Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4 NIV
Two weeks ago I took my first ever trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to attend the Festival of Faith and Writing, a gathering for Christian writers, bloggers, authors and poets at Calvin College. One speaker in particular that I hoped to connect with was the powerhouse that is Leslie Leyland Fields.
In real life Leslie lives with her family in Kodiak, Alaska, where they own a commercial fishing business. In the summer she leads writing retreats on a remote island that you only get to by bush plane. She has also managed over the years to raise her children, to write and teach workshops, to speak and inspire people around the world. Her life and work always point to Jesus.
Leslie just turned 60 but has the power and energy of someone much, much younger. I think she’d credit Jesus for a lot of that energy, but she also is blessed with kindness, graciousness and humility, all rare commodities these days.
Leslie took on a book project several years back as she was heading into the other side of 50–gathering women from all arenas and stages of life to talk about aging. She was looking for voices of women over 40. And 50. And 60. And 70. Luci Shaw, the oldest contributor, will be 90 this year. That immense undertaking became “The Wonder Years–40 Women Over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty and Strength” (Kregel Publications).
Aging is not for the thin-boned or the faint of heart. As we climb year by year, whether it’s a mountain or a ladder, we need to stop for a long moment and consider the view. We need to ask questions. Maybe we should even check our ladder. Leslie Leyland Fields
As I head into my 66th year this August, I am aware of the need for the world to hear from women of a certain age, writers and speakers who are sometimes overlooked. Where is a book that talks about aging gracefully that isn’t about face lifts and beauty products? We need the voices of older Christian women who can be examples of what to do (or give warnings about what n o t to do) as we walk this road of life with Jesus.
Leslie noticed this, too.
“Maybe we older women just want to be seen again,” she writes in the Introduction. I would concur. We have wisdom, experience and perspective, life lessons to offer those who will listen. We’ve also discovered that gravity is not the kindest force in the universe, which is why Leslie bought a leopard print push up bra when she turned 50. (More on that later.)
I met Leslie at the book launch party for The Wonder Years (photo of the readers group above) and told her I’d write a little something about the book. I sent 5 questions to ‘interview’ her in this space and she typed me back her answers. From Slovakia! After she’d been without her luggage for 5 days…After she’d been to South Africa. See what I mean? Persistent powerhouse.
Forthwith, a little something about “The Wonder Years–40 Women Over 40, On Aging, Faith, Beauty and Strength.”
1) Tell us a little about your journey to curate this book–what was the genesis of the idea to gather these writers?
When I turned 40, I started thinking seriously about what kind of old woman I wanted to become. I knew some elderly women I did NOT want to become! It seemed clear to me then that we either age intentionally with purpose, or we drift flesh-ily into the worst version of ourselves. I wanted to pursue this, but I was too busy to pursue this as a book. Then, blink and flash, I’m 50! Now I REALLY wanted this book that didn’t yet exist. This last year I turned 60, and here it is.
2) Forty Women Over 40 is a collection of essays grouped in 3 topics-Firsts, Lasts and Always. How or why did you choose these three topics?
When I thought of the kind of wisdom and experience we gain through the decades, it occurred to me that it could all be grouped into these three spaces: Firsts: the things we’ve done for the first time in our middle ages! (The point: middle age and older is the beginning, not the ending of our gifts, purpose and labors.) Lasts: the things we now have the wisdom to let go of. We don’t have to hold onto regret. Or anger. Or unforgiveness. Or perfection. We’re smart enough now to know how to lighten our load! Then, Always: So we begin new things; we let go of lesser things, then there are the rock-strong truths and values we will always cling to no matter what else time strips away, until death do us part: Love. Fun. Hope. Self-sacrifice. And much more.
3) When you spoke about the book at your launch party you mentioned it took 10 years to put together–what was the main reason it took so long? And did you ever want to give up?
I wanted to give up many times. Anthologies are much harder than they appear. I won’t give you a blow-by-blow account, but this book did take about 5 years to accomplish. And it’s my fourth anthology. So I kinda know the ropes. But there are many obstacles, including finding a publisher! Publishers don’t like anthologies because typically they don’t sell very well. And—I think there were a lot of men in those decisional positions who just didn’t get how starved we women are for role models ahead of us. Aging is not a joke. It’s real. The cultural messages about aging are pathetic. They’re self-serving, about entitlement and “you’re so worth it, baby!” And of course you are, but your neighbor is worth it too! Turning 50 or 60 or 70 doesn’t mean we quit the call to loving God and others so we can hang out at the spa all day, speaking our mind and having our nails done. Yes, all clichés, but this is what women’s magazines and media tell is our due. This is what our advancing years earn for us. And I have to say, “That’s it? that’s all you got? We older women have SO much to offer the world!” The Wonder Years is a lovely swift kick in that direction.
4) It’s probably not fair to ask, but do you have a favorite essay (or two) from the collection?
Yes, you’re right. That’s like asking which one of your kids is your favorite. Here’s what I’ll say. Check out the writers here who are publishing for the first time. We’re always attracted to the big names—-and I’m grateful for all of the well-known women in this book. They deserve their fame. But—-check out Martha Levitt’s essay, which will break your heart. Look at Michelle Novak, who will pierce you with the beauty and pain of her enabling disability. Read Vina Mogg’s piece on caring for her mother with Alzheimers. Heather Johnson on buying a horse farm and becoming an equestrian at close to 50. It’s a thrill to be the first to publish women like this who really have something significant to share. And—-yes, read them all! Each one has something important and beautiful to impart.
5) Last burning question–did you really buy a leopard print padded bra when you turned 50?
I’m glad you’re getting to the heart of the matter! Of course I did! I can’t make up that stuff! I am ridiculous! And I still wear that padded bra, but now I’ve got another one or two to round out the bra wardrobe. So many choices!