Year of the Fallowed Field

In December of this year I will turn forty.

Forty is significant for me.

I have anticipated and looked forward to turning forty since I was probably thirty-five. I can't quite explain it but I don't fear these mid-life years, I revere them.

In truth, from the time I was a girl, I've always wanted to be older than I am. When I was little I wanted to be "in the know". The adults always knew things I didn't, and I wanted that inside track.

I think my anticipation for turning forty is based on a similar desire.

I am an authority respecting and tradition-loving person and I view forty years as a measure of achievement, a significant milestone; a personal threshold that once crossed, will usher me into a new decade of wisdom, understanding, and strength.

Of course it can't be all that and I probably have higher hopes for forty than are realistic, but hey, a girl can dream.

Although I am anticipating forty I have spent a lot of time in the last few months looking back, seeking to reacquaint myself with little girl and young woman inside me, Renee at 9, 15, and 21; never afraid to stand up for herself or for others.

I was a very confident young person. I was a leader. I was opinionated, direct, and right (smile). I believed in myself. I love that girl (I loved her then also) and I want to express more of her in this last year of my thirties.

Thankfully with age comes mellowing and wisdom. I appreciate the depth of compassion I now feel for people, even though that compassion was refined in personal brokenness and pain. I am empathetic in ways I couldn't conceive in my "my way or the highway" youthful vigor.

I don't want to re-assume the mantle of the slightly arrogant and insensitive (though I never considered myself arrogant at the time) version of my younger self. But I am looking to reclaim something rightfully mine - my confidence and belief in myself.

Maybe the reason I have been looking forward to forty is because I hoped my confidence and security would return, magically, with the big four-oh. I know now that's not going to happen, the magic part at least. But I do have faith that in living and celebrating essential me elements this year I will see the return, if not in full at least in part, of my confidence, security and ease with myself.

This year I am preparing my heart, my home, and my body for a significant milestone birthday in my life. I don't recall the last time I thought so much about a birthday, especially one year in advance. But thinking one year in advance of a big birthday is not just about turning forty. It's about what I want out of life and what I'm doing this year to move in that direction.

My two life themes for 2015 are to heal and lie fallow.

fallow: land that has undergone plowing and harrowing and has been left unseeded for one or more growing seasons. (emphasis mine)

Just like everyone else I want to do cool and courageous things in the world. I have done a fair share of cool and courageous in the last few years, what needs to change moving forward is that I do those things flowing in my strengths, gifts and talents.

Because whenever you experience anything life-draining at all…

(like exhaustion, overwhelm, frazzled thinking, frumpy body, flatness of mood, disconnection to yourself or others, irritability, short temper, frustration, sluggishness, self doubt or unworthiness)

…it points to the fact that you’re (in some way) working against yourself. You’re fighting yourself. The flow is gone, there is friction and pain.

We blame it on how busy our lives are… but I know plenty of women who have very full lives and are still living them out with a vitality and joy I knew I wanted.

Lisa Grace Byrne, Replenish teacher and wellness coach

I am so done with self doubt, unworthiness, and shame. I'm done with overwhelm and frustration seething below the surface. Damien and I are done with the pain we have unintentionally caused each other.

I am fed up with fighting against myself. It's time to flow in my strengths and preferred ways of living. But first I need to remember what those are, I need to nurture them. I need to support them before they can support me.

As I enter my 40's I have big dreams, not for the things I will accomplish in the world this year but for how I will feel about myself. Because I know a return of my confidence and wellbeing is the foundation I need to build on for the work I want to do - finishing our children's home education, helping other homeschooling families (and who knows what else).

I am inspired by women who walk before me into their forties with the quiet confidence in who they are, and do work - in their homes and communities - that flows from that place.

This is the life I have been waiting for. I've let go of the guilt for creating a life that is quiet, nourishing, and peaceful. It helps to embrace the truth that our world benefits when people live life in this way... quiet, nourishing, and peaceful.

Heather Bruggeman, Time Beside Healing Waters

In my forties (hopefully sooner than later) I want to be able to say, this is the life I have been waiting for.

Don't get me wrong. I have had moments, seasons even, in the past few years that have felt that way. Mostly during periods of stability, those sweet spots in-between the moves, transitions, and upheaval (of which there has been a lot in the past few years).

In those times I have loved my life. I love having Damien home and a part of our family homeschool. I love the freedom of location-independent work for our family. I love meeting new people on a regular basis.

I loved living in the city for a month. I loved downhill skiing out our door.

