“No but seriously. Normalize finding love in your 40's. Normalize discovering and chasing new dreams in your 30's. Normalize finding yourself and your purpose in your 50's. Life doesn't end at 25. Let's stop acting like it does.” - @mermaidmrym
I read the above tweet shortly before my 40th birthday and it spoke to my soul. I have never feared getting older. Not when it comes to wrinkles or gray hairs. I am perfectly happy going gray. I just found my first few gray hairs and was actually excited. Weird, I know. But I was. I earned those hairs. I earned these years.
Turning 40 wasn’t scary in most regards. But there was a brief moment in my late 30s where I started to feel like I had missed something. I found myself with regrets. I regretted not starting my writing journey sooner. I wondered if it would have been better to have had kids a little earlier. I questioned if I was too late to the game because approaching 40 was the first time in my life I felt like I really knew who I was and what I was doing and why I was doing it. Why couldn’t I have felt that way at 25? Couldn’t I have accomplished so much more in my life if I had started sooner?
The answer I came to was NO. I needed the years of trying. I needed the years of failing. I needed the years of learning. I needed the years of stretching and growing. I wasn’t ready at 25.
At 40 I feel more comfortable in my own skin. I am more confident in the person God has created me to be. I have more grace and more grit. I have thicker skin and a softer heart. I have the maturity needed to uphold the dreams I’m chasing. I also have a lot of life left in front of me.
Why do we feel like anything over 30 is the end of everything? Why do we worry about being “over the hill”? Why does there even have to be a hill? Why can’t it just be a path?
I choose a path. I choose to walk that path at the pace God has set for me—even if it feels slower than someone else’s. That choice has brought freedom and peace and renewed passion for my life. I released my regrets. I doubled down on my dreams. I trust in God’s timing in my life.
I do not fear getting older. I fear getting lazy. I fear getting boring. I fear becoming irrelevant. I fear feeling like life is almost over when really it’s just getting good. I didn't miss anything. I wasn’t late to anything. At 40, soon to be 41, I feel like my life is just opening up fully. Maybe I’m a late bloomer. Or maybe 40 is the new 25.
I had intended for my next post to be about how fabulous my forties have been, but then I got COVID, lost my job, and spent two of my darkest months since, well, this time last year when my lovely boyfriend ditched me during a cancer scare. During that time, I’ve done a lot of thinking. A LOT. And, while I will eventually get to my #FabulousForties series (because I have some very cool guests lined up), the truth is a bit more complicated. It often is. And, because this is how my brain works, right now I’m pretty fixated on beauty, so we're gonna head down that rabbit hole for a bit.
I went into 2020 needing to lose 20 pounds or so to be at my “ideal” weight. I left it needing to lose closer to 50 pounds. My struggle started long before COVID lockdowns, and I suspect it has more to do with stress and hormones than being home. In fact, I want to sidetrack for just a bit to go on record as saying I absolutely loathe the meme about “Now that I’ve lived through a plague, I understand why Renaissance paintings are full of fat women laying on couches.” It doesn’t make me giggle even a little. My entire life, I’ve looked at those paintings and told myself that had I lived in another time, I would have been beautiful. That even in my time, there is a beauty to my curves. That stupid meme makes it clear how the rest of society sees it, though.
And the thing about being heavier than society dictates as acceptable: People make assumptions about you. I literally had a date ask me once if I’d ever considered dieting. The saddest part is, it wasn’t my last date with him. It should have been, but I'm rather used to men making comments about my size and, at the time, I was still clinging to some home that my person might be out there somewhere.
“I just want you to know, I like the way you look. Don’t be self conscious about your size,” was the closest any of the men in my life have come to complimenting me. Actually, two different men said that one. Like they were embarrassed to be attracted to me. I was a size 10 or 12 at the time, for reference. Curves. Flat stomach. Toned arms. What the actual hell, guys?
Before COVID, I was eating 1300 calories a day and working out at the gym an hour a day, five or six days a week. I did this for two months and I GAINED weight. Before you say “muscle weighs more than fat…” My jeans were tighter, not looser. My shape did not change for the better in any way.
