life

What I Hope My Girls Learn About Growing Old by Joellyn Hoekstra

The month of May means it’s birthday season in our house. My girl is turning 2. My boy just turned 4. He’s pretty proud of his new, bigger number. We even had a fun birthday countdown going on in the kitchen window. My main man is creeping up on his 30’s. He is looking forward to the coming decade and looking good too (if I do say so myself). My mom’s birthday was on the 3rd. She, on the other hand, is not so thrilled this year. Her number is bigger than she would like it to be. I’m sitting here in the middle of my babies and my parents. I am proud of my time here in this earthly body, and I like that it’s starting to show. I know it’s easy for me to think this way now, but I hope I always do. 

The ideal body type and age, in this society, seems to be somewhere between 12-25. Of course it’s not bad to long for a frame that is unhindered and active, but sometimes I think we have gone a bit overboard. How much money is spent on age concealing products each year? I don’t even want to know. My mom actually doesn’t look her age, but her time boasts of 4 children birthed and raised, 9 years of breastfeeding, 12 grand babies, 47 years of marriage, and approximately 24,000 days of experience. She’s done them well, with beauty and grace. She has learned from life’s lessons with many personal experiences of joy and sorrow. She carries that with her, and she shares with others.

We don’t often celebrate the story that our bodies have come to tell. You and I have to consider that the way we look and how we carry ourselves impacts others around us. Do people look to you for advice and wisdom? Are you someone who others naturally feel comfortable around? As a young nurse, I have been a preceptor for nursing students who are much older than I am. I have always found it fascinating that when we go into a patient’s room together at the start of the day, it is often the older looking nursing student who the patient will turn to for answers to their questions. Their age makes the patient feel like they have more to offer. It’s not bad for that new nurse to use this to their advantage. In time, they will have the skills to match their wiser looking structure, and they will likely develop a fast connection and earn a sense of trust from their patients without having to prove it.

I have a friend who is a CNA (certified nurses assistant). Trust me, there is not a person on this earth who has seen more naked strangers than a CNA. The other day we were marveling that when you care for a person (and wash their body) you can usually tell what kind of life they have lived. Even if they can’t speak anymore, sometimes you just know exactly what kind of person is in your hands. Some bodies are more hunched from years of heads hung low. Others show a different story. You can see it in the kind of wrinkles on their face. You just know they have worn a smile more often than a frown. 

One of my favorite photo documentations of age comes from, Lucy Hilmer. It’s called, “Birthday Suits.” She has photographed herself on her birthday for 40 years wearing nothing but her white undies. It’s awesome. She turned 70 last year. What I love most about these images is how evident it is that she is unashamed of her body even as it is changing. I especially love the year following the birth of her daughter. That’s where I am, and it gives me such strength. 

Women seem to have a serious desperation to hide or undo the look of having just carried and birthed babies. I get that, but sometimes I just want to linger in it a bit longer. I feel like an instrument who has been used in the most tangible way immediately following my children’s births. I have surrendered myself to bring life. I don’t feel the need to hide that. I look like a woman who has sacrificed, and that gives me credibility. I refuse to give into the lie that our bodies were made for preservation—to be put on a shelf and looked at. I hope that I am spent and used up completely when my days in this body are through.

People ask me all the time what their breasts are going to look like when they are nursing their babies. They are worried about their sex life, to be honest. I usually encourage them to think about how their new body tells a generous story for the two lovers as a couple, and that is truly stunning. When did we allow this incredibly profound human work of bringing life into the world to become a bad thing when it comes to our body image? I would even venture to say that you might think back on your honeymoon self and remember that it was so romantic because you looked your best. I believe this actually has more to do with the fact that you were confident in your skin. You don’t need to have a 21-inch waistline to choose assurance and carry yourself with dignity. Even into the bedroom. 

I have no problem with wanting to look good, but we have got to get rid of the idea that the only way to look good is to look like a younger, less-experienced version of ourselves. Please, for the sake of young women looking up to you (which is a privilege), be poised. I want my girls to grow into the women God has created them to be, and I hope they are never hesitant to wear the story of their days as a beautiful banner of life. They need to see more healthy examples of this. 

