The Inevitable Storms

Winter StormMid morning sun shines through the pine branches outside my window. I’m reminded of ocean waves relentlessly rolling onto shore as I watch the ponderous greenery move slowly in the breeze. Peace and quiet.

A tranquil scene this October morning but…it is October here in the Rocky Mountains and this morning’s sun is predicted to fade by mid-afternoon with showers thundering their way into the picture. Few of us can forget another October eighteen years ago when moisture didn’t fall as rain, but as snow that first floated, then blasted from the skies. Snow smothered our city, wind whipped it into drifts, cars stranded alongside highways, travelers marooned in airports with all flights cancelled, schools, stores, churches, business shuttered. Even monster snowplows ran off the roads they attempted to clear.

Changeable October weather helps me remember that life can unexpectedly turn from tranquility into storm. Healthy women who eat well, exercise wisely get breast cancer. Energetic men in their forties have heart attacks. Children playing with gusto suddenly fall prey to leukemia. Families watching parades are struck and killed by cars flying into the crowd. Perhaps with slightly more warning—but we are still shocked—seemingly happy marriages end in divorce.

To disagree with Henry David Thoreau seems presumptuous but listen carefully to his words: If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.  I wonder how many wise investors who confidently imagined retirement lives of ease but lost millions of dollars in recessions would agree? Or friends here in Colorado who carefully cut away trees and bushes around their houses in fire “mitigation,” yet watched helplessly as their dream homes disintegrated into piles of ash?

It is wise to plan, smart to protect what we own, astute to mind our health, but to believe that all will be well, that calamity will not befall us is unrealistic. In the Bible story about construction engineers choosing either sand or rock for foundations, it is intriguing to note that the storm pounded both structures. Yet I frequently hear varieties of this message from Christians (almost always Christians from the Western hemisphere): “How could this happen? I’m a ‘good’ Christian. I attend church/teach Sunday School/tithe/witness. I’ve raised my children well. I’m a minister/missionary.”

Recent re-reading of Psalm 37 gives me direction and hope. Do not fret (the root word means to heat or inflame oneself!)…Trust in the Lord…Commit your way to him…Be still before the Lord. And then this firm promise: The Lord makes firm the steps of those who delight in him; though they stumble (though storms, cancer, poverty, fire come), they will not stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord upholds them with his hand.

I’ve long clung to these words from Isaiah:

But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you (insert your name),
he who formed you (insert your name again):
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you,
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…you are precious in my sight…

The only way to face the seemingly insane, uncertain storms of life.

Old Age Ain’t For Sissies!

Opened GiftDo you identify with a friend’s recent comment: “Old age ain’t for sissies!” This smiling, faith-filled woman lives with a husband who is regrettably falling quickly into a kind of mental weariness with accelerated memory loss. What just a few months ago was mere “forgetfulness” has become chronic, a condition which will soon require constant attention. Another friend at this same hour expressed frustration with decreasing energy that prevents her from being as active in people’s lives and worldwide Christian outreach as she was in earlier years.

My part of the conversation? I was just plain tired that day! The recent schedule had been relentlessly full with absolutely wonderful things requiring mental attention, spiritual concentration, emotional outpouring and physical WORK. Some nights provided the refreshment of sleep, others found me awake too late as well as too early. Body parts—those that can’t be replaced!—too frequently ached with the reminder that medications (which I resist) offer only temporary relief and in reality can’t eliminate the very natural process of aging. (The described schedule fortunately isn’t my constant state of affairs, but that’s a topic for another day.)

This is a new and different season of life that seems to creep up unexpectedly. In writing about the futility of regret, but with words that seem to also apply to this subject, Michelle Van Loon writes, “The autumn and winter years of our lives are by definition, a time to accept what we didn’t do and can never reclaim. It is soul-sobering to recognize that life doesn’t come with a reset button.”

