Natalie Ogbourne

Navigating Tough Terrain in Midlife
“This way, Babe.”
Late the night before, my husband, J, and I had checked into a hotel in Nebraska. Now it was morning, time to resume our road trip. I stepped out of our room and turned to the right, which, apparently, was wrong.
“Really?” I asked.
I was sure this was the right way. But J instinctively knows where he is and I, just as instinctively, do not. So, I turned and followed him down the hall to where the open staircase actually was. Together, we crossed the lobby and exited through double glass doors. I turned right again.
“This way, Babe.”
Sighing, I pivoted toward his voice and joined him at our little red Plymouth Sundance. After a long day on the road, we made a quick stop in Cody, Wyoming. Knowing my tendency to get turned around in parking lots and other unfamiliar places, J pointed out the exit. When I eased up to the stop sign, he told me to take a left and I surprised him with a confident, “I know.”
We were on the road to Yellowstone and I knew exactly where we were and how to get there.
Before long we were deep in the park, where I awed J with a navigational prowess he’d never known me to possess. Yellowstone was as familiar as home. Not only could I easily find my way out of every parking lot, I knew which way to turn to get us from where we were to where we wanted to be.

Unfamiliar Terrain

When we head someplace new, we need something to help us get from where we are to where we want to go. Today, we rely on some type of GPS. When it comes to the landscape of our lives, we’re always heading someplace new and GPS doesn’t cut it. In As You Like It, Shakespeare describes seven stages life takes us through: infancy, childhood, the teen years, young adulthood, middle age, old age, and dotage. Even in the adult years, each stage arrives with its own unique blend of physical, relational, vocational, cognitive, and emotional challenge and change. (If you’re in or approaching the middle age years, click here to get your Navigating Midlife Field Manual.)
It’s a lot to find our way through.
As of this writing, I am fifty-three years old. I’m less than one month from the graduation of my youngest child and in the final stages of an emptying nest. I’ve never been here before and there are days I feel as turned around as at that hotel in Nebraska.
Maybe you know what that feels like.

Finding Our Way

Finding our way is what navigating the landscape of life is about. The way of faith doesn’t offer us the quick convenience of GPS. It doesn’t even give us a map. It offers us a Word that tells us we aren’t meant to always, instinctively, know where we are. If we were, this counsel would be unnecessary: And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. (Isaiah 30:21 ESV) Same with this: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119: 5 ESV)

Sometimes we know where we are, where we’re headed, and how to get there. Other times even the landscape of our own lives becomes unfamiliar and we need to hear a version of “This way, Babe.”Finding our way isn’t only about knowing how to get where we want to be next. It’s about knowing where we are now. It’s about paying attention, about listening for that still small voice and looking for the light. With these as our guide, we can navigate the changing landscape–the ups and downs, the blind corners, and the wide vistas of the terrain we’re traveling.

I don’t know about you, but autopilot is much easier for me to fall back on than attention. Because it doesn’t come easily, I use a mix of tools to help me to cultivate awareness and pay attention to God’s voice and his lamp. Often, I’m met with some type of “This way, Babe” in the form of a reminder, a course correction, a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, or a fresh perspective. Because these tools are helpful to me, I like to share them with you. The one I’m sharing today has a name—an acronym, really, which is something my aging brain appreciates.

P.O.S.T.: A Navigation Practice

Pause: Just stop for a moment. Or five. With coffee or without. Whatever you have time for. Then move through the following steps with an eye toward a new perspective and an ear for a version of “This way, Babe,” a phrase that comes in a variety of forms.
Orient:  Scan the terrain you’ve been traveling through. What are the landmarks? (As in, what’s going on, been going on, will be going on?) If possible, jot these landmarks down. There’s something helpful about seeing them. Also, if these questions look familiar, it’s because I’ve shared them before. They’re core to navigating life.
Specify: On paper or in your mind, draw or imagine yourself at an intersection on a map. Using the landmarks from the previous step, name the intersection. (As in, I am at the intersection of FILL IN THE BLANK and FILL IN THE BLANK.) If you need a bigger intersection or you just want to be fancy, another option would be to place yourself at a roundabout. It’s possible the correct preposition is on a roundabout or in one. Roundabouts confuse me. I am not a fan.
Take your next step: There’s no pressure. Just information. Maybe your next step will simply be to move on with a better idea of where you are. Maybe it will involve a decision. Maybe you’ll find that you want to correct your course or change your pace.

What About Your Terrain?

Whatever your terrain, my hope is that you are walking more by attention and faith than autopilot and habit. How do you cultivate attention in your life? Let me know. I’d love to hear.

Happy trails ~
I often share tales from the trail at these places:
Inspire Me Monday, #TellHisStory,