Monday, July 31, 2017

Midlife Crisis or Transition?

As a person grows older in years, things change within ourselves. It happens. It is going to happen. And, it will happen to everyone. Although women tend to get the most "press" about "the change", it happens to men too. Not everyone experiences the internal shift at the same age. If we did, we would be prepared for it; right?

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the highest rate of suicide occurs during middle-age; and particularly white men - who commit suicide 3.5 times more often than women. In 2015, middle-aged suicide rose to 19.6% (7 out of 10 of those were white men); while those 80 and over had the second highest rate at 19.4%. (U.S. statistics). 

If you are struggling, please contact the National Suicide Hotline at: 1-800-273-8255.

The shift itself is inevitable. We can have a midlife transition or a midlife crisis. How we approach it is up to each of us. However, we must keep in mind that aging, in and of itself, is a process. We started aging the day we were born, but throughout our youth, being old never really occurs to us as a reality ~ not even in our thirties and early forties.

There are approximately 20 million - read that again - 20 million people in the United States who are 45-64 years old. These are the Baby Boomers and the older Gen X. We are not alone in our process.

During middle-age, we start to question our beliefs and values. We come to the place in our lives where we see that the road ahead of us is getting shorter with each passing year. We start to behave in ways that are out of character; perhaps we decide to divorce our spouse, change jobs, or move to another community. We take on extra-martial affairs to prove that we are as good as we once were. Men tend to take on dangerous hobbies that tempt fate. Women engage in the fight to stop the aging process, behaving in more youthful manners or dressing like their younger counter-parts or resorting to cosmetic restoration.

Our physical bodies betray us. After years of work - trades or office - our bodies tend to wear down. Our parts don't move as easily as they once did. Our quick wit or problem resolution tends to slow. We react a bit slower than we used to. Some of us will be wearing glasses - bi-focals even, for the first time in our lives, because our eyes aren't as keen as they used to be. Perhaps we start buying books in large print if available.

No wonder people struggle. Our whole lives are thrown into upheaval. The shift affects every aspect of our lives: work, relationships, social, spiritual, physical, and emotional. 

The trick is to:

1.  Be aware that the shift is occurring; and

2.  Committing to positive aging;

Sunday, July 30, 2017

You are Always Where You are Necessary

I remember sitting at my desk in my office on Roberts Street. With my back to the door, I stared out the window overlooking the parking lot for a long time that day. I was waiting. I knew it was coming, so I had no alternative other than to just wait.

As I sat staring at the overcast sky, my mind wandered back to the first day I stepped foot into the suite of offices. I had been so excited to start a new chapter in my life. After years of chasing the almighty dollar, I had entered the world of nonprofit. It had been a good chapter. I rifled through the pages of my mind, stopping now and again to re-read various scenes. Some were filled with joy and achievement, and others well...not so much. Yet overall, it really had been a good chapter.

She was coming in at some point during that day to meet with me. The hours seemed to drag on and on as I waited. I knew why she was coming. I had seen the budget, the same as her. There wasn't enough money left to justify my position.

I heard footsteps making their way down the hall toward my office. I wiped the tears from eyes and took a deep breath, exhaling all the stress and worry that had occupied my mind. I had taken vacation, knowing this day would come soon after. I spent my entire vacation preparing for it. I was ready. I turned in my seat to face the moment head on - fully present and aware. To my surprise, the footsteps in the hall hadn't been hers, but a long and trusted friend's, whom I had met in the years of my service to the nonprofit.

He was a tall man, with a commanding presence. His eyes were always bright and joyful, even in the darkest of times, accenting the broad smile that stretched from ear to ear. He had come from half-way around the world ~ sometimes I fancy just to make sure I was going to be okay. He lowered his large frame into the chair across from me, leaned on the desktop with his chin resting on his hands. "What's happening?" he asked, knowing by the look on my face that something was amiss.

His simple, yet compassionate, words unlocked the flood gates of months of worry and fear. The tears flowed like a river rushing to the ocean of despair. My heart gushed out all of the hurt and disappointment, as he gently took my hand and squeezed it. "No worries," he said, handing me a tissue from the box on the corner of my desk.

I dabbed away the moisture from my eyes and cheeks, and feigned a half-sincere smile. I told him it was over and I wouldn't be there anymore to help him or his community. I wouldn't be there to help anyone at all. I told him that I had given all I had to give and there just wasn't anymore.

"I know," he said softly, patting my hand in reassurance. "Times and people change. One day you are here, and one day you are somewhere else, but you are always where you are necessary." He was an Episcopalian pastor from South Sudan.

We talked for a while, and he prayed for me just before he had to leave. I watched as my long and trusted friend paused in the doorway. Before turning down the hall he smiled at me, that old and familiar smile of knowing that somehow always brought a sense of relief to my old and tired soul.

