Last week I was asked to speak to a group of 11th grade students at the International School my children attend. I stood in front of a class of unfamiliar, stone-cold faces and became revealed that I was a complete idiot. How could such a small and inexperienced group of human beings make me question everything that I ever loved about myself and then loathe all my most repulsive qualities in which I had come to terms with years ago? I knew, as I stood before them, that they had noticed my giant front teeth and that they were about to start chanting “rabbit” just like they did back in High School. Flashbacks of carrots being thrown at my head in the cafeteria brought me into full-blown PTSD. Just as I was about to start hiding under the desks, I pulled myself together and gave a weird introduction. My introduction received literally zero responses, so I waved. I literally waved. I stood in front of a classroom of high school students, 3 feet in front of their faces and waved. Obviously, no one waved back.
I started my presentation on “Relief verses Development in Communities” with 98% of the students caring 0%. It wasn’t because they were ruthless students but rather completely lost due to my stammering sentences, muddled content, and insecurity-induced armpit sweat. I even wore a white shirt in efforts to hide my impending sweat stains *free advice, white is good but black is better at covering sweat marks. That’s for free, folks, and learned from surviving one too many hot seasons. Regardless of my preparation, both my sweat and inexperience with teenagers showed through as I started attempting humor as my shield, security blanket, way to keep them distracted from noticing rabbit teeth, desire to connect with the precious students. I always try humor. It never works. I never learn.
I remember being a high school student. I also distinctly remember being embarrassed when teachers lost their cool. It wasn’t like they embarrassed me but rather I felt embarrassed for them. I wondered how adult men and women, who have degrees, life experience and most of them their own children, could allow mere adolescents to get under their skin. So, even with that experience lingering in my brain, and after only 5 minutes of standing in front of the class, I embarrassed myself by throwing what, no doubt, looked like a temper tantrum in front of the class. I looked at a group of five guys, who had been laughing in the corner, and asked a question that I can only imagine came straight from some scene I had seen in a 90’s sitcom, “Is there something that you want to share with all of us that’s more important than what I’m saying”? One of the boys, holding his hand to his head, shared that he had simply hit his head on the wall and was trying to recover. “Cool. Thanks, man,” I thought, “I appreciate the way you made me look like a complete jerk right there. I looked stupid before, but you really helped bump it up another level, didn’t you?”
(I really do hope your head feels better, by the way. Honestly, I do…).
I called some reinforcements of colleagues, Shan and Sarah, to the front of the class, but it turns out that they were just as embarrassing as I was and their jokes were even worse than mine. Why, Sarah, why did you have to mention “Little House on the Prairie” and what on God’s green earth made you salute when you said that you were from the U.S.A, Shantelle Renee Brutsman?
I did not like the way I felt that day. I didn’t like standing in front of those students feeling outdated, old or uninteresting because of my age. I didn’t like the insecurity and self-focus that came upon me. Though I didn’t like it, the good thing that often follows my embarrassment is that it causes me to reflect on what is really going on in my heart.
Being 35 years old kind of awkwardly puts me somewhere in between my youth and buying my first pair of compression socks. It’s kind of a strange pendulum that swings back and forth according to whoever I am with. When I am with teenagers I feel old and when I am with the *cough older folks I feel juvenile and inexperienced.
Unfortunately, my interaction with older Christian women has often has left me feeling either completely terrified about aging or desperately wanting to cling to every ounce of my fading youth. Often times, communicating with them feels like an uncomfortable exchange of self-criticism followed by awkward pauses and predictable compliments. The conversations frequently end up revolving around “getting old”. The discouragement and discontentment of the aging woman spreads to fellow women kind of like the time I vomited at a basketball game after watching someone else vomit. Then it just kept happening throughout the entire gymnasium; person after person fell victim. It was a bile warzone that few escaped untouched. *You’re welcome for that word picture.
But I wonder if aging women, in their world, feel a little like how I felt in the classroom last week?
Do they feel insecure? Are they feeling outdated or irrelevant? Is it difficult for them to see their beauty when they live in a society that worships youth? Is their identity shaken when the compliments lessen, their bodies change, their roles in life drastically transition? Do they feel less important and less needed than they were in their past?
I don’t know if those things are true but let me take one second to ask beg older women, on behalf of us in-the-middle/youngish women, not to believe those lies. Those lies that you are believing are destroying incredible opportunities in your life and those same lies are being passed down to those of us who are watching you.
Yes, we are watching you (and I am very sorry for how creepy that sounded). We watch how you interact with others and we listen to how you talk about yourself. We have so much to learn from you. You have lived many beautiful, difficult, challenging and evolving seasons of life and we need to hear from you.
We need you to pour into our lives and we also need you to give us something to look forward to.
There are certain women in my life who have done this well. These women actually make me excited about getting older. These women all have something in common: I have rarely heard them talk down about themselves. In fact, I have rarely heard them talk about themselves at all. They are wise and gracious and gently pass on their wisdom. They honestly share their struggles and trials but point to God through them. They spend less time worrying about their changing seasons but rather use their extra time to serve and bless others. They are meek in spirit, not because they aren’t strong but because they have a mature, contained strength. This strength comes from years of learning to rely on Christ and seeing their identity in Him. This strength looks less at things seen, and more at things unseen. This strength blatantly reveals to me the lies of our culture and points me to truth. Their example of strength makes me excited to get to where they are in life. This strength makes me yearn to know Jesus more and it gives me excitement for what is ahead. When I see the beautiful faithfulness of these women and their hearts to invest in the lives of others, it urges me to do the same.
I don’t know the secret struggles of their hearts, but I do know that despite their struggles they are using their unique stages of life as opportunities to pour into those of us behind them; those of us who maybe haven’t married, haven’t parented, haven’t sent children off to college, haven’t fought through difficult marriages, have yet to remain faithful through decades of serving others, haven’t learned how to make pie crust or dumplings, those of us who haven’t yet suffered the loss of our parents, or experienced the ache of our fading youth, snail-paced metabolism, retirement, or the pain of arthritis kicking in. You are showing us how to live out all of these things and many more.
So, this is to all the beautiful women who are ahead of me. Don’t look back with longing for your youth. If you look back, look back at us. We need you. We need you to lead us well, teach us well, and tell us all the great and difficult things that are yet to come and how we can honor God through them.
Thank you to those in my life who have done this well. Thank you for teaching me, loving me, and giving me hope and excitement for the seasons ahead. You make them look good! Continue “adorning the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2).