Somewhere between the memories of what has been and the hopes of what might be, we pause, take a deep breath, and wonder. Until that moment, we have charged forward, propelled by circumstances and opportunities toward what felt like a limitless beyond. We dreamed with abandon, fi rst on our own behalf and then on behalf of our children. “Anything is possible,” we told ourselves.
But now, as we pause in our middle years, we begin to see some boundaries. Optimism is tempered by realism. The wild dreams are no longer goals. The limitless hopes give way to quiet acceptance of facts. We begin to tally our wins and losses, and we assess that we have been more fortunate than most. “It’s not so bad,” we tell ourselves.
In the act of taking stock, we realize how much we have changed. We no longer abandon the past like a change of clothes. We pick it up, examine it, and hold it a little closer. And as we look forward, we do so with a bit of hesitation. We know from experience that the future is not always our friend.
It is in this parenthesis, this time of reflection, that we are so very vulnerable. We are now at a point of reevaluation. We are in a moment when, whether we realize it or not, our future will be marked by what we have come to believe.
Listen to the market, and you will learn what you must consume in order to continue to have value. Take vitamins, color your hair, and prop up your hormones. Do these things to stave off the inevitability of waking up to discover you are older.
But listen to your heart, and you will learn something else. You are softer, gentler, wiser, and calmer than you have ever been. You are emerging from the whirlwind of your youth and seeing the present more clearly. You are becoming more fully and completely who you were created to be.
If you listen carefully, you will hear a whisper. It is not the cacophony of advertisers telling you to hide your fi ne lines and wrinkles. It is something far more pervasive and subtle. It is a whisper that says you are being called to something new. It is a gentle voice that seems to say, “Ah, now I have your attention.” It is a voice that has been patiently waiting to speak truth you would be able to hear.
We are no longer in that part of life when we simply respond to parents, children, husbands, jobs, the PTA, and recycling schedules. We are not spending every single minute trying to keep everyone else happy. We are suddenly not so busy. In fact, we might even be feeling a little lonely. Where did all the noise and activity go? Where are all the people who once needed us? One day, we realize we are facing down the gaping abyss known as the second half of life.
If you are a Christian woman, as I am, and if you read the Bible, as I do, you may at some point begin to realize that if you listen hard enough, you hear something holy in that whisper. It is not a voice of doom but of promise. It is not about condemnation but about deliverance. It does not say that you are all washed up but that you are being baptized into a new life.
God, it turns out, doesn’t really care if we are sagging or graying or aching. He doesn’t care how much estrogen we have or whether our falling arches have moved us from stiletto heels to Birkenstocks. And here’s a hot fl ash for us all: in God’s economy, the fact that we are becoming less physically attractive may be just the way he wants us. God is mostly concerned with one aspect of us: our hearts. He wants them to be in tip-top shape. He wants them strong, responsive, and enthusiastic, even if he has to wait until we are eighty and looking back fondly on the days of fine lines and wrinkles. But it would be a shame if he had to wait that long!
A FLASH FROM THE PAST
Looking back at my twenties and thirties, I’m not sure how I did it. Much of those years are a blur, but the following particular thirty-six hours stands out in my memory.
The client called just as I was serving dinner. I cradled the phone against my ear as I served the peas. A last minute emergency. Really need you to attend an important meeting in Los Angeles tomorrow. My husband finished cutting our younger son’s meat while I grabbed a pencil and paper and took notes.
I had the flight schedules from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles memorized because I flew the route so often. I knew I could catch the 7 a.m. flight, rent a car, and be at the client’s office by late morning. “No problem,” I told the client, who promised to fax me information I could review on the flight. We finished dinner, I put the boys to bed, and then I called the airline and the rental car company.
I booked a morning flight and a red-eye return flight for the next day. I’d meet with the client all afternoon, drive back to the airport, and fl y through the night. If all went well, I’d be back in time to drive carpool the following day. I went to bed and set my alarm for five hours later in order to get up and catch the flight. I’d try to catch a nap on the plane.