I love coaching homeschool families and helping them with the nitty-gritty of interest-led homeschooling. I love the friends we met on the Appalachian Trail. So many things I love and have loved about our life, and discrete situations in which I felt like "this is what I've been waiting for". But so much insecurity has plagued me also.

And not just writer's insecurity. I'm often insecure about what I publish, I've gotten used to that. What I'm talking about is an "insecurity of being" because of decision making and lifestyle choices that turned out to be good for Damien but not for me. Decisions that allowed him to operate in his strengths but cut me down at the knees. And of course we didn't realize this was happening at the time, we saw the symptoms but not the underlying cause, until we finally saw the light.

I want to be able to say this about our life:

We have, in essence, crafted the life that is just right for us.

Amanda Soule, A Project Completed

This is what we've been trying to achieve, but our approach took us down a path that was a better fit for Damien than it was for me. Which of course made it not a good fit for either of us since because we are so intimately connected what hurts me, hurts Damien and vice versa.

I want 2015 to be a quiet year, a year to lie fallow and rest the soil of my heart. But just like fallowing a field is not permanent, neither is my period of rest.

I am not a quiet person (though I'm willing to guess I have nurtured the reflective and introspective parts of myself more than the average extrovert). I am wired to lead and live loud, and although I have built (and am darn proud of it!) a peaceful, kind, and loving home I'm also feisty and fiery and I love that part of me. At my best, when I am in my zone, I am exuberant, confident, and in-charge. I want to nurture those traits into their full, beautiful forties-something expression.

I want to carry this strong sense of self in me, like a secret knowledge. Not to be something I push on other people, but an inner strength and sense of wellbeing that enables me to operate in my full capacity to bless, serve and help others.

I feel so happy, lately. A steady, almost solitary happiness, a sense of wholeness and strength inside me. Recently, I realized that I can go into a room of people carrying my knowledge like a secret and not care whether anyone sees it. I know it is there.

Beth Powning, Edge Seasons

(About that quote... having read both of Beth's memoirs, which I highly recommend, I know that this steady, solitary midlife sense-of-self did not come easy. It was hard-won and followed a period of brokenness, pain and then rest.)

I can't anticipate what my forties will bring, but I know how I want to feel when I get there - a sense of wholeness, inner strength, confidence, security.

2015 is my year of the fallowed field, organic farmer fashion, planting a cover crop that protects and nourishes the soil. A cover crop that doesn't ask for much and gives back more than it takes.

There are boundaries around this field, lichen-softened New England stone walls, feathery needled tamaracks, tall gnarled oaks. And there are some prickly brambles (you have to be careful sometimes where you tread) that in August's heat produce sweet and luscious berries whose warm juice dribbles down your chin and stains your finger tips indigo. These natural boundaries, which I maintain and honor, make the field safe and secure, a place of healing and rest.

In my field I am keeping home, my first and enduring life's work. I am tending to beauty, order and good management. In this field we are nurturing our marriage in friendship and mutual respect. In this field I am cross-country skiing in the winter and eating picnics in the summer.

I'm happy to stay in the field. I don't need to know what's beyond the horizon right now, because it will still be there when I'm ready to venture forward and discover it.

2015, my year of comfort and wellbeing on the road to recovery.

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  • Patti

    Patti on Jan. 8, 2015, 4:06 p.m.

    Thank you for shairng this post----I needed to read it, absorb it, today! I am already in my 40's (47 to be exact), but I still struggle with some of what you have written about. I have decided that 2015 is MY year---my year to heal and rest, to do what I love and long for, to wake up refreshed and ready, to me. Blessings to you on your journey.


  • Knowing The Light

    Knowing The Light on Jan. 8, 2015, 6:40 p.m.

    thank you for such a great post, so honest - your writing always is 

    As I come to terms with a total change in my life through illness and disability I am finding it is cutting through everything that I have done fr other people, the me that I have become but actually didn't want to be, at all. 

    I will take your words on with me as I turn 35 this year and am not at all freaked out by that, I am happy to be this age nd hope the second half of my thirties will allow me to become who I really am


  • janice

    janice on Jan. 8, 2015, 7:16 p.m.

    I really loved the pictures in this post.  Renee, I am a long time reader of your blog though we are stangers.  I enjoy reading about your life and your family and was impressed and inspired by all your accomplishments on the AT.  But even as just a reader, I have worried about you and the loss of some of the elements of "home" (in a core foundational way, not just four walls) in your life over the past few years.  I have been so happy to read that you are working on a path forward that will be more of a blend of adventure, ho! plus the solid and deeply rooted sense of beauty and spirit that comes across as critical elements of you in your blog.


