On Turning 40

For my birthday, my husband and son made me Amy: The Game. It’s a mock board game, with memories filling the spaces around the board and kind or funny words about me filling the playing cards. Some of my favorites are “You are light in the darkness” (written by my dear and tender son, Lyndon) and “You always know where to put the furniture” (by my dear and wisecracking husband, Lang). Truly, it floored me.

This was a big one: 40. The two years leading up to it were humility- and faith-building, which I didn’t find so easy or comfortable. But one reading in particular helped me, and today I want to share it:

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

I think I’ve always understood from this reading that life can be hard. But in the last two years I’ve taken it a little less about discipline and a little more about compassion and discernment: At this particular moment, am I on the road or at the gate? How about the people I love? And what about the people I find hard to tolerate each day?

Two years ago, I was in a rough place, searching for a job to help my family pay off a huge, unanticipated debt. After eight years as a Stay-at-Home Mom, I didn’t know exactly what my skills were. And clearly, neither did the confused and dismissive HR Personnel I found myself trying to impress. What did I really have to offer? I felt useless, stuck and insecure.

How could I quantify what I’d achieved those years at home? Where on an application could I list the developmental challenges I’d helped my child face and conquer, the life challenges I’d helped my husband brave? I was proud of the life the three of us had carved out together. I was sure my cheerleading, resourcefulness and problem-solving had strengthened and buoyed my guys. But I couldn’t bring the two of them to my interviews. I felt lost and paralyzed. (And because I'm dramatic, humiliated and doomed.)

That day I took a break from sending out resumes and found this reading online. It struck me: I was at the gate, and I didn't feel ready.

For eight years I had turned my attention from my own daily victories and celebrated Lyndon’s instead. And Lyndon was so freaking cute and interesting, as every child is, so I understood why I took all those pictures of him – in bulging cloth diapers or laughing in Lang’s arms. But I had developed a habit of not seeing or showing myself, at least not outside my family. Too much identification with my family can be a trap for me. I can hide in the roles of Mom, wife, daughter or sister. It’s much scarier to venture out as just Amy. There’s no rulebook or web site I can go to for that one.

So that day I decided it was time to take out my camera and finally see myself, as I was in that moment: Sitting at my computer desk, slouching, frizzy-haired, makeup-less. Wearing a puffy coat over leggings, and looking very tired. Once I saw how I looked I made myself over slightly, swapping the puffy coat for a sweater, dabbing on some makeup and cropping out the shiny leggings in the retake. Months later I shared Version 2 on Facebook.

Today I think it’s important to show Version 1. And my birthday flowers and Christmas tree, my Amy game, and some pictures my friend took of me this summer, which I’ve always been too embarrassed to share. My perfectionism and my shyness can be traps for me, too, and today I don’t want to hide behind those either.

The moon is in Aries today, which among other things means that we all likely had or will have a chance to nurture ourselves and others by being brave even if we don't feel at all up to it. I think we all know that sometimes the road is hard, but sometimes the gate is hard, too. Sometimes we have to come forward, alone, even when we’re scared. Sometimes it’s our turn. There’s something only we can offer or there’s more we can become.

Today I want to honor both the road and the gate, each holy in its own way, and encourage you in this moment, wherever you are. In the last two years I’ve had a few chances to enter the gate, whether meekly or triumphantly. I’ve been terrified, but I tried to take them. If it’s your turn now I hope you'll go for it, too.