When lockdowns hit in March, I walked 5 miles a day. No change. Then I got incredibly sick (for the second time since January). The COVID test came back negative, but it took forever to recover and my lungs never did tolerate 5 mile walks again. I’d worked back up to two miles by July, when I got sick again.
Somewhere during all of this, I was gaining weight. I now have one pair of jeans that fits. My arms, my stomach--they disgust me. I have to give myself nearly daily reminders to love this body and all she’s been through.
Probably about August, I was talking to a health coach in Australia who wanted me to come work for her. In effort to learn more about what she did, I signed up for her eating challenges and threw myself into the incredibly strict dietary changes she recommended for the women she worked with. The easiest way to describe it is Paleo on steroids. For more than three months, I cut all dairy, gluten, and sugar from my diet. No white rice or potatoes. I ate more vegetables than I had in my life. I paid attention to the balance of nutrients on my plate. I moved my body more. I told myself my body had been good to me, it was time I give her the attention she needed. In time, things would right themselves.
Nothing. Not one pound gone.
This particular health coach was adamant that women shouldn’t count calories, they should focus on nutrition, so I tried it her way for the first month or so. When it hadn’t seen results, I downloaded an app and counted every morsel that passed my lips, even the oils used to prepare the foods. Most days, the app yelled at me for not eating enough because I’d come in under 1,000 calories and have to add more.
Before I’d undertaken this diet change, I was eating the wrong kinds of foods (poor people food, which is never healthy), but my weight has never been about overeating, despite what people assume when they look at me. Most days, I eat maybe two meals.
Even though I’d had a resounding lack of success with my own foray into the health coach’s suggested lifestyle, I went to work for her and left the safety of my corporate job behind. That job was causing me immense amounts of stress, which I was guessing to be the root of my stubborn weight gain.
It was a bit of a gamble that would leave me without health insurance for a month, but by this point, I was desperate to get away from the toxic atmosphere, so I took the leap.
And instantly came down with COVID. I mean instantly. The new job told me to take as long as I needed to heal. Unpaid, of course. Two weeks later, they notified me they were scrapping the project they’d hired me for.
By this point, I was a single mother with little savings, no health insurance (because I could no longer pay the premium on the new plan), too sick to walk to the bathroom, let alone work. My breathing was shallow and my heart felt like someone was squeezing it. I distinctly remember the night I went to bed, certain I would not wake up in the morning. I did my best to get right with God and put it in His hands.
I did wake up and eventually mend, but it was the longest month of my life. I’d been cautious of COVID before, now I truly fear it.
The thing about COVID is you feel too horrible to eat. You have to force yourself, and then only if someone brings it to you. My sister was sick while I was and lost five pounds. Want to guess how much I lost? None. Of course.
There is another meme that does amuse me. I went searching for it and found it sprang from a Tweet. I giggle snort every time I come across it because I feel its truth to my very bones.
My boys and I left my marriage with nothing. No car, no furniture. We had little more than the clothes on our back. The house we moved into was over a hundred years old and had no insulation. (A friend once told me "I can literally see the sun coming through the side of your house.)
I worked three jobs to repair my credit from my marriage and pull us up out of that. There’s another story there, one I may eventually get around to telling, but for the purpose of today, I’ll simply say that I am proud of how far we’ve come. I worked hard to provide them with a nice house, nice things, and a comfortable life. All by myself.
And now, with one fateful decision and a bit of crap luck, it’s all in danger. I used my savings up getting us through the first month. Friends kept us alive the second. A fierce job market and holidays mean I’m now peering into an abyss, unsure where month three will come from. My boys are unsure. The reality is that we will be going our separate ways soon; my empty nest thrust upon me all at once and much sooner than planned because of this whole mess.
What does all of this have to do with an article that has thus far lamented weight?
It’s changed how I look in the mirror. My eyes are sunken, the circles under them pronounced. I see the wrinkles I could ignore before. Any beauty I had in my youth seeped out of me during the long months of this COVID nightmare. Some days, I tell myself I will be healthy again. I will build a life for myself that will help my body find its balance and I will be healthy and strong and I will feel beautiful again, even if the men of the world don’t see it.
