Wednesday, March 12, 2008

How I Survived the Forties

I am 50! The book of Deuteronomy calls Moses the greatest prophet in all of Israel. He received his true vocation from God around age 80 while also a fugitive from justice. On the age front, that should be encouraging to those who seem to be passed over for that promotion because younger people will be hired for alot less. Moses' destiny would not to hang around the Egyptian court as an advisor to the king like Joseph did generations before. His vocation literally saved him.

Most churches are drawn to the young and energetic clergy thinking that they will in turn attract younger generations, as if age and energy alone will guarantee meaningful connections and ministry with unreached, unchurched younger adults. Because churches have budgets and are cost conscious, entry level clergy (not often very young anymore) sometimes fill this function, whether or not their spiritual gifts and abiltities fit this role.

I was the youngest of three brothers, so I have naturally have been drawn to older people all of my life. Because of their wisdom or knowledge or experience, I learn when I am with chosen mentors. I remember front porch visits with my neighbor's grandfather when I was around 5 yrs. old. Dr. John Lennon, my youth minister (Minister of Christian Education in those days), was the one who served as my spiritual director before I knew what one was. Under his guidance, I was confirmed and explored vocation. I could always count on getting an honest answer from him and I trusted him as a person and friend. John retired at 65, the same year I graduated from High School! We had one of the more dynamic youth ministries around. His retiremment was an active one; for example, he consulted in Christian Education in Australia, and held church staff positions in retirement.

I was chaplain at a retirement community for several years. This ministry, which I dearly loved, required dealing honestly with the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional onslaughts of aging. The frequent question in spiritual counseling seemed to be: "Why am I still alive?" It was a question of vocation, purpose: " What am I now here for?" The search for and the fulfilling of that purpose is a holy one at any age; it also saved my life by bringing a continuity, a sense of wholeness that God is never finished with us.

My mother, Judy Endress, turned 85 this past January 24, and also just "retired" from teaching hospital-sponsored childbirth and grandparenting classes for the last 20+ years. After being an R.N. during W.W. II, Mom went back to college when I was in High School, graduated with the R.N. when I was in college, then started work in a free clinic before working for the hospital. When she was in grade school, her church had a vocation day and the children were asked to wear the clothing of whatever their chosen vocation would have been at the time. They processed down the church, as if to offer these dreams to God and to declare themselves to the world. She dressed as a nurse.

How did I survive the forties? I did it by the grace that God is not finished. Purpose and usefulness saved me.

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