The Hardest One Yet

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diana-trautwein-loved6

I have carried a long list of labels across the length of this life. From the moment of my birth, two of those have been First Child and Eldest Girl. In early childhood, I earned the title Tall Girl. I was the student in the centre back row of each of my elementary school classroom pictures. More painful was the lovely name Fish Skin, thrust upon me by a couple of nasty second grade boys who observed a skin condition I was born with. Never-to-be-forgotten from those early years was the ever-present Good Girl. That last one hung around for a very long time and occasionally shows up even now, in my dotage.

In high school, I was known as Religious Girl and Brainy Nerd, both of which I owned with a small share of gratitude and grace. For a little fun and academic relief, I was happy to carry the title of Alto in every choral group available to me. I was known as Wallflower and Seldom Dates, titles I wore with some chagrin, but also a healthy amount of acceptance and understanding. Tall, Religious and Brainy do not usually merit Popular or Prom Queen, after all!

At church, during those same semi-awkward years of junior and senior high school, I discovered a set of very different labels, ones that surprised and pleased me. They included Leader, Bible Student, and Insider. That last one was a particularly pleasant and welcome piece of my own growing identity between the ages of 12 and 18.

I left home for University with an enormous amount of excitement and anticipation, eager to be away from my small town, plunging happily into the crowd of 34,000+ students at UCLA. I joined a small Christian living group, met the man who would become my husband, and moved with relief into a completely new set of labels and identity markers. I was nowhere near the smartest woman in the room and that was a huge relief to me. I released every desire to attain a high grade point average, preferring to revel in the joys of independent living and a deepening romantic relationship.

During those college years, I was Dick’s Girl, and eventually, Dick’s Wife and Married Student. I also grew into my full 5 feet 10 inches and began to appreciate the joys of seeing the world from that height. By then, I am happy to report, that childhood label Tall Girl no longer bothered or embarrassed me.

I was delighted to carry the label of College Graduate with me as we sailed across the Atlantic for two years of short-term mission work, teaching school in Zambia. I grew to enjoy being English Teacher, Drama Coach, and Sportsmaster’s Wife during our time there. I also learned to cook, though I never got quite good enough at it to merit a label of any kind in that department.

Five months before we returned home, I added one of the most significant and life-changing titles I’ve ever carried, one I relish to this day: Mommy. Our eldest girl was born in Africa, another followed two years later and a boy two years after that. For twenty years, that was my primary identity, one I loved and worked hard at, not always successfully. Along the way, I picked up a few more: Community Volunteer, Bible Study Teacher, Soloist, Worship Coordinator, Newsletter Editor, Little League Team Mom, Room Mother, Chief-Cook-and-Bottle-Washer, Laundress, etc., etc., etc.

Those were rich and exhausting years, but as my children grew up and moved out into their own lives, it became clear that a few more labels needed to be added to the list that is my life. These, however, became much more than monikers. Like Mommy and Wife, the titles Seminary Student, Pastor, Preacher, Bible Teacher, Pastoral Counselor, Spiritual Director and eventually, Writer, became descriptors of parts of me that are deeply rooted, divinely gifted, and vocationally-oriented. They are labels, yes, indeed. But they also tell a story, one that continues to unfold and evolve. They speak to the heart of who I am.

But now, right now, I am discovering a label that I did not ask for, do not want, yet cannot avoid, and it is this one: Old Woman. No, I would not go back and repeat any of my earlier decades. I love the life I’ve lived and believe that each piece of my story has contributed to who I am now. BUT . . . in the time, place and culture within which I live, this last label is a bittersweet one. Why? Because like it or not, old women are pretty much invisible in our world. Even in my family circle, I feel increasingly marginalized and excluded. It is not intentional, it is not mean-spirited; it just is. I’m not quite sure what to do with all the pieces of that, but the reality of it calls up more than a few painful and melancholy emotional responses.

As a result, I am re-learning how to embrace the most basic “label” of them all—Loved Child of God. That one has been with me since the moment of my conception, taking full human shape at that first gasp of air in the delivery room of Balboa Hospital in San Diego, California 72 years ago next January. That is the central truth of my life, of your life, of all of our lives. I am hanging onto it for all I’m worth these days.

It is the very first label I was ever given, and I’m holding onto it for dear life.

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Diana Trautwein
Married to her college sweetheart for over 40 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and spouses and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate Pastor. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes on her blog, Just Wondering. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect . . . but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?
Diana Trautwein

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Diana Trautwein
  • Roos Woller

    Thank you for sharing this. You write so beautifully. I have so much to learn from those that is ahead of me in the race. Each one of us young and old is needed at the table and brings a unique and irreplaceable piece of the mosaic of what God’s plan is. I also love the last label “loved one of God” and one I continuesly have to practise to rest in.

