In the corner of my hairline, right at my part, little white hairs sprout like dandelion weeds after a rainstorm. They’re a reminder that I’m not as young as I used to be and how the last few years have taken a toll on my body. I let them be for now, mostly because I have no desire or energy to do otherwise and perhaps because I’m curious about the process of aging – particularly of being middle-aged.
I am now the age of many of the deacons and deaconesses of the church I grew up in. They were my friends’ parents, the leaders in the church, the faithful ones who showed up and served the children’s and youth ministry in any way they could. From my teenage and early 20s vantage point, they seemed old and wise, as if they instinctively knew how to do it all – how to be an adult, how to make the best decisions, how to lead well, how to raise kids. I knew they weren’t perfect, but they at least seemed confident in how they carried themselves.
But from where I sit today, I wonder if they were neither old nor confident. Maybe they were just trying to make it through another day of navigating English as a second language. As immigrants, they had left whole lives, families, and communities to start fresh in a new country, and perhaps they were simply figuring their lives out one crisis at a time. Maybe what I perceived as “old” was simply exhaustion on their faces or the symptoms of trauma in their bodies. And maybe what I saw as “confidence” was a facade to cover their doubts and shame and insecurities, so as not to crumble in public or in front of their children. They were neither young nor old; they were just middle-aged and trying their best.
Despite their imperfections and mistakes and even the trauma they passed on, one line of hope I can pull out and read clearly is how they really tried to love well. It was often through food – in the assortment of banchan (Korean side dishes) in the fridge or the consistently delicious bowl of soup and rice after church service every Sunday. It was asking us if we’d eaten anytime they saw us and offering us whatever piece of candy or cracker they found in their purse. It was driving us to all the places we needed to be and had to go to play sports or hang out with friends. It was even nagging us to put on a jacket when the weather was chilly or yelling at us to be careful or bringing an extra pair of just about anything we might need, just in case.
Their love was wonky at times, but it was also fierce, and I feel that fierceness in me now too. I also feel the exhaustion and anxiety of trying to manage my own life while raising little humans. I experience, in a small way, the disconnect of language between one generation and another in the meaning and choice of words, though I have the ease and comfort of having the same mother tongue as my children. I also carry bandaids and cough drops and baby wipes in my bag and car for all the just-in-cases. And with the privilege of not having to survive every day, I have the freedom to be both grown-up and childlike. I get to hold the wonder, the gravity, and the responsibility of forming and creating a world for the next generation in a way the generation before me may not have had the bandwidth to do.
But in everything I do, I must remember that love must be the through line. And it needs to be the kind of love that’s real, transformative, the kind that lasts. As 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us, anything we do and anything we are amounts to nothing if we don’t have love. We see that theme woven back and forth throughout the whole Bible and especially in the life of Jesus. Jesus was love made flesh, love embodied. As I think about how to live this middle-aged life stage well, how to create a world for the next generation that would generate flourishing, I remember how Jesus lived out 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 –
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
I want to be like Him. I feel the weighty importance of loving like Jesus, particularly now, when I’m needing to care for generations on either side of me, when I’m mentoring our church youth kids and the young adults in my life, when I’m seeing time pass too quickly and recognizing how precious every moment is with my family and friends.
One day, this life stage will pass, so for the time being, while I’m still here, I’m trying my best to let love be the throughline.