The airplane was somewhere over the Midwest when I remembered: I was room mother for my older son’s class, and they were having a St. Patrick’s Day party the next day. If I ended up staying overnight, they wouldn’t have decorations. Thank heavens for overnight deliveries! After renting a car in Los Angeles, I drove to a mall, filled a box with green party decorations, and then stopped at a Federal Express office. I scribbled the teacher’s name and the school address on the box and checked the square to be sure it was delivered first thing in the morning. Just in case I had to stay over, I’d still fulfill my duties as room mother.
It all worked out. The meeting went well, and the client launched a new project with my company. The flight back arrived too late for me to drive carpool, but my husband filled in, as he often did. The decorations were hand-delivered to the school, not by me but by a man in a uniform. I drove to the office from the airport, did several hours of work, and then went home, cooked dinner, and went to bed as soon as my children fell asleep.
Looking back on those days, I can only think I was out of my mind. But at the time, I really thought I had it figured out. I was running a company, traveling so often that the people at the airport knew me by name, driving carpool, cooking (or at least thawing) dinner, and taking my turn as room mother, among many other responsibilities. My life was whizzing by at such a fast pace that I’m not sure I appreciated much of it. I did have help, though. My husband deserved a medal for taking on so much, we had a regular baby-sitter who was always on call, and I had a terrific and energetic staff who were willing to jump in on any project, personal or professional.
If you had asked, and if I had found the time to reflect at all, I might have said that I felt called to each of my roles.
I loved being a mom. And being a good mom meant taking my turn driving carpool and being a room mother. I was the owner of a company and had a dozen people depending on me for their incomes. I had several clients, each with compelling missions that drove their organizations. I was also a wife, daughter, church member, and board director. I did not understand how my own needs and addictions propelled me forward, nor did I realize that every opportunity was not necessarily a calling.
As it is for many women, the first half of my life was centered on family. But I was also part of the generation that believed we could have it all, and many of us just about killed ourselves trying. We worked because doors opened to us for the first time, because we had been well educated and encouraged not to “waste” our education, and because the lifestyle we wanted to live required the income from two careers. We had been given choices at the great buffet of life, and many of us decided to take “one of each.”
Bob Buford has helped many men make the transition into the second half of life through his books Halftime and Game Plan.1 I’ve read both books and have learned a great deal from them. Anyone who has been very career-focused in the first half of life will benefit from Bob’s wisdom and encouragement.
One of Bob’s themes is that we must move “from success to significance” in the second half of life. I can’t count the number of men who have quoted that phrase to me with something like awe at how well it sums up their desire.
Rich Stearns, the current president of World Vision, and Chris Crane, the president of Opportunity International, are two men who left extremely successful business careers to become heads of ministries. I have heard each of these men admit that they consider themselves to be examples of individuals who heard a godly call in that direction.
But there is something about that phrase—“from success to significance”—that does not quite relate to most women I know in the same way. Most of us, whether career-oriented or not, found significance in the first half of our lives in relationships. Nothing about my career or other activities holds a candle to how I feel about being a wife and mother. Few of us experience either the satisfaction or heartache over work that we invest in our children or our other relationships.
Something else is going on with women, I’m convinced. God may be calling men from success to significance, but I believe he is calling women to something not only significant but far more revolutionary—and possibly less definable. He wants more of us—and less. He wants us to know that the best is not behind us. God is calling us from others to him. He wants more of us than we can even imagine because he wants to do more through us than we could possibly know.
I believe God has a special purpose for women in the second half of life that is world-changing in its scope. If we can understand what God is calling us to and can turn away from those voices calling us to stay attached to our youth, we will be given a power and purpose beyond anything we have experienced.
For twenty-one years, I have been meaning to put our family photos into a proper photo album instead of keeping them in the dozens of boxes that have accumulated and spilled out of the cabinet next to the television. Before our sons leave home for good, I want each of them to have an album of memories. This photo album project has become a labor of love.
Now that I am no longer running to games every weekend or standing watch over homework, I have time to actually take in all those days that once rushed by us. I have time to look through all the boxes of photos, searching the faces of the boys at each birthday party to see big smiles and occasional pouts. Our vacation photos show us looking young, happy, and relaxed.
