Jim’s Aunt Helen was on the phone. Uncle Bill is recovering from a stroke. He is paralyzed on one side, making living on their own rather difficult. So Aunt Helen and Uncle Bill moved into an assisted living facility near their son. “We weren’t planning to do this for another 5 years when we were old”, Aunt Helen explained. “We’re only 90 now.” (So, in case you were wondering: 90 isn’t old; 95 is old. It’s all in the perspective, isn’t it?) I stifled a laugh and responded, “Well, Aunt Helen, sometimes things happen that we don’t expect.”
When I left for Nepal, I expected to live there until I was “old and grey”. God had other plans, calling me home after only one term. A year later Jim & I were married. We expected to have children, but that was not to be. Instead, we got to invest our lives in the children of the parish, letting them build tents in the living room with blankets and chairs, having sleepovers and roasting marshmallows in the fireplace. Emily and Sarah entered our lives as Goddaughters. We had the privilege of being involved in their lives weekly (sometimes daily) in their early years. (I will always remember Sarah’s exclamation one evening: “Pam! Fr. Jim is an expert at roasting marshmallows! No wonder you married him!”) Those children are still in our lives, as they continue to make time to have coffee, visit during college breaks, send emails, and (for some) bring their children to visit. God is good.
I expected when Jim retired, our life would settle down. Yes, we would work, but I expected things would move at a slower pace. I expected to spend six months on some mission field, giving a missionary a break or working on a short term project, then returning to the US to visit family and rest, and then beginning the cycle again. Then we got the unexpected call: “Come get Barry.” (Barry is Jim’s younger brother’s adopted son, who is developmentally disabled.) Our missionary dreams ended. Since our family motto is “Semper Gumby” (“Always Flexible”), we adjusted our sails and changed course. We gave away to other missionaries the money we were given for our mission work. And we began to see our role in God’s work in the world in different light. God is good.
Now things may be changing again, as Jim’s health changes. My continued insistence that I am still a “Sweet Young Thing” is starting to become somewhat less accurate as well. It looks like once again we need to adjust our sails and change courses. As always, God is good.
This morning I woke with a sense of hopeful expectation. I know that God is always leading us, even if we cannot see it at the moment. He knows exactly what he is doing. And he us unfailingly trustworthy. I am peaceful and relaxed, with a twinge of eager expectation to see what God is going to do next.
In our phone conversation, Aunt Helen said, “Pam, every day I ask God what it is he wants us to do. And I promise him that we will do our very best to do it!” What an attitude! Aunt Helen says her biggest job right now is to be Uncle Bill’s cheerleader. And she added that she and Uncle Bill want to be good examples for their children of growing old gracefully.
Her comments reminded me of one of my mom’s favorite devotionals by Max Lucado in his book He Still Moves Stones:
Growing old can be dangerous. The trail is treacherous and the pitfalls are many. One is wise to be prepared. You know it’s coming. It’s not like God kept the process a secret. It’s not like you are blazing a trail as you grow older. It’s not as if no one has ever done it before. Look around you. You have ample opportunity to prepare and ample case studies to consider. If growing old catches you by surprise, don’t blame God. He gave you plenty of warning. He also gave you plenty of advice.
Your last chapter can be your best. Your final song can be your greatest. it could be that all of your life has prepared you for a grand exit. God’s oldest have always been among his choicest.
Aunt Helen and Uncle Bill are living examples of choosing to accept the unexpected with grace and trust in One who will never leave us or forsake us.
May Jim and I grow up to be like Aunt Helen and Uncle Bill!