It’s said that telling our stories matters because sometimes our stories give a voice to someone else’s silent struggles. Your story can bring hope and help someone else heal. I hope my story encourages deeper self-awareness in others to live their most fulfilling and purposeful life.
Carefree Summers for a Child of the 70s
I was a child of the 70s, raised in a small, displaced community on the fringes of Cape Town. If walls could talk, they’d tell of a childhood shaped in a two-bedroom cottage I shared with my parents, two older brothers, and two sisters. Our little house was squeezed into a cul-de-sac we called ‘the circle‘. Fourteen other families of all shapes and sizes made up our mini-community where everyone knew each other by name. The circle moms became friends who shared each other’s burdens as well as their meager supplies.
After school, we’d quickly shed our stuffy school uniforms and shoes, grab a sandwich, and headed outdoors. In between running for the neighbourhood ‘aunties’, we wiled away carefree hours playing hopscotch or hide-and-seek and endless childhood games.
In summer, we roamed the hills on the outskirts of town, picking wild figs and collecting pinecones falling from the spiky pines. We collected sticky gum from the cracked barks in the sweet thorn trees, before returning home with our bounty of nature’s treats.
On scorching summer days, we’d stroll in groups to the nearby beaches to cool off in the tidal pools and pick black mussels on the rocky shores. My mom would have us stuff the fresh mussels through an old hand-cranked mincer with soaked bread, onions, parsley, and salt, turning the humble shellfish into a mouthwatering meal.
The Blackberry Tree
Soon after we moved into the circle, our neighbour, Mr Daniels gave mom a young blackberry tree which she planted along the walkway. That young tree seemed to grow as tall as the neighbourhood children with each passing year. Eventually, it outgrew us when the branches reached so high, it towered over the walkway leading up to the door.
In summer, the tree showed off a bountiful harvest of juicy berries that the flow of visitors stopping by enjoyed picking on their way in and out. The fruit left on the tree eventually fell to the ground staining the path with nasty purple blotches. You couldn’t overlook the splashes and berries that stuck to your shoes as you walked up to the door. Eventually, the rain would come and wash away the stains until the following summer when it happened all over again.
A lifetime of summers and winters, Christmases and 21st celebrations, breakups and marriage proposals, weddings, and funerals, unfolded in the shadow of that blackberry tree. We moved in when I was 5, and twenty years later I was the last child to walk down that pathway in my wedding gown on my way to start a new life away from that beloved old tree.
When mom was the only one left in our cottage in the circle, she cut down that blackberry tree. She’d had enough of those ugly purple splashes staining the pathway and soiling her floors. Though the walkway stayed clean the garden was never quite the same without that big old blackberry tree.
That stained cement path was a lot like my life back then- carefree childhood summers tainted by the harsh realities of life in a complex world.
The Face of Grief
My high school yearbook described me as a teen with a ‘friendly smile’. What my peers didn’t notice behind my cheery grin was a soul silently wrestling with grief, loss, and a broken identity.
My father, my beloved broken hero, lost his life to chronic illness when I was 15. It happened in an instant but the impact of such a tragic loss left a void that would last a lifetime. As I clumsily grappled my way through adolescence and grief there was another loss unfolding around me that was deeper than my young mind could fully understand at the time.
The Broken Circle
Like the stains of the blackberry tree, my carefree childhood memories were weaved between the darker realities of racial displacement. Thousands of families like the ones I described in the circle shared the same fate when we were forcefully removed from our homes by a government that classified us as ‘coloured’ and deemed us unworthy of equal citizenship. With limited access to quality healthcare, education, fair jobs, and other basic human rights our parents scrambled for economic survival, silently grieving everything taken from them.
I spent 20 years in that displaced community that seemed to powerlessly surrender to their new imposed identities. I left with my husband to start a new life beyond the confines of our childhood fates until we realised that wherever you go in this world there are voices grappling to impose an identity on you. And, that the voices you listen to will set you on a course for your future. Therefore, you’d better make sure you can trust the voices you allow to impact your life.
Among the many social ills that came from SA’s troubled social history, two confusing beliefs seeped into my identity – that I wasn’t good enough and, at other times, I was too much.
Do I Belong Anywhere?
When I left behind my childhood I sought a place to belong in a social context that had suppressed my human rights, self-worth, and my voice. I wasted many years trying to fit in and struggled with change because loss had become a repeating theme in the years that followed my father’s death. I blindly took on others’ ideas of who I was and should be.
Instead of finding a place to belong, I moved further away from my true nature. I could no longer tell the difference between my core self and the unhelpful beliefs, values, and worldviews soaked in from my environment.
Giants with Feet of Clay
Without a deeper self-awareness or the tools to make better sense of my experiences, those beliefs caused me to stay small, play safe, afraid to be truly ‘seen’ for fear of more shame, rejection, and ridicule. While I was seeking for others to validate me, I strayed from my innate identity in Christ. I also lost sight of my internal teacher guiding me towards wholehearted living -a life that fully expresses my God-given identity. I blindly trusted the leading figures in my world until it finally dawned on me that they were giants with feet of clay. But by then, the damage to my sense of self was already done.
A striking quote by Kierkegaard echoed the loss of identity that stuck with me for decades:
The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed.
