Monday 21 August 2023

Turning 40 - Why I'm not giving up on my dreams and neither should you

 In episode 1 of The Good Life, a 1970's sit-com based in Surbiton, England, following the story of the Goods, a couple who decide to quit the rat-race and try their hand at self-sufficiency, we see Tom Good turn 40.  

As a young 20 year old in her second year at University watching the series on VHS on my little TV in my bedroom, the Goods seemed ancient, but they inspired in me the seed of a dream that I had to one day become self sufficient myself.  If they could pick up at 40, living in a suburban house and become self-sufficient then I, with a whole twenty years extra time ahead of me, could easily achieve this dream.

Well now I'm 40 and I'm not self-sufficient.

What happened?  Well life happened, I had no house, no land to be self-sufficient on, so I had to get a job, I trained to become a teacher, got a mortgage (but not for a big house with land because who can afford that on a teachers income in Berkshire!?), I got married, then I had a child, then another, then two more, and now... here I am. In a house full of kids, no chickens, no goat, a few sad veg that grow as a testament to the little spark that still resides in my chest, waiting to be kindled into a flame. 

I'm pretty happy with my life though.  I think I have achieved some great things in my 40 years, things that I'm really proud of.  I've grown so much as a person through the trials and the joys that I have experienced over the years, they have embroidered many layers into my personality and identity, layers of wisdom, contentment, self-sacrifice, resilience and strength, and I've really enjoyed getting to know myself in deeper and more profound ways.  I'm proud of this person that I am, that I've become, that I am becoming. And not achieving my dream of self-sufficiency doesn't mean that I've lost anything or failed, it's It turned out differently than I imagined.  

I've had many adventures in my 40 years, which at the time I thought were side quests, distractions from my main goal of becoming self-sufficient, but in the end became THE quest.  Submitting to this quest has been one of the hardest and most joyful journeys of my life.  I never would have guessed all those years ago that self-sufficiency would become a side quest.  

In my defence though there are reasons my life did not exactly emulate the Goods, for one thing, unlike the Goods, my husband and I decided to have children.  Also, and I don't know if this is due to the economy now verses the 1970's or simply because of the children, but in episode 1 Tom reveals that they have paid off the mortgage. Imagine that!!  Being mortgage free at the age of 40.  Was that the norm back then?  (Please let me know in the comments if you know).  We still have a pretty substantial amount to pay off our mortgage which requires work, which means one less person for all the milking and growing, bartering, digging and egg collecting (and that one person has been pretty occupied by the child rearing!).  I also have a husband who does not share the self-sufficiency dream. Tom was quite easily able to persuade his wife Barbara that becoming self sufficient was a great idea, my husband isn't so keen.  

So what's to do?  Give up on the dream?  That's what most people do isn't it.  They decide, or perhaps realise that their dream isn't really their dream any more, or that in fact it isn't achievable, but I'm not ready to give up yet.  

The Goods became self-sufficient when they were in their 40s and so can I! (there is that slight issues of the mortgage needing paying for but let's put that to one side for now.)

At the moment my main quest, my mission is my children, home educating them and helping them become ready to be independent people in the world. 

But oh the side quests!!

Some days I wish I wasn't a person who had side quests, if only I could put aside all that and just be a mum, focus all my attention on that.  For some reason God didn't make me that way, He made me to have multiple interests all at once.  There's the Art side quest (that was once my main quest too), I love art, it is something that brings me so much joy and peace, expressing myself though paint is a rare but nourishing treat.  Then there is the writing side quest, I absolutely love writing, putting a message out there, encouraging others with my words, maybe even improving our income a little bit with various projects (stay tuned for the book I'm writing!), then there is the self-sufficiency side quest that I've already mentioned.  These days I prefer to call this "homesteading" which sounds terribly American, but like the American "Homemaker" over "Housewife" describes better what I am aiming for I think.  Self-sufficiency feels a bit like I want to cut myself off from community and I don't want that, I also feel it alludes to spiritual self-sufficiency which I also don't want. Homesteading is more about growing what we need, preserving that and using our skills to provide for ourselves or create a small income.   Of course my homesteading side quest is very meagre, my little garden of veggies, my efforts to make bread and other food from scratch, to forage what I can, to break away from the system that ties us into working "for the man"! But it gives me an extra sense of purpose, and fuels my rebellious side! 

