Just Bethany

Reinventing myself

The New Midlife Crisis: Not Just for Men Anymore

In the good old days, we’d hear about men in their 40s and 50s leaving their wives, buying fancy sports cars, and running off to Mexico with 20-year-old blonde bimbos. We’d shake our heads sadly, judge him loudly, and say, “Oh, he’s having a midlife crisis. His poor wife!” And that would be the end of it.

I’m pretty sure there’s a new midlife crisis in town. And it’s not a 55-year-old bald guy speeding down the road in a red Mazda Miata with a young blonde in the passenger seat. It’s the moms with empty nests; it’s the victims of the 20-year-ditch club (women divorced after being married to the same man for 20-ish years and raising a family with him); it’s the resumes with the 18-year gaps. They’re still driving beige minivans; they’ve crammed what’s left of their belongings into a two-bedroom apartment; they’re still cooking meals for a family of six, but setting the table for one. They’re hopping from job to job, from church to church, from activity to activity yet feeling unfulfilled and lonely.

But the new midlife crisis is also hitting successful career women, moms with kids finishing up high school, happy wives, and lifelong church members. What’s up with that? We’re the richest country in the world with more disposable income and time than ever before, yet we’re unsatisfied with our lives.

At this age (40s-50s), we should have figured out what we want and acquired it. We should have learned our lessons and moved on. We should have the experience to know what we’re good at and to work at it. 

As Ada Calhoun wrote in “The New Midlife Crisis,” Gen X women all over America are experiencing a depressing shift into this period in our lives. It’s not just women going through upheavals and transitions. It’s women who look like they have it all together. 

I could cite multiple reasons for these feelings of panic and crisis, but that’s not my main point. If you’re feeling useless, rootless, and helpless to do anything about it, you’re probably not interested in the why. You’re just interested in the fix. Like yesterday. 

So, what’s the real answer? I don’t know! But I did some poking around to find out what the answer is because I, too, want the fix. Like yesterday.

First of all, don’t do anything rash or stupid that you might possibly regret later. Just. Don’t. Do. It. Second, cling to the truths you already know from God’s Word. Like these:

  • Our main purpose in life is to glorify God.
  • Cling to Christ and continue on–Philippians 3:13-20.
  • Wait on the Lord, and He will give you new strength–Isaiah 40:31.
  • Read the book of Ecclesiastes; Solomon’s musings will make you feel less alone.
  • Read Psalms 105-106 and other biblcal passages that review all of the good things that God did for Israel and reflect on what good things the Lord has done in your life.

Third, try a few practical things as well:

  • Journal–get all those angsty feelings out of your head.
  • Strive to eat healthier–most of the time. Hey, a girl’s gotta have her chocolate from time to time.
  • Start ramping up the number of steps you set as your goal on your FitBit.
  • Talk to your girlfriends. I guarantee that you’re not the only one trying to figure out hot flashes, teens/20s drama, parent care, and career crises.

So, am I fixed yet? Nope. But I know where my focus should be: on Christ, not on myself. And I know I just have to keep going because one day I’ll look back on this period in my life and be grateful for the lessons God taught me through it.

What about you? Where are you in this journey called life? (Sorry, more Prince!) Are you feeling the crunch of a midlife crisis? And what are you doing about it? Tell me about it!

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Take It to the Cross

How many times do we hear—or say—that phrase and not know how to take our burdens to the cross and leave them there?

“Rising Cairn” by Celeste Roberge

I connected immediately with this sculpture, “Rising Cairn” by Celeste Roberge, the first time I saw its image. Others have called it “The Weight of Grief,” and that’s what I see. Grief, bitterness, struggles, loneliness, loss, all these things weigh us down. It’s not just all in the mind or in the heart; hard things take their toll physically too. 

All this weight that we carry can make daily living difficult. Imagine carrying a 30-pound backpack on your back all day, every day. Sounds exhausting, right? Well, that’s what we do when we don’t let Christ carry our spiritual and emotional burdens for us. 

I’ve tried to envision how free I would feel to be rid of all the weights I carry. I can picture Christian from Pilgrim’s Progress stumbling toward the cross. As he nears it and lifts his eyes to see the symbol of his Savior’s love, the weights fall right off his back. Can you imagine the freedom and lightness he felt? Can you imagine the freedom and lightness you and I would feel if we could only lay down our rock loads at the foot of the cross.

We can!! In order to help those of us (me) without an imagination, I’ve thought of doing this physically, but I haven’t yet. Gather up a bunch of rocks, use a sharpie to write a burden on each one—whatever’s weighing down me heart and mind and causing me to be bent over with grief. Take those rocks, those burdens to the cross and set them down on the ground beside it. I imagine Jesus bending over and picking up those rocks and in exchange giving me His yoke of peace, love, and grace. How much lighter I would feel! Those aren’t burdens at all; they’re blessings!

