I’m losing my upper lip. I first noticed its disappearance a few months ago while studying a picture on my phone. While leaning in closer to the mirror for further inspection, I found that my once adequately full upper lip has started to thin out and collapse inward. What’s left of my upper lip is now sprouting tiny vertical lines. Yes, it’s wrinkles (gasp!) angled toward my nose and cheeks. I shouldn’t be too surprised. My mother and my grandmother also experienced thinning upper lips as they aged.
Learning to Embrace
I pondered purchasing a plumping lip gloss that stings like a bee. Perhaps I could get fillers or go the less painful route of penciling in an upper lip. The simplest solution? I can stop blowing bubbles with my gum to allay the formation of even more lip wrinkles. In the end, I am resigned to accept — even embrace — the genetics of aging.
You see, I’m turning forty next month. Contemplating this milestone, I’m trying to focus my thoughts on the blessings and privileges of aging. Occasionally, though, I get caught up in the superficiality of appearances including the wrinkles and the lack of elasticity in this place or that.
I’m beginning to wonder if a woman’s forties can be viewed as a blossoming? The inward self that has lived long enough to gain wisdom, perspective, and confidence is now freed to take center stage. What’s most striking about a woman as she ages? It’s not the thinning upper lip or the greying of her hair (although those are quite beautiful, too), but rather the influence she yields in her circle. She’s been around the block a few times. She’s weathered many a storm. She knows herself, and she knows a bit about time.
So, as I prepare to turn forty in a few weeks, I am asking myself, “What guiding principles will help me blossom in my forties and beyond?”
Here Are a Few Guiding Principles:
1. I will treat my spiritual self as thoughtfully as my physical self.
I believe our bodies are made up of two parts: our physical selves and our spiritual selves. How much money, time, and thought life do I give to my physical self? Cookbooks, workout programs, supplements — they all have their place in caring for my physical body.
But I will no longer be shocked when I suddenly find myself run down and stressed after weeks of neglecting my spiritual self. Instead, I will formulate habits to nurture my spiritual self: prayer, devotional time, times of silence, and times of retreat to ward off spiritual burnout.
2. I will be fully present in the moment.
I will be fully present in the moment by limiting anything that distracts or numbs me to the people, places, and experiences before me. This includes social media, alcohol, t.v., and a too-packed schedule. Can I watch my daughter play at the park without whipping out my phone? Can I carve out more time to play board games with my children, color with them, or go on a walk? When I’m out with friends or on a date with my husband, I will ask myself, “Am I distracted right now? Am I not fully present?”
I will get adequate sleep so that I might have more energy to engage when I’m awake.
3. I will remember that bodies have expiration dates and care for mine accordingly.
I fill a valuable role in my family and my community. I will practice preventive maintenance on my body so that I can be the healthy person they — and I — need me to be.
4. I will evaluate what I need to hold onto and what I need to release.
This means pursuing reconciliation while letting minor hurts and offenses go. I will be careful what I allow to occupy my headspace, remembering that our bandwidth, like time, is a finite resource. Grudges, hurt feelings, strong opinions, and ongoing resentments take up too much space and must be released. I will quickly resolve conflicts.
5. I will treat each day like a scavenger hunt for beauty.
It’s time to carve out opportunities for hiking and trips to local museums. I will also look for beauty in unexpected places like the grocery store and carpool line. I will ask the hard questions, “Can beauty be found in life’s trials and in life’s brokenness?”
6. I will embrace the monotony of self-discipline and habits.
Going to bed early gives me FOMO. Salads become boring. Early-set alarm clocks are entirely unnatural. Push-ups anger me. Yet all these disciplines and habits have outcomes I desire in the latter half of my life: a strong healthy body, energy for my day, and proper balance (see mantra #1). I will not allow the monotony of habits kept or goals set to chip away at my resolve.
7. I will remind myself that time is a trickster.
It’s a sobering thought, but I do not have all the time in the world. I will evaluate time with reminders like, “I have seven more spring breaks with my oldest daughter.” “I have one more year as a preschool mom.” Even so, these numbers are not guaranteed. Therefore I will say, “I love you,” all day long. I will kiss her this hour, I will surprise him this week, and I will plan that trip this year.
8. I will write more cards to thank and encourage others.
Having been the recipient of so much love over the years, isn’t it natural to give others the same encouraging words on paper? In this age of “likes and shares,” 15 minutes’ time spent on a card or letter will be time well spent. Besides, I love to write.
9. I will enter into others’ stories.
This will be accomplished by meeting others in bible study, at coffee, or in my home. I will read more memoirs. I will ask better questions and listen deeply.
10. I will keep learning.
Instead of having all the answers, I will embrace saying, “I don’t know,” and sign up to learn. I will take a pottery class, study maps (sorry Waze), do more arithmetic in my head, and learn from my children.
Here’s the thing: I will fail over and over again to apply these lofty aspirations. I did in my thirties. But by now at age forty I’ve learned how to be gentle with myself. Every hour, every day is a new opportunity to start again.
Finally, when it comes to that thinning upper lip, I will not fret too much. It turns out I don’t need a Jolie-esque plump lip to smile, to kiss those I love, or to speak encouragement into the lives of others. I will also make peace with these wrinkles. They are the imprints of a life deeply felt and fully lived.