I shared a sweet moment the other day with my oldest son. We were outside and laughing about who knows what, when he moved close to me and gently placed his finger in one of the creases beside my eye, asking ever so tenderly, "Mama, what are those lines on your face?" "They're smile lines," I said, knowing this was not the end of the conversation. "Did you draw those lines? With a crayon? How did they get there? Do I have smile lines too?" he fired off in his usual inquisitive three year old style. I paused. And I thought for a moment about those smile lines, those wrinkles on my face. And I thought about how exactly one month from today, I will turn 40. That's four decades I've been on this earth. And then I proceeded to answer his questions one by one, as best as I knew how. "No, I didn't draw those lines, life did. And not with a crayon, but with moments. You see, Monkey, you know how you're about to turn 4 years old?" He nodded and reminded me of his intense desire to have a sea turtle cake for his birthday. "Well," I continued, "I am about to turn 40 years old." He chimed in, "whooooaaaah, that's a lot bigger than 4. That's more than 20!!" I probably would have been o.k. without all of the emphasis on how big that number is. "Yeah, it is more than 20. Forty is a pretty big number and it means I've lived a lot of years, a lot of life. And each one of these lines on my face tells a story from my life." I could see the wonder in his eyes as he exclaimed, "there are a LOT of lines on your face!" Thank you very much. "Yes, there are. I've lived a lot of life and there are a lot of stories behind those lines." Always wanting to know more he asked, "can you tell me some of the stories?"
"Each wrinkle and line tells a story of once upon a time,
moments where we did laugh and love, worry and weep;
each wrinkle, a mark of life running deep." ~MLM
I began to tell him about some of my memories from childhood, the good, the hard, the confusing. After a few minutes, he and his 4 minute attention span got bored and moved on to the water table, where he was quickly immersed in his own story-telling, epic tales of how the scorpion crossed the desert to sting the snake and so on. And I, I was left sitting there in a moment of quiet, thinking about all of those lines on my face and the stories they represent. They tell stories of times when I laughed and times when I cried; stories of heartbreak and trauma, triumph and healing; stories of friendships lost and friendships gained; lessons learned and mistakes made. They tell stories of when I was worried and mad; nervous and glad, times when I didn't know what to expect and was anxious about the unknown; stories of when I wanted something so bad and stories of unfulfilled expectations I didn't even know I had; stories of accomplishment and joy, and those of failure and disappointment; stories of faith, and challenge, and growth. Yes, there are a lot of stories behind those lines. Would I love it if some of those stories were absent from my life's repertoire? I absolutely would. And yet, I know that together all of those stories and moments have made me who I am today, for better or for worse, imperfectly beautiful, just like the lines on my face.
I admit, forty for me feels a bit like the halfway mark. Not that there are any guarantees that I will live to see eighty, or tomorrow, for that matter. But turning forty is giving me pause, pause to look back and to reflect, to take inventory of my life and my relationships. Just as I am looking back, I'm also looking forward. I'm asking myself what it looks like to embrace getting older and all that comes with that, and to age gracefully, whatever the heck that means. And I find myself wanting to let go and throw off all of the things that hold me back from being my real self. I don't really want to be successful anymore or spectacular, I just want to show up and be the best me, the one I was created to be. And in the moments and the days, of which there are many, where I am not the best me, I want to own it, and rest in the grace of knowing that I'm still in process. I desire to live each day more and more authentically, with actions on the outside that are congruent to what I believe on the inside. I hope that my face is radiant and my love is strong as I live into the stories yet untold. I don't want to hide those lines on my face or the parts of my story that don't shine, but rather set them free as part of me, imperfectly beautiful, wrinkles and all.