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

Once we’ve laid our burdens down at the foot of the cross, we can’t pick them up again. Not that I would want to, but we are creatures of habit. 

Recently when I was struggling with a particular issue with one of my children, I was keeping it all inside and not telling anyone about it—even my closest friends. I was so crushed by this burden—just like the person depicted in the “Rising Cairn” sculpture—that I couldn’t focus on anything else. I was filled with anxiety and grief. My dad finally encouraged me to let it go, to let others help me carry that burden to the Lord. It was hard to share what I felt like was my failing as a mother, but I did. It took several months of prayers, tears, and sharing with friends who carried me to Jesus, but I have let it go (mostly). When I dwell on this issue, I still cry. I pray constantly for this problem. But I don’t carry the burden of it around with me, and in that, I am free. 

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free

John 8:32 ESV

I have other burdens that I’m working on releasing, but sometimes I feel like the rocks are superglued to my hand! Why do I hold onto my burdens instead of loosing the backpack straps and letting the whole bag fall to the ground at the cross as Christian did? I don’t know! But I’m working on it, and I’m inviting Jesus to help me release these burdens. 

What rocks are superglued to your hands? What burdens are in your backpack weighing you down? Take them to the cross and leave them there, friend! If you need someone to pray with you about your cares, let me know.

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Identity Crisis

Us-passportWith my recent divorce, I decided to revert my last name to my maiden name. My married name has all kinds of negative connotations, and I don’t want to be associated with that name or that person anymore. As my girls are in their late teens, they’re old enough to realize that I need my own identity and that they’ll soon be changing their own last names.

Names identify people with other people. Names identify people with certain groups, ethnicity, regions, religions, and jobs.

What I didn’t realize when I decided to change my name is what a humongous hassle the whole process would be! So many, many places needed to have it changed. And, of course, half of them couldn’t just get it right the first time–like the DMV and my bank. Oy! Then there’s the whole email address change. I’m pretty sure everyone on the planet has my old email address. And persists in using it. Furthermore, it’s associated with all of my online bills and every single site I ever signed into in the entire World Wide Web. If one more person asks whether I just got married, I will scream! This whole process was so much simpler (and happier) 22 years ago when I did it the first time.

Throughout this whole process, I feel like I’m having an identity crisis, and I don’t just mean having trouble remembering how to sign my name. I’m not married, so I don’t want my former last name. Even though my father is an honorable man, and I am proud to carry his last name, I am not under his protection anymore as I was when I was growing up. With whose name do I want to be associated? To whom do really I belong?

I belong to God, first and foremost.

The Lord says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are MINE” (Isaiah 43:1).

As long as my heavenly father knows my name, it doesn’t really matter what my earthly name is. That’s comforting.

 

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The Next Half

halfI spent the first 22 years of my life waiting to get married. I spent the next 22 years of my life wishing I wasn’t. (Go ahead and figure out my age; it’s easy.) Half of my life was spent preparing to be a good, Christian wife. Half of my life was spent reeling from the shock of the emotional abuse, being cheated on, and manipulation of being that wife.

As of this coming Tuesday, I’ll be beginning the next half of my life. Don’t confuse me by saying that’s too many halves. Looked at from a different angle, one could say I’m at the midpoint of my life now if I were to have an average lifespan of 88 years. So, I’ve spent my entire life so far wishing for and being something that wasn’t what I expected and is now over. That doesn’t bode well for the next, unknown half of my life.

The past two and a half years have been focused on survival, not on preparing myself for this next phase in my life. While I’m thrilled to be out from under oppression, I almost don’t know how to handle it! For the first half of my life, my parents made decisions for me, and then guided me in making my own decisions. For the next half of my life, I was informed of decisions – when he remembered to tell me. How do I make my own decisions now without panicking?

Here’s my answer:

“And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” – 2 Corinthians 3:4-6

Sure enough, I am not adequate or sufficient. But God is. Pray for me, though, as I continue to make this transition into the next half of my life.

 

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A More Settled 2015

Ahope and grace pics my thoughts wandered over the pages of my very first journal entry for the year, they jumped from idea to idea. I’ve address hopped, church hopped, and job hopped. So many changes have taken place in all areas of my life this year that I’m not even sure where to start.

I’ve moved and unpacked, yet still feel like I’m in someone’s (very ugly, very small) guesthouse. But I chose the address; I signed the papers myself. I’ve replaced stuff that said “we” with stuff that says “me.” I’ve made it a haven for me and for my girls. However, it’s hard not to at least occasionally long for the dream home where we made family memories for 10 years. It’s time, though, to settle into my new home, even if it’s not my dream house.

