getting older

Exit 221. The best I can with the life I’ve been given.

Recently, one of my friends shared on Facebook that her daughter was pregnant, and that she was going to be a grandmother for the first time. This announcement was significant to me because of how I know this grandmother-to-be: she was in my high school graduating class.

I’ve known for years that this moment would be coming soon, and I’ve been dreading it. Having children was never on my radar, I’ve always felt like I was missing out on something special because of that, and now I’m old enough to be theoretically having grandchildren. It’s quite likely that she isn’t even the first grandparent in our graduating class. Quite a few of my classmates already have adult children (we’re in our early 40s currently), and at least three-fourths of my classmates I have heard nothing from since we graduated. I know of people my age and younger who have older spouses and step-grandchildren, and I know of someone in the class a year older than us who was a grandmother at age 39. But it hits home a little more when it’s someone whom I’m actually in social media contact with.

I’ve been dreading this because it is just a reminder of the fact that having children has never been something to consider for me, which in turn is a reminder of my failure to form or have a romantic relationship. I am constantly surrounded by reminders of this, and it makes me feel like there is something wrong with me.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. I can just keep doing the best I can with the life I’ve been given. And I have plenty of reminders of experiences I’ve had, and continue to have, that wouldn’t be possible had I had children. This isn’t what I naturally think about first when this happens, but I need to learn to change my thinking.

And besides, most of the greatest human beings who ever lived weren’t like everyone else.

Exit 215. Time to tear it down.

Something came up this morning at church that I had never noticed before, something very relevant to my life currently.

Moses delivered the nation of Israel from slavery under Pharaoh, but because of their unfaithfulness, God did not let them enter and conquer their rightful home for 40 years, until all the unfaithful have died. They don’t learn their lesson, and at one point, they complain to Moses about the living conditions in their nomadic state.  God punished the unfaithful by making some of them die of snake bites.  The survivors asked and prayed for forgiveness, and God told Moses to make a bronze statue of a snake and put it somewhere for people to look at it, to remember God’s faithfulness to them.  Anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and live (Numbers 21:4-9).

Hundreds of years later, Israel is an established nation with a king… well, briefly. They plunge into civil war and divide into two nations. The northern kingdom did not follow the commandments of God, and the southern kingdom mostly did not either, although there were a few southern kings who did bring the people back to following God during their nonconsecutive reigns.  One of those was Hezekiah, who lived about 700 years before the coming of Jesus.  The Second Book of Kings says that “He [Hezekiah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his [ancestor] David had done.  He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones, and cut down the Asherah poles.  He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it.”  (2 Kings 18:3-4)

The bronze snake that Moses made was still there, over half of a millennium after Moses’ time. But its original purpose had long since passed. All of the people who looked at it to heal their snake bites had been dead for a long time. For the new generation, it was not helping them to look to God and worship him, or to remember what God had done for them and their ancestors; instead, it was doing the opposite, serving as a focal point for the worship of other gods.  God himself had completely disappeared from the worship that was happening at the snake.  So Hezekiah finally realized it was time to tear it down.

God does not always work among us in the same way.  God’s work in one place at one time might not work in another place and time, and God might have not intended it for that place or time.  At first, this didn’t really seem right to me.  Isn’t God constant and unchanging?  Well, yes, he is, but these two statements are not necessarily in conflict with each other.  God can still be constant and unchanging while working in different ways specific to certain times and situations.  God worked through the reformers of the 16th century to bring knowledge of the Scriptures to the common people and work against corruption in the church.  But in the USA in the 21st century, most people know how to read and have access to the Bible, and taking down the kind of corruption that churches today may see will require God working in a different way, even though the ultimate principle of turning people back to him and away from corrupt and fallen earthly institutions remains constant and unchanging.

Another example just came to me now as I was writing this.  Many people who have not studied Christianity in detail tend to think that God was so different in the Old Testament compared to what he is like in the New Testament or now.  In the Old Testament, God often told his people to make war with and destroy and kill neighboring countries.  And, as we just saw, once he sent snakes to bite those who questioned him.  How does one reconcile this with all of his commandments about love, or with Jesus’ self-sacrificial love?  The short answer is because in the time of the Old Testament, the time had not come yet for God to send his Son to Earth.  First, he had to prepare a nation through which Jesus would be born, and in order to this, he had to remove all the corrupting sinful influences from this nation… hence, the making war with neighboring countries.  God no longer tells us to make war with countries that have different beliefs, because this is a different time.  Jesus came to bring the message of salvation to all, and we can send missionaries to teach other cultures about Jesus, and we can lead by example.  God is no longer preparing a nation to give birth to the Messiah; that happened already.

