Messy, bloody, and inconvenient. From seventh grade beginnings to 52-year-old endings. That 40-year journey was often so … earthy. Yet, there was potential in each month. My body was ready, willing, and able to partner with God to create life! Menstruating was a reminder that I was a part of creating. I was not in control. My body was a part of some bigger rhythm; like spring, summer, fall, and winter. And then it ended. Summer became fall.
Now, a new journey started. Until you have a hot flash, you can’t imagine this new full-body takeover. It begins with slight discomfort. “I think I’ll take off my sweater.” “Is it hot in here?” Often an angsty feeling joins the fray. Sometimes in the night, angst awakens one and is the first indicator. “Why did I say that today?” “Are all my people safe?” “Oh my gosh, what’s that noise?” Worst of all is when a hot flash is triggered by a stressful moment. It is like adding fuel to fire; one more thing to manage. And then the discomfort of spirit and body morph into heat. I’m so hot! What can I take off at this moment? In bed at night, the answer is, Everything! One wakes up naked and disheveled, sheets and blankets all akimbo. Five minutes, sometimes ten to endure, and then a cold clammy feeling remains. Sweat that cooled now chills a bit. Managed until next time. And so it goes. For me, I’m up three to five times in the night and manage ten hot flashes or so each day. Fifty-thousand hot flashes later, I think I have something to say about menopause.
Hot flashes alone aren’t the sum of the story.
In the very midst of those moments are the moments of saying goodbye. Often long and painful goodbyes to parents. So many goodbyes to kids. Off to college, off to study abroad, off to marry, off to establish their own families, and off to live plane rides away. Gone, emptied out with an empty house. A bigger goodbye is to the role one has played for so many years. Doors that were wide open to us now have tilted close. I am not the mom running around busy children. S.A.T.’s, drivers’ licenses, graduation parties, ski vacations with our teenage kids—gone. Starting something new like seminary kept me in the fray a bit longer than most. Working in my husband’s medical practice also gave me a station in life.
And then there’s the wear and tear of my own body. There are new ways of getting up and down from the ground. Movements that one takes for granted in their summer season are more purposeful these days. I push up from the ground with a fist instead of an open hand to protect arthritic thumbs. I practice a good bounce before I can mount my horse. These days it’s all about core strength and primal movements; pushing, pulling, bending, lunging, rotating, and forward movement. I can walk, but I’m not running far these days. I’m accepting what is gone forever and cultivating what I want to strengthen. I’m taking time to practice and learn these things anew which were once intuitive.
Intimacy with my spouse also has new dimensions. We lean on each other a bit more because we are learning that there are limits aging is placing on us. I see some at this stage who are weary of their spouse and the years of games they have played. As new needs loom ahead they are ill-equipped. They are weary of the pretense, but not prepared to make big changes. Wrongly attributed to Thoreau, but rightly stated, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and die with their song still inside them.” Those that haven’t sung in the spring and summer of their marriage are less likely to sing in fall and winter. Learning a duet with unpractised voices is too hard for many.
What remains after those tasks and identities change?
Deep intimacy. With God, with my spouse, and with myself. This is the season to be done with my own fragilities and step into a new role of presence in this world.
Deep intimacy with God: My rootedness in prayer was often a posture of petitioning. It is now a position of presence. I’m listening much more these days than telling. It is not that I do not have something to say to God. We have health needs that surface and rock our tidy ship. We have friendships lost and a weariness toward cultivating new ones. Being with God in peace and presence is a newer posture. Being with God as a mighty warrior is also my calling. John Eldredge maintains these three truths:
- Things are not what they seem. Therefore I need eyes of faith.
- There is a battle going on. Therefore I need to be battle ready.
- I have an important role to play. Therefore I need to follow God’s lead in this. Sometimes it is action. That action, however, begins with deep abiding. Action, when needed, is a natural overflow of holy grounding.
Deep intimacy with my spouse: Knowing each other for almost 40 years can have its blessings and curses. “You always” and “you never” can easily slide off one’s tongue. Peri-menopausal women can take offense so easily. Post-menopausal women can just give up trying in relationships. I am choosing to invest more. I stop by my husband’s office more these days, just to give a pause to the busy day and check-in. We both enjoy that. We pray together most mornings. We nap together on weekends. We go for walks. Deep intimacy is a deep knowing that goes hand in hand with humility and gentle acceptance.
Deep intimacy with myself: Menopause becomes a vantage point; a time to take stock.
- What have I been carrying around for too long that I need to release?
- What one way does God want to give me new eyes to see more clearly?
- What are the things I will never understand and leave with God?
- What are the new ways I am to “sing my song” and refine my squeaky voice?
- How do I loosen my grip on the things that matter less and carefully, lovingly embrace what God’s given to me?
For me, menopause is truly a “pause” as we currently understand the word—a vantage point from which to choose where I will next engage. This pause is God’s invitation to consider. As I take stock, a song emerges: Gratefulness for God’s care and presence. Gratefulness that I will never be alone. Gratefulness that he carries my concerns and knows my heart.
Toward the end of my mother’s life, she sat at my breakfast table and declared, “Sometimes you just live too long.” This coming from a woman who loved life and drank deeply of all it had to offer. She was tired; she knew her end was coming. What I was able to give her was comfort, and a word that if God had given us this day to live, he would give us the strength to live it. A comforting pause, a clarification of calling—that is the invitation of menopause and beyond. Fall has its own beauty as it drifts into winter.