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 Middle
Lost 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 Upward
Falling 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 Ways
A 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.

Thanksgiving: How Are You Shaping the Next Generation?

diverse hands original
In any given moment, we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety. – Abraham Maslow


They faced the horizon and watched a tiny vessel grow large until it finally docked on their shoreline. Coughing and unsteady, pale refugees emerged from the ship who would forever redefine their society.

The Wampanoag tribe leaned into the unknown, expanding their understanding of the world instead of hiding. They stepped toward growth as the immigrants stepped away from religious persecution in Europe.

The first Thanksgiving offers a lesson in risk and community that reached across racial and cultural comforts. They celebrated together after months of hard work and sacrifice as cultures and worldviews rubbed against each other.


“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” said Neale Donald Walsch, and I can’t ignore what I need to learn from the Wampanoags. They ran toward the mystery, risking and throwing themselves into the the unknown. They gave in order to sustain a foreign culture. Gave to sustain lives not their own.

Authentic, racial integration not only reflects God’s kingdom, but it serves as my textbook into greater facets of God’s character. Diversity is more than living among those who look different from me. No, it involves admitting my need for others, as I see and study and welcome the culture that comes with the person. It respects and acknowledges how much other image-bearers of God can teach me. Really, true diversity involves heaps of humility.


But just one generation later exercised a radically different worldview. Just one.

Ironically, the children of those who bravely ran from religious persecution oppressed the Native Americans, oppressed those who were the very reason for their parents’ survival. And somewhere, woven throughout their lust to make people just like them came the insatiable need for power and control. The root of so many sins reared its ugly head even in the late seventeenth century.  


Do I really need more power? Am I so insecure, forgetting my identity is in what Christ did for me on the cross, that I need the validation that others are like me?


Maybe some of the Pilgrims were too busy surviving to share their worldview and convictions with their kids. Maybe their deep loss and grief silenced their mouths as their hearts broke over and over again.  


And lest I appear woefully judgmental, I sit here today wondering how clear my deepest passions are to my children. With the sports schedules… and the homework… and the play rehearsals… and the reminders to clean rooms — Are my son and daughter absolutely certain of my deepest convictions? Tragically, I have to ask if what I’m portraying in my home (and in the car) as I hurry about speaks a different philosophy than what I truly cling to in my heart. Is my heart repurposed enough to speak boldly amidst the scurrying? Is the Gospel woven so deeply into my life that my actions speak my thoughts?

I will sing of Your unfailing love, Eternal One, forever.
     I will speak of Your faithfulness to all generations.
     I will tell how Your unfailing love will always stand strong;
     and how Your faithfulness is established in the heavens above. Psalm 89:1-2

God, help me. Life is too short. Their childhood is racing by.

Later this week my U.S. friends and I will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. But regardless of where you are in the world, may we impart to the youth in our lives what is truly important to us. May we help them see God’s goodness from the beginning of time. May we risk, despite the mystery and the unknown, and may we point the next generation to a God who radically pursues us.

As we point to Him, may His gospel infuse our worldview, infuse our everyday routines. And may we recklessly love each other well.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Photo by Han Kim

When You Think God Doesn’t Care: How to Recognize Deception

Deception Original

I see you — running around, doing your work, yearning to live purposefully. I see your deep, deep soul and your mind rich with knowledge. I see you clinging to truth as you remind yourself to hold on, for some days you can feel yourself drifting away.

Does He care? Does He love me? Because if God did, I wouldn’t wake up questioning if this is all worth it. I wouldn’t read about California, and Puerto Rico, and Mexico, and Florida, and Texas. I wouldn’t see my own angst and pain reflected in the eyes of the next generation. I wouldn’t feel forgotten in midlife, and millennials wouldn’t be asking, “What now?”

Yeah, I see you because you’re me.  Continue reading

Resurrection: Just the Right Time

Sunbeams

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise. Luke 24:1-7 


Remember how He told you?

Remember when He was walking the familiar, interacting with your world, He got very transparent and told you the horror that would unfold…

… and the victory we’d see over the unraveling and rebellion and grief?

It was all true. He was harmed for our infractions, tortured for our choices, pierced because we kept running away.

The path. The story. The game. The cross. The curtain. The tombContinue reading