“They will still bear fruit in old age; they will be full of sap and very green” (Psalm 92:14).
As of this Friday, March 28, I hit 74 years of age.
Is that old? Depends on where you’re standing, I suppose. To a kid, it’s ancient. To me, it’s just another birthday.
Yep, 1940 is my year. And what a year that was. I remember it well!
Europe was already ablaze thanks to murderous Adolf Hitler. Six weeks after I arrived his Nazis invaded the Low Countries and on the same day (May 10) Churchill became Prime Minister of Britain. I had nothing to do with any of that in case you are asked. In the U.S., Congress agreed with FDR to call up our National Guardsmen for one year of active service. A song from that period says, “Good-bye dear, I’ll be back in a year. Don’t forget that I love you.” (It goes on to say, “They took my number right out of a hat, but there’s nothing a fellow can do about that!”)
When I was born, dad was 27 and mom 23. I was their fifth child, although almost exactly a year before I arrived, mom gave birth to a boy who lived only a couple of days. One of their surprises on reaching heaven, I expect, was that mom and dad got to see who this child is. The rest of us have to wait a while longer.
Here are some observations about turning 74 and then my prayer….
In 1944, when I was 4, my youngest brother was born. I still recall the crying of the newborn. Charles Wayne (“Tog” or “Charlie”) is in Heaven now, and I miss him mightily. There were six of us, all born within a 9-year span. Hard on mom, but great for us.
In 1954, our house burned and we rebuilt on the same spot. That farmhouse sits there now, where all six of us grew up and 10,000 memories reside.
In 1964, Margaret and I moved to New Orleans with our one-year-old to attend seminary. This faith decision changed everything forever in our lives.
In 1974, we moved to the pastorate of the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi. None of our three children were born in Mississippi, but they were mostly raised in Columbus and proudly call themselves natives of that good state.
In 1984, Margaret and I took our one and only trip to the Holy Land, a gift from the Columbus church on our 10th anniversary. I recommend that every pastor do this as early as possible in his ministry. It changes forever his perspective and his understanding of the gospels.
In 1994, we moved into our present home in suburban New Orleans the same month our first grandson was born. The house is paid off but the grandson keeps costing. (Smiley-face goes here, Grant!)
In 2004, I resigned from the pastorate of Kenner’s First Baptist Church (after nearly 14 years) to become director of missions for the SBC churches of metro New Orleans. The commitment was for five years, meaning that with my retirement in ’09, I have now been retired half a decade.
And in 2014, I will join the local members of our family for dinner and we will eat a piece of Andrea Gabrielse Laitano’s cake to celebrate birthday number 74. Son Neil will have come up with a creative card–he does the best ones ever–and we’ll all love on one another. Our son Marty’s family in North Carolina and daughter Carla’s family in Missouri will not be here, but I’ll have an extra piece of cake in their honor!
A few observations….
— A good friend noted that her mom turns 80 this month and later this year, she herself will hit 50. I said,”It’s just a number.” She said, “Yes, but it’s such a huge number.” We laughed.
–My cousin, a few months younger than me, observes, “Does it seem to you that 74 is a lot younger than it used to be?” Absolutely. When we were kids, 40 was old.
–I am privileged to say once again, “I have no aches and pains in my body.” None at all. I cannot recall the last time I had a backache or a pain of any kind. How blessed is that!
My prayer on reaching age 74….
“Father, thank you for your faithfulness through all these years. Thank you for such unending mercy as you pour out on this Alabama farm boy; no one has needed Thy mercy more and few have appreciated it greater.
“Thank you for surrounding me with loving people and challenging opportunities.
“Thank you for being my ‘Portion’ as I shifted into retirement mode five years ago. You have supplied every need and beyond. You continue to open doors of service and to fill me with excitement every morning as I bolt out of bed. Thank you seems so inadequate, but thank you.
“Father, I would love to be as un-obsessed with age as my parents were. They trusted in Thee, lived for the day, and refused to worry. And You took such wonderful care of them. I still smile at the memory of our mom saying, ‘I don’t even know how old I am.” When I said, ‘You’re 95, mom,’ she said, ‘Lord, have mercy.’ You did have mercy and we will never quit thanking you for that.
“Lately, as I go through the morning routine of praying for those nearest and dearest to me, I find myself calling names of people no longer with us, but with Thee. I’ll say, ‘And bless Ronnie and Dorothy, Glenn and Peggy, Trish and James, Carolyn and Van, Charlie and Carolyn….’ and then remember that Glenn and Charlie are in Heaven. I miss them–and mom and pop–mightily.
“Slowly but surely, earth is emptying and Heaven is filling. Please save my spot.
“Now, go with me throughout today, please Father. Use me for Thy glory. May I make a difference in someone’s life for Thy sake. Give me boldness in speaking to others about Jesus, but the wisdom to know when to keep quiet. Guard me as I travel the highways, this weekend to Crystal City, Missouri, for a revival in the First Baptist Church. (Thank you for Charles McLain, the pastor.) Please make me sharp and strong and keep the message clear.
“Whatever You have planned for the balance of my days on earth, my overriding prayer is ‘Thy will be done in Joe as it is in Heaven.’
“For Jesus’ sake. By Jesus’ blood. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”