About 2 years ago, I realized it was time to find a new church home for many reasons, but mostly because it just wasn’t not big enough for me and the ex. I spent a bunch of months either tiptoeing into back rows at 5 after or crying in my bed. Finally, a friend literally dragged me to her church, and it was good. It was a place of healing and encouragement, but it was not a place I ever felt completely settled. I needed more exegetical preaching and more emphasis on reformed theology. I think I’ve found those elements, and I’m starting to settle in. But my reserved nature (For real, I’m reserved in person!) has made it hard to feel completely at ease. It’s time to settle into a new church and to trust people again.

Contrary to popular opinion, full-time jobs teaching college-level English are nearly non-existent, at least here in North Carolina. As a result, I’ve spent the past few years applying for adjunct positions over and over and over again. Some are online and some are face to face. The problem with being an adjunct is that there’s no guarantee of classes from one term (5-16 weeks) to the next; there is zero stability. Stability = steady pay check. This providing for myself financially thing is scary! I’ve applied to a few PhD programs, and I’m hoping for a full fellowship, including a light teaching load. I guess I’m pinning my hopes for stability in my professional life on that, but I won’t know for several months yet.

All of this hopping has me longing for stability. I know my true source of stability comes from God. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” (Ps. 46:1). The real problem, for me anyway, is the waiting.

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord! (Ps. 27:13-14).

My challenge for 2015: settle my hopes on the Lord in order to gain true stability. What’s your challenge for the new year?

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I Was Worth It

This morning during church, I heard yet another story of a guy who met a girl and gave up, on the spot, his drug addiction in order to be with her. Another guy gave up a 20-year pornography addiction–overnight–when God convicted him to do so to stay with his loving and forgiving wife. Other guys give up jobs that would take them away from home, alcohol, wild parties, bad habits, and codependent parents.

I’m thrilled for those marriages; really, I am. I rejoice with my friends whose marriages have been rescued. I pray blessings and continued peace over their families.

But I cry for myself. I’ve wondered every day for the past (nearly) two years why I wasn’t enough. Why he couldn’t/wouldn’t give up his pornography addiction. Why he had to scream and yell at me in order to relieve his stress. Why I had to feel bad so he could feel good. Why I wasn’t worth standing up for against outsiders. Why he wouldn’t ever let go of any little (let alone big) offense. Why leadership twisted into control.

In the middle of my pity party this morning, the worship team sang “Jesus Paid It All,” and I realized that I really was worth dying for. This guy named Jesus gave up his home and his life for me. Jesus made me free! I don’t have to be under anyone’s control; that’s not part of God’s plan for me. I have been rescued; it just didn’t look like I thought it would.

Stand fast therefore in liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. ~ Galatians 5:1, NKJV

 

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The Valley of the Shadow of Death

“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” ~ Psalm 23:4

Death seems to be everywhere this week. I have heard of several friends of friends whose too-short time on earth came to an end recently. Does it really matter if death was expected? I don’t think so. Perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that you’ve said your goodbyes and that you let him/her know how you felt.

Comfort also comes in knowing that this earthly goodbye is only temporary. As believers, we can count on eternal life.

“Jesus said to her ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.'” ~ John 11:25

But we who remain are left to grieve for the empty places our loved ones leave in their passing. It’s only natural to miss a parent, a friend, a family member. Tears are nothing to be ashamed of; even Jesus wept (John 11:33).

What comfort can we give those who are mourning the loss of a loved one? Cry with them. Sit with them without spouting platitudes. Give hugs–liberally. Bring coffee. And above all, let those you love know–out loud, before it’s too late.

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven; A time to be born, and a time to die . . . A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, 4

And remember, this is just a season–one of many that make up the circle of life. This season of weeping and mourning shall pass. How do I know? I’ve been in my own valley of the shadow of death. I’ll share about it some other time, but just know for now that you are not alone in your grieving.

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Jehovah Jireh

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100Tonight during our church’s women’s Bible study, my friend Karen shared about the meaning of joy using four specific examples from Scripture. Although we don’t know each other well, I felt that each and every example–including the definition–were meant for me specifically at this point in my life. That’s a God thing, y’all!

Karen’s definition: “Joy is the quiet, confident assurance of God’s love and work in our lives and that he will be there no matter what.”

The first thing I noticed was that joy does not equal happiness. The second thing I noticed is that joy is not dependent on our circumstances. The third thing I noticed is that God will be here for me no matter what and no matter who else is not in my life.

Because the examples that Karen shared seemed to parallel my current life so precisely, I want to share them briefly here.