I'm certain God is using me in all these ways to glorify him, (which is of course the quest that supersedes all other quests, along with loving God and loving others) I can't say I am certain how yet, maybe it's like one of those films or TV series which have multiple story lines all playing along at once that all converge at the end of the story in one extraordinary climax!!  

In episode 1 of The Good Life Barbara plays a record for Tom on his birthday, a song by Sophie Tucker, I played it for my husband's 40th birthday, you'll recognise the name it's called "Life begins at 40", you can listen to it here some of the lyrics are quite poignant, she says:

"Yes, life begins at forty

And I've just begun to live all over again

You see the sweetest things in life grow sweeter as the years roll on"

When I think about this, it does seem true that I have lived half my life and am beginning a second half now. I am done with having babies (very sadly as I'd love more) and the truth is that I am now facing the beginning of "middle age" I'll be thankful if I have another 40 years on earth, maybe I'll get more than that, like my grandpa who is approaching 100, or maybe I'll have fewer years like my dear mother-in-law who died aged just 70.  I don't know what the next decades will hold for me, I hope that Sophie Tucker is right and the sweetest things will get sweeter as the years roll on, but one thing is certain, I am not giving up on my dreams.  I am not giving up on my dream of homesteading, and I have no intention on giving up on any of my other side quests either, and I want to tell you that you also shouldn't give up on your dreams, it is never too late.

It's not too late to learn a new skill, to start writing a book, to learn a new language, to learn a new sport, to achieve a physical goal like running, losing weight or starting a new sport, it's not too late to learn to paint, to start a business, or fly a plane!  There is so much that can still be done, so many dreams that can still be fulfilled, it is never too late to set a new goal no matter how big or small.  

Vera Wang didn't design her first dress till she was 40, Stan Lee created his fort hit comic at age 39, and Laura Ingalls Wilder didn't publish her first Little House book till she was 65!  There are hundreds of people who have gone before us, paving the way, starting new dreams after middle age, if they can do it, so can I, and so can you!

Monday 7 August 2023

Joyful Marriage - Nurturing marriage in a culture that doesn't

 So August is upon us and wet July a distant memory.  July was such a challenging month for us and for me personally I have and continue to be really struggling with life right now, home educating four children of different ages, trying to keep on top of a house that is overflowing with things and people who mess it up, helping my husband through grief, financial challenges, the whole shebang. There hasn't been much room for Joy. 

You may remember that every year I choose a word for the year. This year's word is Joyful and each month has had it's joyful focus.  Having Joyful as my word of the year has really helped me to be intentional with my thoughts and attention, giving space for me to reflect on how I feel and what positive changes I can make to my life. 

July's joyful focus was marriage, and I will tell you now that I haven't done anything for this goal.  July was too stressful and too hard and too overwhelming to give any thought or attention to my marriage other than the bare minimum.  Right now we are in survival mode.  But now the month is over and I am able to reflect on the notion of joyful marriage I have lots of thoughts and reflections to share with you.  

My husband and I on our wedding day 14 years ago

Before you get married there is usually quite a lot of support and encouragement, the church supports you with a marriage preparation course, your friends get together to send you off with a hen/stag do, family often supports you financially for the wedding and help with planning and creating your big day. On your wedding day your family and friends all gather round to celebrate your love for each other, they spend money on new clothes, travel and drinks, they give gifts or money and cards to encourage you.  You go on a glorious honeymoon where you get to spend quality time together before getting into the practicalities of married life, the message is clear, marriage is great, we love marriage, woo hoo! Go marriage! You return from your honeymoon, the dust settles, friends and family return to their normal lives, the church goes back to being place for Sundays and you realise...your on your own.  

