We’re excited to highlight some of the amazing people in our Perennial Gen community and beyond in our “Rooted” feature, where we ask someone five questions about their midlife experience. Today, we’re chatting with Deb Lawrence. Deb first shared a bit of her empty nest experience with us in this post. She has been a teacher, a missionary, a doula, and, most recently, returned to school to become a massage therapist.
PerGen: Deb, what has surprised you most about midlife?
Deb: I have been surprised that it snuck up on me. I had children in my 30’s so my children were still young when I hit what may qualify as midlife. I have generally felt internally younger than my age on the calendar. Yet, here I am.
PerGen: Who have been the strong women (or mentors) in your life? What have they taught you?
I have appreciated sitting under quality preaching throughout my life. I learned early the benefits of solid friendships and growing in small groups. I have also changed locations often enough to realize time and energy it takes to build those friendships once out of college.
This question threw me since I do not have a history of classic mentoring relationships and I kept trying to find some. Then I realized that the mentoring in my life has often taken place in close friendships intentionally developed over years of sharing lives. This has happened both one-on-one and in small groups. Also, I have worked to stay teachable and not think of myself as having arrived.
PerGen: Can you share briefly about the trajectory you’ve taken from college onward in your career? What initiated each shift in your career?
I was one of those somewhat rare students who chose a major while in high school, stayed with it all though college and then used it! After 3 years of teaching high school Home Economics, I went to grad school at Purdue. My goal was Marriage and Family Therapy and I did a Masters in Family Studies. When I saw what the PhD students went through and said no to sticking around for that! While teaching I had met and fallen in love with a guy headed to Kenya with the Navigators for 3 years. He returned in my last year of grad school and our plans were then to go into missions.
We met SEND International staff and really liked what we saw. Tom went to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for a Certificate and I worked in the Education Department at Trinity College for the 5 years that we prepared, met requirements and raised support. We spent 1 summer with SEND in the Philippines early on and that solidified our commitment to return. We were in the Philippines for 4.5 years.
We had a newborn when we first moved there, and went on to have two more children in the Philippines. We managed the labor with a few skills we had learned. The doctor at the last birth said, “This was amazing! Can you teach this?” While we returned to the U.S. for our Home Service, I trained to teach childbirth classes, thinking it would be in the Philippines.
There is a place in missions for everyone but there are more places in long-term missions for people who generate their own schedules. My husband thrives best where there is at least a start time, end time and general job description. So, we did not return. (One of the realities of being married is that a husband can be the motivation for a family going to the field but a wife cannot be the driving force to take a family back.)
I started teaching childbirth classes, and about 3 years into doing that, a student asked if I could be their doula. Doula work fit me like a calling. I was able to work part-time and invest time in my children. Along with other doulas, I was able to do professional development for others in the area. I am also President of a group starting a new, comprehensive childbirth education organization.
I have been supporting families through the birth process now for over 18 years – about 450 babies! I love the work but constantly being on call and staying up all hours gets wearing. About 3 years ago God led me to talk with a colleague about a bodywork therapy she practiced. I took the training, loved it and discovered that in order to practice I would have to earn a massage license. God and I had words about this but I went to school full-time for a calendar year and now have a new skill set, as well as a need to learn more about marketing as I build my bodywork practice!
PerGen: What was it like heading back into the classroom at midlife?
I expect to do well in school and this was no exception. I ended up with a cohort of fellow students who were mostly older than typical college students – though none as old as me! It was a blessing to be with a group with more life experience and a true focus and commitment to the work. Several times in the first semester, particularly while learning to speak anatomy, I did wonder why I thought this was a good idea! I kept hearing it was harder to learn and remember when older. I used this as motivation. I am quite amused that though I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, the paper that I need to hang on the wall in my new business is the certificate from the community college.
I have always done well academically, including being named to the top academic award at my undergrad university. Every year I get a letter inviting me to attend the celebration for this year’s awardees. There is a section asking what I do and if they can refer interested students to learn more. I have loved investing my life in my children, my church and birth work. Yet, every year I have been internally embarrassed that the life I have led is not the sort that I expected in my 20s or is listed in the blurbs in the back of the alumni magazine. In the past year or so I have come to peace that the life I have led HAS been in obedience to what God has shown me to do. I have impacted hundreds of lives over time in small classes and one on one. I have lived a good and useful life and followed God’s will for me. And now I have finally jettisoned old expectations of what a successful life would have looked like for the one I have actually lived.
PerGen: How would you hope to be remembered by your family and friends? Your students?
Helping is one of my love languages. I would like that my presence in their lives provided structure and support to do the thing they wanted/needed to do. I would like that God had been seen through compassion, love and a good sense of humor.
Editor’s note: Please visit Deb’s website to learn about her therapeutic bodywork services –http://magichandsbirth.com/therapeutic/
Deb explains her approach: “I identify tightness, assists it to release and keep you safe while it does. The work is relaxing and effective while gentle for the client. And you get to keep your clothes on!” PerGen editor Michelle found Deb’s gentle services brought relief and assisted in healing as she was recovering from an accident last summer that resulted in a broken/dislocated knee and broken tailbone.