January’s Close & Next Chapter Living

For some, the midlife journey is no joke!

After several years of navigating my way through midlife and encountering three major life transitions at the same time (career change, physical change, and empty nest) I think I’m finally getting the hang of this midlife thing and I want you to know that I take great joy in encouraging you in your midlife journey.

Let’s be real, midlife is not without its challenges. 

What kind of word words come to mind when you think of midlife?

For me, the word “hot mess” comes top mind.

My thought on midlife is simply this:

It is much bigger than we realize, or are often prepared for. 

Not just age wise either.

Turning 40, 50, or 60 are milestones to be sure for a variety of reasons.  But I belive we often overlook the impact that these stages of life have on the human heart, body, mind and spirit.

Im concerned more about how we move through our midlife  challenges then where midlife is actually leading us. Although I think this is so important to our story as well!  (I’ll have much more to say on this as we move along.)

The list of midlife change & challenge is endless.

  • Kids leaving home.
  • Life role changes.
  • Career changes.
  • Bodies falling apart.
  • Caring for aging parents.
  • Identity issues
  • Lack of purpose

I’ve been a full-blown empty-nester for the past two years now. Within the past month, My oldest son (Todd) turned 40!! And my youngest son (Sam) celebrated his second year of marriage. How’s that for a kick in the face reality check?

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I’ve worked through my denial issues on the former, and can’t believe how fast time has flown by for the latter. 

However, in the years leading up to Sam leaving home (to marry this beautiful South Carolinian soul), I struggled to know what my next chapter of life after kids would look like.

In 2007, after a major career move from directing a national non-profit initiative, I made the decision to go back to school to finish my MA degree. I then became a college admissions advisor.

At the time, Sam was still in high school, but I found myself spending a lot of time thinking about and preparing myself for what life would look like once he graduated from high school, college, and then leave home for good.

In the interim, a few of our kids moved back to Ohio and moved back into the home they grew up in while they were getting settled in new homes and new careers.

A reminder of how quickly and often, life changes.

My dramatic midlife experience is captured in the following his & her poems I wrote to my son and daughter-in-law (pictured above).

So allow me to digress – These poems are meant to set the stage for what I have to share with you today. (Enjoy)

January 2016 began with a most wonderful and memorable event. My youngest son Sam married this beauty two years ago this week.

Her name is Catherine. They live in South Carolina’s beautiful Greenville area. Sam teaches fifth grade and Catherine is on full-time staff at their local church. 

With the exception of a few, our entire family traveled to Anderson/Greenville, SC to witness these two young loves become one.

Because I’m a writer, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write his and her letters to them both. So if you enjoy good old-fashioned sappy romantic poetry, here goes…

Hers:

The Little Plaid Hat

There’s nothing like a boy

At the “perfect” age of four

Who can’t quite seem to grasp

That his life will be much more.

More than throwing footballs

And romping in the dirt

More than backyard helmets

With brothers getting hurt.

More than cops and robbers

And cowboys wearing chaps 

More than shooting pop cans,

And plaid fishing caps. 

No matter how you tell them

Or how many times you try

They just can’t seem to fathom

How fast the time will fly. 

Their little minds will wander

And their heart will skip a beat

When you tell them that they’ll leave you

That a special girl he’ll meet. 

That one day he’ll outgrow 

His chaps and fishing hat,

That he’ll marry one whose lovely

Perhaps he’ll call her “Cat”

Fast the years did go indeed,

The boy became a man. 

His heart and mind were ready,

For God’s good and perfect plan.

We knew “she” was the one

From the way he spoke her name

And teased her in the kitchen

Like a lover-teasing game.

He relentlessly pursued her

Until he won her heart.

Certain that he found her

Like he’d known it from the start.

Curly, tall, and slender

Kind, smart and fun.

She loves good wine and coffee,

But even more…she loves the Son.

Time to travel to Ohio 

To meet the family

He said, “You’re gonna love her,

Just you wait and see!!!”

And then one day it happened

She showed up at our door.

She was all his mother prayed for

She was all of it – and more!

It’s true, we all adored her

And we were thrilled he bought the ring.

