Thirty years ago, I was driving down the road with my daddy. Even though I was a little girl, I was in the front seat because, well, that’s how we did things back then and there were no such things as boosters after the toddler years. It was a rare moment for this middle-of-five child to have with her daddy, all alone, and I remember my heart feeling like it was about to burst. Daddy was feeling good, too. I didn’t understand why at the time, but it was a good season for him—he was a pilot in the Air Force, a squadron commander at his last flying assignment, and stationed at the base where he and Mamma had spent some super fun times as newlyweds. It was a sweet couple of years for him and I could sense it.
Daddy was a man of few words, so I was filling the silence in the car (where were we going? I don’t remember and it didn’t seem to matter!) with my 10-year-old ramblings. Finally, after having run out of stories for him, I sighed happily, leaning back into the bench seat of the old station wagon. I looked over at him, his eyes focused on the road, his mind singularly focused on his task as always. The sun was shining brightly, matching my mood, and I remember never wanting it to set, never wanting the moment or the day to end. I was overwhelmed with admiration for this man I loved so much. I wanted to tell him, but I wasn’t sure how, so I complimented him with the first thing that came to mind.
Daddy, I like how your eyes wrinkle at the corners when you smile!
Daddy’s head snapped out of its steady posture and he uncharacteristically looked into the rearview mirror, moving it with his right hand to get a better look. He forced a smile so he could see these wrinkles. He didn’t say a word, but I sensed that my well-meaning compliment wasn’t taken as intended. That maybe those wrinkles I admired so much, those wrinkles that represented happiness and joy to me, represented something unhappy to him.
I started noticing similar things with Mamma, too, like how mad she was when her friends threw her a surprise over-the-hill party for her 40th birthday. She pretended to like it, but I could see the flash in her eyes, and she had a lot of sharp retorts for the jokes that the party guests made.
My parents couldn’t have known then that they only had 10 more years to live. I sometimes wonder if their perspectives about eye wrinkles and turning 40 would have been different if they had known.
I remember sitting on a grassy lawn with Kara at a baptism party shortly after her diagnosis had become terminal. She was fighting for joy, fighting for time. Some women wandered over and we chatted for a bit. One lady’s appearance was complimented and she responded with a self-deprecating remark about the fine lines around her eyes. After she walked away, Kara turned to me with tears falling. I pray I will live long enough to have laugh lines. I will never complain about wrinkles. I would love to have wrinkles.
We talked that day about her turning 40. Oh, how she wanted to live to be 40! That conversation was agonizing. She seemed so well that afternoon, and I couldn’t imagine her not living that long—it was only a few short years away. I prayed with all my heart that God would grant her this one small thing. I laughed to myself about the party she would throw herself and the hundreds of people who would attend. How loud and raucous she would be, praising God for sparing her to 40.
Of course, that party never happened, that day never arrived. We did have a celebration for her last birthday, and we celebrated with great joy, but my heart had an underlying sadness, knowing it was likely her last birthday on earth.
This morning I did a double take after washing my hands and catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I have to admit I’m not one to analyze my face much—I’m lucky to get my teeth brushed and my hair pulled back before running to get my son to kindergarten in the mornings. Then I’m back to ready my daughter for preschool and once she’s gone, I have just enough time for yoga, time in the Word, and some housework before my babies come home. And, again, if I’m lucky I can shower or at least change out of my yoga pants before Aaron gets home from work.
But this morning…that double take…You know what prompted it? The sight of laugh lines when I wasn’t laughing. They stopped me in my tracks and I curiously stepped back to the mirror to take a better look. I smiled and then relaxed my face. Smile, relax. Yes, those were for sure laugh lines. I thought back to my conversation with Daddy. I am the same age he was when I pointed out those crinkles I admired so much, the same age as Mamma when her friends celebrated her milestone, much to her chagrin, the age that Kara desperately wanted to achieve.
What’s in an age? Not much except the opportunity to experience God’s grace each day he’s blessed us to live. I’m 40 years old, and I’ve got those laugh lines Kara wanted. And you know, they aren’t all from laughing, because I’m pretty sure I earned many of them from crying, too. But that’s the thing—I earned those lines. Every day I’ve been on this earth, laughing or crying, fighting to trust God and to believe his love for me, seeking grace in my grief and in the mundane, those lines have crept onto my human face made of clay, proving the great effort and tender frailty of being a mere mortal.
And I wouldn’t trade that fragility or those battles of fighting for grace for anything because they have just brought me that much closer to God’s lavish love. And those wrinkles? Well, friends, they are my proof, my battle scars in this war for accepting his grace for my broken heart. Won’t you join me in this bittersweet battle, crinkles and all?