For those of us who find deep satisfaction in following after Christ, serving him and others in his name, it becomes a challenge to creatively “keep on keeping on,” recognizing that the following and serving will look different in this season. I seriously doubt that I will take more forty-hour plane trips to parts of the world where my heart overflows with love and compassion for the girls and boys, women and men. But they live on in my mind: their faces clear, their bamboo-roofed homes vivid, the suckling babies ever present. I can’t hug them any more, but I can pray for them. I can help finance water for their villages. And I even have the privilege of writing about them. All that describes my “reset button.” Life and serving aren’t over; they’re just different.

“…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…I have learned the secret of being content…” Note those italicized words. Learning implies process. Time. Adjustment. Secret makes me think of gifts not yet opened. Treasures to discover if I only pay attention: life, moments, people, thoughts, ideas, understandings, experiences, knowledge. The list goes on. No, old age ain’t for sissies but for the courageous who walk with the same-yesterday-today-and-forever Jesus. Those willing to enthusiastically and patiently press the reset button each morning so life can continue with joy and fulfillment.

Ode to Evelyn

The obituary is simple:

Mary Evelyn King, 92, of Summerville,South Carolina, widow of Calvin A. King (known familiarly as John), passed away Saturday, October 3, 2015 at her residence. Mrs. King was born January 27, 1923 in Ridgely,Tennessee, daughter of the late John and Winnie Stewart Lack. She was a graduate of Piggot High School in Piggot, Arkansas and she was a homemaker. Surviving are: two sons: Timothy A. King (Cynthia) of Summerville and Jalon L. King (Jan) of Valapariso, Indiana, four grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.

Less than one hundred words to sum up ninety two years. My calculator indicates that’s 1.08695652 words per year to describe a life that needs encyclopedic portrayal. But I have a file folder nearly two inches thick with letters from Evelyn spanning almost exactly ten years and those letters tell a far different, far more colorful, far more exhilarating a story.

In 1948 John and Evelyn began attending the church in which I grew up but I remember her mostly from visits to that church after I left the area. The enduring picture is of her standing straight, tall and quiet near the door as she waited for John to complete his Sunday duties. She didn’t indulge in after-church chatter and so many thought her unfriendly, stern, even dour, but oh, what a treasure they missed.

So who was this woman I’ve come to admire and deeply care for? In the introductory pages of the book honoring her younger brother, I’ve gleaned this information from her own hand. She was the daughter of parents “of above average intelligence.” She writes that her mother “no doubt could have excelled as artist, writer or musician had her latent talents been cultivated at the right time.” (Those exact words could be said of Evelyn.) When she was four, the family moved from Tennessee to Arkansas to be closer to grandfather and after his death two years later, the family “became poorer by the year… Occasionally (our) father purchased…a soup bone and box of soda crackers. Such a purchase evoked celebration…”

From that background grew a woman of little formal education and mountains of intelligence and wisdom. Her words were often almost melodic. “We lived on a farm through my childhood and teen years where I often found myself hidden away in the huge gullies washed out by frequent rains. During the winter I often built a fire behind some of the clay banks where I would be sheltered from the wind. There I would…ponder what life was all about and wonder what the Lord had in store for me…”

Evelyn trusted me with reminiscences that she said were rarely if ever shared with others. “Would you believe the girls (in the one-room school) sometimes pretended to square dance though they had no music? They would be forced to practice this in some part of the yard not easily viewed by the teacher as this was considered sinful. I did not participate as I had been brought up in a very strict manner almost like the Quakers… Even now I never want to be singled out in church nor do I ever clap no matter how much I enjoy and appreciate what is going on… I am often embarrassed by any show of emotion… This strange complex has not served me well…”

In this same letter she wrote, “You have had a look into my heart which few ever have. I have wonderful, caring, concerned, delightful friends around me here, but few of them really know my deepest feelings…”

How I shall miss those letters. Letters with variations of salutations: Dear Favorite One or Dear Young and Lovely Friend (she insisted I was YOUNG!) or Dear Favored One. I have been the recipient of gold—the gold of words wisely, beautifully written and the gold of friendship. Goodbye, my friend. You have deeply enriched my life. I have loved you.