Ten years ago, I wrote a blog entitled, “A Cheerleader Looks at Fifty.” The name of the post was inspired by Jimmy Buffett’s song, “A Pirate Looks at Forty.” The only thing my title and the song have in common is a play on words. Buffett’s song is dark, as he sings about a life wasted, wanting to be a pirate two-hundred years too late. The wanna-be-pirate he sings about seems to have lived a life of bad choices and regret.
As I turn sixty in a few days, I am full of reflection, reviewing my time, and hoping that overall, it’s been well-spent. In the sense of not having much in common with Jimmy Buffett’s song, these days I have very little in common with that cheerleader of forty-something years ago. My family might testify that I can still yell really loud, and hopefully they recognize that in a quieter, not always noticeable way, I also cheer for them from the sidelines of their lives.
As far as still being the perky, outgoing, confidant cheerleader from decades ago, I’m not so sure.
While I still feel young, I mentally don’t feel I could possibly be a sexagenarian (which is a crazy name in itself). I’ve attempted over the last few weeks to put my thoughts in some sort of perspective, but to no avail. I definitely don’t want to draw attention to all the ways I am not the same NHS Dragon cheerleader of the late 70s and early 80s. But maybe I can dispense some wisdom, advice, and life lessons to the younger whippersnappers who might possibly be reading this.
The other day, I had to run an errand during lunch. I work in the same district where we lived thirty years ago. Each time I drive into Overton (where there is a Dairy Queen, two Dollar Stores, a grocery store, multiple gas stations, and a train that sometimes leaves you stranded if you’re on the wrong side of the tracks) I drive by the house where we lived several decades ago. Many days I might not notice it as I pass by. Other days I might remember moments from my kids’ younger years, and smile.
The other day, the one thought I had as I stared at the circle drive in front of the house was this: “That’s the last place I saw Dad.”
Thirty years after his death, I can be moved to tears when I think about him. And on this recent day, it was no different. I imagined him walking out to his truck, waving good bye, and driving away. If you’ve read my memoir Mockingbird Moments, (click here to order a copy) , you might remember the story about the last time I saw my father.
I was seven-and-a-half months pregnant, expecting my second son, and Christopher was two-and-a-half. Dad came up for the weekend to help us move into our new house. Saturday night was the Homecoming Dance at school, and I had to chaperone.
When Dad was leaving, we stood at the door saying our goodbyes. He hugged me, and when he did, I felt a shiver—it was a strange sensation, and in that moment I thought, “This is the last time I’ll see Dad.” I quickly shirked off such an unwelcome thought/feeling, and opted not to tell him I loved him, because I didn’t say that on ordinary days, one habit I’ve thankfully changed.
Ten days later, my father suddenly died. So many times, I wish I had shared the life-changing experience/premonition I had just days before. I was afraid people would think I was crazy-house-crazy. I wish I had told someone simply because I now understand it was a message from God, in preparation for what was to come. I believe this with all my heart. God was trying to nudge me to let my dad know how much he meant to me.
If I’ve learned anything over the sixty years I’ve been around, it’s to live in the present. Don’t look forward, questioning or worrying about what the future holds; don’t look back wondering how you could have done things differently. The present is your gift. Unwrap each day carefully. Make it all count. Don’t go to bed angry. Tell the people you love that you love them. Laugh. Cry. Think. Do. And when God gives you a nudge, act on it.
I have lived two lives: The thirty years with my dad, and the thirty years after. Each part has shaped me.
The first years were mostly light and carefree. I learned, and experienced, and created. The second thirty years have been more of a struggle. I had to give up the idea of a perfect life. I was forced to move forward, even though my heart was left behind. I didn’t know how to grieve, and that cost me years of freedom. But in those years, I also learned, experienced and created. The difference is how I looked at life—the old glass half-full, glass half-empty metaphor.
As my birthday draws near, I can look back with happiness, pride, joy, love, and relief. I survived! I’ve been given another day! And now I know that in a glass-half-empty-world I can live like my glass is half-full—actually, overflowing.
For those of you struggling with life, because it can be so hard, hang in there. That may seem simplistic, but it’s what we have to do. We have to keep going. Keep praying. Keep doing. As a person who works in mental health (school counselor), I am ever thankful that the stigma that was once attached to depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders, is gaining real attention. It is a real issue and affects more people than we know.
I feel things very deeply. I’m not bragging about this. In fact, most of the time I think it’s a curse. I have a difficult time understanding why the world is the way it is. I am idealistic to a fault. I want to save everyone, yet I haven’t always been able to save myself from the hardships and sadness that comes with this world.
I have lived a portion of my life not really living my life. As I look back, I was depressed, I just didn’t know it. I thought it was how everyone felt after a loss. My depression wasn’t something I outwardly wore. I hid it every single day, as I put on a happy face, and did whatever needed to be done. I made it through the days, and prayed during the nights that I might feel real joy again. That I might live my life in the present and let go of the past. I didn’t want to let go of my memories, or my experiences, or the lessons learned; I wanted to embrace that part of my life. However, I had to learn to set myself free from the perfection, the expectations, the pressures of doing all things well. Through love, loss, and letting go, I have become a sixty-year-old woman who knows her worth. I am beautifully and wonderfully made. I am a daughter of the King.
So as a sixty-year-old cheerleader, I have put my pom poms away, along with my megaphone, uniform, and saddle oxfords. But this girl still has a lot to cheer about. I have a wonderful family, dear friends, a great job with outstanding co-workers, and of course, my precious dog, Lorelai.
I have lived an incredible life. I have tried my best, making plenty of mistakes along the way. I have loved fiercely, and laughed loudly, and prayed hard. And through it all, I’ve never given up. These are the things I hope to keep doing. These are the things I hope will make up my legacy.
So, here’s to sixty years of family, friends, and fresh beginnings each day.
Thank you all for adding sunshine to my life.
And thank you Lord, for the life you’ve given me. I hope I’ve spread kindness, made a difference, and loved big.
As a sixty-year-old cheerleader, I’ve traded my saddle oxfords for a pair of Hokas. I no longer need a megaphone–I’ve found my voice. I lift my hands high, with no need for pom poms; I am filled with the spirit. I cheer because there is victory in Jesus. With Him, you always win.
And who needs birthday cake? The Lord is my portion.
*Disclaimer-some say it should be spelled pom pons, but to me, “pom poms” just looks better.*