  • Sarah

    Sarah on Jan. 8, 2015, 7:42 p.m.

    Hello dear Renee, it has been too long since I have written, but I just wanted to say how I have hurt for your struggles but also how glad I feel that you are on this path to healing. I have always heard and perceived your voice as strong and confident--and felt that you are, too... But sometimes we don't feel the same way we are perceived. Cheers to letting the soil lie fallow, much love, Sarah (p.s. I will soon-in February-be your neighbor down-quite a ways-South in Vermont and will appreciate your seasonal perspective even more! And I spent the last few months working with a Bates graduate in Peru ( and thought of your connection  quite a few times.) 


    • Sarah

      Sarah on Jan. 8, 2015, 7:45 p.m.

      *maybe felt is Better than hurt-- and I struggles sounds a bit condescending which is not how I meant it! 


      • renee

        renee on Jan. 8, 2015, 8:53 p.m.

        No worries Sarah. I feel nothing but love and support from my FIMBY community and I understand what it is like to hurt for and with someone.


  • Aurora

    Aurora on Jan. 8, 2015, 8:49 p.m.

    So happy for you that you've reached this point.  I turned 40 in July and this really resonated with me. 


  • Janet

    Janet on Jan. 10, 2015, 10:37 p.m.

    This is beautifully written, Renee.  It resonaes within my soul as I am on  a journey of embracing what I love and what makes me happy.  I have devoted more than half my life to others and their needs and now I find myself wondering "what do I like to do?"  My youngest is 20 years old and is in his second half of his junior year of college.  I find myself not wanting to help others but take care of myself at this point in my life.  The only life I am given.  


  • Brynn

    Brynn on Jan. 14, 2015, 9:49 a.m.

    I am so glad that you are getting to do this with your husband.  That was not the case over here.  I got to do such rebuilding with my son.  I do not know if it is now possible for me to be closer to another person on the planet as a result.  I pray that you are able to have the same experience with Damien.  

    Re-Entry rips your guts out, but at least they are then right in front of you to be able to see what you have been bottling up and hiding away.  I'm glad you will have time to sort through all your guts and a partner to help you through how messy it can be :)


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 14, 2015, 12:23 p.m.

      Brynn, I hear you. One of the reasons we wanted to thru-hike together was because we knew it would change us (I had no idea it would change me like this!). Knowing it would change us, but not sure how, and knowing the change would probably be profound we wanted it to be a shared experience, for all of us. Of course it hasn't made the personal changes easy but at least we have the common experience to understand what we went through.


      • Brynn

        Brynn on Jan. 15, 2015, 6:35 a.m.

        My husband did a chunk with us.  He just didn't have the same experience.  He thru hiked the AT at 17 as well, but again, it did not really affect him the way hiking did my son and I.  Sometimes people do not want to see what you look like all split open.  I did not realize how true that statement was (or perhaps the truth is that I did not really believe it) until we can back to our old life.  I am very glad you have people in your world who are not only willing to let you disintegrate, but to also tell you that whatever you become is beautiful.  If there was ever a thing to go through hell for, that would be it!  

        ...and by hell, I mean the whole rebuilding, fall apart, be a mess thing.


  • Melissa R

    Melissa R on Jan. 27, 2015, 6:07 p.m.

    29 was difficult for me.  I didn't want to be old.  I didn't want to be 30, so turning 29 hurt, all year.  Then 30 was fine because I had already done the depression over it.  Since about 35ish I have looked forward to being "old".  I felt it was less pressure.  I felt it would bring peace and acceptance of myself.  Also, I loved older women's faces.  They were wrinkled, loved, worn into softness.  I wanted that.  If I couldn't look 18, I wanted to look 60.  I didn't like the in between years when I felt pressure (from without and within) to look young.  One day in my 40s I looked around at all the moms (of all ages) at a homeschool activity.  I noticed that 99% didn't have on any make up at all.  That day was SO freeing for me.  I never wore much make up, but that day I let go of wearing any.  Now I only do on special occassions.  I will be 48 this year.  I am so much closer to that peace than I've ever been before.  There are more years ahead to soften me further, but I am on the path that I longed for.  It's such a comfortable time of life.  And, I am so grateful that my only child is only 12.  I am not done being a mom, I am not ready for that DAILY part of my life to be over.  That's a whole different kettle of fish!


    • renee

      renee on Jan. 27, 2015, 7:53 p.m.

      Melissa, sounds like we're in a similar life phase. I love this, "It's such a comfortable time of life." That's what I'm aiming to nurture this year. 


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