I was raised to believe I needed to be beautiful to attract a man, was told I needed one by my side. For whatever the reason, men don’t find me attractive and the ones that do only cause me pain. But what I’ve come to realize is that my beauty is for me, not them. Even now, if I stand up straight, I can see that I still have killer curves. They please me. I have pretty hair that’s long and soft, and I love the way it waves.(And I'm really digging this henna rinse that's turned it fiery red.) I love my eyes and how they change color with my mood. I have feminine hands with pretty fingernails and I love the shape of my feet.
As I looked back through old photos, trying to find one to put with this post, I was struck by the fact that my weight has fluctuated throughout the years, but the core of who I was did not. I have grown, changed, learned. I have lived and laughed and loved. (Pardon the cliché) But I was always more beautiful than I felt at the time or gave myself credit for. Even in the times when I carried more weight.
Because I am more than the sum of my waistline and more than the number of men who desire me.
I am a woman who raised three beautiful sons, mostly alone. Sons that have become competent, compassionate men. I have written and published twelve novels with millions of readers all around the world. I have held my own in board rooms where I was the only woman and negotiated multi-million dollar deals with globally recognized brands. I tried on the Super Bowl ring!
I taught school children and Sunday school. Mentored youth and sat on the floor with young girls while they cried. I worked up the courage to sing in front of a live audience. I’ve been in plays and given speeches. Fought against human trafficking. Been in parades and backstage at one of the largest music festivals in the country.
I learned to live off the land. I create gardens that are beautiful and can nourish my family. I learned the forgotten art of herbals and how to make butter from scratch. I’ve raised chickens and goats and ducks. Rescued horses. Rode turnback in a herd of bison for the president of the National Cutting Horse Association. Sat in a goat barn with my favorite doe licking my forehead while she labored. Brought a stillborn kitten back to life. She's actually curled up next to me purring at the moment, come to think of it.
These arms I so loathe have held babies, built fences, and fixed water heaters. They’ve wrangled alpacas. These hands have painted--walls and canvas--to fill my world with color.
My beauty, whatever that might be, does not have to be appreciated by others to exist. And if it is so easily erased by my weight fluctuating during a few particularly hellish years of my life, then it most definitely was not appreciated to begin with.
One of my sisters said something pretty brilliant yesterday: When food is scarce, the beauty standard is to be fat. When food is plentiful, the standard is to be thin. Pretty much whatever is opposite of natural women at the time.
I haven’t researched the historical accuracy of that, but it sounds about right.
I cannot control what the world appreciates. I cannot control their memes or pettiness or how shallow their depth. I can only control myself. My depth and what I appreciate.
And it’s past time for me to appreciate that the sum of me is so much more than the number on the scale or the size of my jeans.
Sassy: lively, bold, and full of spirit; cheeky.
I have an ex-boyfriend who used to say I was showing sass whenever I would stand up for myself. Maybe it's being the daughter of an alcoholic. Maybe it's just my innate nature. But it took me a few decades of life to stop apologizing for taking up space. At least one more for me to stop apologizing for my sass.
It's been a winding road, from there to here, but I like the creature I have become. I like my sass. And better yet, I want to use it to stand up for other women. Create opportunities for them. Encourage them to find their own path, speak their own truth.
Not gonna lie, I have no clue where this is heading. But I plan to start with a series of guest posts from some amazing women in their Fabulous Forties because, while I wish I'd appreciated my body more while I was in my 20s, I have to admit I adore being a 40-something woman. So, we'll start things off there and just see what unfolds.
I hope you'll join me for the ride.
Have an idea for a post, series, or guest? Shoot me an email; I'd love to hear it!
Once upon a time, I got it in my head that I wanted to start a magazine to encourage and empower women. I decided to name it Sass.
And then I remembered there were only so many hours in a day and I do, occasionally, like to sleep.
But the idea never quite went away, so I decided to compromise with myself and at least create a space on my website specifically for that purpose.