Not long after he had gone, I heard the true footsteps that carried the words of truth. My position would be eliminated by the end of the year. My heart sunk into the abyss of betrayal, but my friend's words stayed with me. I was going to be okay. I would always be where I was necessary.

Sooner than expected, I found a new position in another city [somewhere else]. I typed out my email of resignation to my boss. For as much as I had felt betrayed by her, somehow clicking send on that email was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I felt like the betrayer of the thousands of people that had come to our city to live and work. I felt like I should have fought harder, or conceded on things that did not agree with my soul, but I clicked send anyway.


Sometimes we are where we are necessary, not to teach others, but to become the student. In my new position, I found myself in the depths of the meaning of the word betrayal. It had been a horrifying experience that I would not wish on my worst enemy. The steely knives that were thrust into my back and the backs of others burned deep into my soul, coming out on the other side in my spirit. The hurt was so deep, the will to live and keep trying bled out of me more and more each day.

One afternoon in the depths of winter, I sat alone, and a car pulled up in front of my house. I brushed the curtain aside to see who was there, and out stepped my long and trusted friend from half-way around the world. I bid him to come in and warm himself, and asked what he was doing in a city so far away from home.

He had heard rumors and stories, the kind that did not sit well in his soul. He had come to see if they were true. He found truth in what he had heard. I had become an empty shell, my spirit holding hands with death. He hugged me tight, so tight I could barely breathe. It was almost as though he was trying to share the abundance of love in his spirit, to rekindle the smoldering ember that sputtered and sparked at the bottom of my soul.

We talked late into the afternoon, until the sun began it's northern descent toward the horizon. He reiterated that we are always where we are necessary. Sometimes it is to teach and other times to learn. The irony of his words is I was working in higher education. I had definitely come there to learn. I learned when to say when. I learned to recognize when my own strength was no longer enough to hold me together. I learned to ask for help, and accept the help that was offered. I learned to face my own demons, and to conquer fear. It took five long years to learn all of these, and as I look back, I learned to accept that we are always where we are necessary; no matter the circumstances.

My friend has since returned to Africa as a Lutheran pastor, where he is necessary.  I wonder if one day his shadow won't once again come over the hill, and his commanding presence find itself in the midst of my life. Perhaps it will. Perhaps here he will be necessary once again.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

What Next?

When we are born, we know everything that we need to know in the moment. The first thing that we know is that we have completed our first great transition, from the womb to the world. That in and of itself is no small matter, but regardless, here we are.

We grow into toddlers and on to teenagers and then into the years of adulthood.  Each being a transitional period in our lives. Yet, when we reach our middle years, or as Carl Jung described as The Afternoon of Our Lives. This is the time when we start to turn our thoughts inward.

  • Is there a greater purpose for my life?
  • Where has my passion gone?
  • Did I miss out on something extraordinary in my life?
  • How much time do I really have left, and will it be enough?
  • Where does faith fit in my life, and what is it that I truly believe?
I was about forty years old when these questions started to raise themselves in my life. I didn't just wake up on the day of my fortieth birthday and decide to question the un-knowables of life. The process just seemed to sneak up on me, and I honestly thought that I was losing my mind. Everything I knew seemed to be turning upside down.

When my youngest child graduated high school, and I was faced with an empty-nest, I recognized that something had shifted in my world. There were no more hordes of teenage girls giggling and talking about boys and all the things their hearts longed for in the world. There were no more tears to be dried over skinned knees and broken hearts. There was nothing but the silence of the apartment and me.
My job had brought so much joy and satisfaction into my life. However, I found myself wondering if there was something more out there. Had I missed out on my big chance? I had always wanted to be an author, since the time I was a teenager. I loved to write, but as life happened the dream had been cast aside for diapers and bottles, school recitals and work. Eventually, my job became nothing more than a paycheck, and the spark of passion dwindled to a smoldering ember. I retired from nonprofit at 45 years old. I couldn't do it anymore. I felt as though I had nothing left to give.

Which led me to the age old question, of how much time do I have, and will it be enough? My heart has turned to my family and friends, and still I wonder - will I and have I been enough? Have I given them everything they will need to survive without me? Do they know how much I love them? The logical answer to all of these questions is "yes", but the questions are there. They might always be there. I think that it would be more concerning if they weren't.  I wonder if I will have enough time to do and see all the things I have put off until tomorrow. Are there enough years left in me to achieve the purpose for which I was born?

In the silence of the night, I wondered about faith. I found myself in a spiritual crisis that led to the realization that I was spiritually bankrupt, with nothing left to deposit. I found myself in the wilderness - lost and alone. It was a journey that has led me to a place of inner-peace and being centered that I cherish, and will cherish for all my days.

I invite you to walk this afternoon path with me. It is a journey of self-discovery, where in the end, we will arrive in the very place in which we all began, that moment when we completed our first great transition - focused solely on the moment. Being fully present and fulfilled.