This concept extends beyond the idea of Christianity, and it makes me think a lot of my struggles in trying to figure out life and adulthood.  Twenty years ago, I made friends by being involved with two college-age Christian student groups.  That was good.  Some of my closest friends over the years have come from doing that.  But that does not work anymore.  I now live in an area where most churches are geared toward families, not college students, because that is who lives here.  And very few churches have youth groups for 42-year-olds.  So I have had to look for other ways to make friends.  Nothing has changed, and I don’t have to change any of my core beliefs.  But what worked in one place at one time doesn’t always work for other places and times.

Sometimes I feel like the last one standing for God, like I am desperately hanging on to God’s truth while the world descends into chaos around me.  But maybe it’s not that black and white.  Maybe some of what I hold on to is ways that God isn’t moving in my life anymore, and maybe it is okay to let go of some of these ways without having to compromise my core beliefs.  Maybe this is what is getting in the way, why I feel like my life isn’t exactly progressing in the right direction.  But how do I know what to hold on to and what to let go of?  As always I will only know with prayer, and listening to the Holy Spirit, and knowing God’s Word.

Exit 190. I’ll find you when I think I’m out of time.

One interesting thing about having a huge collection of music is that every once in a while, I’ll have all of my thousands of songs on shuffle, and I’ll rediscover a song from my past in a way that speaks to me all over again in the present.

Jars of Clay is a Christian rock band that was popular during my college and young adult years, when I was first discovering Christian rock (and first discovering what it meant to be a Christian, for that matter).  Their song Flood, off of their self-titled debut album, was a major hit in 1996, crossing over from the Christian niche into mainstream music and charting on the Billboard Hot 100.   I’ve seen them live at least three times, most recently in 2006 with Vega the Nice Ex.  (Some of the popular Christian bands of that era I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen live, since I went to some festivals and other large events where many bands were playing.  I know I’ve seen them at least once at a festival, and twice as the actual headliners of actual concerts.)

Jars of Clay never really replicated that early mainstream success.  They experimented with different sounds over the years, and although I have all of their first seven studio albums, their self-titled debut will probably always be my favorite.  But there are some good songs off of their other albums (as well as some recent work which I haven’t heard at all; maybe I’ll have to check them out one of these days).  The song “The Eleventh Hour,” from the 2002 album of the same title, came up on shuffle recently, and I hadn’t heard it in a while, and it had probably been even longer since I had actually paid attention to the lyrics.

 

The English phrase “the eleventh hour,” which like the phrase “jars of clay” is derived from a passage in the New Testament,  refers to the last minute, a time in which it is almost too late.  (Some modern translations use modern methods of timekeeping in that passage instead of the words “eleventh hour”; the NIV, for example, says “five in the afternoon.”)

The song says:

Rescue me from waiting on this line.
I won’t give up on giving you the chance to blow my mind.
Let the eleventh hour quickly pass me by.
I’ll find you when I think I’m out of time.

Sometimes I feel like I’m out of time.  Sometimes I feel like my best years are past me, having been wasted drowning in fear and self-doubt.  Sometimes I feel like I could have been happy and had a more fulfilling life if I had done things differently in my younger years.  Sometimes it feels too late to be successful financially, or too late to meet that special someone and find a family, or too late to find a place where I belong.  God, rescue me.  I won’t give up on you.  I can still find God, and he can still do wonderful things with my life, even if I think I’m out of time.

As I’ve been writing this, two other Jars of Clay songs came up on shuffle.  Maybe God is telling me he approves of my topic for this week, or that one of my readers needed to hear this.

Don’t give up on God.

Exit 180. 180.

I’m going to keep it short this week.

I’m currently rereading the novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, for at least the fifth time.  Yes, I loved it that much, which is why I have ambiguous feelings about the upcoming movie adaptation.

I’m excited, because one of my favorite books is being made into a movie.  I’m apprehensive, because there will inevitably be changes mare from the book to the movie. The book had so many little details, and surely many of them won’t make it into the movie.  I hope the changes don’t ruin the movie for me.