At the onset of 2020, the world watched in horror as Australia burned. Videos of koalas being rescued lit up social media. And then 2020 happened, in all of its spectacular crappiness, and we forgot.
Only the damage we’ve caused our planet didn’t go away just because we were preoccupied. Anyone who can’t see that now, as the entire west coast of our country is on fire, isn’t looking. These fires are absolutely a product of deforestation and climate change, both a consequence of it and serving to escalate it. It’s not just a 24-hour news cycle making it more noticeable, the number of wildfires has grown and will only get worse.
An intergovernmental panel on climate change said the scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal. This is not a liberal or conservative debate. It’s not a US thing or a European thing. First world or third world problem. This is about survival of the human species. Earth will go on, even if it has to purge us to do it. The question is: Will we survive with it?
I’m not being hyperbolic. The 2019-2020 Australian brush fire season cost 34 lives. Twenty-five have already been lost on the West coast this year, with officials bracing for mass fatalities. We’re facing the most active hurricane season in NOAA’s 22-year history. While there is much debate around the cause of COVID-19, studies show that climate change causes an increase in pandemics. With the COVID-19 worldwide death rate at 916,000 and counting, is that something we’re prepared to face on a regular basis?
Respected scientists throughout the world point to a series of cascading tipping points in climate change — when one is breached, it acts like a set of dominoes, triggering others. Of the fifteen identified tipping points, seven are active and two are waking up. Not necessarily breached, but showing signs we are on the threshold of the point of no return. An awakening tipping point of particular concern is the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), a critical component of our ocean’s circulation system. It’s destabilizing, and scientists aren’t sure how long we have until we can’t do anything about it. (Think of the move The Day After Tomorrow.)
There are a lot of things contributing to climate change. The way we produce energy, big agriculture, deforestation, transportation… but there’s one contributing source in particular I’ve become pretty much obsessed with in the last few months: plastic. From cradle to grave, plastic is pure poison to humans, to the environment, and to our climate. As convenient as the stuff is, the costs far outweigh the benefits.
Did you know there are currently 150 metric tons of plastic in our oceans, with more than 8 million tons being added to it annually? Entire swaths of the ocean have become wastelands. Animals are dying. Ecosystems destroyed.
The scariest part? That’s not the worst thing plastic is doing to us. Plastic rapes the environment at its creation, poisons the human body, and does not go away — at least not anytime soon. And, plastic adds to climate change at every single stage of its life cycle. Recycling, in its current state, is not the answer. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us before recycling is a viable part of the solution.
We have got to get serious about just stopping with all the damned plastic. I say this completely surrounded by plastics. It’s been a process in our house. First identifying one product we can replace, then looking around to find the next. I know that all by myself, I can’t single-handedly stop the avalanche of plastics, but I can stop them in my home. And then maybe the people in my inner circle will get sick of hearing me talk about it and stop them in theirs. And then perhaps their friends will as well.
I’ve been planning to start a zero waste series on my blog, reviewing the products I try in hopes of inspiring maybe even one of you to give it ago. Sadly, the first company I planned to review is currently shut down, having evacuated because of the wildfires. Hopefully, Silver Falls Sustainability Company will be up and running again soon so I can tell you how amazing their lip balm is. (Seriously, I haven’t liked a lip balm this much since rollerball lip potion was a thing in the '80s.)
I recently told a friend that I think I’m becoming a hippie in my middle age. She said I always have been, I’m just leaning into it more. Having grown up in a deeply conservative family — I’m an Air Force brat with agricultural roots in the Midwest, for crying out loud — I don’t say any of the above lightly. I understand that much of the work necessary to put the brakes on climate change will be more than hard. But we’re reaching the point where it’s not optional. We can either start tackling these problems now or we can watch in horror as our entire society collapses and hundreds of thousands of people die.
For those who’ve followed my work for any length of time, I hope it’s apparent how deeply my faith matters to me. It shapes my worldview and is a driving force in all I do.
