Recently, our church held their annual Thanksgiving service and Jim and others in our congregation took a few minutes to share something for which they were thankful. They each did a great job, and as I listened to them I pondered the previous year and thought about gratitude-inspiring experiences, people, and situations I have encountered this year. Of course, there are the usual suspects: health, friends and family. While I certainly don’t mean to discount these blessings, I wanted to find something more specific to this season of life. What I settled on might surprise you.
I discovered that I am truly grateful for getting older. Now, a few decades ago, when birthdays brought new privileges, the ability to drive, to vote, to enjoy adult beverages, advancing in years was much easier to give thanks for. I suppose I still have senior citizens discounts and social security to look forward to, but, in the world’s eyes, there aren’t too many largely recognized perks to being on this side of the hill. And that is why I am so thankful for having been given a different vision through which to see my accumulating grey hairs and wrinkles. While those without hope look at the signs of aging as something to be denied and conquered, I am learning to see them as the scars of battles waged and won, of medals awarded for bravery in the face of the enemy. For those who call this life home, growing older is one step further in a finite journey, while for me and my brothers and sisters in Christ, this life is merely the womb in which we are being shaped and developed, and we are on a journey homeward bound.
This perspective is one I am working to cultivate and grow within myself as I face the indignities of middle age, especially in a culture which worships at the altar of youth. I don’t want to see myself as a clock which is slowly winding down and wearing out. Rather, I want to be a tree that is sending down deep roots, providing shade and shelter for those around her. There is an eternal aspect to trees which grow and produce seeds and eventually die and provide nourishment to the next generation of trees growing around them. They don’t cease to exist but rather take on a new form. The same is true in the life of a believer. My body might be a little slower, my mind not as quick or sharp as it once was, but each day I leave behind a little more of this world and the true me within grows a little bigger, growing to better reflect my true self. “The old grey mare she ain’t what she used to be,” and I say, thank heavens!
This fall, I had the immense honor of sitting with my mother-in-law, holding her hand and reading her the Psalms as she passed from this life to the next. I am infinitely thankful that God arranged circumstances such that I was able to witness this lovely lady going home. As she took her final breath, I felt sorrow at being left behind, but great joy in imagining her arrival in Heaven. She wasn’t leaving but arriving, and one day I will join her. One day, I will die, or in truth one day I will truly be born. And rather than filling me with a sense of dread or fear, this idea is a thrilling one.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not making plans to go skydiving without a parachute any time soon. Just like a baby in utero, I have some maturing to do before I go head first into the cosmic birth canal. I hope to live to pluck many a chin hair and continue for years doing my best to do my best. But one day this heart will stop beating, these lungs will stop breathing, this brain will stop functioning. And then I will know what it is to truly live. And for this hope and knowledge, I am and will be eternally grateful.