3 Books to Read in Midlife

Midlife Books

I’ve been on a journey the past 12 months. Well, honestly, it’s been much longer than that, for hope and courage and fear and life circumstances from years gone by are woven into a web below the path I’ve walked recently. In recent months, these layers have all pointed to an intimacy I’d uncover with my Maker as my dreams became shards with edges sharp. Dramatic? Yes. When you’ve risked hope, and you find yourself with empty hands, it does feel quite dramatic.

I began to dance with midlife when I was 35, a bit early. Is this it? Is this really it? … and… I’ve given it my all, and it doesn’t quite feel like enough. I read a book and committed to find my identity in Christ, and that sustained me over the next several years.

But a shattered dream after months and months of hoping wakes you up to your frailty, and overnight you’re face to face with the truth that you’re really not in control — of your story, of what others think of you, of others’ behavior. At this breaking, midlife and its quiet doubt become harder to ignore.

I’ve written about my God who transcends time and prepares our hearts in advance for the pain of the now. It’s real, friends, it really is. That book I read on my own at 35? Well, a group of us read it together a few years ago. I never re-read books, but I thought it would be beneficial to open this one again because its words were so striking the first time. And my friends were reading it. Now I see God was preparing my heart for 2017. Oh, my God who transcends time and blurs the lines of present and past lessons to prepare me for tomorrow — I’m overwhelmed with His care.

So we begin here with that book — followed by two more. I can’t imagine all three will resonate with each of you, but they were part of the lifeline God held out when I felt myself sinking into my fallenness. I can’t say the order in which you read them will be magical for you, but they were for me. We’re so complex. Sometimes you need doctrine and a guidebook. Sometimes you need prose so beautiful you have to re-read its paragraphs a time or two to soak it all in. And sometimes you need a non-intimidating, friend-like writer who lays her soul out bare and gently pulls you out of yourself.

Lost in MiddleLost in the Middle: Midlife and the Grace of God by Paul David Tripp
I sum up this book in one sentence: “Midlife reveals your idols that have always been there.” It’s a scary thing when you discover things about yourself that you never saw before. On the margins of my book, you can see my pencil scribbles (because I’m too scared to write in pen):
– where is it that you’re looking to find your value?
– self-righteousness = when my obedience is prompted only by the amount of my
blessings, 
the blessings I define
– did I want to travel so much to earn significance?
– disconnect — numbness — lost — apathy
I imagine Tripp’s words will evoke responses different than mine, but I promise he’ll lead you boldly towards self-discovery. And when we come face to face with truths we’ve tried to cover up for years with ambitions and affections, well, our Maker and His grace become all the more beautiful, all the more sustaining.

Tripp’s guidance is rooted firmly in Scripture, and I’m amazed how he ties ancient stories I’ve heard countless times to the doubt and insecurity I’m feeling today. Over 300 pages, Lost in the Middle presents you with themes of the invincibility lie, feeling exposed, trying to make a name for yourself, suffering, identity crisis, and yes, idolatry.

I’m so glad this was the book I read first about midlife. Twice.

Falling UpwardFalling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr
She stopped by with a treat for my family and a book for me before I had started healing. Grief has its stages, and I was feeling all of them — except acceptance. My friend entered my home and stepped right into my range of emotions, right into the awkwardness, armed with Falling Upward.

Richard Rohr is one of the most beautiful writers I’ve ever read. He writes of the paradox, the irony, of your faith in Christ maturing (“upward”) as a result of failing or stumbling into humility (“falling”). He speaks of our two stages of life and the rhythm of coming to terms with our own brokenness which launches us into the second half. Rohr challenges the reader to face the truth and fall well.

Hear his words:
“In most all legends and literature, sacrifice of something to achieve something else is almost always the pattern. Some kind of falling or “necessary suffering” is always programmed into the journey. It creates the whole storyline inside of which we can find ourselves. Losing, failing, falling, sin, and the suffering that comes from those experiences — all of this is a necessary and even good part of the human journey. How often did Jesus tell stories where the character does his life totally right and is, in fact, wrong; and the other who does it totally wrong ends up God’s beloved? We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.”

A Million Little WaysA Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman
Self-discovery, for me, revealed a lack of humility, and it surprised me. Entitlement is hard to see in yourself. And while it’s good to face the truth, my new discoveries paralyzed me. I didn’t trust myself, my heart, my motives — so I stopped dancing — even when the rhythm begged to pulse out of me. I stopped using my voice, questioned my passion, and doubted my purpose while embracing shame.  I feared the critic, and silence seemed like a more favorable option than risk-taking.

