing that you are, and make a friendly competition of it. Who will do it first?

Realize the desire to quit will not last

I once read that hunger pains only last 20 minutes. If someone was dieting and could wait the 20 minutes, the discomfort would go away.

I think this is true of many of our desires. Our desire to quit is a short-term discomfort. If you can remind yourself that you will feel better about the project soon, it helps propel you past the sticking point.

Ask for help

Tell your loved ones that you are glum and need motivation. They will remind you what a good job you’re doing, and shower you with attention. You can ask them with help staying on track.

Remember, you can always tell God you’re struggling and ask for guidance.

Keep praying, keep working and keep looking to the day when you accomplish your goal!

But, Gen, what about the memoir?

Speaking of being in the middle of projects, thank you for those who have stopped me to ask how the memoir is going. I love you for asking. It means the world to me that I will have supportive readers when I have it finished.

As I looked over my memoir this summer, and prayed about it, I recognized a hard truth. My memoir in its current written form isn’t honest enough, funny enough or well written enough for my liking. I left my childhood with chronic emotional pain that took me years to heal. I don’t want to impose my story on others so the end result is depressing. For the moment, I’m letting the memoir rest until I decide whether I want to try writing it a third time from a completely fresh start, or rewrite the draft I have with more honesty and humor.

Update on the newest writing project

Meanwhile, my new project continues, and I would love your feedback as I flesh it out!!! (Still in the exclamation phase!)

Here’s my pitch.

My book, the Creative Women’s Devotional, helps women who are doing crafts to transform their hobby into a spiritual practice. An uplifting gift for moms and grandmas who are Christian crafters, it offers stories, blessings and suggestions all looped together with God’s love.

This will be a book that I build through blogging. The final book will have additional content not found on the blog, and offer the convenience of one place for 40 devotionals.

How does this sound to you as a book idea?

Do you think I should open it up for more types of craft? Originally I was thinking knitting and crochet, plus quilting and possibly scrapbooking. I am most familiar with knitting and crochet. I would need to use others’ expertise to speak about quilting and scrap booking.

What do you think would make it more interesting, more entertaining, stronger or more inspiring?

Blessing

Lord, thank you for staying with us when
we lose our way.

You are the tree giving us shade when
we need to rest.

You are the mountain calling us higher when
we need to stand back up and keep climbing.

May our work be done for your glory.
Energize us, focus us and guide us
on your way.

Tell me your thoughts!

What projects have you had that started strong but lagged in the middle?

Where judges aren’t welcome

An early love for judges

One of my favorite judges, Judy Sheindlin. Photo courtesy of Susan Roberts.
One of my favorite judges, Judy Sheindlin. Photo courtesy of Susan Roberts.

I started watching judge shows in high school. While my parents divorced during the summer between my junior and senior year, I watched the Newlywed Game and Divorce Court—back to back—religiously.

In the game show, raunchy newlyweds flirted to win washing machines. In the court show, couples described messy failed relationships, pleading to the cool sophisticated judge who gave them clean outcomes that didn’t always make sense: he gets the washing machine, she gets the dryer. I took comfort in seeing someone in control above the brutal fighting; I myself was living in the fray.

My internal judge and me today

Today chaos or insecurity triggers my internal judge who gives opinions on all aspects of my existence, including the way I pray and my creative process. It can get overwhelming. Instead of fortifying my self-image, the judge can become so destructive that nothing seems good enough.

This internal judge is almost certainly the voice that silences many people from writing at all. Before a song, story or prayer can be fully fleshed out, the judge squelches it.

A courtroom—not a mind or a private journal—is the perfect time and place for a judge. Judges make great editors, or list-makers for pros and cons, or researchers for the best washing machine. Much as I love them, judges don’t have a place in the early creative process.

Writing to deepen the spiritual experience

Spiritual writing is all about process. Results don’t matter. You only need to show up, put pen to paper and let the judge know you’ll call her later, if you need her. You won’t miss her. The divine presence will show love through ink and fiber, if you let it.

The practice of spiritual writing is a balm to heal and nourish my creative self. I face the water, put my hand in like a boat and let my work set sail. The spirit supplies the wind.

Upcoming Sunday School Class

As part of our church’s Christian Education hour, my friend, Resa Kerns, and I will offer a spiritual writing class 10 a.m. this Sunday, June 1, in the resource room (lower level) of Broadway Christian Church. It’s an 8-week class, and everyone is invited. Internal judges might tag along, but they won’t be listened to. In the space of spiritual writing, we will listen for God.

While I teach the class this summer, I will include some of my topics on this blog so you can follow along and try some writing on your own. No experience needed!

The pen is the path. As we write, we might be surprised by who travels with us.

Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” —Luke 24:31-32

Blessing

Lord, when there seems no escape
from our fumbling, our fears,
our frantic chasing of the next goal,
our harsh self-judgements,
bless us with acceptance.

Let’s practice devotion.

May we accept what is real
and rest in your kingdom.

Tell me your thoughts!

How much rule does the judge have in your mind? How much rule does God have?

Lessons from Easter morning

The father and his college-aged son led us in Easter hymns. Our songs joined with the bird songs. At 7 a.m., the sun was easing its way over the tree line. The father played guitar. His experienced voice rang out warm in the cool morning air.

“Christ is risen,” said the pastor.

“He is risen indeed,” we affirmed.