SøREN KIERKEGAARD - THE SICKNESS UNTO DEATH
A Sacred, Secret Place
In my teens, when it was hard to find privacy showing emotions caused shame, I turned to two favourite pastimes—reading and journaling. Reading was an escape into other cultures, people, and places unlike my own, while journaling offered a welcome outlet and sacred space to vent my silent pain.
Over time, I got more curious to better understand what makes us tick because our subconscious beliefs and views that drive our behaviours and relationships. I was failing miserably in both and it affected the people I love most.
Redeemed But Not Restored
The midlife transition has, by far, been my most significant life season where the full impact of my early losses became clearer. My identity was broken, and I needed to restore it. But I couldn’t do it alone. It was too complex for me to unravel on my own. I needed more support than a comforting partner or venting in a journal.
By midlife I was decades into my Christian faith, redeemed in Christ from a sinful nature, and my salvation was secured from an eternal perspective. I’d long moved on from childhood but I was still responding to life from an old broken identity and faulty storylines. I was redeemed but not yet restored, and THAT’s the part I’d been missing.
Do Christians Float Above the Clouds?
Between the present and the comforting promises of eternal life (Revelation 21:4-5) that offers an anchor for the soul (Heb 6:19), we’re still part of a world where heartbreak, trauma, grief, and loss are part of our lives. As Christians, our lives don’t float on cotton clouds above the harsh realities of the here and now.
At the same time, wholehearted living, or the fullness of life (John 10:10) is not a beautiful promise waiting to happen someday. I can have an abundant life right now, in this life season. Christ did His part to redeem our souls, now we need to do our part – to work out our salvation with His mercy and grace that are new to us every morning.
Working out your salvation is not ‘works of the hands, such as serving in church or volunteering in community outreach projects. Although, those things are a natural expression of a life lived to the fullest. Working out your salvation is about growing into your new redeemed identity in Christ.
Lost and Found
For me, it meant pulling up that wounded identity that never fit, like a gardener, pulling up a choking weed and replacing it, ‘seed by seed’, with new life – the blueprint identity God mapped out for me before I took my first breath (Psalm 139).
The Apple of His Eye
You need to get to know yourself through the eyes of your Creator who knows every hair on your head and every thought and word you’ll say before you make a sound. He calls you the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8). His thoughts towards you outnumber the grains of sand. He gave you spiritual gifts and abilities (1 Cor. 12), a distinct personality, passions, and interests unique to only you. He is with you wherever you go (Matt 28:20). He guides and leads you, protects you, and cares for you (Ps 23:3). He offers you peace that doesn’t seem to make sense in the chaos of your circumstances (Phil 4:6) yet it’s there.
The First Midlife Signpost
The world with all the changing beliefs and trends doesn’t make it easy to hold on to our redeemed selves. The voices of the world are constantly trying to impose identities on us that don’t align with our God-given nature. Therefore deeper self-awareness is such an important part of personal, and spiritual growth. It’s also why I listed it as the first signpost in my midlife journey. It was up to me to consciously claim my new identity in place of the wounded self that had moved me so far out of sync with who I was always meant to be.
Adults Need a Village Too
Your journey to becoming your highest self is not one you need to travel alone. Our individual stories fit into God’s bigger story, and every part of our lives is rooted in Him. The Bible calls it a tree and its branches (John 15:5) or one body with many parts (1 Cor. 20), each with distinct spiritual gifts and abilities. While your strengths and God-given gifts may look different from mine, together we make up the body of Christ to serve one another and bring light and hope to the world.
Five years ago, at the start of my midlife journey, I set aside time to pursue a degree in Applied Social Science (majoring in counselling and psychology). That learning journey, together with counselling support, helped me explore and untangle all the ways I had shifted out of alignment. Because of those actions, I reclaimed my true identity.
The Gifts of Midlife
Two of the greatest gifts of Midlife for me was the time to reflect on my journey so far to extract the ways I’d grown through my unique experiences. I also welcomed the unexpected freedom I felt to just be me without worrying about what others may think. I felt a gentle nudge to intentionally let go of anything that doesn’t agree with who God uniquely created me to be. Finally, after spending years trying to figure out where and how I fit in this world, the pieces started coming together like a jigsaw puzzle. I continue the midlife journey now with a renewed sense of self and the tools to craft a life of deeper meaning and purpose.
The simple insights that flowed from my midlife transition inspired this Blog. I based it on Five Midlife Signposts to encourage deeper self-awareness in others seeking their place in this tangled world while encouraging midlifers to embrace and develop their highest, truest beautifully imperfect selves in a lifelong journey that will last a lifetime. We’ll never stop growing, but we can learn to live in the most fulfilling and meaningful way and that will look different for each of us.
Today, as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend, I journal regularly to make sure I stay self-aware about the things that influence my life. I also practice deliberate self-care to refresh my body, mind, and soul because then I can give my best to others. I set clear personal boundaries that help me grow healthy relationships. My Yes and No is stronger now than ever before and that protects my inner peace. Finally, I’ve found wonderful meaningful ways, such as creating this Blog, to express my passion for personal and spiritual growth and creative writing to thrive on purpose in midlife.
While no two journeys are the same, I hope the Blog sparks curiosity and openness to explore the unexpected gifts this life season offers to fully embrace your MIDLIFE HOURS.