In Genesis 1:26-28, God created man and woman and gave them dominion over the earth. Too many see that as domination. As permission to do whatever they please to animals and the environment. I’ve always seen it as a sacred calling to care for the world He gave us. To lovingly tend the garden and the animals in it. I recently came across this article about The Meaning of Dominion that illustrates it so beautifully. In it, the author explains that if you look at the Hebrew phrase used there, it would be more appropriate to say: Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness, so they may exercise skilled mastery among [or, with respect to] the fish of the sea and among the birds of the air.”
We have not exercised skilled mastery in our care of this beautiful planet we’ve been given. We haven’t, and we need to own it. And, sadly, our actions have consequences. Our lack of action does, too.
Some of you will read this and think “right on,” then share it and forget it. Some will read it, be upset that my viewpoints don’t align with yours, and put down my books for good. It saddens me, but I know it’s a chance I take by speaking my mind.
But my true and sincere hope is that you’ll read this and do a bit of your own research. Read the articles I linked to above. Talk to others. Look at what’s happening in the world around us and ask yourself, honestly, if it seems like a healthy, thriving planet to you.
And, if you come to the conclusion that it’s not, examine what you can do to help. Not what the government can do, corporations should do, your neighbor should do. What can YOU do to help?
Now go do it.
I have a weird Twitter handle. Nine years ago, when I was told by my new publisher to join Twitter, @HeatherHuffman was already taken. All of the obvious spinoffs were too long, and I am like a deer in headlights when it comes to choosing usernames. So, after weeks of trying to come up with a name/driving my family crazy, my sister suggested @Heathers_mark. (The underscore was so it wouldn’t read Heather Smark.) It seemed fitting and I was tired of thinking about it, so I went with it.
Aside from raising awareness for social justice issues like human trafficking and the failures of our current foster care system, a common theme in my novels is that we all have a unique mark to leave on this world. My tagline at the time was Leave Your Mark. It all evolved into graffiti parties instead of typical book launches. They were incredibly fun parties. The venue was a pub on Cherokee Street that was featured in several of the novels. Musician John Bartley, the inspiration behind the character Danny, played at them. Readers, friends, and family came from all over the country to launch my book babies in style. I hung giant painters canvas from the walls and everyone who attended signed or graffitied them.
Those tarps went on book tours with me. They went to fundraisers to fight trafficking and liberate captives from North Korea. They went to school talks, where 8th graders learned about modern day slavery, internet safety, and activism. People of all ages from all over the country signed those tarps, acknowledging that they, too, had a mark to leave on this world.
That time in my life — that campaign, those talks, those books — they are what I am most proud of (aside from my children).
And then life changed and through a series of unfortunate events (and unfortunate choices) I was forced to set aside the words and the causes and return to corporate America because kids require things like warm shelter and food in their bellies. (Needy little buggers)
And during the quiet years, life became less about leaving my mark and more about surviving and healing. It was a time of transition and pain and joy and growth and, ultimately, finding peace. During these silent years, I began to wonder if the mark I’d left was worth much at all. I gave talks about human trafficking to schools and women’s groups, but I’ve never had the impact of one sentence from Ashton Kutcher. The money I’d donated from book royalties was a joke compared to what he’d done. I began to feel silly. Useless.
It was too big of a problem for me to handle and there were so many other injustices I wanted to tackle that I didn’t even know where to start.
And then I got an email from a 70-year-old reader who said she’d learned about human trafficking through my books, so now she always keeps an eye out for it. This year marks a decade since Throwaway made its debut and I still regularly hear from readers who want me to know what the book meant to them. That is a rare and beautiful gift, and one I do not take lightly. The entire conversation with that reader is one I treasure on many levels, and I don’t think she’ll ever realize how timely it was for me. She reminded me that we don’t always know what kind of impact we’re having on other people, so we should keep doing what we know to be right even if we don’t see the results.
Not long ago, I was discussing climate change with my son and we were debating whether the responsibility for change lies with the individual or with corporations. I argued that while corporations certainly have the ability to make a greater impact, there are 7 billion people in the world. Surely if each of those 7 billion people did one little thing to help the climate, the cumulative effect would be great. Fast forward a month, and stories began to hit social media of the reduction in pollution thanks to quarantine.
