Adjusting Expectations

Recently I was talking with a young man who is reaching what is probably the midpoint of his life, and is grappling with the fact that time is running out on accomplishing some of his dreams. He has a wife and family, a good (if sometimes stressful) job, and has recently met a major life goal. Perhaps it is the accomplishment of that goal that has prompted him to look at what he once dreamed his life would be, comparing it to what he can see of the life that he has left…and finding it wanting.

While I am considerably older than him, I remember well the feeling of time slipping too quickly by as life’s milestones came and went: getting married, having children, accomplishing career goals, seeing my children finish school and embark on careers of their own, their weddings, the birth of my first grandchild (and then seven more!)… With each passing milestone I became more and more aware of the transcience of life. Sometimes I was frightened by that, and sometimes saddened by it as I imagined that there were fewer and fewer adventures to look forward to. When my mom died two years ago, it really hit home that I am closer to the end of my life than to its beginning. It has been an interesting journey of acceptance!

I wanted desperately to reassure that young man that, though he can’t see them right now, life still holds many adventures, many rewards, many beautiful moments. But I know that to try and explain that is like trying to explain how a bumblebee flies. It looks impossible for a bumblebee to get off the ground with its short wingspan and plump body–and indeed is, according to the laws of aerodynamics–so you simply have to witness it to know that it’s possible.

For 25 years we lived in a home with a heavily shaded yard. I couldn’t grow vegetables, and any flowers I planted had to be shade-loving. But then something unforeseen happened that enabled us to move last year into a house with a sunny yard. So I planted a vegetable garden in the spring. I also planted a package of zinnia seeds in a sunny flower bed.  I never imagined the adventure it would be to watch vegetables and flowers sprout from seed, yielding food and beauty for my table! I had no idea that I would learn to make img_20190819_102027-1pesto from basil I grew myself, or that I would be able to walk out my door and pick a bouquet of bright beautiful zinnias that have sprung from the seed I planted and nurtured. I couldn’t see that even five years ago! But my circumstances changed, and that is my new reality.

I’ve recently discovered that bird watching is an incredibly satisfying experience…which came as a great surprise! The other day I watched two hummingbirds vying for supremacy at the birdfeeder, their fighting keeping either of them from actually feeding. And I sensed God reminding me that when Christians bicker and argue among themselves, those who are spiritually hungry rarely get fed. I would never have imagined that adding a couple of birdfeeders to the yard would bring fresh insights into God’s timeless truths!

Growing vegetables and flowers and watching birds doesn’t sound very adventurous. It  certainly doesn’t rank up there with falling in love for the first time or traveling to exotic lands! But I’ve learned that the key to satisfaction with this season of life is adjusting my expectations. Twenty years ago I couldn’t see what this season of my life would look like. I couldn’t foresee that I would view life differently, that I would have more patience and desire to wait and watch for the wondrous moments that heretofore went unnoticed. I didn’t anticipate that simpler would be better in that it affords me the opportunity to enter more deeply into an experience, to listen for the sweet whisper of the Holy Spirit so that I might see how and where He is at work.

Transitioning through the seasons of life is sometimes hard and painful. We can’t see what the next season holds, and it’s easy to fear that it will be less than what we think we want. Just as I couldn’t see 20 years ago what my life would be like today, I can’t see now what my life will look like in 20 years. But I am learning that the key to contentment lies in the ability to adjust my expectations while maintaining hopeful expectancy for whatever God has in store.

Today I’m so happy to say that life isn’t anywhere near done with me, nor I with it… Thanks be to God!

 

There was evening and there was morning…

I was asked recently to reflect back on my life and look for the milestones that made my life seemingly worthwhile. The very first thing that came to mind was my children, their births and the subsequent years of raising them up into adulthood. Without a doubt, giving birth to another living being has been the greatest, most wondrous milestone of my life.

The next thing that came to mind were the deaths I’ve attended. Keeping watch at the bedsides of first my dad and then my mom was indeed every bit the milestones as the births of my three children. The rhythm of life…birth and death.

There was evening and there was morning…

The rhythm of days. Each one comes and goes, bringing whatever God wills or allows. An evening, life passing. A morning, new life begins. A day, the time from birth to death. There is a rhythm, a continuity that feels more right to me now in this season of life. I don’t feel the need to push against it, to defy its unceasing flow. These days it is rare that I think or say, “There just aren’t enough hours in this day to get everything done!” Instead I  trust that tomorrow will bring to me more hours in which to do whatever needs doing. Sometimes I even find that what was so important to get done yesterday holds less urgency for today!

There was evening and there was morning…a new day.

As I contemplate this rhythm, I find peace in simply entering into its flow. Of course, the rhythm can be fast or slow. Having a plan for the day is good; however, not being too ambitious and not holding too tightly to that plan is better. It slows the pace so that I can better appreciate the quiet grace of God in the unceasing flow, the rhythm of not just my own life, but life all around me.

In just the right time, Jesus will return and a new rhythm will begin. Until then, I will simply wait and watch, keeping with this God-ordained rhythm–there was evening and there was morning–finding peace and joy in its familiar flow.