My husband and I are sitting in the family room as I sort through two decades of snapshots. Every few minutes, I interrupt my husband’s reading and hand him a photo. Chase, looking in terror at the clown we had hired to entertain him and his friends on his birthday. Tyler, mugging for the camera, already showing signs of the actor he will become. More than twenty years of family life. Sometimes my husband chuckles as I show him a snapshot. Sometimes he smiles sadly, like when I discover the picture of his father sitting with his uncle and our two boys sitting in front of them.
Granddad Bourke and Uncle Bill have both passed away. Our little boys are now men. Our older son, Chase, is twenty-one as I write, a legal adult, living away at college. His seventeen-year-old brother, Tyler, who has shoulders as wide as the doorway, is upstairs doing his homework and preparing to take his SAT exam. He’ll be leaving for college soon. There is no doubt that they are no longer little boys.
Time has passed faster than we can even comprehend. It was a crazy life, but it was a good life. I could have baked more cakes from scratch, spent more time reading bedtime stories, and created better holiday decorations.
But I don’t have any huge regrets. The first half of my life was a whirl of activity, a series of new projects, a bustle of anticipation. I never seemed to have enough time, although I now marvel at all the things I felt I had to do. I was in such a hurry to build a résumé, add to our savings account, get my sons on the right track, find the perfect vacation spot, and be the best at every role I took on.
I am working on the photo books when it strikes me: I was in a hurry to get here. All of those hectic, crazy days brought me to where I am now. If a client called me today and asked me to be in Los Angeles tomorrow, I would just laugh.
There was all that noise then, and now there’s so much silence. And in that silence, perhaps a sense that God is calling us to him. He has waited patiently as we raised children, built a résumé, and scurried about building our lives. He has always been there, of course, but most of us fit him in around all the other aspects of our lives. Then we come to a point when something is different. We naturally fear the sense of loss. As we realize that we have decades ahead of us, we also begin to wonder how to fill them. What will we do?
Here’s what I am learning: God wants us to spend the second half of our lives worrying less about what we do and more about who we become. He wants to turn our lives upside down and use us in magnificent, unexpected, world-changing ways. He is mobilizing an army of women who have unprecedented health, wealth, and education. He is calling us to step up to the challenge and to leave the past behind.
The psychologist Carl Jung observed, “But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning—for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening be a lie.”2
If you are in or approaching the second half of your life, this book is for you. It contains no beauty tips or slimming secrets. It does not contain any advice on facelifts, liposuction, or tummy tucks. You can do all or none of those things, and it really doesn’t matter. This is about heart work. God is calling you to build spiritual muscle, to develop a résumé of soul work, to fi nd peace and joy like you have never known. God wants to take you on an adventure unlike anything you have ever dreamed. “He will whisper to us not in the mad rush and fever of our striving and our fi erce determination to be someone,” wrote Emilie Griffi n, “but rather when we are content to rest in him, to put ourselves into his keeping, into his hands.”3
HAVING IT ALL
I was sitting on an elevated stage, one of ten women between the ages of forty-five and seventy. We were here to talk about lessons we learned about “having it all.” The other panelists were all very accomplished women: a judge, a partner in a major law firm, the owner of a television station. We were attending a four-day event that brought people together from all over the country and from various backgrounds to talk about everything from international security risks to spiritual lessons. Panels were assigned, and I wondered why I was on this one. Everyone else seemed so much more accomplished, so much better at really having it all. I felt like an imposter.
But then the stories began to emerge. The businesswoman whose breast cancer gave her a new appreciation for life. The “perfect mother” who became an accomplished artist after her children left home. The television producer who nurtured her love of gardening into a second career. The engineer whose husband had become an ambassador and who now made a career of hosting receptions and representing her country.
We all had stories. No matter what we had done in the first half of life, we saw the second half differently. It didn’t matter if we had been homemakers or judges. We each, in our own way, felt a call to something different in the second half of life. Some had reached that conclusion through trauma, such as illness, divorce, or the death of a loved one. Others simply described it as an awakening. Said one woman, “I woke up one day and wondered what I had been thinking all those years.” I don’t know how much the audience appreciated our musings, but we all had a great time.