    • pastordt

      Yes, you are right, Roos. Each of us has a place at the table! And I will be learning to rest in that last label for as long as I breathe earth’s oxygen.

  • I hope that you are able to hear your own lovely and grace-filled voice as you look back over your shoulder — and then right in front of you — at the labels (good, bad, and glorious) that have floated over your life.

    I’m a couple of decades behind you on this narrow road, and you can be sure that I am listening — and learning.

    • pastordt

      Thank you, Michele. Enjoy those decades – they are rich ones!

  • Helene Burns

    Diana, I loved how you engaged the exercise of naming the labels that have carried throughout your years and giving them each the place they deserve – I think I may do this sometime too. You landed on the most important label…’Loved Child of God’ and how glorious it is to truly embrace that truth. You words are inspiring and encouraging.

    • pastordt

      I don’t know how you do it, Helene, but you are always the first one to leave words on the Saturdays my pieces appear. Thank you. You are always kind and encouraging and I am grateful.

      • Helene Burns

        xo

  • Diana, I loved to read the highlights of your story through all the labels, and how some are deeply rooted and longer lasting than others. I can’t imagine being at a college as large as UCLA – but your story proves that God can guide us to the right people even when we’re living in a sea of them!! And I’m glad my UCSB guy left the crowd at the Atlantic shore and flew across the world to meet me at the North Sea shore in St Andrews!

  • pastordt

    Thank you, Morag! UCSB to St Andrews!! That is quite a trek. It’s amazing to stand back from our lives every few years and see how the crazy jigsaw is taking shape, isn’t it?? Thanks be to God.

  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    Labels. Ugh. This is so beautifully and poignantly penned, Diana!! I don’t know why, but just now, with fingers poised to respond, having written out the word *label,* I realized with one little letter change, the word morphs to *libel*! Labels on food are one thing, and frankly, now with imposed regulations by the US government, they are much more truthful and informative than labels we so quickly and unfairly slap on people. Descriptive food labels can actually be helpful and prevent harm. Often, however, I’ve found that carelessly placed labels we impose on each other do nothing to encourage exploration and knowledge of the precious person beneath this surface rendering. (I remember once how a blogger misjudged me and labeled me within a “brand” of Evangelicalism). People labels are often harmful, even libelous, because they squelch truth and tell lies. They damage, and leave pain in their wake. Such labels are too easy to slap on; they require no thought and dialogue. I love the sparkling multi-faceted qualities of the good and long life you have lived, of the person you are and still becoming. I, too, struggle with that “old” label, not too far behind you on the age ladder. I just celebrated my Beatle Birthday! 🙂 Part of the problem with the “old” label, I’ve found, is that in part I’m wearing it. Old shows in graying hair and creviced skin. I do. not. like. it. There, I’ve said it. But even the label my own body is sporting does not begin to reveal the soul beneath. Granted, I do bear my soul scars and crevices, ugly sin and painful wounds, but God tells me that as I age as His child, I have a greening, flourishing soul. With tears brimming, I thank you so much for this exquisite piece and for your ageless beautiful soul. Thank you for wearing your “Loved Child of God” label for all to see. I looked up the etymology of “label,” and it comes from the French, meaning ribbon. I’m thinking your “Loved Child of God” label, pinned proudly, will be that ribbon you wear straight into eternity, like a prize, when God says to you, “Well done, my good and faithful servant, Diana. Well done, indeed!” Love, Lynn

    • pastordt

      A ribbon!! I LOVE that image. Thanks so much, Lynn, for your lovely words and your kind encouragement. I resonate with every word of this comment!

  • Mary Gemmill

    Heartily agree with accepting this label in our senior years…nothing sounds nicer to me than…loved child of God.Living to live as His Beloved is a season I am currently embracing too.

    • pastordt

      Glad to hear it, Mary! Let’s all embrace that label, old and not-so-old!

  • Beth Werner Lee

    Old women: Maggie Smith and Judy Dench! I think of you like one of them: beautiful inside and out and still very involved and spunky. (We’ve been watching David Copperfield while slowly reading it aloud this summer and Maggie as Aunt Betsy is a dream!!)

    But yes, as I’ve seen old women I’ve thought a lot about who I want to imitate, and how I can grow old and not negative.

    You aren’t that old yet, but I do look up to you. Keep going Loved Child of God!