1. Ruth. She left her family behind, as did I. She had no husband to provide for or protect her. Neither do I; I actually need protection from my ex. God orchestrated ahead of time for Boaz to advocate for her. God has used many unexpected people to help me over the past year and a half. The Hebrew word for provide is jireh. Just as God was Ruth’s Jehovah Jireh, so he is mine as well. The cool thing about that particular phrase–Jehovah Jireh–is that I already have it written on the memo board by my desk.

2. The widow and her cruse of oil. Elisha instructed the widow to use what she already had–oil–in a way that she could pay off her debts and still have enough money left over to live on. I also have talents and educational degrees that the Lord can, and I believe will, use for me to find a full-time job that will provide for my needs and for the needs of my children. Not only did three out of the five classes I was supposed to teach this semester fall through, but I have also not been receiving alimony for the past two months. Jehovah Jireh provided for the widow using the oil that she already had; I believe he will also provide for me financially.

3. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The Lord not only protected these godly men from being burned to a crisp, but he was also right there with them in the midst of the flames! If (since) the Lord can be present in a furnace, I believe he can be with me in the midst of a courtroom. I believe God can protect me from the flames of the enemy, no matter what form those flames take. It is ONLY through God’s strength that delivery comes! The Israelite men didn’t have fireproof suits. My ex-husband-induced panic attacks can only be overcome through the Lord’s strength.

4. Peter. He was thrown into prison, and the key was thrown away. He had no earthly hope of escaping, but that didn’t stop a group of Christians from praying fervently on his behalf. Imagine their surprise when, while they were praying, Peter knocked on the door–free!

Lord, I want to have this kind of belief and this kind of prayer life!!

My current life situation looks fairly hopeless, a lot like these four biblical examples began. Thank you, Karen, for sharing the hope and encouragement that I can have real JOY right now. It’s not about me. It’s about God and what he can do!

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Who Do I Want To Be?

Snapshot_20130523

Last night, I began my first official week alone in my new townhouse. First thought: panic! Second thought: I can do whatever I want! Third thought: Wait, what do I want?

Of course, I had to mention it on my favorite social media site, Facebook. I got quite a few supportive comments, but my friend Alice summed it up best: “You will always be mom, but this week you are YOU….now it’s time to find you.”

That got me thinking. Who am I really?

My mother’s comment was along the same lines: “Decide who you want to be and start aiming in that direction.” Ok, but who do I want to be?

A whole list of what and who I don’t want to be sprang to mind immediately, but as I started writing in my journal, a list to aim for appeared.

I want to be ~

  • strong
  • confident
  • independent
  • dependent on God
  • peaceful
  • happy
  • friendly
  • healthy
  • purposeful

The last one on the list was the hard one, though, because I’m not really sure what my purpose should be yet.

As I was talking to a friend today, I realized one thing that’s not on that list is rich or anything that has to do with money. And that’s ok! Other things in life are much more important.

So, what do y’all think? What am I missing? Am I headed in the right direction?

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The Power of the Journal

journal and penWords have power. Sometimes when we can’t speak the words out loud, we can still harness their power by writing them. Sometimes just reading the words of Scripture can speak their power into our souls.

Words reveal truth. My writer-daughter says she often doesn’t know what her characters will say or do until the words are already written. Me? I like to plan out every word. I start with an idea, then move to an outline, and then begin the actual drafting.

My journal, however, is a different story (pun intended!). I sit down with a cup of hot tea, my Bible, a pen, and my well-worn journal. Occasionally I know that I need to vent my feelings about a particular event or conversation, but often I just know that I need to release my bound emotions. And out come all sorts of emotions and thoughts that I didn’t even realize I had. Writing–and then reading over my own writing–enables me to process my emotions more effectively.

My journal also has the power to reveal wrong thinking patterns. When brought to light, I can pray more specifically for healing from these damaging emotions. I’m currently participating in an online Bible study utilizing a new book, When a Woman Finds Her Voice, by JoAnn Fore.  JoAnn leads by example and encourages readers to release their emotions appropriately in order to find healing.

For so long, I’ve kept so many emotions and details of my life hidden because of shame and fear. I’ve been told, in fact, that it was difficult to be my friend in the past because I seemed too perfect. I wasn’t trying to be perfect; I was just trying to be liked. I was hurt by that comment, but I needed to hear it. It validates my longing for a like-minded community where I can safely, without judgment, unburden my soul to find healing.

I’m tired of being perfect. I’m ready to journey toward emotional freedom. What about you? Are you ready to join me in unbinding my emotional mess? Are you ready to release your own emotional baggage?

FindYourVoiceLinkup

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