Catalpa Musings

In my backyard stands an old catalpa tree. I’m not an arborist, so I have no idea how old she is…but she is definitely old. Her trunk is hollow now, and yet she stands firm. At least one of her lower branches has a hollow place in it, too. There’s another hollow where her trunk divides into two main branches. Lots of space in that old tree.

Despite the local utility company regularly hacking off her branches that grow too near the electric wire (I nearly weep each time they attack her with their saws), she continues to spread her branches, providing perches for all sorts of winged creatures–raucous bluejays, tiny finches, fat robins, cooing morning doves, brilliant red cardinals, and even the occasional black buzzard who stays way up in the top and never for long, thank God!

For many years the squirrels nested in the hollow at the split, and then they mysteriously moved out. It didn’t take long to figure out why–honeybees had moved in! But this spring a brave little squirrel has made her nest in the hollow of a branch. I sat mesmerized one morning watching her carry up twigs and leaves and all sorts of makings for a cozy nest, laughing as she would scamper along the branch only to suddenly disappear into the hollow.

DSC02090Chipmunks play around the base of the trunk, scurrying in and out of the hollow’s big opening. A few years ago a raccoon checked out that big hollow, perhaps considering it as a new home? He didn’t stay long–another opportunity for giving thanks to God!–and the chipmunks resumed their scurrying.

The leaves of this old catalpa are wide and deeply green, providing luscious shade for the back of our house. Even on the hottest of summer days, I can find cool shelter from the sun under her broad canopy.

She sort of reminds me of a wise old woman… In late spring she produces beautiful white, sweet-20160607_065239smelling blossoms en masse, like a full head of white hair. Her bark reminds me of an old face, wrinkled with age. Her hollows are like an empty bosom, ready to receive whoever needs the nurture of a safe and protected space. Her branches welcome all sorts of creatures who bring delightful music and bright flecks of color to the vibrant green of her leafy canopy.

God is so very present in the most ordinary things of life, always with something to teach or share. That old catalpa tree inspires me. I want to be like her as I grow old. I want to be a warm and welcoming soul for those who need nurturing. I want my life to be decorated by the comings and goings of all sorts of people. I want to be wise, not despising my gray hair or my wrinkles, but rather considering them evidence of a life well-lived…by God’s grace, a life lived for his glory.

Amen and amen.

 

 

Suitable for the Old

We…have to stop comparing ourselves with the young. The characteristics of the young are perfect for the young but unsuitable for the old.  -Barbara Stanford, Gift of a Lifetime

As the Baby Boomer generation ages, you would think our cultural stereotypes regarding youth and aging would flip. There are so many of us Boomers–it seems we should easily extol aging as something worthwhile, something beautiful, something to be treasured. But that’s not quite happened (at least, not yet), perhaps because the majority of Boomers are so busy trying to hang on to youth by engaging in youthful pursuits.

I am ready to admit that I am no longer young. What’s more, I’m glad. Being young was wonderful…well, mostly…okay, sometimes. It was hard a good bit of the time, though I didn’t always know it. I sometimes look back on my life and wonder, How did I ever manage all that? I don’t think I could do that today. And I’m absolutely right, I couldn’t. Nor do I want to.

That’s the point. I don’t want to. I don’t long for the days when my children were little; I now enjoy them as adults. I don’t miss the days when I believed multi-tasking was essential to a life well-lived. There’s something to be said for giving one thing my undivided attention. I see now that I’ve spent way too many years rushing from one moment to the next, often without really experiencing much of it.

As I let the dog out thisdsc_0561-2 morning, I spied in the faint pre-dawn light our resident cardinal sitting in his winter-woody bush. He was facing the east, awaiting the sunrise. Just waiting. As I settled on the sofa with my cup of hot coffee, I gazed out the window and pondered that cardinal. Had he been sitting there all night, just watching and waiting for the sun to rise and a new day to begin? I contemplated how God keeps watch all hours of the night, how I can sleep peacefully because I know beyond any doubt that God never sleeps, and the deep joy that comes with that sure and certain knowledge rose in my heart. I consciously welcomed it, just as we welcomed the sunrise, Mr. Cardinal and I.

I am grateful for the time I have now to sit quietly and reflect.

In my younger years, I had little time for watching the sun rise or to just sit and ponder in the early pre-dawn light. I was too busy serving breakfast, packing lunchboxes, getting kids out the door to school, a husband off to work and–as the kids got older and the economy got tighter–myself, too. And it is only with the passage of time and the experience gained in a lifetime that I have certain assurances about God, including that he is always watching over me and all his creation.

As I navigate this aging process, I am trying to be attentive to the cultural stereotypes I consciously hold, and even more attentive to those I might be holding subconsciously. (For example, why do I prefer to think of myself as “aging” rather than “old?” Perhaps because aging indicates movement and old sounds final/done? ) I want to embrace this inevitable process with grace, even to welcome it with joy and delight. A slower pace, more time to give, finding and savoring joy in the present moment–these beautiful treasures are definitely suitable for the old!