Everyone’s life is a story that influences their world views, their choices, their relationships, and their behavior. There are some constants in life, but each person’s story is unique. We all will die, and for those who grow old, there are things that happen to our bodies and minds. For example, muscle mass begins to decline, our brain shrinks, we don’t hear as well, we have less taste, we forget things, and we get wrinkles and white hair. However, on the flip side, we get fewer colds, we sweat less, need less sleep, and, wait for it, we are happier.
While this may seem counter-intuitive, studies show that older folks become more content over time. If we take the time to understand our story, we see that our experiences are not a series of random events. They contain heartache and hope. They allow us to see who God is and who we were made to be. My walk with Jesus has changed slowly over the years, and I have learned to rest in Him, trust Him with my life, my fears, my sorrows, and my loved ones (that is, most of the time). This change is not due to age, but rather experiencing God in every part of my story.
Here are a couple of pages from my story that contributed to slow changes in my faith, identity, and behavior.
I grew up with parents who loved Jesus, served others, and taught me to do the same. I married young, had three children, (boom, boom, boom), lived a rustic lifestyle in the mountains, and tried hard to be a “groovy” hippy listening to Bob Dylan. I did not question my faith, but I did question God and His ways. Why was Moses almost killed as a baby? Why was Abraham told to kill his son? Why did salvation require Jesus, God’s only begotten son, to suffer and die? Stories about children and suffering always bothered me a bit.
You see, my middle son was born two months early while I was traveling in Wisconsin. We were immediately separated, as they needed to send him to another hospital because his lungs were under-developed. I lay stuck in my hospital bed for a week crying and questioning God. Three times, a doctor came to tell me that my tiny baby boy was not going to make it through the night. My father came to baptize him. He did not tell me, but he also made funeral arrangements.
My son, Matthew, lived through that first terrifying week, but he remained in critical condition. I was able to visit when I finally got out of the hospital, but I could not hold him. I returned to Indiana because I could not afford to stay in Wisconsin, and I had another young son waiting for my return. I went back to work and would sit by the White River and cry and cry out to God. “Why me?” “Why my baby boy?” I prayed he would live a healthy life. Two months later, I went to visit one weekend, and they told me I could take my baby boy home. It was such a surprise; I had no baby blankets, clothes, or traveling supplies for him! This experience helped me understand the significance of Christ’s death and the depth of God’s love for me through His ultimate sacrifice. If God would give the life of his Son, I knew the depth of His love and care for me. I learned that even in pain, I am not alone, comfort is available, and I can trust the God of the universe. “Tragedy awakens passion in a way that times of calm and blessing, pleasure and joy, cannot”. (Dan Allender) The pain of this experience (and others) prepared me for what God had planned for me. My future would hold the loss of another child and an unexpected career path. I held on to God’s love and care through the hard and the good.
As a young girl, I wanted to be an artist. My mother made me a blue artist smock and beret for my seventh birthday. I chose to stay in school while my classmates went on a field trip to the circus because the students left behind could draw all day long. While I may not have been very good, I was serious and committed. My family moved to the Bronx when I was in fifth grade and to Indiana when I was a freshman in high school. I continued my love for art and started planning to study art in college. I would attend a University in Australia and envisioned life after that doing art full time in NYC.
I did not go to Australia as planned after high school. In fact, I did not start college until I was in my late 30s when my oldest son started college. Even though I spent my life wanting to be an artist, today I find myself with an art drawer full of supplies my grandchildren enjoy and simply drawing whenever I have a pen in hand, especially when taking notes at church.
When I enrolled in my first college class, I did not study art but instead took psychology classes that I thought might help with my role in leading support groups at my church. I was scared, but my husband, friends, and mentors encouraged me along the way, and I ended up with a graduate degree I had not planned to receive. There is no doubt God was in that process because I did not feel adequate as a student. As a therapist, I feel God’s pleasure and grace as I walk with people through their pain, toward change, which is usually very slow. I can maintain hope for the hopeless because God has shown Himself faithful in my life. I can love because I know I am loved, even when I do not feel lovable. This is the art God planned for me, a beauty much different than I knew possible.
These are just a couple of snapshots from my story, and through each life event, God has changed me slowly. One gift of old age is perspective. Looking back, I can see God’s hand in each huge, tiny, joyous, and challenging circumstance of life. I try to write them down because I forget, just as the Israelites did so quickly in the desert. I always have questions about God’s timing until I am looking back. There are too many wild variables my life to achieve and maintain equilibrium, but when I am rooted in God’s love, I know I am alright even in the most difficult times.
I did not always know this and sometimes forget even now, but not for long, and I reconnect through worship and remembering that I am never alone.
And neither are you.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble and He brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm and He guided them to their desired haven (Psalm 107:28-30).