We all carry scars. Like old lions lying in the sun. Like old warriors trying to get it together one last time.
No one emerges from this life unscathed.
At age 80-plus I lie in bed in the early morning hours all finished with sleep but knowing it’s still too early to rise, just thinking about things. My mind travels back to errors I have made along the way, mistakes of all kinds, big and little, consequential and not. I try not to beat myself up over them, but frequently I offer up a prayer for the one I may have hurt or disappointed or neglected.
I’ve told here how my father in the last few years of his lengthy life (over 95 orbits around the sun!) dredged up something from his 18th year that still bothered him. His mother had ordered him to leave home and live on his own.. (Grandma had a houseful of children, they were a coal-mining family, the boys were constantly fighting, while Carl–my dad–had been earning his own living for years and she needed some peace. I suspect I’d have done what she did.) Nothing we said eased Dad’s mind. It bothered him that his mother did something so unfair. Eventually time became his friend and as he eased into the sunset of life (I’m smiling at such an apt but dumb depiction of death!), this ceased to bother him.
When I lie there thinking of the past, my mind does not fixate on failures of others or my mistreatment by them. I’ve been the recipient of blessings and grace galore. No complaints here. (When my Bertha–we will celebrate four years of marriage on January 11–brings my favorite dinner in, I sometimes say, “I must be one of the most deserving people in the world. Either that, or I am daily showered with grace!” I know the answer to that one.)
“They will still bear fruit in old age; they will be full of sap and very green….” (Psalm 92:14)
Here’s what happened.
As I was surfing through the program containing all the articles in this website from nearly twenty years of blogging, I came across an unfinished draft called “the last temptations of the aged.” I breezed right past it, in search of something else I was looking for.
A moment later, I was back. That was an intriguing title, I thought. Must have started that article a year or more back. Wonder what it says.
After reading it, I deleted the entire thing.
It was indeed written a few years back, and then left in the program and forgotten. But the strange part is that nothing it said applies to my life now.
Not a thing.
Here is a list that will stand the test of time, methinks, and may apply to a great segment of geriatrics as we move into life’s red zone. Let’s think of these as the last temptations of the aged….
“This shall be written for the generation to come; and the people who shall be created shall praise the Lord” (Psalm 102:18).
Please go to the front of your Bible and write in it.
Start by putting your own name.
Often, when I pick up the Bibles of friends to see what they have written in them, I’m chagrined to see they don’t even have their names.
Write in your Bible, friend. Please.
At Christmas 1973, my aunt Eren gave to her mother, my wonderful grandmother Bessie Lowery McKeever, a Bible. Grandma died in 1982, but not before marking up that Bible.
I now own it. It is a treasure beyond price.
This morning, I read something I had never seen before, that made the tears flow. (I was looking up the text above, and Grandma’s Bible was handy.)
My friend Paul took up golf so he would have something to share with his boys when they became teenagers. Smart man. Fathers find fewer and fewer activities in common with their children as they grow up and mature.
When my children were small, we connected on every level. I helped them learn to swim, taught them to ride bikes, and every night, told them bedtime stories (with one lying enfolded in each arm). We flew kites and dug for sharks teeth and collected rocks. We made up silly songs in the car and they sang out as loudly as I did. We visited the zoo and played ball and worked in the yard. We visited grandparents and they slept over with cousins.
Then they got to be teenagers. Sing in the car? Dad, you’re kidding, right? Be seen in the mall with you, Dad–do I have to? Oh, and drop me off a block before we get to school so my friends won’t see me getting out of the family car. Family reunion? Boring!
They did let me teach them to drive the car. Usually, it was a Sunday afternoon in an empty parking lot, or down some deserted road. But as soon as they received their license, they preferred to be left alone with their friends.
Life had changed.
Who but God can forgive sins? (Mark 2:7)
A while back I wrote the author of a book on the political events of 1940 to express my appreciation. I added this note:
That year is also special because I made my appearance on March 28, 1940. But don’t think me old just because I was born in 1940.
Later, I wondered why I’d gone to the trouble to say that, as I do not know that author and don’t expect to meet him. Why did that matter?
I decided it’s a personal thing.
None of us want to be pigeon-holed because of demographics or statistics, and not for preconceptions or ignorance. Being a Southerner does not make you a redneck. Living in Mississippi does not mean you are barefooted. All Louisianians do not speak Cajun. All Yankees are not rude.
She hath done what she could. –Mark 14:8
The little girl was staring up at Bertha and saying nothing. Bertha and Gary were newlyweds, just beginning in ministry, and Gary accepted any invitations coming his way–sing, preach, teach, counsel, whatever. Today, he had sung in the worship service, and now stood near the piano talking to the accompanist. A few feet away, her little girl was staring up at Bertha.
Finally she spoke.
She said, “Do you sing?”
Bertha: “No. I don’t sing.”
Silence. The child is processing that. Finally, she speaks again.
“Do you play the piano?”
“No. I don’t play the piano.”
More silence. The child is thinking. Then, she speaks and gives this family a memorable line we’ve used ever since.
One. “Back in my day.” I’m actually living in my day. Today.
This is my day. I am as alive and active as I have ever been. I vote, I read the paper every day, I blog several times a week, and I’m often on Facebook. I still work–traveling to cities far and near to preach and minister.
I married Bertha three years ago. She still teaches English at a community college across town. Much of her day is spent at the laptop grading papers and communicating with students. She is very much in the present; neither of us is living in the past.
Earlier this month I drove to northern Kentucky (495 miles) to minister and drove back the next day, arriving home in time to sketch for two hours at our church’s Christmas program that evening.
I’m still here.
Two. I’m going to ‘unpack’ this message. Ugh!
My wife and I are still learning about marriage.
Bertha and I were both 76 years old when we married. I’m five months older than she.
But don’t take that the wrong way. In no way are we old. We are not infirmed, crippled (thank the Lord!), or elderly. We both still work. She teaches English for a local community college and teaches online for a Christian university in Indiana. I’m retired, but always on the go to preach and sketch people for events. I write (blogs, books, articles for various publications) and watch a lot of sports on television (and she’s all right with that!).
We are loving our lives.
Bertha and I were each married 52 years, she to Pastor Gary Fagan, and I to Margaret Ann Henderson. God took Gary to Heaven in May of 2014 and Margaret eight months later. Bertha and I met in February of 2016, and were married a year later.
When Margaret and I married, she was just short of 20 and I was 22. We were both children with hardly a clue what we were doing. An accounting of the mistakes we made would fill an encyclopedia. I’ve not asked Bertha about her and Gary who married about the same time. But I’m confident she’s a different person now from the 22-year-old who stood beside Gary and took the vows.
Who wouldn’t be different? We live and learn.
Turn them off, turn them over to Him, or turn them into gold.
“Your sins and iniquities I will remember no more” (Hebrews 10:17).
God has a healthy forgetter; we should too. The things that need forgetting, we give to him and walk away from. Even if they are not entirely forgotten, we are free from their effects.
My wife Bertha and I were talking about memories the other day. We each have a lifetime of remembrances to share with each other since we were in our 70s when we met. We were each 75 when we married.
She said, “Each of us has a wagonload of memories of God’s people who have loved us and cared for us. But we also have our share of painful memories that I sometimes wish I could edit out of my life.”
She continued, “But the Holy Spirit showed me something. If He were to remove all the memories of the pain and strife, He would also be removing the lovely things that happened during the same time.”
So, we keep all the memories. But we treat them differently.