She’ll forever be a Stretar!

It wasn’t just a fling!

Tomorrow she will marry 

The boy who wore this hat,

And I’ll get another daughter 

And that will be the end of that! 

This plaid hat that I give you,

From the boy that once was mine, 

Is now your man to cherish, 

Until the end of time.

It represents the bond we share

And the boy I raised – for you

Lord willing if you have a son,

This hat can be his too!

Someday, you will tell him

In a moment that you share,

That one day he will fall in love

And leave your loving care.

So here’s to all that’s lovely

And here’s to all that’s good

The boy and girl that grew up

And married as they should!

I love you darling Catherine

And with open arms I say, 

Welcome to the family, 

And Happy Wedding Day! 

His: 

A Parent Never Knows

A parent never knows

The path their young will take

They’re only left to wonder

Of the choices, they will make.

Decisions to go this way-

But what if they go that?

Thoughts of who they’ll marry

Will he fall for one named “Cat”?

Will she wait for the one

Chosen specially for her?

Will he have a fuzzy beard

Will she (at first) be not so sure?

When a mother tells her son:

“You will one-day leave this nest”

“You will marry one who loves you”

“You will think she is the best!”

He may look at her and say:

“I will never leave your side.”

And you see his young mind spinning,

thinking…

“Surely you have lied!”

“What is this you are saying?”

You assure him – this is true.

“I will go from number one

And become your number two.”

“All of this, my son,

Is God’s plan for girls and boys

You will trade a life of love,

For your chaps and other toys.”

And somewhere in the middle

Between boy becoming man

You pray that God will lead

And that he will understand.

To understand… that waiting

For ‘the one’ is really key.

And then when you are ready…

You’ll just know she’s meant to be!

For parents, it is all too clear –

They’ll surely leave one day

So we do the best we can

To prepare them for the way.

We point them toward a life

That is bigger than they know

And prepare them for a life of love

Where heart and mind can grow.

“Yes! One day we will gather son,

I promise this is true!

And I’ll gladly give my spot to her

and be your number two.“

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It was such an honor for me to read this at Catherine’s Southern Bridal Brunch. Who knew that such an amazing event happens in the south? Not us Ohioans! In my opinion, Bridal Brunches must become a worldwide movement!

We stayed at the lovely and memorable, The Bleckley and made a ton of wonderful family memories here. One of the most memorable highlights for me and my husband was the song two of our sons (Frank and Brad) wrote to celebrate the end of a Stretar era – and you can watch The Grand Finale video here.img_4694

nothing like a good romantic story right?

(Sorry if I made you cry).

all that to say this:

All I knew in preparing for this big life-change, this new season of life, my next chapter, was that I wanted to write.

I wanted to figure out a way to still earn a living while I launched my writing career. And it was a friend that encouraged me to become a flight attendant.

Although it seemed crazy at the time, (to become a flight attendant at age 52) it was the door God opened for me (amidst others that had closed).

So I was feeling the impact of empty nest life, coupled with a major career change, and a body  that was falling apart.

I have already gone through the roughest part of menopause, but in the past year and a half, I fell in the jet-way after working a flight from Punta Cana to Houston and broke my arm. I was out of work for 6 months then returned to my normal flying schedule for five weeks, and then had bi-lateral (both knees) knee surgery and was out of work for another four months.

I started to feel like this ole’ gal was losing was losing the giddy in her up.

 

 

 

I had no idea of what my life would look like after kids. But I can tell you this,

  • It was much different than I thought.
  • It was much harder than I thought.
  • But it was also… much better than I thought.

Where Hope is Found

Although our bodies wear down, and gravity no longer works in our favor when it comes to certain body parts. We are not to lose hope friends!

 “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are decaying,  yet inwardly, we are being renewed, day by day.” 2 Cor. 4:16

God’s word also tells us this midlife friend:

“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and who we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he has his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.” Ephesians 1:11,12

 

I believe it is futile for us to think that we can know our midlife, next chapter purpose apart from Christ.

Our breath, our family history, our personality, our life experiences, and our calling, are all connected to the God who made us, knows us, and loves us completely.

