It’s been a windy year in Flower Mound, Texas. The rain has been in plenty, the gray days frequent, and chill common. I prefer weather in its fullness if I’m honest. Four full seasons each robust with their brightness or dullness or coldness or sweltering heat. It’s the continual sameness I struggle with and Texas, at least in our suburban sprawl of brick houses and grey roofs and concrete roads, is nothing but uniform. So while I have welcomed the wind and the rain and the gray, the two neglected trees in our front yard have not—their broken branches landing across sidewalks and in neighbor’s yards over the past few months.
Our family’s yearly budget meeting had a line item for “trees” this year and today they saw their dressing down: one removed and the other now nearly naked through my office window, its canopy of ingrown branches and mid-air stumps shorn off in small neat round rings of fresh wood pockmarking its trunk. I can’t help but feel sad. It’s taken 40 years to grow them and less than 45 minutes to uproot one and prune the other. How quickly the mighty have fallen.
I turned 38 a few weeks ago and I can’t stop thinking about aging now. There’s a reason they call 40 the crest of the hill and 41 over it—midlife. I feel myself nearing the top and somehow feel still so much at the bottom and quite okay with being there too. Someone called me an “older woman” recently as in the words of Paul to Titus, “Older women…teach what is good and train young women to love their husbands and children.” I balked, not at the job description but at the job title.
I look ahead of me at women ten years my senior and there is such a fullness to their lives, a centeredness, a surety that I lack. I feel more like the oak in my front yard, so recently covered with brambled branches and broken off stumps and now shorn, than like the oak across the street, well cared for, its branches reaching over our neighbor’s yard in gentle slopes. These are the “older women,” I think to myself. Pruned and proven and giving shade to all. I look at the oak in my yard again, sad and surprised.
I didn’t think I would feel like this when I got here. I didn’t know it would be like this. The women who mentored me along the way always seemed to have it together, to know the answers and be quick about them. They seemed to be so much further ahead at 38 than I feel at 38, but I wonder if they stared at brambled trees or naked ones, if they saw themselves there then too.
I’m two weeks from finishing this manuscript and yesterday, to my almost tears, my husband reminds me of the last few miles of a marathon, when you simply put one foot in front of another, faithfully finishing, each word a wrestle, each paragraph a pull, and each page a win in itself. I wonder if growing up and growing old is like this too. If we sprint all our lives toward someday and then someday shows up in its overgrown and broken and disappointed glory and we think: 40 years I have and this is what I have? This? How can I finish this?
I suppose there are some out there who feel pretty accomplished at 40, or 30 or 25, but I can’t help but think that even this feeling of “What am I even doing? Am I making a difference at all?” is producing something in us if we’ll let it. A little uncertainty and second-guessing isn’t all bad, I suppose. Nate has been reading Revelation and Eugene Peterson’s book on it, Reversed Thunder, and sharing his observations with me. I thought this morning: the only reason those seven churches needed seven words of encouragement or rebuke or exhortation is because they were doing something at all. Even if it was sometimes the wrong thing, at least they tried. Trying is my nemesis, though, thwarted as I am by fits and starts. It feels easier to not try and at least not fail than to try and fail spectacularly.
The other oak in our yard couldn’t be saved. Its trunk was ringed around by a small collection of perennials, and one shasta daisy bloomed there this week, a promise of spring to come. It is all gone now, the perennials, the stump, its roots, and the daisy. Now it’s just a bed of turned up soil. I suppose there is an analogy in here somewhere of a cursed tree that doesn’t bear fruit, but mostly I find myself grateful that my office window faces the pruned tree and not the uprooted one. A reminder that all living things need pruning, even 40 year old living things, and that even shorn, naked, and seemingly dead trees will bear again in their season.