When the session was over, we stayed on the platform and talked to each other until they chased us out of the room so the next session could start. Our paths might never have crossed in the fi rst half of our lives. But where we stood, at the dawning of the second half, we had everything in common.
A SECOND-HALF WOMA N
Naomi would have fi t right in with the group of women on that platform—Naomi from the Book of Ruth in the Old Testament, that is. I had begun to study her a few months before, learning from her example as a woman whom God had used to accomplish his will. I had developed a certain kinship with Naomi I had never before experienced with a biblical character.
Naomi is the archetypal second-half-of-life woman. When we meet her in the Book of Ruth, she is firmly planted in midlife. She has gone from a full first half of life to an empty future. Life is so bad that she announces she was changing her name to Mara, which means “bitter.” But God called Naomi in midlife, just as he called me and is calling you. He promised her something more than she had ever imagined if she would trust him in the second half of her life. She did, and despite losing her entire family, the story ends as she is called the grandmother of baby Obed, who later becomes the grandfather of David.
Naomi became part of the greatest story ever told, not because of what she did in the fi rst half of her life but because of what God did through her in the second half. In a few short chapters of the Bible, she moves from tragedy to miraculous victory and an ending far beyond anything Naomi would have written for herself.
A MODERN NAOMI
General Claudia Kennedy was the first woman to achieve the rank of three-star general in the U.S. Army. She is attractive, feminine, and tough. She was successful in a man’s world at a time when it wasn’t popular to be a woman in the military, moving up the ranks to become Deputy Chief of Staff for Army Intelligence.
When Claudia retired at fifty-three, she officially entered the second half of her life. No more uniforms, orders, or mess halls. But she also lost the camaraderie of the military and the community from which she drew friends. “Getting involved with Opportunity International saved my life,” she says.
After speaking at an event for the Christian microfinance organization, she became more involved in the ministry, visiting the Dominican Republic and seeing women who had received small loans pulling themselves out of poverty. Claudia now spends much of her time speaking on behalf of the organization and using her military intelligence background to help explain why we should “make peace” by helping people find economic freedom. “If you had told me I would be doing something like this ten years ago, I would have laughed,” she says. “But in many ways, this is the most meaningful thing I have ever done in my life. It’s not a career so much as a calling.”
I can’t imagine under what circumstances I would have ever met a general during my first fifty years or what I would have said to one if I had. But I think of Claudia as a friend, not because of her great accomplishments in the first half of life but because of her open heart today. We both care deeply about the poor of the world, especially women who have never had the same opportunities we experienced.
Our paths would never have crossed in the first half of life, yet we share so much in this season. Our pasts have brought us to a place where our résumés gather dust and our accomplishments are only experiences and memories. Claudia and other women I know are interested in changing the world in a different way.
My friend Emily doesn’t have the luxury of contemplating retirement. She’s the single mother of an adult daughter and must support herself. We’ve known each other for years and once spent much of our time talking about the latest news in the publishing world. But now Emily and I seem to spend more of our time talking about other things. Even though she works full time, Emily also volunteers at the local hospital, helping parents of chronically ill children. She is especially good at this, because twenty-five years ago, she was one of those parents. Emily feels called to spend much of her free time helping parents who are suffering through this difficult time, partially because she understands their pain and partially because it helps her honor the memory of the infant daughter she lost. I have no doubt that her support and counsel to those parents is some of the most significant work Emily has ever done. Emily is one of the most empathetic people I know because the pain she suffered in the first half of her life didn’t make her bitter, but it taught her how to comfort others.
A second calling isn’t about something you do but about someone you become. It is the belief that the best is yet to come, and it will probably look very different than anything that has come before. It is faith that God’s call is not just for the young but for the faithful. It is the confidence that what we can do through God is more than we can imagine accomplishing on our own. Your second calling doesn’t necessarily build your résumé, but it builds your soul.
In this book, you’ll read more about Naomi because her life is evidence that God wants to tell a story through us as well. And you’ll meet more women like Claudia and Emily —bright, energetic women who are embracing the second half of life with passion and purpose. Mostly, I hope you will also meet yourself through this book. Not the woman you have been, but the woman God is calling you to be.
If that sounds frightening, remember the words of Isaiah 43:18–19: “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.”