I send this from Slovakia, still on my pilgrimage, but this is a very special week. Finally! The official launch week for The Wonder Years: 40 Women Over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty and Strength (with Luci Shaw, Elisa Morgan, Kay Warren, Lauren Winner, Jeanne Murray Walker, Joni Tada, Madeleine L'Engle, Elizabeth Elliot, Margot Starbuck, Jen Pollock Michel, and many more)
We need this book! (I NEED this book, which is why I spent the last 5 years compiling and editing it! And maybe your mother needs this book for Mother's Day?) Come and have a taste! Book giveaways at the end.
I am looking into the mirror. Not the mirror, mirror on the wall, which kindly tells me whatever I want by a quick dim and flick of the light switch, but the far scarier one: the mirror in my hand that magnifies my face by a factor of ten. Under this painful scrutiny, I skip over my pores and crow’s feet and go right for the brows. I count a record number of greys. With jaw set I pluck them ruthlessly, realizing I’ll soon be brow-less at this rate. Thankfully, the mirror is minute enough to keep me from cataloging all the other marks of age upon my body. Today, it’s just the brows.
Tomorrow it might be something else, especially if I have given in to my secret online obsession of celebrity slideshows. Particularly the “Where are they now?” slides, documenting actors’ unforgiveable lapses into middle and old age. How dare our movie icons age like that? The disgust is palpable. Those galleries are usually linked to celebrities trying to escape that ignominy who end up instead in the next slideshow: “The Worst Plastic Surgeries Ever.”
Who wants to age, really? We fight it in so many ways, some of which are downright silly. Recently I saw an enticing online headline that had gone viral: “The Hairstyle That Will Get a 38-Year-Old Carded.”
I clicked on it, of course. There she was: a woman obviously in her late thirties, peering goofily from behind long, blunt bangs once popular among tweens and teens. At least they weren’t pigtails! But this obsession is hardly new. Remember Twiggy, the seventeen-year-old super model-waif from the sixties, who suddenly made mature women everywhere long to look eleven years old?
Are we so youth-obsessed that we long to be children again? Perhaps. Who wouldn’t love another chance at childhood, to do it right and thorough with the proper joy next time? But maybe all this is more than the universal human hunt for the fountain of youth and innocence. Maybe it’s something more modest, more possible. Maybe we older women just want to be seen again.
In 2013, Salon.com ran a provocative article by Tira Harpaz with the headline, “Women Over Fifty Are Invisible.” The essay made significant waves—among women over fifty but was, predictably, ignored by others. The author’s thesis was simply this: “If you want to make a person invisible, just put her in the shoes of an over-fifty woman and abracadabra, watch her disappear.” Harpaz, herself in her late fifties, described aging and its accompanying invisibility as a kind of fading away into irrelevance, including “a loss of attractiveness and sex appeal, the end of fertility, a glimpse of a slow, lingering decline.”
I thought about women ahead of me, women I admire two and three decades older than I: Doris with her glowing red hair and killer figure. Luci with two new books coming out this year; Vera who still teaches dance classes; Kay, still speaking around the world. I thought of Iris Apfel draped in turquoise or orange with layers of massive ethnic jewelry lighting her tiny figure. When she attended Paris Fashion Week, she was treated like a combination of “a rock star and Queen Elizabeth.” She is drop-dead gorgeous. And she is ninety-four. And not least among them, Merle with her servant’s heart and generosity to all.
All of these women are well past eighty. I am agog not at their age; there are plenty of nonagenarians and even centenarians knocking around. But a ninety-four-year-old setting new fashion trends? A ninety-ish woman who is still making new friends? An eighty-eight-year-old still creating stunning poetry? An eighty-three-year-old opening fresh biblical truths to hungry audiences? Beauty and age have too long been enemies and antitheses. But times are changing. And so are we. Dozens of models over sixty grace fashion runways and magazine covers, flaunting their wrinkles, wearing their grey hair long and flowing as they pose elegantly among women young enough to be their granddaughters. Even in this dizzying technological age, which prizes the nimblest brains and the quickest adapters, we women over forty are proving again and again that innovation and imagination can flower all the way into our nineties.
Even more than this, as I look around my faith community, I see older women serving. I see them beginning new ministries after their retirement, finding new ways to alleviate suffering and lighten others’ loads. Here are the real radicals, women who reject the prevailing notion of our culture that age delivers a license for freedom and self-indulgence. How many times have I heard celebrities and acquaintances alike, on the eve of their fiftieth or sixtieth birthday, proclaim to the world, “Watch out. It’s my time now. I’m gonna say and do whatever I want.” And in the next breath, when asked for their newfound wisdom, they invariably say something like, “I’ve finally come to love myself just as I am. Now I don’t have to please anyone but myself.” Is that really all there is? Did we survive childhood, adolescence, and our twenties and thirties to arrive on the doorstep we left as children? Surely not.