A Million Little Ways wooed me back into community. Believing I reflect the Master Artist and bear His image is an invitation to come alive despite the truth of what I’ve come through. Freeman beckons the reader to live from our facets of wholeness instead of our remnants of dysfunction. She tenderly dares, “The world needs you to come alive right where you are and not where you wish you were.”

Chasing your crazy ideas, validating the dream you just can’t shake, remembering your belovedness — Freeman calls out your art and boldly puts you back in front of the canvas. And I love her for it.


Are you waking up asking, “It this it?” Are you aching at how life has (or has not) turned out? Are you hiding in shame over how little you’ve accomplished all these years?

Or are you facing a season of suffering, desperately longing to know there’s purpose that will unfold from it?

Friend, you are so not alone. You are seen and loved and known.

Where as Lost in the Middle speaks truth boldly and helps you recalibrate your thinking, Falling Upward is like a tender song that helps you interpret your heart. And A Million Little Ways beckons you and gives you permission to find God-sustaining courage to respond to your story for the benefit of others.

I needed all three.

Even When God Is Silent

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I believe in the sun,
even when it is not shining.

I believe in love,
even though I don’t feel it.

I believe in God,
even when He is silent.         – Unknown

Etched on a cellar wall by a victim of the Holocaust, these words won’t leave me.

Yes — even when…

I first heard this truth from the lips of a middle school choir. We lead busy lives, as most of you do, and that night we had raced to our daughter’s choir concert. I love these concerts, for my girl comes alive on stage, and these times are a reminder that God will unfold any story He wants in my children’s lives. There are glimpses of me in my kids, but the real joy comes in watching their talents that could only be God-inspired, not mom-inspired.

I was unprepared to hear from my Rescuer that night. I was still catching my breath from our race to the concert.

But there in the dark and in the quiet, came the most heart-wrenching song of surrender:
I believe in the sun, I believe in the sun,
even when, even when it’s not shining.

I believe in love, I believe in love,
even when, even when I don’t feel it.

I believe in God, I believe in God,
even when, even when He is silent. 1

Oh, thirteen year-olds, yes. Etch these words on the walls of your hearts for you will need to read them again someday. I wish it wasn’t true, but yes.

Just as I know the sun exists when there are clouds covering it, shadowing my city, I will cling to what has been proven as true. And just as I know love is real even when I don’t feel it from certain people, I will remember the world is bigger than my own loneliness in those moments. And just as I know God not only exists, but holds His purposes together with fierce intention, I will trust Him when He is silent.

Why does surrender bring me to tears? Why does trusting a silent God take my breath away as confusion and conviction and even comfort together press upon my chest? Why can’t I find words as I ponder His silence?

And there’s no mistake that this truth was written by an “unknown” author… an “unknown” victim… an “unknown” teacher who is still teaching me truth years later, for my Maker is calling me to “unknownness” even now:

  • It’s in surrendering being known by others that He mysteriously reminds me I’m cherished by Him. And His divine intimacy mocks loneliness.
  • It’s in refusing to be swallowed up by the dark that I see Him unchanged by the darkness. His power transcends my fear of not being understood.
  • It’s His unchanging love, even when I’m too self-absorbed to feel it, that helps me not drown in shame.
  • It’s His silence that causes me to read others’ stories of His faithfulness and see He is not defined by our expectations of who He should be.

Yes, children, on the eve of adulthood — the sun does shine, love does exist, our Maker is real — regardless of our experiences.

Even if I am afraid, and think to myself,
“There is no doubt that the darkness will swallow me,
and the light around me will soon be turned to night,”
You can see in the dark.  Psalm 139:11-12

He can see in the dark.

Oh, to be like the Psalmist who boldly testifies that His God can see in the dark instead of begging Him to take the darkness away.

Will you join me this Easter season? Will you trust the One who is not defined by our expectations? Will you surrender all of your plans — even the ones you wildly dared to hope for? As D.A. Carson writes, “Christians have learned that when there seems to be no other evidence of God’s love, they cannot escape the cross.” 2

And so we start there. The cross. If you’re needing to recalibrate your perspective, let’s focus on different aspects of that horrific day in the life of Jesus, that beautiful day in the life of the Christian, that day of fulfillment for our Redeemer’s plan. Bookmark or pin this page, and beginning Monday, come back for daily devotionals to prepare you for Easter, to prepare you for surrendering to a Plan bigger than your own…

… even when He is — in the moment — silent.

 

photo by Soragrit Wongsa on Unsplash


1 Mark Miller. “I Believe.” J. W. Pepper online. Accessed March 25, 2018.  http://www.jwpepper.com/I-Believe/10335690.item#/

2. DA Carson. How Long, 191.

Merry Christmas

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12 Advent Devotionals

Advent Series

Are you feeling unsettled by the expectations and urgency of the season?

Let’s challenge each other to not detach this Christmas, but rather, go deeper.

