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getting older; getting better

By Michelle Lehnardt

Since I entered my forties a few years back, I’ve been offered masses of conflicting ‘truths’ and ‘knowledge.’

Everything is downhill from here.

You’re still young! Forty is the new thirty!

Well, you’re in your forties. Increased injury and weight gain is just normal.

Oh, you have no idea. Wait till you hit fifty. Then your body really starts to fall apart.

And um, not a single one of those is comforting. Because my forties have hit me hard. Really hard. I feel nothing like thirty and if I continue at this pace I will be three hundred pounds and barely crawling by fifty (wearing my knees raw trying to run my six miles, lift weights and eat my pound of raw veggies every day).

With all the negative talk and my own fairly dramatic symptoms, I’ve been looking around in wonder at all these healthy vibrant happy gray-haired people. Can it really be that hard for everyone?

So you can imagine my delight yesterday when my widowed friend, Florence reassured me, “I feel better now than I did at twenty-eight!”
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And look, I just happen to have a photo of Florence on her eighty-third birthday two weeks ago.


Florence went on to explain her fatigue and achiness, pain in her joints and hips from all those years ago. She told her husband, “I’ll never make it to fifty. I can barely get through each day.” With his encouragement, she visited doctors, read books, loaded up on vegetables and vitamins, and with time, felt energetic and vibrant.

“Of course, I’ve had all kinds of other ailments since then,” Florence laughed, “but I tackle them one at a time and don’t give in to discouragement.”

“You can get better,” she promised me.

*****

My husband and sister remind me I’ve been through a lot the past few years. As my sister says, “This isn’t about your age. It’s an injury. It’s as if every bone in your body was broken. You can heal, but you need time.”

My sister would know. Her back literally broke two years ago under the stress of my mother’s death and my father’s decision to abandon our family. She was told she needed surgery, she’d never run again– but after months in bed, physical therapy and time, she began walking, then jogging and finally running. The first time she walked her kids to school, she told me, felt like running a marathon. Last Saturday, she ran twenty miles with a friend.

I take great comfort in Winston Churchill, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Gandhi and Julia Child, who all hit their stride much later in life. And I love Victor Hugo’s description of a woman who “in growing old attained the beauty of goodness.”

Everyone has been assailed by the naysayers– junior high kids are warned, “you’ll be buried in homework,” blushing brides are teased with, “you won’t like him so much in a few months,” young mothers (already exhausted) are told, “If you think it’s hard now just wait till they are teenagers.” (for the record: any amount of homework is manageable with a bit of organization, I love my husband more than the day I married him and teenagers are absolutely delightful.)

I’ll been guilty myself, taunting my younger running buddies with “just wait till you hit your forties!” And why? Does it make me feel wise or strong to predict storm clouds? Do I feel superior for traveling life’s road a few steps ahead?

But I haven’t traveled their road, none of us has walked any path but our own. When I first began riding my bike up Utah’s steep canyon roads at age seventeen, every time I passed another cyclist, I was struck over and over by the same thought–“I have no idea how far they’ve ridden.” They may have started at the last campground, the mouth of the canyon or their home fifty miles away. Flat tires, empty water bottles and sore muscles may have plagued their ride, or maybe they just ate four chocolate chip cookies and are racing to the top. My only job as a fellow cyclist is to wave, offer smiles and encouragement for those who are weary. Yes, I’ll warn them of potholes or mountain lion sightings but calling out, “the next hill is so steep, you’ll never make it!” would be just plain mean.

Tragedy, illness and pain strike every age, but so does joy, delight and serendipity.  I vow to rejoice in every success, every beauty, every lucky break of those around me.  To mourn with those who mourn, comfort those in need of comfort and when I meet a struggling soul to offer reassurance—things will get better.

Have you been discouraged by the naysayers?

Have you experienced something getting better (after hearing it would only get worse!)?

 

About Michelle Lehnardt

(Blog Team) I'm the kind of mom who drives through mud puddles, throws pumpkins off the roof and lets the kids move the ping-pong table into the kitchen for the summer. Despite (or probably, because of) my immaturity, my five sons and one daughter are happy, thriving, funny people. I'll climb a mountain with you, jump into a freezing lake hand-in-hand or just sit with you while you cry. I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ will heal the earth. Founder of buildyourteenager.com, scenesfromthewild.net and rubygirl.org.

13 thoughts on “getting older; getting better”

  1. I cannot even begin to describe how much I love this post (I loved it on your personal blog, too!).

    It reminds me of the scriptures: "And it came to pass" not "it came to stay."

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  2. This is one my favorite posts ever! Perhaps partly because I can relate to it so well. I am in my 50s now and I've learned something very interesting about aging through an analogy my sister offered me. All our lives it seems we are climbing this hill of life. But at age 50 we have reached the top of that hill and can now see (understand) the past better, but also we finally "get" the future. Life just makes more sense. We can see our mortality looming up ahead. We can also see wisdom in much of what we've been through in our childhood, and our adult years. So because of this I think we are happier as we age. At least I am. I appreciate each and everyday for whatever it brings. So yes, life does get better, I think because we understand it better the older we get.

