In the past five years, everything about me has changed (most significantly in the past two). Some have called it “mid life crisis” but since it is not a crisis, it was “transition.” I have been called a hoarder, crazy cat lady, insane, and often given no words because people are speechless. I really don’t seek out these descriptions or even like them; however, they are all true.
It has really been a process of stripping. Stripping me of insecurities, Feelings of inferiority. Fear of being a nobody. Enslaved to other people’s standards.
My whole life I wanted to fit in, but my whole life I didn’t want to fit in. I wasn’t “in” and I wasn’t “out.” I knew that I did not fit. I was not categorizable. In high school I tried everything on for size and it was either too baggy or too snug. I struggled with who I was. I went to college unprepared for the other students with sorority pedigrees, limitless credit cards paid by daddy, and extravagant semester long debutante engagements in their hometowns. I knew that did not fit. My senior year I became a Christian and was semi-invited into that crowd but I was too late to the game for those who had been friends all four years of college. I knew that did not fit. I returned home from college and worked as a nanny to a little boy I adored while all my Vanderbilt classmates were either getting master’s degrees or corporate positions. I avoided the calls from the alumni association asking me for my updated career information for their records.
I knew I did not fit.
Then I got married to Kenny who was like no one I had ever dated. We really did not experience anything similar growing up but I was intrigued by how genuine he was. I had decided I needed to find out who I was and whether he fit into my not-yet-determined persona. That was a daunting task! So I had one major test that I felt determined if he was the one…..Kenny drove a beat up car with issues. MAJOR issues. I loved it. The ceiling hung down so it was pinned up with push pins and every time he went in reverse and switched to drive it let out a horrible sound. Like “EEEEEKKKKKKK!!!!!!” There was no pretending it did not happen-you just had to wait for it and laugh. I thought it was hilarious but Kenny did not find it all funny. So the test was to see if he would drive it down to the Yacht Club when we went to play tennis. If he was too ashamed to drive it there, I was out. If he was confident enough to own the sounds, the exhaust and the overall ghettoness of it, then I was in. I guess you know he passed that test.
When we got married we lived in a one bedroom duplex for $300 a month and even that rent was stretching us. He was a middle school youth pastor and I was a preschool teacher. We barely made rent every month but I was the most content I had been in years…..but still had no clue who I was. Still searching. Living in a very poor neighborhood with regular robberies and gun shots going off and also joining the Junior League and serving hors d’ouevres at the elite museum gatherings when I could barely buy groceries for myself- trying them both on for size. Again neither one fit…..but Kenny was with me through all of it and I learned to draw strength through his confidence because I did not own it for myself.
As a mom at 28, 30, and 34 and then adopting at 38, I suddenly had a house full of boys….and I loved them, cherished them, and adored them but NEWS FLASH….I was not one of them. I did not like mud fights or wrestling or know the rules of baseball. I did not fit. That does not mean I did not enjoy motherhood or find purpose in being their mom but it was one more reminder that I was not like them in a lot of ways. Sometimes I felt like an outsider to the world of boys. I prayed so hard for a girl to come into our lives and even our first dog and cat were boys. Seriously??
I always wanted to be just enough- not too much or not too little. Not too loud or too quiet. Not too thin or too heavy. Not too overbearing or too laid back. I wanted to be JUST RIGHT. And I never was….so I kept trying.
Kenny has been in ministry since we started dating- so that is the 23 years we have been together. Youth pastor, church planter, seminary student, associate pastor…..and I have been his wife. For those who did not know me then, I was a great follower. NO LIE. When he took a new job in a church, I trusted him wholeheartedly that it was what was best for our family and I went. And I loved it. I still had no idea who I was. Did I want to be in the big, beautiful church or the small community of believers where we barely got paid? I had no idea and I did not want to figure it out so I went where Kenny was called and I made myself at home wherever we were. Those were amazing years for us but I still was so confused as to who I was created to be.
In all the years I have been on my own, my house has been predictable. I would buy a beautiful new picture from Kirkland’s to hang in my living room only to find out four of my friends had the same picture. I wanted everything clean, undamaged, and picture perfect. My kids, my house, and my life needed to fit in a pretty box with a big bow because that is where I felt safe. When things were not in order, I fell apart. Even when we moved into a 50 year old home, I wanted to tear out anything that looked old and make it new. I had no appreciation for anything that did not come out of a box from Lowe’s.
I always envied the hippy girls in college who pulled it off beautifully. I wanted to be the girl who went out without makeup. I admired the moms who felt that they could be a mess. I longed to be someone who had confidence and did not take everything personally. But it just did not come. I waited for something magical….I waited a long time.
My forties hit me and I started to feel free. I realized that time was short and I needed to figure myself out. Kenny graduated from seminary and I had been telling him that was going to be my chance to figure out ME. I had no idea where to start but eventually I realized I loved to write, take pictures, talk to people and walk with them through hard times, and I wanted to be a voice for those who have been forced into silence. But what does that all mean? I was NOT a writer. I was NOT a photographer. I was NOT a mentor. I was just ME. But suddenly being me started to feel a little bit like it fit. And as I sought God and His path of healing for wounds I had carried my whole life, the burden became a little lighter. My identity began to form around who God had created me to be…..not who I had been told I was my whole life. I began to feel free. Alive. Whole. But God still had some stripping to do….
