day is my fifty-fourth birthday, which means I'm one birthday away from senior citizen discounts. Hey, you have to look at the positives, right?
Much is written about the transition into adulthood. But not nearly as much about the transition to becoming a senior citizen. As I've been thinking about non-milestone number, several thoughts come to mind:
1. I don’t know as much as I used to. In my thirties, I was quite confident in what I believed. But loss, tragedies and other hardships came along and convinced me otherwise. I find myself saying, "I don't know" far more often these days. I'm still certain of some things, like God sending his son to offer us redemption and then going on to prepare a place for the redeemed. And I'm certain of God's sovereignty. Those three truths are pretty solid things to hang my hat on.
2. While I have regrets, I’ve learned not to dwell on them. That doesn't mean I don't need to process them. I certainly do. But my regrets aren't an anchor that weighs me down. They are bigger than speed bumps, though. So what's the right analogy? Maybe I should just refer to them as wrong decisions and leave them at that. All a person can do is learn from his mistakes and move on.
3. We leave behind three things: possessions/money, memories and the way we made others feel. The latter is the most important. Memories are the second most important. As for possessions, not so much. In fact, as I've written about before, possessions often end up in cardboard boxes in someone else's basement, never to be opened again. If I can keep these priorities in the right order, then I'll be happy.
4. Close relationships matter now more than ever — the kind in which you can pick up the phone at 2:00 a.m. and call a person without apologizing. I hope my closest friends know they can call me anytime.
5. Cutting losses is the right thing to do. This isn’t the same thing as giving up when things get difficult. Cutting losses means knowing deep in your gut when it’s time to move on and then having the courage to do it. My pattern has been to hang on for far too long. I don’t have time for that anymore. Well, I never really had time for that, but you know what I mean.
6. Heaven feels more real. When I was young in the faith, I knew that heaven was real but it also felt distant. Now that I’m one year from senior citizen status, it feels more tangible. I find myself paying more attention to the Scripture verses that talk about it, and then daydreaming about what it'll be like.
7. I have a deep desire to finish the Christian life well. I've written a whole book about that, which I’m currently working on an expanded version of, so I won't get into it here.
What’s on your list of things you are thinking about as you get older? What have you changed your mind about or what feels more real now than it did ten years ago?
“You’re a writer?” asked an eighty-year-old homeless man named George over lunch with a group of some of my friends who meet every Friday.
“I am,” I said.
“What do you write?”
“Devotional material, Christmas novellas, essays. Used to be a sportswriter.”
“What do you write about?”
“Love, loss, loneliness.”
“Are you married?”
“Ah, so you’re a ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ sort of romantic?”
“Yeah, I guess I am.”
It took George about thirty seconds to figure me out. His eyesight is failing but his heart sees just fine. That comes from his days as a plumber, he tells my friend Tom, who introduced George to our Friday group. According to George, you have to be able to read people well when you are a plumber. It’s a skill that comes in handy, no matter the profession.
George talks about his younger days in Milwaukee — its great pizza places and how the ones in Omaha pale in comparison. He moved to Omaha from Milwaukee three years ago. He lives in his car now — a car that doesn’t run. So he takes the bus whenever he needs to go somewhere.
The other day, when temperatures were in the nineties, he asked someone to help him push his car down the street so he could be in the shade. The person obliged. The incredible thing is, George doesn’t complain about his lot — at least, not from what I’ve heard. He’d rather offer his opinion about politics or COVID-19 or Milwaukee, and he does so as any learned man might.
Meanwhile, Tom shows him Jesus. He cuts George’s hair, shaves him, takes his clothes to the cleaners, picks him up for Sunday morning worship and asks our Friday group to pray for George. And we do. My prayer is that as George hears us talk about the implications of the gospel that it will cause him to consider them as well, and that ultimately, he’ll have eyes to see and surrender to Jesus. Will you join me in praying for George?
King Solomon once wrote, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
We seem to understand that we’ll experience different seasons over the course of our lives, but for some reason, we aren’t all that accepting of new seasons in the lives of people we love.
Over the past five years, I’ve known people whose lives were altered overnight through the death of a loved one, a cancer diagnosis, the need to become a caregiver as a parent ages — on and on it goes.
The next day, they woke up to a different world. One that felt disorienting.
When people we know and love are going through something new, we want nothing but the best for them. But we also want things to return to normal — for our relationship with them to be unaltered, but that’s not always possible.
When leaves turn orange, red, yellow and brown, then shrivel and fall to the ground each autumn, we don’t expect summer to follow. Summer is over. And when temperatures dip below freezing in the winter, we don’t expect fall. Instead, we adjust because we know we don’t have a choice.
Maybe we do so as easily as we do because we know that changes in the weather are coming. The calendar tells us so. The calendar also tells us that the season we prefer will come again next year.
That’s not the case with life. As such, maybe we should refer to life changes as stages rather than seasons.
When an infant transitions into toddlerhood (is that a word?), we know there’s no going back. When a teen transitions to adulthood, we fully expect him or her to change. As as we transition from middle age to old age, nobody expects us to run a marathon — especially when they see us struggling to get out of the car with arthritic knees.
Likewise, for the wife who’s lost her husband of forty years, there’s no going back. For the one who has received a terminal diagnosis, there’s no going back. And for the one who has lost everything in a fire, flood or hurricane, there’s no going back. Only forward.
