When I was younger, I would walk into a hospital room and people who didn't know me very well would ask: "Are you even old enough to be a pastor?"
They don't ask that anymore.
Recently my wife and I went into a grocery store. We didn't know that it was "Senior Citizen's Discount Day," which was 5% off of your total bill. This store was filled with a very kind and thoughtful staff. It showed in their help to us at the check-out line; but the impression we got from the staff why we were there was because of the discount, and, because we were senior citizens.
I never really felt older or even thought about the subject before in this setting...until that day.
And, not being their fault (because we were convinced that they were just really, really nice people), it still felt a little condescending.
"Sir, let me help you with that pumpkin. You certainly can't lift that!"
"Thanks but no," I was thinking to myself, "how do you think it got into and then out of the basket in the first place?"
"Here, sir, ma'am, let me push your cart outside for you..." (with a smile)
Again - I thought -"How old do you think we are?" (I admit I wasn't smiling.)
Granted - I often cannot hop up out of a normal lawn chair like I used to when someone greets me at one of our grandchildren's ballgames, or, quickly get up off the floor when I'm with those grandchildren - having to get over on all fours like some ancient dog - but - I can still push a cart out the door to our car.
I had never thought about it before, but I did that day: "I really am getting older."
I received a text from a loving family from the church about a week or so ago. They have a very young child who attends quite regularly on Sundays but also attends our Parents' Day Out ministry during the week. Pastor Ed and I take turns leading the chapel each week, but I have been absent for some time, as you well know.
The little girl asked her mother one day, "Mom, Pastor Jim hasn't been at school. He is so funny. I miss him. Did he die?"
The mother reassured her that I hadn't died and that we were away helping a family member who was in need of our care. What a sweet note it was!
I wrote back to offer my reassurance that I wasn't dead either. It's kinda' nice to write such a note to reassure yourself sometimes.
I've never considered the idea of "being dead" - until now.
While in Nashville, where I grew up, I've been made keenly aware that there's lots of high school friends - some younger than me - who have died. Some of them have been gone for years. We've all lost good friends and family members in the past year. You cannot take for granted a single day when you look at life in this fragile way.
Just last week, our grandson, Lennon and I were watching the movie, "Up." Long story short, after about halfway through the movie, Lennon pointed at the main character, Carl, (who happened to wear black rimmed glasses, had gray hair, and moved around rather methodically) and said, "Hey Grandad, that's you!" I didn't see it, but he sure did. The views of children are always honest...sometimes too honest, huh?
This Sunday is All Saints' Day. It is a Sunday out of the year where, in the midst of lifting up the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ, we do remember those who have gone before us in the past year.
Many of you know this feeling: This year, I became an "parentless child," "an orphaned adult." I am now the patriarch of our family. Wowsers. That should-in certain ways-scare all of my children!
So, no longer thought to be young, no longer thought to be able as I once was, and now "the next in line" when it comes to the family line, no longer to be the black-haired, contact-wearing young fellow, I'm humbled by it all. But, I'm also blessed to be terribly grateful for it all as well. It would be easy to throw my hands up and quote psalm 71:9 - "...and now in my old age, don't set me aside..." but instead I will follow Isaiah's strong feelings (46:4) - "And God will still be carrying you when you are old. Your hair will turn gray, and I will still carry you."
When I still may feel a bit down, I'll remember the 4th stanza of that great hymn, "For All The Saints," which reads:
"And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Thank You, Father, for carrying me, as I thank You for carrying those who have gone before us all this year. Help me remember every day of my life what we always say at the end of this little letter...
God loves you, and so do we.
Update On Ashley
It started out as another "uneventful week" for Ashley, with no doctor's appointments set up, but she has had to see a chiropractor for two of three treatments so far this week for a very stiff neck and painful upper back. She has struggled to sleep at night, and, Mary Alice and I try to take up the slack for her to get some rest during the day. It doesn't seem to be anything that should postpone her surgery, set for next Tuesday, November 8. (Hysterectomy and reconstruction surgery) She is just very uncomfortable at the moment.
Halloween was fun for everyone. Ashley, David, Lennon, and Taylor took the Trick or Treat walk around their neighborhood while Mary Alice and I stayed behind to hand out candy to the neighborhood children. It was in the upper 70's that evening so it was a very pleasant time!
We're all trying to get some rest for Ashley's big day next week. Mary Alice and I will be on a little different schedule with Ashley in the hospital and the days to follow. Usually - David and Ashley take care of Taylor when she wakes up at night, and we handle the children by day. We will be handling all the duties so "Mom and Dad" can try and get some much needed sleep. It's all good, as they say!
We cannot thank you all enough for your prayers and cards and thoughts. They are so helpful. We love you and appreciate you all so much! Say special ones, though, on "election day," which is also Ashley's surgery day.
Pastor Jim and Mary Alice