Sunday, September 15, 2013

On Turning 50

Yup, it happened yesterday. I turned 50. I guess big birthdays call us to reflect and think about where we've been and where we thought we'd be now when we dreamed of today years ago.

I can't remember my 40th birthday. Neither can Bart. All we can remember is that we had 9 children between the ages of 7 and 16 and that we were anticipating the arrival of a 10th. We know we lived in Luverne, MN at the time and since I wasn't blogging back then, I have no idea what happened. Maybe someone else remembers my 40th, but I am drawing a blank.

However, I will never forget my 50th. Last night our church had it's block party -- the Carnival of Community -- like they do every fall and this time it so happens that it fell on my 50th birthday. I kept referring to it as the "Carnival of Claudia", jokingly of course, but they sure turned it into that! Our praise band learned a new song, written especially for the occasion, and preformed it right after I was crowned the "Queen of the Rodeo" in honor of the "Big B Roundup" theme of the carnival.

Ten of my children were there as were all four of my grandchildren. Our daughter in law and both of our grandbabymamas were there. My mom was there. And of course, my amazing husband was there. Several members of Rand's birth family joined us as well. And about 200 other people... all celebrating the fact that we were together. It was awesome.

This morning I have come to some conclusions about what I thought 50 would be like and what it has actually turned out to be.

First of all, to start off with the only negative thing, I never dreamed I would be this unhealthy when I turned 50. I never thought I'd be this out of shape, this heavy, this messed up with diabetes and heart issues. It makes me angry at myself for not taking better care of myself and for creating such a deep hole to climb out of when I do decide to do something about it.

But then the rest was all good stuff.

I never dreamed that I would be this challenged and have such a rewarding career at 50. When I was in my 20s I had the best job ever -- Dean of Students at a small Christian college -- and I loved it. But by 28 I was bored with it, not having any idea where my next step was. I had reached my lifetime goal by 24. And for several years I thought I had peaked early and would never find the "perfect job for me" again. But my job now is awesome. I am able to use my strengths and all of the experiences of the last 20 years to work on behalf of children. I love my staff and the challenges that my job brings me.

With the crazy risk-filled out-of-my-comfort zone life that Bart and I chose, I never thought I would feel this satisfied or this content with our family's life. Things are are sometimes completely chaotic and out of control at this stage, with so many young adults trying to make their way in this world, but I'm actually OK with the challenges. All of our kids are OK. Some are flourishing. All of them have some contact with us and we get to see all four of our grandchildren fairly often. No one is completely angry with us (at least not today) and they typically get along well with each other. There is a family-wide investment in the next generation and our grandchildren have very committed aunts and uncles.

I certainly didn't realize that my life would be filled with so many great friends. When I was in college I heard from many, "Cherish your college friendships, because they will be the best relationships of your life." And I made some awesome, lifetime friends during those days. But I didn't know that some of them would still be my friends at 50 or that I would have made hundreds of friends between then and now. I certainly didn't expect to be surprised at this age with so many new, good friends who live in community with us. My birthday celebration last night was proof of something that continues to amaze me: God has blessed me throughout my life with people who love me in spite of my unconventional ways of dealing with people. Flaws and all, they love me, and I them. Decades of strong, resilient friendships that leave me feeling blessed every day. I recognize that not everyone has that.

I had no idea how much I would still be learning about life, God, and my faith at this point in my journey. In my 20s I knew everything, so I have no idea how I arrived here -- knowing so little as I turn 50. But I am constantly surprised by the ways that God teaches me things on a daily basis about what He expects of me and who He is. I am thrilled to be involved in a church at this time where there are so many who long to be what God wants us to be, who support me in my faith, and who want to constantly do more to build God's kingdom.

Finally, I didn't realize how much more I would love my husband now than I did when I knew him 30 years ago, or when I married him in 1996. He is a consistent example of self-sacrifice, unconditional love, mercy and grace, and spiritual discipline. He is so sharp it's almost scary, so wise, articulate and bright. And his wit is so quick and so hilarious that I find myself laughing every day. And unlike me, the ever-so-predictable one, he is incredibly unpredictable and always keeps me guessing. Life is never dull when he is in it... no matter what we are facing. The things we have been through together have made our marriage and our love for each other stronger... they haven't torn us apart.

And so I guess when I think back to my expectations when I was 25 or 35 looking ahead at 50, I can sum it up by saying, "I never dreamed I'd have such a satisfying career, such an unusual yet amazing husband and family, such a heart full of love for those who surround me, or a faith so ever-changing and ever-growing that I can't wait to see what's next.

I've said it many times to many people over the years. I didn't want a safe, easy journey, or to be like everyone else. I wanted a life that I could not handle on my own, because I wanted to watch God do cool stuff. He has done just that. My whole life has been valleys and hills of a crazy reckless roller coaster ride that I have just LOVED being part of. And it will be even better when I can look back from heaven and see the ways God had everything figured out. I'm excited about learning from Him how He worked everything for good...

And so I conclude with the bridge of one of my new favorite songs:

One day I'll stand before You
And look back on the life I've lived
I can't wait to enjoy the view
And see how all the pieces fit...