Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Having recently returned from a week-and-a-half trip to North America's Pacific Northwest, I now have a week of medical appointments before I can seriously consider resuming a regular work schedule. Once we in the industrialized world pass age forty, it sometimes seems that we spend as much time in doctors' offices when healthy as when sick. The price tag of increased maturity is the need to actually start taking care of ourselves.

And not only in matters of physical well-being. One rite of passage escaped by few is the day when we can no longer take life for granted. Most of us have our first experiences in that area long before officially growing up. The three-year-old wails with disappointment on being told that Mom or Dad, who always seemed able to "take care of everything," cannot reverse the cancellation of a favorite television program; the eight-year-old broods in despair when a thunderstorm breaks just before a much-anticipated picnic. Other youngsters suffer far more shattering shocks: a friend dies of a rare illness; a parent announces "I won't be living here anymore" and disappears forever; or, worse, parents are divorcing and no one wants the kid. And though many people survive childhood and adolescence without experiencing such severe pain, for anyone who lives more than a decade or two the day almost inevitably comes when job loss, severe illness, betrayal, or the death of a loved one makes the emotional foundations of life tremble.

For other people, the shakeup comes so insidiously that it's hardly felt until it's over; the definition of "mid-life crisis" is waking up one morning and realizing that one has passed the age when a long-cherished dream has much chance of ever becoming reality. William Herbert Carruth (1859-1924) described in poetry the path of disillusionment that eats many lives bit by bit (the full text is under "Ghosts of Dreams" at http://theotherpages.org/poems/carruth1.html):

The heart of a child is unhaunted, it seems,
By ghosts of dreams that are dead....
The youth is no longer a youth, but a man,
When the first of his dreams is dead....
There's not much to do but to bury a man,
When the last of his dreams is dead.

Thank God that for His people the latter years of life need not be sacrificed in mourning what will never come to be. Not only does God have plans for us far greater than we ever imagined, but He will accept even those who wait until their physical lives are all but over to come to Him--and He will make something unfathomably beautiful out of what seemed the total waste of their lives. As Joel 2:25a (NIV) puts it, He "will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten."

The results won't always be obvious in this world. But with God, the real world is still to come.

To most children this life seems boundless
And real change is a distant dream,
And an innocence rules that endures until
The first loss cuts through joy's bright gleam.

When we're young, those we love surround us,
And we trust them us to guide us on;
And life's first sharp pain stabs into the heart
When someone whom we loved is gone.

As we grow into men and women,
Youth's bright hope makes the world seem grand,
Yet the joy still is marred as from time to time
Loved ones pass to an unseen land.

As the years of our lives move onward,
Muscles weaken and hairs grow gray,
And we grieve for more loss, and we know for sure
That we also must go some day.

When the innocent gleam of childhood
Has been dulled in our aging eyes,
Even in our joy lives a hint of pain
And the knowledge each earth-thing dies.

Once our much-loved elders have left us
And few friends of our youth remain,
We look in our own children's trusting eyes
And we weep for their coming pain.

Yet as we mourn our earth-days' passing,
A new light burns more bright within,
As our love of this life slowly moves aside
For a vision beyond its end.

Like our childhood dreams returning,
But now brighter and far more pure,
We can see at last, with a wiser gaze,
The true world where joy will endure--

That great world that is truly boundless,
Where this life is a distant dream,
Where all live on forever young and strong
In the light of God's Heavenly gleam.

Those we love will once more surround us
When "goodbye" is a long-dead word,
When we regain more than we ever lost,
Where no sob of despair is heard.

When at last we are called to that Kingdom,
Those we leave will mourn as we part;
But they too will follow and join us all
In the place closest to God's heart!

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