The congregation was a mix of ages and stories. Some of us had visible scars. Some were grouped in families while others came by themselves. We all sat together on wooden benches in a semi-circle around a simple cross. On the bench in front of us, a young mother rearranged a fuzzy smiling monkey blanket around her young boy in his pajamas. He leaned on her. His older brother put his arm around him to add a little warmth.

During communion, the father played the keyboard while the deacons passed a wooden tray of small cups of juice and bread. I tore a piece off of the loaf. I held my cup.

The congregation was served and the deacons returned to the front. The son tore off a piece from the loaf and gently placed it on the keyboard along with a cup for his father. He looked after the one who was giving to us. Who do you know who is always giving? Show kindness to the kind—the selfless ones who look after others—so they can keep up their work of softening the world. Tear off a piece of bread for them. Give juice to those bringing music to our day.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint him. Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large. –Mark 16:1-4

We usually attend a service of hundreds indoors, a rich and triumphant worship in an expansive space. For Easter, I like the sunrise service outside. I feel humble, exposed to the elements while nestled in the intimacy of a small group.

It’s easy to imagine being Mary, worrying about who would roll the stone back. I think about the hurried walk to the tomb, early in the morning, maybe a morning like this one. The spices waft on the air from the bag in my hand, swinging as I walk. The repetitive thought start to wears a rut in my mind, “Who will roll the stone back?”

I focus on the future tasks I have to perform. How will the meeting go? Will this situation work out? Will these bills ever end? Will his health get better? Will it get easier?

How many times do we worry about who will roll the stone back?

The truth is God will bless us a thousand times before we die. God will work in our lives and exceed our positive—and negative—imagination no matter how we fuss. God knows children fuss, and we are yet children.

Do not worry about the stone.

Christ is risen.

Blessing

Lord, what are we that
you love us so?

Take the stone out of our mind.
Fill our thoughts with your hope.
Let us live as Easter people,
in your extravagance

Alleluia!

Tell me your thoughts!

What stood out to you about Easter this year? What have you worried about that turned out to be different than you thought? Who will you spoil this week?

PS-new blog design! Thanks for all the feedback!

I’m scared of you reading this blog

Pixie runs in the snowWhether it’s biting spiders or sinkholes, we all have things we fear.

A common emotion, fear helps us when we’re in real danger. If we’re driving in bad weather, concern makes us respect the poor road conditions. When we’re passing a group of shady people, suspicion keeps us alert and motivates us to move away from a bad situation.

The problem is when fear becomes a stop sign instead of a warning. Fear can stop us from leading active lives where we participate in fun events and new adventures. People might worry about airplane crashes or shipwrecks so much that they don’t travel.

Fear often involves death, loss or some kind of ending such as the maximum entropy of the universe. Who hasn’t worried when a loved one doesn’t arrive home at the expected time? Who hasn’t felt anxious when the elevator stutters and seems to stop working? These are natural fears. We care about who we have in our lives and we prefer to be in control of our experience.

What about how we want to protect our egos and our social standing? We have a real need for others to accept us. We’re afraid of losing face, looking stupid and being embarrassed. Sometimes we dread others’ anger, rejection or judgment so much that we don’t say what we think.

This is my fear.

For me, 2013 is the time to face my social timidity and make this the year of my voice. I’m not a natural speaker or writer. I’m more comfortable being quiet and keeping my thoughts to myself, the words deep in private journals far from eyeballs. But just because it’s comfortable, is it right?

Sometimes the right thing for your life is the terrifying thing. Be open to your purpose. Where do you feel guided?

For me, I felt a calling to write and speak this year, despite how these things unnerve me. This is why I started this blog. Sitting in silence on the couch is safe. This blog seems dangerous. Speaking my mind seems dangerous. What if I speak and people hate what I say? What if I write this blog and I waste people’s time? What if, after I speak and write, people stop loving me?

Are you comfortable with how you deal with fear in your life? If not, here are some ideas so you can change your relationship with this feeling.

Replace fear with faith in 4 steps

Say to yourself, “I’m feeling scared.”

Simple acknowledgement of the feeling breaks its lock on your mind. Saying these words shifts the control from fear back to you. You can start making decisions again. Gather your thoughts and get your mind back. You’ll start seeing fear for what it is—a feeling—despite how it wants to disguise itself as fact.

My friend Shoshannah told me about this quote from Frank Herbert that she uses before she starts a martial arts sparring match.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” (from Dune, Good Reads)

Breathe

A deep breath brings calm back. Breathe in, hold for a moment, breathe out. More oxygen allows you to think. Fear can make our hearts race and our breathing fast and shallow. Slower breathing brings back an easy rhythm to follow. You’ll return to being centered in your body.

Pray

Ask for strength, help and guidance. God will bless you. You don’t need to say a perfect prayer to a concept of a higher power that you completely understand at this moment. It’s OK to be scared and unsure. Your prayer will still be heard.

Do it anyway!

People who accomplish things aren’t always fearless people. They feel fear too but they go forward anyway. We can be like them.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” (Good Reads)

Keep your goals in mind. Think of all you have already lived through. You can do it. Have faith and go for it!

What do you fear that you’re working to overcome? What gives you courage? Tell me about it in the comments!

Special thanks to Tim Carson for inspiring this blog post and to all my friends who confessed their fears during my research!