As a little girl, I distinctly remember telling people I wanted to be a garbage picker when I grew up. WHO says THAT? Apparently I did…..but it never fit into my life plan so I never thought anything of it. I learned when I was no longer that little girl that other people’s garbage by the side of the road is gross and dirty so why would anyone pick it??
Over the past five years, I have started to slow down and admire other people’s junk on the side of the road. I have plopped my kids in a chair down the street to save it until I could come back with the truck. I have stopped right outside Lakeland High School to get a table and been yelled at by my high schooler to PLEASE leave the junk just this once (and that one time I did). I started to think other people’s throw aways were pretty cool. I wasn’t always sure what to do with what I found because I was still stuck in the shiny, new stuff but I was intrigued. I wanted to put an old chair in the middle of my floor but…..no. Too risky. I wanted to hang my own photography in my house but I settled for professional prints because they were safe. I wanted to write my own story but other people’s words were much easier to hide behind.
Then a few years ago I wrote my story (still being written and I will one day write a book). Then I started a nonprofit with a close friend of mine that means I speak at women’s encounters about my own faith journey and my own brokenness. Then I quit my job to work full time for CPI Haiti and not have an hourly salary to depend on. I began to see myself emerging and it did open my eyes to who I was becoming but there were still gaping holes of insecurity in the fiber of who I was.
Then I decided that I wanted to pierce my nose and get a tattoo. Who does that in their forties? Apparently I do. I began to feel free. No longer confined to what I thought others would think was acceptable for me. I decided I could do something even if I was the only one who liked it. . Of course this has little to do with actual ink and piercings and everything to do with who I was becoming.
I suddenly became obsessed with yard sales. Getting other people’s castaways. I started shopping on half price Wednesdays at Salvation Army for all of our clothes. I no longer needed new with tags and nice, neat aisles to walk down. I found great pleasure in trying on other people’s donated clothing and walking out without spending more than $10. Saturdays I got up at 6 AM while everyone was sleeping and hit as many yard sales as I could- looking for anything to take to Haiti or to give away. I still had to tell people I was obviously not shopping for myself when I went to their nice homes and they gave me funny looks that I was one of “those people.” Still could not own my personal love for yard sales- it was just what a good nonprofit person does for needy children.
Then this year I had a breakthrough of sorts. I hung the photography I had taken in Haiti in Mitchell’s (after periodic breakdowns that my work would be seen and judged by others for a whole month) and survived. Survival was not a given at that point. Then Alison and Amber asked me to do the artwork for an event called Red Tent. Also terrifying. My hidden insecurities started oozing out everywhere and I felt exposed. I was in this event with a bunch of hipster, cool artsy people and the ink of my tattoo was still fresh and I was still figuring it all out. I wanted to own ME but ME was still morphing. So I just started to take portraits for the artwork of the event. And I felt alive. I needed to make frames and I stressed about it for over a month. I could not afford anything fancy and for the Mitchell’s pictures I did them all brown because that was safe. This time they wanted COLOR- fun colors. NOOOOOOO……I don’t know how to paint, do fun, make it work. And then I met one of the most spectacular people EVER….Kimberly. She agreed to help me paint fun, colorful frames. I was so nervous that day. I showed up with no confidence that I could do it. And she showed me that holding a can of hot pink spray paint could be life changing. Why? Because you can make something that looks amazing- even if it is only amazing to you. And if you make a mistake? You paint over it. Nothing is final and everything is a work in progress.
I went to Ace Hardware that night and bought cans and cans of paint…..I also got glaze, sandpaper, brushes, etc. and I went back the next day to learn more. And the next day. Before I knew it my entire back porch was covered in tarps, paint supplies and old, thrown away frames. I had fallen in love with creating something beautiful out of something not worth looking at. I felt free. Free to create. I came home and made a sign that has a quote by Henri Matisse that says, “Creativity takes courage.” And that day I gained courage.
And then I discovered my love for anything old and started going to yard sales because I am ok being one of those crazies who fights traffic and talks you down from $2 to $1 for something I think is a treasure. I get the eye rolls from the family for the “junk” I bring home but I see the potential that will come with some polish and some love. It took a lot of polish and love for me to emerge and I guess I see that same potential in old silver and splintered wood.
One yard sale day I bought a beat up old patio table that was not selling so they practically gave it to me. As we left I told Cooper that it was my favorite piece of furniture I had ever bought. He said, “Mom, you like old stuff, don’t you? I think it is because it tells a story.” YES! I had never realized it until my 12 year old figured it out for me. I love old because it tells a story. I see the jar and I wonder who used it to can peaches and where they were living and how it got to me. So much more interesting than a new jar from Target that was made 3 weeks ago.
Mid life is INCREDIBLE. A time of discovery. Freedom. And most of all acceptance for who God knew I was going to be when He put it in my heart to be a “garbage picker.” It does not get better than that.