I will turn 40 next month. I don’t know why I’ve been so introspective about this. After all, I’ve not given other “milestone” birthdays much thought.
I gave birth to my second son twelve days before my 30th birthday. Caught up in the all-consuming days that were motherhood to a toddler and a newborn, and living with a husband who did not generally give gifts, I am not sure I even noticed my birthday pass.
On my 21st birthday, I was newly divorced, living in a crappy, roach-infested walk-up in Circleville, Ohio, working 8-5 as a receptionist for a plastics factory, and working many nights 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. at Burger King. I had no friends in that town, and very few friends, period, as I was in transition from married life to single life, from school at a small-town branch campus to school at the massive Ohio State University, and I honestly worked too much that summer to even consider making a friend. No one took me out to a bar on my 21st birthday, and I honestly don’t remember the day at all.
The day I turned 18, I packed all my belongings into my boyfriend’s Ford Escort and left my parents’ house while they were at work, walking away from a tuition and room/board scholarship at Capital University, and walking away from my parents and my sisters, ages 15 and 4, whom I would not see for the next two years. I didn’t know that I was headed for a two-year marriage characterized by abuse, infidelity, and poverty.
None of those birthdays register clearly in my memory, yet as 40 looms closer I ponder. It feels like a new stage in my life. It feels like a transition. A turning point. A clean slate.
The thing all those birthdays have in common is chaos, the kind of chaos that goes hand-in-hand with codependency. When I left home at 18, I was ill-equipped to deal with living life, loving people, and chasing Father. I did not have life skills; instead, I had coping skills – ways to cope with the chaos that living in dysfunction brings. For years, my adulthood was characterized by chaos, because when there was no chaos, my coping skills were not necessary. Unwittingly, I created familiar chaos in every situation I encountered.
As my 40th birthday approaches, I can say with certainty that my life is characterized by the opposite of chaos.
My serenity has nothing to do with the circumstances in my life. Full credit goes to my Father in heaven, who lavishes unmerited favor upon me despite my emotional brokenness, and to the program which is Al-anon.
As a matter of fact my circumstances, at the time of this writing, are not making me happy. Someone I love very much is not in my life now, and though he is in poor health, I can be neither a comfort nor a help. I miss him acutely every single day. Many plans I had for the summer must be altered to exclude him. Furthermore, I will be attending a family reunion this weekend, and being with my family of origin is always a stressful time for me. Finally, my children will be spending the next 3 1/2 weeks a state away, visiting their father, and I have the strong, conflicting feelings of both needing the break and dreading it.
No, my circumstances are not all rainbows and unicorns. Serenity is not synonymous with happiness. The difference for me, at 40, is that I am no longer subconsciously manufacturing circumstances that damage my serenity. I am not looking to create chaos or magnify the chaos that already exists. Serenity flows not from circumstance, but from knowing that my Father is with me despite external circumstances, and from knowing that I can trust him with the things I cannot control.
My friend played her guitar and sang a song for me the other night, and I cried while she sang, because the song’s lyrics reminded me that 40 is coming quickly, and it does not look like I had planned for it to look. Now, I am choosing to listen to it and instead, allow it to remind me that, as always, Father’s plans for me will turn out better than my own…even when I cannot comprehend how this can be so.