He knows the whole of our story.

Our future, our Next Chapter, all of it, hinges on God’s character and his love…and the confidence and faith we have in his character and love to trust that these three things are trustworthy and true: that God is sovereign, that he is good, and that he is in control.

Friend, can I just tell you this in all honesty, I absolutely would not be at the place that I am today if it were not for the grace and goodness of God in my life – period!

He alone has brought me to the place I am today. And he did in various ways, using various people and various circumstances.

Books Upon Books – For Every Person and Every Season 

I’m continually astonished by the power of well written words; well written stories. Many books have spoken to me about different things at various stages of my life.

In them, I have received life-giving encouragement:

  • to keep on going.

  • to keep pursuing God.

  • to understand myself and how God has wired me.

  • to help me grow as a wife and mother.

  • to boldly and confidently embrace my calling and to grow in that calling.

  • to figure out how I how I could become more of who God made me to be.

One of my all-time favorite books is, The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.

In this theological study of what it means to discover your hidden life in Christ (also often referred to as the “with-God” life), Willard refers to followers of Jesus as “Co-conspirators”.

Willard wants his readers to view themselves as some-kind-of secret-agent, under-cover, co-conspirator of sorts, whose sole purpose is to partner with God to bring about his redemptive work in the world.

How’s that for living on mission and on purpose?

As believers in Jesus, we learn in scripture that our calling in life is two-fold:

To know Christ – and to make him know.

If Dallas Willard were to personalize his message to those of us in midlife, I wonder if it might read something like this;

“You, midlife friend, Co-conspirator that you are, have unique life experiences, spiritual gifts, and God-given talents that God wants to use to bring about his redemptive work in the world.

As you discover what that looks like exactly in your life, know that you will also satisfy your deepest longing of all (to be known, to know him, and to make him known).”

An invitation to join God in the story he is telling with your life? Amazing Right?

The Best Invitation ever!

Can you imagine getting invited to Prince Harry’s upcoming wedding?  A royal wedding? After I peeled myself off the floor, my first question would be, how can I afford to go? And what in the world will I wear?  Think of that sweet scene in the newest Cinderella movie, where she walks into the ball room, and everyone turns to her and watches the Prince lead her her in the dance of  her life.

Think about the best, most unique, or most special invitation you ever received.

Did you save the invitation? What was it for? Where did you go? A wedding? To the ballet? A concert? A special coffee date with friends? A special dinner?

More importantly, what did you wear? (Feel free to post your best dress-up picks ladies! And don’t be shy about it either! I’m posting mine to get the party started!)

Here’s one of my favorites. I had lost quite a bit of weight for my oldest daughter’s wedding back in 2006. I felt like a million dollars in this gown.

And as grand as our grandest day ever was or ever will be, by far, the greatest invitation mankind has ever known is the invitation that God extended to mankind to know his son, Jesus.

Second to that invitation, is our invitation to make him known to the world.

And that’s why I’ve chosen the word INVITATION for January’s Above & Beyond Midlife Theme.

in·vi·ta·tion

invəˈtāSH(ə)n/ noun

1.a written or verbal request inviting someone to go somewhere or to do something. 

"a wedding invitation" "a club with membership by invitation only" a situation or action that tempts someone to do something or makes a particular outcome likely.

Jesus is our starting place.

He is the author and the finisher of our faith – from beginning to end, and that includes the Next Chapter in our midlife adventure.

Next Chapter is about looking forward – but before we look forward, I want us to first take a look back to where we’ve been as women, as wives, as mothers, as creatives, and redeemed daughters God has healed and made whole.

A fellow blogger friend (Nicole Kristin Twedt, Blogger) recently wrote this, and I concur:

So Step Into your next chapter With Eyes Wide Open

As we make our way through the Next Chapter study for the remaining winter months and heading into spring, I want you to know that authenticity is important to me. I’ll be sharing various parts of my life with you to let you know how and where I’ve struggled and wrestled with God but also, how he has proved himself faithful and has done above and beyond anything I could ever ask or imagine. 

Know this: I believe wholeheartedly, that he wants to do the same for you! 

