Forty is a sacred number.
When the number forty appears in the Bible, the reader knows a change is about to take place. In Scripture, the number forty marks a moment of transition, transformation and transcendence.
Forty years in the wilderness? Forty days on the ark? Forty days of temptation in the desert? As impossible as some of the situations in Scripture may be, forty is a marker for the holy.
Why was that fact so hard to remember looking in the mirror on my fortieth birthday this summer?
My 8-year old daughter Caitlyn, who has Down Syndrome, celebrated the days approaching forty with her unstoppable gusto and boundless joy. Mornings prior to the big day she would tap on my shoulder to wake me up, look me in the eye from the side of the bed and say with a surreptitious voice of truth, "You are turning forty mom, for-ty." Then she would slow down and sound it out, "Four - dee, mom, Four-dee!"
Caitlyn thought forty was fabulous, even better than all those animals and the ark she learned about in Sunday School.
The panic I felt at forty could only rival the emotion Noah and his wife must have felt as they shut the doors on their vessel after packing in every animal two-by-two. The German language has a name for that mid-life crisis that literally translates into 'shut-door panic.' Four decades felt like four walls closing in on me. (At forty, we can all remember Princess Leia, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo in the trash compactor!)
With Caitlyn's morning mantra, I could feel the panic escalating. One morning, shortly after the big day, Caitlyn woke me up, again, and suddenly I heard her words in a new way. "Forty" was not just a number; "Four-dee" was an opportunity to push on those four walls. "4-D" became four dimensions.
In that moment, I knew that a change was about to take place. I could feel God tugging on me to consider this opportunity for new dimensionality in my life. I thought of those four walls closing in and remembered a scripture that tugs at those four walls. "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ" (Ephesians 3:17b-18, New International Version).
Suddenly, those walls were transformed by the simple prayer, "Longer, deeper, wider, higher." These four words tugged at my inner resistance and created instead new scaffolding for my heart, mind and soul.
In the forty thoughts below, I offer in the spirit of Glamour's "Thirty Things" forty ways every woman who has marked this sacred passage has learned to live in '4-D'.
1. The longer distance from adolescence has made you less neurotic and more nostalgic.
2. You have mastered a recipe longer than five ingredients you can easily ready for an impromptu dinner party.
3. A longer workout is worth every minute.
4. You remember the days of conversations longer than a text message and miss them.
5. Longer sessions with your therapist and personal trainer are worth every penny.
6. Your bucket list has grown longer, not shorter, because you realize how quickly life passes and want to do as much as possible.
7. Taking longer to balance your checkbook is no longer such a priority.
8. You've survived forty days in the metaphorical desert, wilderness or flood, and realized you could even stay one day longer if need be.
9. You know full well that longing is a good thing and you've learned a few ways of mastering that desire.
10. Your life has been enriched, changed and challenged by someone who is no longer with you.
11. You've learned that joy is deeper than happiness.
12. When you see the deeper laugh lines on your eyes, you picture the sparkle in those lines on a close friend and no longer panic.
13. You have a deeper sense of your strengths, your weaknesses, and learned a gracious way of bridging the distance between the two.
14. Years have given you deeper energy, intelligence, imagination and love for daily living.
15. Your reservoir of internal patience has grown deeper.
16. A commitment to religious tradition is now deeper than past rebellion.
17. You've learned deeper empathy and what it might mean to walk a mile in the shoes of another.
18. The ability to help others has grown because of your deeper cash reserves and your desire to connect resources to real need.
19. As much as you love Fifty Shades of Grey (or even, Harry Potter) you have found a poet, novelist or essayist whose work you are drawn to deeply.
20. You've reached out to mentor someone younger than you to deepen her skills and wisdom.
21. You find joy in traveling far and wide both spontaneously and with long-term planning and anticipation.
22. 'Wide open spaces' in your weekend no longer make you nervous, but instead provide soul time and rejuvenation.
23. You can say the word 'wider' and not panic due to possible changes in your body.
24. Wider responsibilities in care for parents, children and others around you are not constricting, but a blessing.
25. You've discovered a wider capacity for humor and know laughter is a form of internal jogging.
26. Gratitude for wider viewpoints has replaced any annoyance at the differences of others.
27. A wider selection of jewelry tells stories of travels, people you have loved, and lazy weekends at flea markets.
28. A circle of close friends helps to daily widen the joy and divide the sorrow of life.
29. After a wide search on Facebook for every past flame and former boyfriend, you have said 'hello' and then turned to the one you are with and loved them even more.
30. You have found a wider capacity to let your yes be yes. And your no be no. And there is no longer a wide span of guilt in between.
31. By forty, you know the grace and courage in taking the high road.
32. You've lived into a higher calling.
33. You have a high appreciation for Ai Weiwei's artwork and no longer do you say, "I could have done that myself."
34. Living 'higher' is no longer obtained by any substance, but instead by a substantial amount of soul work.
35. You have been left high and dry, but learned that not only can you survive but even thrive.
36. No longer do you over-function out of anxiety, but you have learned to function higher out of a deepened capacity.
37. A role model in your life is no longer a place of jealousy, but instead inspires you to live to your highest capability.
38. Civic responsibility is now a high priority.
39. You have discovered a higher tolerance for those with different religious and political views, and possibly even changed an opinion or two.
40. Just as Anna Quindlen's book title Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake suggests, as each birthday comes to pass, you can't wait to journey numerically higher.