So, they start anew. New routines, new places, and new people. That doesn’t mean they want to leave everyone else behind. It just means they are trying to find their way down a new path.
I say all of this as someone who likes things the way they are. But as I’ve listened to the people I love who were forced into a time of loss, I’ve heard them say that their established relationships will be different. Not worse. Just different. So, I’m trying to be sensitive to that.
If you’re someone who has gone through or is going through a stage of life change, what do you wish those around you would do or say as you seek to adjust? And what would you like to say to them about the nature of your relationship with them?
We lost an icon last weekend when Florence Littauer entered glory at the age of 92.
She was most known for her "Silver Boxes" book and presentation, as well as her best-selling book Personality Plus and the teaching that flowed from it via CLASServices. Not surprisingly, Helen K. Hosier listed her as one of the "100 Christian Women Who Changed the Twentieth Century."
I got to know her while teaching at the Glorieta Christian Writers Conference between 2007-2013. Her presence at the conference was gigantic. After I met her, she sent me a personalized birthday card every year in her own handwriting.
One year, shortly after bumping into her at a conference (see the pic above), she sent me a card. She told me she enjoyed seeing me there, but it probably wouldn't happen again because she was stepping away from the speaking and publishing industry after a long career.
Her final words in that card to me were, "But I'll never forget you. With admiration, Florence."
As someone who often feels invisible, this struck a chord deep inside me. I don't know what I ever did to make such an impression, but I'll never forget her words.
As I thought about her life and legacy this week, I was reminded of an event that took place quite a few years ago in Marita Littauer's beautiful home in the mountains of New Mexico. Marita is one of Florence's daughters.
During the event, I leaned against Marita's front door and took in the scene.
Florence had just handed the CLASSeminars ministry baton to the faculty and it was time for a celebration. People gathered in clusters, laughing, sharing stories, and enjoying food and drink.
My natural inclination in large gatherings is to people-watch, given that I’m a phlegmatic with a heavy leaning toward melancholy (if you aren't familiar with those terms, check out Florence's Personality Plus book or visit the website that has been created to continue her work). Being overweight pushes me even further in those directions.
A friend named John drifted toward me and struck up a conversation. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Florence going from person to person, looking each one in the eyes, asking questions, smiling, and placing a hand on each person’s shoulder.
The closer she got to me, the more my discomfort level grew. One of the greatest communicators of our time was about to engage with me in conversation, and if you’ve ever had the experience, you know she’s a straight shooter. What would she say to a phlegmatic/melancholy who really doesn’t like being put on the spot?
I should have known she would know how to handle me, considering she literally wrote the book about personalities. But that didn't make me any less fidgety as she got closer.
“I hear good things about you,” she said when she approached me and looked directly into my eyes.
“Thanks. I love mentoring writers one on one.”
“How do you mentor them?” she said. “What does it look like?” She raised her eyebrows. Within five seconds I was on the spot.
If you knew Florence, then you know that she was not only a master speaker but also a master listener, which meant she always knew what to ask. And she had a knack for being in the moment with one person at a time.
“Well, I listen to them to find out where they are on their journey," I told her. "I’m really listening for their passion. Then I try to find out where they want to go. Sometimes it takes a while to figure that out, but once I have those two bits of information, I help with the practical steps about how to get there. But I give them permission to explore along the way because I think that’s important.”
“Good, good,” she said. She patted me on the shoulder. “Tell me a little about yourself.” Her eyes never wandered. Her focus remained solely on me.
“I’m shy, not at all comfortable in a setting like this, and you are more inclined to find me with my face buried in a novel or a theology book than at a party.”
“What is your theological tradition?” she said.
“Reformed from what?”
I burst out laughing.
After explaining what reformed theology looks like to me, I finally felt at ease—comfortable enough to venture away from the door to engage a few others in conversation. And therein lies the power of being in the moment with a person—to listen to him, to look directly into his eyes, to touch his shoulder, to make him laugh, to free him to do the same for others.
That's the power of being present. And it was such a great gift.
I heard a new-to-me term the other day: doom scrolling.
You probably know what it is before I even try to define it. It's feeling the need to scroll through your social media feed in search of information about doomsday, even though you are sure to be disheartened by what you read. And once you enter the vortex, it's hard to get out.
I've been sucked into a couple of such scrolls recently and it's just not good for my soul. My guess is, it's not good for yours either.
Doom scrolling leads to fatigue, frustration, and even anger. That might explain why we find ourselves nodding off some afternoons. Well, that and watching Netflix until 1:00 a.m.
Doom scrolling takes an even bigger toll when you consider the fact that some of the social media posts are from people you know and love who might be mocking what you think or believe. So not only do you have to process the information they have posted but you also have to navigate the tricky waters of personal relationships, including some hurt feelings.
If you find yourself feeling especially anxious while scrolling, consider setting your phone down and picking up the Scriptures. Maybe make this the summer of the Psalms.
In Reflections on the Psalms, C.S Lewis wrote: “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance."
When is the last time you felt so delighted in the Lord that you wanted to dance? Yeah, it's been a while for me too.
We have 174 days left in the year. If we read one psalm a day, six days a week, we could read all of them by the end of the year. Some of the psalms are quite short, so we could really dig in and meditate on what we've read. Doing so would help to alleviate the anxiety we're feeling. If you aren't sure where to start, check out this excellent article.