Are you ready to take the Next Chapter journey with me?

If so, please do a few things for me would you?

Would you come on over to my New Above & Beyond Midlife Face Book Page, introduce yourself, and tell us where you are in your midlife journey, and what you find most challenging. Would you also like that page and consider sharing it with your other midlife friends?

My hope is to create a place for you to find other like-minded midlifers who are discovering what it means to become more of who God made them to be. As this group goes, I’ll be doing some Facebook live sessions, recommend various books, highlight other midlife women who are stepping into their Next Chapter, and much more.

Next Chapter January/February Theme: “Invitation”

Your invitation to Next Chapter is meant to be a place for you to process the activity of God in your life. God’s invitation for us to become co-conspirator with him, means we need to know what it means to be restored and forgiven and whole as his beloved daughters.

I have struggled and wrestled with God in so many ways friend. I’ve battled with issues of insecurities, shame, forgiveness, sin, marriage, pride, child-rearing…shall I go on?  Through many years, God has had to work his grace and character and purpose into my life and still is.

So I stand with you as a fellow mid-life sojourner in your midlife journey.  I’m still navigating through my midlife journey and learning new things about myself, about God, and about my calling.

But I also stand with you as a friend, a sister, and mentor of sorts, because I believe God has called me to breathe new life into women who find themselves wanting to discover more of who God made them to be as work through their own personal midlife challenges.

Along the way, I will be sharing with you:

  • How I’ve been wounded.
  • How God has healed me.
  • How God called me into full-time ministry and out of FT ministry.
  • How and why I became a flight attendant at age 52.
  • And how and why I became a first-time author at age 56.  

The emphasis is on who God is, who he has made you to beWhat he has called you to do will be an extension of that.

My prayer is that you will gain the clarity and confidence you need to boldly step into your next chapter. The invitation is yours for the taking.

Are you ready?

If so, here’s your journal guide for the next four weeks: 

God has invited you into the greatest story ever, and that is cause for celebration, friend! It’s the kind of celebration worthy of a royal palace type dinner party. One that spares no expense, where participants wear the finest clothing and jewels, are served the best food and wine, and dance all night. And why? Because of God’s unfathomable love for us, and we for him. And why such a party of parties?  Because he gave his life for us to rescue us from a life of sin and despair.

Before we move forward toward the more practical aspects of your midlife journey, I want to encourage you to first take some time to look back over the whole of your life and from now until we meet again, take some time to contemplate God’s incredible invitation to you as a loved member, and active participant in his family.

Week One: Who God is.

When did you first have a sense of who God was?

When did you first respond to God’s invitation to you to receive salvation? How did you first recognize God’s voice speaking to you? Who is God to you now? Name one attribute of God’s character that summarizes your journey with God to this point.

Week Two: Who YOU Are.

Your story matters. Every single part of it. Do you believe it? What does that mean to you?

Contemplate God’s invitation to you as a partner with him; a co-conspirator of sorts bringing God’s redemptive hope to the world. Start Where you are. Be honest. Be brave. Be kind to yourself. And be open to God’s voice and leading.

Week Three: Where You Are.

What is your greatest midlife challenge, struggle, or question right now?

What is the second biggest challenge, struggle, or question you are facing?

If you could change one thing about your life your circumstances, what would it be?

If you could receive an invitation to do anything, or go anywhere, or change anything about your life, at this time in your life, what would it be? (No limitations of time, money, etc.)

Week Four: What you can become.

What are you hoping for? Longing for? Searching for? Questioning?

Who do you want to become? What do you want to do?

Have you considered the possibility of any new adventures God may be inviting you into?

If so, what is it? Name it. Describe it.

(It’s okay if you don’t have answers now, we’ll explore this more moving forward.)

I’ll check in with you in a week or so, but in the mean time, please post your questions or comments either here in the comment box or on the Above & Beyond Midlife Facebook page. I’ll be hanging out more there in the days and weeks to come and I’d love to see you and hear from you there.

Blessings for a great weekend and a great month reflecting on where you’ve been and how and where God has brought you to where you are.

Until next time,

Betsy

 

 

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