Thoughts on Aging

When I saw this article by Brené Brown (on Maria Shriver's blog) for Prime: Reflections on Time and Beauty, I was inspired. It is a portrait book that features portraits and accompanying essays of women from the ages of 35 to 104, by American photographer and filmmaker Peter Freed, along with the stories of the women in the photographs. The Prime Book celebrates what it means to be a woman in her “prime” in modern-day America.

I am approaching my 57th birthday next month and I have so many thoughts on aging.

I loved the idea of sharing a black and white portrait with no makeup because it's raw and honest and brave. 

I'm not suggesting I'm letting you see me at my worst. I was having a good hair day and I experimented with different spots in my room for the most flattering light. But after reading the article, I felt a compulsion to go into my bathroom with my phone, wash all my makeup off and take a selfie. Well, several. And I didn't like any of them. This is the best I could come up with after six or seven (eight or ten, who's counting?) tries.

My arms aren't long enough. And I don't like pictures of myself not smiling. (I guess I could have smiled, but the photos from this book are all serious shots.) 

I gave up on actually liking my face without makeup and said "enough." I decided to force myself to make a choice from what I had because, after all, this wasn't supposed to be about vanity. As I compared images, I kept coming back to the one above and then realized I had forgotten to remove my jewelry. Oh well, I'm not a real subject for this portrait book. I'm doing my own thing. And I couldn't bring myself to begin the process all over again when I had an acceptably raw and honest image. (I also wanted to avoid the possibility of John walking into the bedroom and seeing me doing this. He probably wouldn't get it. I probably would have been teased unmercifully.)

I think this is an empowering thing to do for ourselves individually and collectively. I felt empowered by the photos of the other women. I felt like I was looking into their souls. I didn't look at any other woman's photo the way I look at my own. I find all kinds of things to admire in their "naked" images. In mine, I see one eye larger than the other and a crooked nose (above). I see gravity around my lips, chin and jawline (more noticible in the second photo). Lines in my forehead. The one thing that makes me happy visually is that I have finally found a product that helps my eyebrows to grow in thicker and darker. (So, for my friends who are wondering if I took off ALL my makeup, the answer is yes! thanks to RapidBrow.)

But all that is so superficial. Whatever I see in the mirror that pleases or displeases me isn't really me at all. It's my shell. Who I am is what you know through my words and actions. Who I am is found in how I love, help and lift up others. Who I am is found in my heart and mind. And even though my face and body are not growing more beautiful with age, my heart, mind and soul are better and stronger than ever. Dare I say it, I feel more beautiful on the inside than I did at twenty, thirty, or forty. I love who I am inside at 57 more than any age I have ever been, even if I don't welcome the physical changes of aging. 

Being in the prime of life isn't about the tone of our skin or the strength of our joints. Our hearts and souls can be in the prime of life at any age. This is something I'm discovering as I grow older and struggle with my reflection in the mirror. And I assure you I do, no matter how hard I try not to be vain and superficial. But inside my skin, I am more comfortable than ever. I'm learning to accept and even embrace all that makes up my personality, for better or worse. That doesn't mean I won't always strive to be the best person I have the potential to be. It doesn't mean I don't see areas where I consistently fall short. But I'm getting better at accepting my imperfection as part of my humanity. I don't say everything as well as I want to. I probably never will. But I realize that pleasing people is no way to find value as a human being. For every person who is pleased with you, there will be someone you can never please no matter how hard you try. For every person who likes you, there will be someone who doesn't. 

I am still trying to overcome my rejection issues. They go so deep. When I feel discarded by someone, I have a need to understand why they're so willing to let me go (when I want to hold onto them). When a friend pulls away (as friends will do for reasons they don't always disclose) I look for ways to blame myself. I assume I have done something wrong that I don't even realize. Sometimes I feel discarded or rejected when I haven't been. This is toxic. And I know it is rooted in abusive relationships. God has multiplied true friends into my life exponentially over the past 13 years. And yet I still focus on one or two friends who drift away and wonder (neurotically at times) why.

It dawned on me recently, as I was feeling frustration with myself over this, that if I'm going to grow and learn how not to place my value and self-worth in being loved by everyone, God has to give me these experiences and even a few friendships that do not blossom as I hope all my friendships will. I'm learning to accept that I can't be everyone's cup of tea, and that it's perfectly okay. I'm realizing I don't want to be bland enough to survive on every palate. I want to be loved and appreciated for who I am; hopefully more sweet than sour, more salty than bitter, but knowing I am a combination of them all. And that's what keeps me from being bland and nondescript.

So I think I'll keep my passion, even if it is sometimes misunderstood. I will continue to have strong convictions and opinions. I will continue to be and express myself, as I encourage others to be and do the same with me. One thing I can promise is that I will never leave a friendship over differences in opinion. And I will always try my best to understand as much as I try to be understood.

Every once in a while I do wish I could stop feeling everything so deeply for a day or even a week. But God created people like me for a reason. And one of my strongest traits is empathy. I think it's one of my best traits. And I couldn't be that without emotional sensitivity. Every trait is a two-sided coin. Our greatest strengths are, on the flip side, our greatest weaknesses. And I think God designed it to be that way. So we are always reminded of our common humanity, even on our best days.

I am thankful for 57 years of learning and growing, failing and succeeding, and mostly for overcoming challenges and adversity in my life. I'm thankful I have turned the most painful parts of my history into my mission field. I'm thankful for tears and for laughter. I'm thankful for all the blessings I don't deserve. I'm thankful for the love I have sown and reaped. I'm thankful I'm still here to grow older and enjoy my family and friends. I'm thankful for so many healed and restored relationships in recent years. I'm thankful for all the times God's plans were better than mine. I am thankful for God's provision and compassion. I'm thankful for His faithfulness to me because I could never be worthy of it on my best day. I am thankful He is showing me that this life is not about earning love or favor, with Him or anyone else. It's about learning how to let His love and mercy flow into us and then through us, freely to others as He has freely given both to us.

I still wish we could hold onto our youthful bodies. But if it meant staying the same inside, I'd never go back to any other age. 

And that's the truth!