40

Here I am with my mother and my mother’s mother. I am okay with these genes.

Today, I turn 40.

I don’t particularly remember the year I turned 10, though if I were slightly less lazy, I’d go out to the garage, pull out my childhood diaries, and reflect on the similarities and differences of adult and child Sarah.

The year I turned 20, I was deeply depressed. The year I turned 30, I had a newborn. So this is the first “0” birthday in a while in which I have felt clear-headed and capable of reflection.

Turning 40 was supposed to be a really big deal. This was the last-stop year my high-school friend Matt and I picked as the one we’d get married if neither of us had done that by now (we both have). I thought I should mark the occasion with a 40 day trip, or 4 ten-day trips, maybe to Europe and South America, to cities and countries I’ve longed to visit but have never quite been able to get to.

But this was the year my kid needed braces. And the year I started spending more money taking care of myself on a regular basis. And the year I realized two of our animals are getting pretty old. So, an extravagant trip was out of the question.

This was also the year I took a real break from work, a five-week vacation, after decades of never taking more than a week or two off at a time (and those not being exactly restorative). It’s been the year of re-discovering how much I like my nuclear family, after fifteen years of living across a continent from them. It’s been the year of watching my kid start to develop into the kind of human who will love God and others, set and meet goals, and take brave risks. It’s been the year of seeing my husband build a business and a livelihood on his own terms. And it’s been the year that three people, three peers, who we were close to at different times of our lives, have died…far too early.

We grew food this year. We met with an accountant and our financial advisor. We kept up with laundry and dishes and meal planning and appointments. We had family dinners, morning coffee and chats with my dad; took a road trip to see my grandmother, uncle, and sister in Boise; showed Giehl’s parents the coast and mountains of Oregon. Went on hikes and bike rides and for swims. It’s been a year of pretty ordinary things, which I am finally starting to see as extraordinary.

I’ll mark the actual day of my fortieth birthday (today) by drinking coffee, doing the Sunday crossword (it’s a board game theme! so fun!), going to the gym, and playing piano at tonight’s worship service. This would have been my Grandpa Clyde’s 99th birthday, had he not also died way too young. So, I’ll also spend some time feeling grateful for the family who made me. It’ll be a pretty mundane day without much by way of orchestrated pomp. No breakfast-in-bed or fancy dinners or elaborate surprises.

But that’s okay. Everyday is okay. Mundane is hard and extraordinary and beautiful, if we let it be.

For a long time, I think I carried a lot of anxiety about my life, about its impact. I wanted to do good in the world, to make the world a better place, to make a difference. I’ve written books and am helping to start a nonprofit that may fundamentally change the way the church thinks about animal creatures. I think I was afraid that me, just being me, wasn’t enough, wasn’t good enough. And truthfully, this is still a daily struggle. But it’s changing. Easing. Being replaced with a (slightly…ohsoslightly) increased ability to breathe.

I don’t know what the next decade will hold. I’m still determined to backpack around the world for months on end. And I’m still determined to do what I can to foster a world “on earth, as it is in heaven.” But I’m starting to realize that one of the most powerful ways I can do that, and one of the most rewarding, is to simply try to love the people and other creatures around me well, to do what OA tried to teach me so long ago: “what I can, when I can.”

I’m going to fail a lot at that, so apologies in advance for the days and weeks I anxiously steamroll over whatever obstacle is in my path.

Here’s some good advice for this decade from Walt (Whitman, not Disney), courtesy of the wise and wonderful abby:

“This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning god, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem…”

Amen.

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The Past is the Present

Eduardo Galeano’s reminder to my younger self in Open Veins of Latin America is difficult: “Slave ships no longer ply the ocean. Today the slavers operate from the ministries of labor. African wages, European prices.” (279) It is true that I cannot change the past. What I can try to do is give my raced-as-white-euro-american-blond-haired-green-eyed son a lens through which to look at the world that acknowledges the depressing realities of the past and the hope for a reconciled future that we are offered when we join with others to follow Jesus.

The Liberating Mission of Jesus

English: poverty

Dario Lopez Rodriguez’s The Liberating Mission of Jesus is about crossing the many kinds of boundaries created by thousands of years of colonization, spiritual segregation, and economic exploitation. Though the gospel of Luke gives Christians a clear guide for doing so through the words and actions of Jesus, my Christian ancestors presumably failed to love their neighbors and enemies alike, or to stand with the marginalized (unless I come from magnificently rebellious and revolutionary stock). As a result, I was born into a position of privilege – the member of a family who always had a roof over their head; in a city and state that provided me with quality, free education; in a country that was comfortable and safe enough to develop a prosperous market for hundreds of television channels mostly devoted to “reality” TV or home shopping.

 

I struggle with whether to shrug off that privilege or to use it for good, particularly in a world where “public servants” so often formulate the plans and policies that serve only themselves and other powerful people – they act as kurioi, not douloi. Can I use my privilege without abusing another? I can try. But the hard truth is that it is a lot easier for me to serve the “other” that I cannot see than the “other” right in front of me. So, in my work life, I succeed at urging and advocating for those like me to cross boundaries and create transformation, but do not ask my neighbor, who talks a lot and smokes and frequently smells like urine, how I can meet his needs.