    • pastordt

      Well, to even be in the same breath as those two is remarkable. I believe they each have about a decade on me (or more?), so maybe there’s hope out there after all! Thanks, Beth, for this kind encouragement.

  • Nancy Ruegg

    So many labels, rich with experiences and lessons learned. Each one also represents God-ordained purpose and specific joys. How delightful that he has given you such variety! As for that label, Old Woman, I take issue (with a twinkle in my eye)! Yes, we may be old (compared to most) and we are female, but the term carries such negative connotations. Let’s see…what might encapsulate this stage of life more positively? How about W.O.W?! Not all older women qualify, but you do, Diana. You are are a Woman of Wisdom! You’ve not just let the years go by, but made good use of every stage and opportunity. More important, you’ve allowed God to use you, and continue to do so. You’ve earned the status, W.O.W! 🙂

    • pastordt

      Ah, Nancy! Only you could come up with such a lovely acronym. Thank you! And back atcha, too.

      • Nancy Ruegg

        Appreciate your kind sentiment, Diana. Thank YOU, too!

  • Lovely piece. Enjoyed reading it and getting to know more about you and your journey. And what a journey! You have been one busy woman and tackled many new things. I liked how many of your labels in your story were positive and carried with pride. So toss out the label “Old Woman.” Loved child of God sounds so much better and reminds you whose you are.

    • pastordt

      Thanks so much for these kind words, Theresa. I will cling to that first/last label!

  • The first label and the best one, by far, Diana – Child of God.
    We all need to hang on to that, no matter how old or young we are.

    • pastordt

      Amen, amen! Let’s remind each other, okay, Martha??

  • Diana, I have been thinking about your post for a few days now … I love how you weave your story through these labels, but I am particularly moved by your honesty of the invisibility of age. I keep hearing this and so I know we have to pay attention. U hear you, I see you … And I so appreciate your voice here.

    • pastordt

      Thank you, kind friend.

  • I thought I had commented here, but maybe didn’t hit post! Anyway, I listen to your ponderings about age. I find myself thinking a lot about it – and while I think I get why you say Old Age is a gift, or I think i heard you say that once, it seems like it is, until it isn’t. Or at least doesn’t feel like it.

    as to the invisibile part – I realize while our family can still get together once a year (and we’ll do that as long as we can), less and less, we are not the center of things anymore. They have their own families. I worked hard to keep my parents included and how I hope my children will do the same for us as our active contribution changes over the coming years.

    while I like this stage of life, I still feel like time is going by so fast. I blink and a month or two has gone by. the years change like lightening and it feels like I have so little time. I have come to a place where most of the time I focus on the time I have now, rather than the shortness of the time I have left. It takes intentional focus for me some days not to lapse into almost a panic at the rapid passage of time. As always thanks for your words here once again.

    • pastordt

      Amen to all of this, Carol. Thank you.

  • It’s the label I’m finding the most uncomfortable too, Diana. It’s still itchy in its newness or maybe just my inability to ignore it any longer. Invisible? Yes, however I’m hoping to make it that due to transparency. Your words put give us flesh and make us seen. Thank you.

    • pastordt

      Ooooh, I like that, Debby. To be transparent enough to be invisible in a good way. Thank you.

  • Lizzie Goldsmith

    I love how you told your life story through the labels you’ve worn. I think sometimes I default to thinking of labels as bad things, and while there are negatives, there’s also nuance and richness too, and realizing which labels need to be cast off or redefined or not allowed to become all-consuming. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  • pastordt

    Thank you for reading, Lizzie.

  • Saskia Wishart

    This is just beautifully written Diana. Thank you for your honesty here. And I pray this is a space where women read your post and feel seen, no matter the stage of the journey. That they too sense their belovedness.

  • Linda Lindberg

    Dear Diana, As is always true, you have written such a beautiful, thoughtful piece! I’ve waited to respond because I’ve been struggling a bit with what I want to say about it. I must confess to an initial defensive reaction to “old woman!” But, as I’ve thought about it, the label itself is not offensive to me – what I sense it means in our society is more what troubles me. You said it well when you spoke of being “invisible” and feeling “marginalized!” I’m feeling that, too! And, I guess I don’t like it much.
    But, being a dearly loved child of God is a reality that carries with it only blessings, joy and purpose. So, I’m thinking about how I can be the best “old” loved child of God I can possibly be!
    I’m thinking it would be wonderful for a small group of women in this same place on the journey to meet and talk about what it means to be the very best old women we can be!
    Thank you!