Reflecting on marriage this month has made me realise there is no culture in our society for supporting marriage after the wedding day. 

My husband and I have been married for 14 years this years, and the only people who really support,  encourage or care about our marriage is us.  We are on our own.

I don't mean to sound unkind to our parents here, they send us anniversary cards and help us in the usual ways you'd expect parents who don't live very close to help, looking after children from time to time and giving financial support when it's been needed, and I am forever grateful for that.  But they, like everyone else who supported us before and at our wedding don't actually do anything to specifically help and support our marriage, I sense that that is considered our business.  We are on our own.

On our honeymoon in Italy

The church has never done a follow up on our marriage, my bridesmaids haven't ever inquired over our marriage, none of our wedding guests have checked in on our marriage, we are completely on our own.

Now you might be thinking, well why should any of these people care about supporting our marriage, what's it got to do with them at the end of the day? Our marriage is ours and we are supposed to look after it, to work on it.  I totally get this, as I've said, we are in a culture that doesn't support marriage (after the getting married part) and I am just as guilty of not asking the pertinent questions of my married friends and family, but it should, For two important reasons.  Firstly because there is a great deal of personal responsibility placed on marriages failing.  Divorce is generally blamed on the two people who are part of it.  Marriages fall apart for many reasons, but we have to ask what could the community have done to support that married couple in nourishing their marriage, in saving their marriage.  No one ever asks "how is your marriage going?" to open up that window of conversation to allow for the opportunity to ask for help or advice, or "what can I do to support your marriage?" No.  We struggle on, and then everyone wonders what went wrong, "they were so happy", "they seemed perfect for each other", and the assumption is that there was something wrong with one or both of the partners in the marriage that caused it to fail. There is no culture of talking about marriage struggles and challenges, because we are all supposed to live "happily ever after".  If the church, friends and family don't think to, or aren't willing to consider supporting the marriage of the people they so encouraged and celebrated before and during the wedding then they shouldn't just be placing blame on the two partners of the marriage. 

Secondly, we should all care about marriage because it greatly benefits society. Google tells me (and you're welcome to check yourself) that married men are less likely to commit violent crimes and married women are less likely to be victims of violent crime, marriage has been shown to lead to better outcomes for children, married people have better physical and mental health, and marriage leads to better economic outcomes, as with any statistics we don't see the full picture here and I don't mean in any way to imply that my single friends might not be doing as well as me in life or indeed with their children, because I know that's not true, my emphasis is on the fact that we can reliable say that marriage is good for society and therefore there should be an interest in all of us to support and encourage marriage because it makes society better for all of us and not just the two individuals who are part of it. 

On our 14 year anniversary

So what's to be done?  I can't and don't expect for all my loved one to turn around and suddenly be making an effort to support my marriage, as I said, there is no culture in our society for doing this, no one knows how, but there are two things that I CAN do.  Firstly I can seek out support, I can ask for recommendations for books, and online courses, I can ask people what they do to nourish their own marriages, I can look to people whose marriages appear to thrive and ask them what their secret is.  Secondly I can be the change I wish to see in the world by asking how I can be a support and encouragement for the marriages of my friends and family I can ask the question "How are things in your marriage?" and hold a comfortable space for them to talk about any joys, problems worries or challenges.  I can share honesty about marriage and things that have worked for me, I can be open about the fact that marriage can sometimes be hard, needs to be worked on and isn't always a fairy tale.  Also I can keep in mind how I can one day support the marriages of my children.  One day I hope I can do this not just by offering childcare or money for meals out or nights away but by opening up a conversation about marriage, allowing space for my children to talk about any struggles they might be having without any sense of shame or blame, and to share what things have worked for me and my husband in our marriage.  

Do you have a joyful marriage?  What do you do to nourish your marriage?  I'd love to hear any books, courses or words of encouragement to help my marriage to thrive.  I want to make my marriage a joyful one, not just a muddling through one. 

Finally some encouragement for you, a quote, that I love from Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres:

Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your root was so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is.
Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being in love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.

Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.