    Btw Michelle, I'd love to be invited to your personal blog.

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  3. Yes, I’ll warn them of potholes or mountain lion sightings but calling out, “the next hill is so steep, you’ll never make it!” would be just plain mean.

    I love this! I've had this topic on my mind recently. I am almost 5 months pregnant with my first child (conceived after years of waiting), and I'm a little frustrated by the fact that every time I say anything about pregnancy to a fellow woman, it is almost inevitable that she immediately launches into either "Isn't pregnancy so awful?" or "Oh, just wait until such-and-such point, it's terrible!" Honestly, despite having been sick and having plenty of physical frustrations, pregnancy is as wonderful a thing as I could imagine and I'm loving it. I've been wondering a lot lately why it is that we feel such a cultural compulsion to preach doom and gloom to those around us who aren't as far into an experience as we are. Personally, I feel like most of my life experiences (getting older, marriage, now pregnancy) have been wonderful and the hard things have paled in comparison to the great ones. At least, the hard things have gotten easier to forget as time goes on. 😉 I guess I'd rather be a cheerleader ("you can do it! It's awesome!") than a foreteller of doom!

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  4. a perfectly delightful post. i just love the conclusion you came to in the end. i really love the quote that says, "be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." it's true, the only path we've walked is our own. we need to not judge, or compare, or belittle.

    the idea of things getting better after the storm is so powerful. it reminds me of one of my favorite talks by elder jeffrey r. holland, Cast Not Away Therefore
    Your Confidence
    .

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  5. Thanks so much for your comments! Cheryl, jks, alanna. I really appreciate your kind words.

    Grandma Honey, I'm so glad and grateful this speaks to you. I always love your comments. um, yes, you could follow my personal blog by clicking on my name, but it's just my kids and thoughts– nothing cool or popular.

    Cindy, I hear you. I'll never understand why people love to speak doom to pregnant women.
    Yes, we should offer sympathy when needed but only congratulations the rest of the time. My pregnancies were awful and my labors long and hard, but with each birth, the second I say my baby I always said, "I'd do it again in a heartbeat!"

    robin marie– that's one of my favorite talks EVER! And the quote you mentioned is painted over my back door. Clearly, we think alike!

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  6. I have a friend who maintains that those naysayers who warn/gripe/predict/moan about teenagerhood, aging, marriage deterioration, callings, etc. with a smile and a laugh, etc. are guilty of the sin of "cheerful cynicism"; the habit of denigrating or ignoring the value of a blessing in order to create humor. Unchecked it can develop into an unconscious, habitual form of the sin of ingratitude or discontent and teach listeners to resent or feel hopeless about life's challenges rather than embrace them.

    Yes, things in life can be hard and those hard things should be acknowledged and seen with clarity ("singleness of the eye" as it is called in the scriptures–the dictionary defines this as seeing clearly). But those hard things are more often than not also shot through with light and love and glory that are also real and clear and are to be acknowledged and valued ("singled"). Cheerful cynicism ignores the light and focuses on the hard and gets to perilously close to missing the whole point of Christ's words about having your "eye single".

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  7. Wonderful insights, Michelle.

    I had a change in attitude about my health. I struggled for years with severe eczema and accompanying immune disorder. One day I realized I was always feeling sick and itchy and waiting for cancer to strike or living in fear. I decided to do what all the articles say to do to be healthy. I actively sought health: I started exercising again (pre-children and painful skin I was a dancer). I started eating super healthy, limiting sugar and focusing on veggies and whole grains (gluten-free since I'm allergic to wheat).

    I love positive people. I want to be one, so I'm trying hard. Thanks for the reminders!

    Now I'm 45. I feel like a teenager again. I look better than I have for years and I'm certifying to teach yoga.

    I think every stage of life can be beautiful if we have the right attitude. Life is too short to whine and complain! Now if I could just figure out how to get my sister to see the good stuff and complain less. 🙂

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  8. Sweet Michelle, yes you have been dealt a knock-you-down blow. But I'm amazed at your resilience, your determination, and your ability to keep running (both literally and figuratively) the race Paul talked about. I suspect we'll be running the mountain trails for a lot of years together. 😉

    As for naysayers, the other day I heard a woman tell my friend who is having twins, "Oh, I'm so sorry." She was a mother of twins (to my surprise).

    If she only knew the devastating journey my friend has been on to get these boys. The ecstatic joy and happy anticipation she feels at their arrival. The complete miracle they are. I think naysaying ought to be outlawed. Like you said, every person's path is their own. We should simply encourage, speak light and truth, fill the future with positivity. I love you.

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