What is your superpower, midlife women?

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I once asked my Marvel Cinematic Universe-loving grandsons what superpower they wish they possessed. They threw out the various pros and cons of being able to fly, zoom faster than the speed of light, or be the strongest human on earth.

“I’d like to be invisible,” my younger grandson said. “Then I’d be able to spy on people.”

I wanted to tell him that being invisible isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Many women at midlife feel they’re being shoved into the shadows. A quick search of articles and posts on the topic affirm that the problem is real. It’s even got a name: Invisible Woman Syndrome.

And though many of these articles offer innocuous coaching such as “embrace who you are now”, the reality for most of us is that invisibility is anything but a superpower. Older women who dare to look their ages often face discrimination in the workplace. Though we are seeing more public figures embracing their ages – people like actors Jamie Lee Curtis and Frances McDormand or PBS news anchor Judy Woodruff – we note them because they seem exceptions to the rule that the beauty of youth looks best in the spotlight. And as I’ve written about midlife and the church over the last decade, I’ve lost count of the number of older women who’ve told me that they feel they’re invisible in their local churches.

Though we’re called to let our lives echo the words of John the Baptizer about Jesus (“He must become greater and I must become less”), this doesn’t mean that we’re meant to fade into the shadows as we do. We’re called to make Jesus visible in our homes, communities, churches, and workplaces. That means we must show up in His power, living our lives fully and boldly in His glorious spotlight. Purposing to stay (or become!) visible as we move into the second half of our lives may be the most countercultural thing we can do.

That’s the stuff of real-life superheroes. We older women may not ever be a lead in a Marvel comic book or movie, but we are living in a far bigger story than those. We’re praying for the women who will be joining us for a Wonder Years Gathering in 2020 ­– and for all of those whose lives will be touched by the superpower of vibrant, visible women living with courage, beauty, and wisdom at midlife and beyond. We see you, Women of the Wonder Years!

—Michelle Van Loon

Cover photo by Gabriela Braga on Unsplash

Between Here and There

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by Leslie Leyland Fields

It was January, but the sun was bright and the wind off the Gulf of Mexico was warm. I scrunched my bare toes in the sand and gave my husband’s hand a squeeze. We were on the beach at South Padre Island, Texas, to celebrate our 38th anniversary and to escape the darkness and tempest of our Alaskan winter.

On our first day there, we noticed most of the people on the beach were retired. We still have two teens at home, the last two of six children, and retirement feels far away. But after a quick glance (and grimace) in the hotel mirror later that night, I noticed that we didn’t look much different than our companions. How can we be this old? I wondered.

I don’t get this way often, but just the month before, during the Christmas holidays, I felt a twinge of weariness: a sick-of-all-the-cheer ennui, a feeling of entrapment, as though I were stuck on a carousel playing the same old songs, riding that tired horse up and down. Nowhere to run, just a circle that shrinks tighter every year. (Read more at In Touch magazine)

Wonder Years Website launch!

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It's finally HAPPENING!

by Leslie Leyland Fields
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A dream come true! (And it's happening the year I turn 62!) Which is part of the point of The Wonder Years. No matter our biological age, we're still dreaming, still growing, still finding new ways to love God and one another. Michelle Van Loon and I both feel called to this new work, addressing a demographic that sometimes feels unseen, and YET! We have SO much to offer the world and one another. So—we're doing it! We're setting aside a time and place to come together to celebrate all we've survived, to share our journeys, to be equipped from amazing experts in our areas of need, and to go forth stronger, wiser, with fresh joy and wonder. Come and Join us!

 
 

A wonderful plan for my life? Really, Lord?

by Michelle Van Loon
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I’d always heard that God had a wonderful plan for my life. But in my early forties, as the losses  and unwelcome transitions started to accumulate, I found myself asking new questions about my relationships, my work, my purpose, and my faith. Frankly, things didn’t look all that wonderful. I understood God hadn’t changed. But I was disoriented by the changes that were happening both within and all around me. 

I discovered I wasn’t alone. As I started writing about my questions more than a decade ago, I began hearing from women and men from all over the country who shared their stories with me. I also learned that many churches aren’t entirely sure how to support and strengthen the growing faith of those at midlife – even when it looks like that faith has hit the proverbial wall. Many congregations approach the task of discipleship with a strong focus on early-stage faith training. We pour lots of energy and money into ministry focused on children and families. And many congregations are deeply committed to equipping new believers with the basics of the faith. This is beautiful and important work.  

The lack of emphasis on ongoing disciple-making among those further along in their journey with Jesus leads many to assume that simply repeating the same patterns they learned as new believers will sustain them throughout their days. While the practice of classic spiritual disciplines are foundational to spiritual growth, it is equally true that the questions, transitions, and shifts that take place at midlife and beyond call for different kinds of conversation, prayer, reflection, and response to God. He is calling each one of us to grow toward maturity, and sometimes (often!) that means some pruning and reshaping of our lives must occur. And it often happens during “our wonder years” – midlife.

Leslie and I first connected online, and a few years ago, she invited me to submit an essay for the beautiful book she was creating about midlife. That conversation led to others, and last fall, when I saw a note she’d penned wondering if other women at midlife and beyond might be interested in an “in real life” gathering, I jumped. I’d recently been involved in helping to create a local event for midlife women that had been very well-received, and I knew there was great hunger for more events focused on second-half of life discipleship themes. 

I am looking forward to what will transpire in the lives of the women who attend one of the Wonder Years Gatherings in 2020! I am certain they’ll be strengthened, challenged, and inspired by the world-class speakers and workshop facilitators. I am excited about the new relationships to form among those joining us. And I’m dreaming of the potential for churches to grab hold of the vision of life-long spiritual formation – and for communities to be blessed by the wisdom and nurture of the sage women living and ministering in their midst. 

It may not look like what we dreamed for ourselves when we were younger, but I am certain  God has a wonderful plan for our wonder years. Leslie and I are prayerfully looking forward to exploring together what that wonder might look like for each one of us. Please join us at either Mt. Hermon or Green Lake as we wonder together!