Whether we intend them or not, our actions have impact. The ripple caused by our choices touches others, and we have no way of knowing how far it reaches. Not really.
I am realizing I got it wrong ten years ago when I encouraged people to leave their mark. Because we will all leave a mark of some sort on this world. It’s up to us to decide what that mark will be, for better or for worse. Rather than #leaveyourmark, I think the appropriate hashtag is #chooseyourmark.
There is so much about our world right now that breaks my heart. I can’t begin to know how to fix any of it. I know cognitively that control is only an illusion, we never really have it, but my life feels especially out of my control at the moment. If I can’t begin to know how to fix my problems, those of the world at large most definitely elude me.
So, I’ve decided to tackle the little things I can fix. I’m making a concerted effort to be kind to those around me — my children, my coworkers, the clerk at the grocery store… pretty much anyone I encounter. I ordered laundry strips and am switching our soap products to reduce the amount of plastic my family adds to the landfills. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a start. And, being totally transparent, the nice thing really is taking a bit of effort at the moment.
I can’t say if I will ever have any kind of grand impact on this world. Hell, I’m almost 43 and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I have failed abysmally at choosing a life partner, I fumble my way through parenting, and most days I struggle to free the words trapped inside me.
But I can do little things to make the world around me brighter. I can encourage my children as they find their own path. Inch by inch, I can do my part to leave this world better for my having been in it.
Right now, the world needs all the brightness it can get, so I encourage each of you to look around you for the opportunities to make it better. I want to hear from you - what is your mark? What’s the thing you give the world to make it a better place? I promise you have something you’re capable of doing, whatever your circumstance. Share it with me and use the hashtag #chooseyourmark if you’re on social media.
The world is filled with an awful lot of darkness right now. Let’s see if we can shine a light together to make it a bit brighter.
I have an addiction. It’s nothing as seedy or interesting as drugs, alcohol, or sex. It’s DragonVale, a game I loaded on my phone sometime in April. My boys suggested it because they know what I sucker I was for Zoo Tycoon and Farmville. They weren’t wrong — I love that goofy game. Perhaps a bit too much.
As soon as I loaded it, I began racing through the levels. I can spend hours arranging and rearranging my islands. I have a spreadsheet to keep track of my dragons and the right breeding combinations for dragons I want. Yes, a spreadsheet. Like I said, I have issues.
It’s understandable. There is so much about my world I can’t control. My health, my job, the global pandemic. I can’t seem to get traction on any of my goals — thanks to the big three mentioned above. But in DragonVale, I can actually achieve things. I reach goals. And the dragons are cute.
Seems harmless enough. But as I fall further behind on the million-and-one things I could or should be doing because I’m tapping my phone screen, a passage comes to mind. In it, one demon is teaching another how to keep man from living his purpose.
“As the uneasiness and reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures the vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo...you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday's paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but also in conversations with those he cares nothing about, on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say...'I now see that I spent most my life doing in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
We live in a world of dead fires: social media, streaming services, dating sites, video games… this list goes on. None of these things are bad in and of themselves, but they’re dangerous nonetheless. It’s all-too-easy to get sucked into them and lose days, weeks, months. We get hooked on these sites thanks to the dopamine hit they give, and the effect is that we are literally rewiring our brains. They impact our peace, relationships, and ability to find contentment. These are all reasons I generally stay off social media, I left dating sites, and (pre-covid) limit myself to one television show in the evening.
Stuck in my house and too sick to do much else, I kinda left the one show rule in the dust. But it wasn’t until Dragonvale got its hooks in me that I found myself staring into a dead fire when I should be writing.
Now that I've recognized the problem, I’m going to try limiting myself, seeing if I can have the restraint to only check in a couple times a day and for up to half an hour a time. Because the goofy game really does seem to help me deal with all the rest. But I suspect that, like most addictions, I’m eventually going to have to quit cold turkey because the benefits aren’t worth the cost.
For me, it’s DragonVale. For someone else I love, it’s checking news sites. For another, it’s SnapChat streaks. The world is littered with dead fires. And I can’t help but wonder what we could do if we stopped staring into nothingness.
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