I dug into the archives and will be posting 12 devotionals I wrote a couple years ago to help you navigate the contrast of your heart’s longing with the whirling of culture right now. Be watching your inbox daily through December 23.

Merry Christmas to you and yours. xo

When Perseverance Ends in Disappointment

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She has fire in her heart.

Some call her competitive, but the longing in her eye seems deeper than wanting to win. The intensity of purpose and the drive to get there — I watch her up close and I study from afar, and I wonder exactly where God will take her with all of this.

But she does like to win.

She once finished 12th out of about 200 runners, and it pained her to not be in the top 10. So she trained by herself after school and brought her ache to the next race. She started out strong — so strong I wondered if her speed would hurt her in the end. But as the two-miles unfolded, it was clear our daughter was the girl in first place.

It was an odd race, for it was co-ed. In all the other middle school cross country meets, the guys and girls ran separately — two races during the one meet. But this day they ran together. I assumed it was simply to be efficient. I assumed it was still really two races going on at the same time with all the runners just woven together.

Assumptions are hard.

As she neared the finish line, I let my heart start to celebrate. “She’s going to be thrilled,” I thought. “She showed up. She didn’t choke on past disappointment. She really is going to win that blue ribbon.”

As she crossed the finish line, a woman handed my girl a tiny square of paper, her place number. She glanced down, chest heaving deep, and crumpled it up. “Is she trying to be humble? Why isn’t she celebrating?”

I moved toward her and was met with a blank face.

“I got 24th,” she said through a clenched jaw.

And indeed she had. I opened the tiny paper, and 24 was written unashamedly in black marker. It was a confusing moment. I went from self-restraint (not wanting to celebrate too early)… to silent, internal cheers… to greeting her with joy… to figuring out how to comfort — all in a matter of two minutes.

We thought she was winning the whole time, for we could only see boys ahead of her. But the runners we ignored suddenly had meaning. They were the ones winning, and we didn’t know. They were her competitors, and we were completely unaware.

All that mental toughness between this race and the last — all the physical endurance of the last two miles — was any of it worth it now?


Have you been there?

Have you moved forward with determination despite resistance? Even when circumstances whispered unanswered questions and you doubted yourself to the core? Have you been running “your race with endurance” only for the story to end wrong?

I’ve seen marriages broken and children wandering and illness that ends in death and unfulfilled job searches and empty cradles after in vitro. I’ve seen re-addiction after recovery and unraveling after remission and disappointment after promises. I’ve seen perseverance end with threats of insecurity and doubt and self-loathing and disunity.

Have you seen that, too?

The disappointment that comes after a long season of perseverance is sometimes harder than tragedy that takes you by surprise. Our expectations get high, too high, and we believe there’s eventually victory for the one with enough grit.


As quickly as our joy unraveled, I heard Him say, “This is about so much more than a race. This is hardly about running at all.” I knew her Maker was right, but I didn’t like His story for our family in that moment. I would have written my daughter’s page differently that day.

“But she persevered, Lord. And she worked so hard. And she hoped.

Maybe those moments — maybe our moments — are really about something else:
… Finding my identity in what Christ did for me on the cross. Period. Instead of achievements.
… Knowing I am loved deeply regardless of what number is scribbled on my place paper.
… Believing the lesson that striving leaves me empty.
… Growing trust instead of resentment.


I ache for the Sutherland Springs community: The loved ones grieving with empty arms… The little ones asking “Why?”… The grandmas and dads and those stuck in mid-life asking “Why” and having no answer to offer themselves… The silence and the forever night.

I wonder if any of the 26 victims were in a season of perseverance before death disrupted their hope. Was anyone battling cancer? Were any digging deep in their hearts to rebuild their marriages? Were any kids enrolled in tutoring to satisfy grade-level standards? What were they all enduring? I’m certain — because I know we live in brokenness — I’m certain some had to have been gathering up courage every day, clinging to a hope we can’t explain. And their perseverance was met with… oh why, Lord?

What now, God?

What now for the hundreds of people who knew them well and loved them through their frail, brave humanity? What now for those left behind facing their own seasons of perseverance?

Hope does not disappoint us… God, help me believe you.


“You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalm 56:8 NLT

I see You’re writing a story with our tears, God. Help us reconcile the confusion. Weave in trust if reconciliation never comes.

“I waited a long time for the Eternal;
    He finally knelt down to hear me.
    He listened to my weak and whispered cry.
He reached down and drew me
    from the deep, dark hole where I was stranded, mired in the muck and clay.
    With a gentle hand, He pulled me out
To set me down safely on a warm rock;
    He held me until I was steady enough to continue the journey again. Psalm 40:1-2

 

Photo by Terry French