I’m not saying aging is a breeze. Vanities and losses remain, I confess. This book is something of a coming out for me. I’ve vacillated over the last few decades over making my age public. Sometimes I deliberately hide my age or even lie. A few months ago, I changed my birthdate on Facebook to a full decade younger, thinking, Why not? Why should I reveal that I’m almost a senior citizen? I speak to university audiences often and would rather not be perceived as their mother, or worse, their grandmother. But it didn’t stand long before I was spasmed by guilt and tried to change it back, only to find the date uneditable. (It seems you can only change your age twice before the FB police come after you.)
So again, this book is a kind of coming out for me. Like many others, sometimes I am mistaken for someone ten or even fifteen years younger, given good lighting and the just-right dress. But other times it cuts the other way, which feels like the ultimate defeat. But why?
Why do we feel as though we’re racing against time? And as if time were not an inequitable enough racing partner, some of us, mostly subconsciously, lace up our shoes next to Photoshopped magazine cover models who regularly go under the needle and the laser, who work out four hours a day with their personal trainer, nibbling salads devised by their personal chefs. For a few, their own postmenopausal youthfulness has become their single raison d'etre.
It’s a rigged, impossible race. Mostly, we know it. Our best claim, then, is to look or feel younger than our actual age. Here, finally, we’re crowned a winner in the lifestyle sweepstakes, which is not so much about cheating death—we’re not concerned with that—yet. But to cheat Time itself, and even more, to cheat Nature, who, by the time we’re over forty, we know for sure is not our Mother.
How then do we respond to the passing years that make their inevitable marks upon our faces, our bodies, and our abilities?
A thousand different ways. Look around. Look and listen to these forty women, most of whom are just like you and me, women who are growing, beginning new ventures, casting off old shadows, whose own passages through life and time have yielded great fruit, even when aging saps health, energy, and abilities. Yes, even then. Welcome to the party!
But we’re serious, too. Aging is not for the thin-boned or the faint of heart. As we climb year by year, whether it’s a mountain or a ladder, we need to stop for a long moment and consider the view. We need to ask questions. Maybe we should even check our ladder. As a number of writers have told us, we could spend our entire lives climbing the ladder of achievement and success only to discover, once we mount those upper rungs, that we’ve leaned the ladder upon the wrong wall. It takes courage to stop and take stock of who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. It takes strength to keep our hearts open. It takes fearlessness to keep questing after the good, the beautiful, the true. We’ll do exactly that in these pages, knowing that no matter our age, it’s never too late to keep becoming the women God wants us to be.
These are indeed The Wonder Years. In writing and compiling this book, I have been astonished and inspired by my fellow writers. I know you will be as well, but we have another audience in mind too. We’re taking up the mantle the apostle Paul gave us in Titus 2:3–5, for “older women” to “teach what is good” to “younger women.” All of us in these middle and later years have gained a storehouse of memories and experiences that surprise us in their depth and breadth. We find ourselves, unexpectedly at times, experts in a whole host of areas: we’re mothers and grandmothers, wives, mothers-in-law, and stepmothers. We’re professionals. We’re farmers and fisherwomen. We’re pastors, writers, teachers, ministry leaders. As we have learned, stumbled, and grown, we must pass on all that is good and true to those coming behind us. Many of us had no such encouraging voices as we lurched through our own earlier years. We send these notes on to you, our younger sisters, with joy and love. We commit ourselves to easing your passage as well!
How shall we do this, then? Our lives seldom divide into neat packages, but the three sections of this book make enormous sense to all of us in our “years of wonder.” Along with the passage of time comes courage, a wise sort of adventuring that knows how fleet the passage of time and how ripe the moment for new experiences, so we begin with “Firsts.” The wisdom that launches us into new ventures also relieves us of burdens and obligations we no longer need to carry. The next section is “Lasts,” where fourteen women cast off the weight of regret, fear, judgments, and perfectionism. Finally, though we’re constantly changing and growing through the embrace of the new and the loss of the old, we arrive as well at our “Always” convictions. We discover again the core of who we are and who we vow to remain, no matter our health, our abilities, or our age.
Welcome to the Wonder Years! Get ready for break-out joy, indulgent abundance, heart-stopping wisdom, and never-let-go faith!
(Some of the contributors at the book party in Grand Rapids last week.)
I’m giving away 5 copies of The Wonder Years this week! Here’s how to enter (and don’t forget Mother’s Day is near!):
1. Share this post on your social media outlets. (Thank you, friends!)
2. Leave a comment here telling me this---AND, share why you too need this book. (thank you again!)
3. Include your email address so I can contact you if you win.
That’s it. A huge hug to you all. I’m so grateful to you all---more than you know! (YOU are the reason I write.)