So, happy birthday to my special people—especially to my beautiful mom. You have given your body to do life’s work with great love and sacrifice. That is certainly worth celebrating. Wear this next year as a badge of honor and pride. To all other aging sisters and mommas: stand up tall in the body that you occupy. Toss your head back and throw another crease in your smile wrinkles on purpose. I’m watching you, and you are giving me strength and courage to fill every inch of my own frame with joy. I hope you can take a good, long look at yourself and say for certain that your body tells the true and remarkable story of your years. Heck, go on and make a birthday countdown for yourself this year. You’ve earned it, and it’s lovely on you.

-JBH

Life In Death to Self by Joellyn Hoekstra

I had a small conflict recently. It helps to practice surrender and self control when the problem isn’t catastrophic. It is humbling to see my sinful nature arise when my pride is threatened. When someone has wronged me or offended me all I want to do is puff up my chest, stand tall and fight to win. I want to see justice. I think I’ll just take it upon myself to bring that about, thank you. At least that’s what I want. My way. I’m just being honest. I want the other person to admit that I’m right. I long for them to call me up and say, “I’m so very sorry, I’m completely in the wrong. I’m a terrible person.” Yes, that will surely make me happy. 

I shared some of my conflict with a wise friend and mentor. She didn’t give me any quick-fix answers. That might have made me feel better in the moment, but in her wisdom she knew that wouldn’t last long. She just said, “let’s pray about it right now.” Everything changes when I bring my mess to Jesus. Every time. My load is immediately easier and my burden is light, or at least a lot lighter than it was. Romans 8:28 tells us that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, and are called according to His purpose. I desire to be a part of that work. I want God to use my conflict to bring about good. For me and for the other people involved.  

Do I want good to come of this, or do I want my way? I had to ask myself that hard question. Giving up control and handing God my conflict doesn’t seem like it will make me feel better. Even though I have personally experienced God’s healing power in this way many times before. Once I give it to Him I know I can’t keep it. I can’t own it anymore. I have to stop obsessing over it. No more analyzing it from own my biased perspective and deciding that I am right. Stop keeping score. In many ways I know that when I bring my problem to Him I will not be so hurt by it anymore. It feels like being the one to humble myself somehow means I’m saying, “they’re right.” I definitely don’t want that. Often I need to continue to be a victim and feel the pain of it for just a little bit longer. Poor me.

There is a clear, loud message ringing out in the world. We should be doing whatever makes us happy at all times. It promotes utter and complete selfishness. Do you hear it too, or is it just me? Doing whatever pleases us physically, emotionally, and visually at any time will equal happiness. I have been wrestling with this idea for quite some awhile. When I hear and see this message preached and encouraged from every facet of life something in me literally twitches. I just want to look away. I believe that is the work of the Holy Spirit alive in me. Sadly, I feel like it is less and less of an insult on my soul over time. It has become so normal. 

I listened to a Sermon podcast by Francis Chan the other day. He said something horrifying that I can’t stop thinking about. He pointed out that one of the five pillars or goals of the Satanic Church is to create an environment around oneself that is completely of that person’s own choosing or desire. It is based on divulging in whatever pleases that person at any given time. He or she should also be free of individuals or surroundings that would question or pollute whatever desire or belief they are holding on to. It’s true. I looked it up myself, which was a creepy experience to say the least.  

Where is this “peace like a river?” Why is it “well with my soul” no matter what comes my way? It isn’t because difficulty never arises. It’s not because we have collected the perfect bunch of family and friends to be surrounded by. We do not find joy by fulfilling all of our own desires and getting our way. Again, we have to look upside down in this world. Die to self. Lay down your life. Find real life in Jesus. He laid down His life to give us this gift. I needed to give my conflict to Him. I’ve found that true rest comes when I completely trust Jesus to be in full control. It isn’t on me anymore. I want Him to have it. I want Him to make something beautiful out of it. If I can get to this place of surrender I often enjoy the privilege of seeing His glorious resurrection work in action, and tasting the fruit of it myself.

- JBH