I’ve written in here before (once, twice) about my favorite quote from the book, and today I got to that part again in my rereading: “Like any classic video game, the Hunt had simply reached a new, more difficult level. A new level often required an entirely new strategy.”  As I said in those previous posts, I can understand what Wade is going through here.  In order to accomplish his goal and take down IOI’s corporate bigwigs, he needs a radically different strategy.  And as my life has changed over time, I need a radically different strategy too.  I’ve had a hard time figuring this out, partially because I’ve had a hard time letting go of some things.

I’m not going to rehash what I’ve written about before; I’m just going to say that the timing of this is interesting.  A new year is coming up in a few weeks, and new years are often seen as times of change and renewal, a good time to try a new strategy for life.  And this is post number 180 on this blog.  The number 180 (as in 180 degrees of rotation) has entered English slang to mean a complete turnaround.  And that’s what I need.  I need to go in a different direction, at least in some parts of life.  Maybe not a complete 180, but definitely not the way I’ve been going.

What that means, however, is still in question.  And to find that, I’m going to need a lot of quiet reflection and prayer.  And a willingness to try new things.

Exit 119. What do these songs have in common?

“He Stopped Loving Her Today,” by George Jones (1980)

“Touch of Grey,” by the Grateful Dead (1987)

“Kokomo,” by the Beach Boys (1988)

“Cryin’,” Aerosmith (1993)

“It Won’t Be Like This For Long,” by Darius Rucker (2008)

“Get Back Up,” TobyMac (2010)

All of them were major hits.  Kokomo went to #1, the last of four Beach Boys songs to do so.  He Stopped Loving Her Today and It Won’t Be Like This For Long were both #1 on the country chart.  Touch of Grey, while only reaching #9, was the highest charting single in the Grateful Dead’s long career.  Cryin’, while not Aerosmith’s highest charting single, did reach #1 on the rock chart, and it seemed like it was on MTV all the time my last couple years of high school, during the era when they still played music videos for at least part of the day.  And Get Back Up, while not very well known in the mainstream, went to #1 on the Christian music chart, and it was around that time when I decided that TobyMac’s solo work wasn’t all bad like I found his early albums to be.

But there is something more significant that these songs, among others, all have in common.

They were all performed by band members and/or artists who were at the time in their 40s.

I have turned 40 since I wrote my last post.  In the months leading up to this, I was feeling a bit down about approaching 40.  Typically, fortysomethings aren’t seen as young anymore.  I have friends my age who have adult children already, and I’m nowhere close to having children.  I feel out of touch both with the people around me, who tend to be a lot younger, and with people my age, who tend to have very different lifestyles, of the sort considered to be more mature.  Sometimes I feel like life is passing me by, leaving me with nothing but regrets.

But it does not have to be this way.

I don’t have to listen to anyone telling me what I should be like at this age.  I have a lot of people who care about me; my friends at my birthday party this weekend reminded me of that through their actions, as did the students and coworkers at the school where I teach on my actual birthday.  I still have a lot of life left, and more adventures to come.  And, as demonstrated by all of the musicians above, I can still accomplish great things beyond 40.  (While researching this article, I discovered that guitarist Bob Weir was only 39 when Touch of Grey was released, but I don’t think that takes away from my point, and the other four band members were in their 40s.)

Here’s to a great upcoming year.

Exit 68. For one thing, it makes me feel like a time traveler.

I turned 39 this month.  So far, it doesn’t really feel that different from 38… that’s what everyone says when they’ve just recently had a birthday.

I think a lot these days about getting older.  I know that everyone ages at their own pace, and there is no right or wrong way to live, but it’s hard not to feel like I’m not a normal run-of-the-mill 39-year-old.  Many of my age peers are dealing with things like being parents of teens and preteens (and even parents of young adults, in some cases), and I’m… not.  Furthermore, I didn’t start a family at the normal age, but I started my career teaching at an unusually young age.  So I’m in this awkward time warp, where I have former students who are in their 30s, and yet I’m still in my 30s myself.  (I taught these students when they were 15 and 16 and I was 23 and 24, right out of college, if you’re trying to do the math.)  There are around seven or eight students from that group that I’m still in Facebook contact with, and sometimes I see them post pictures of them with their spouses and children, or occasionally I see them in person, and it feels like they grew up and I didn’t.  They’ve become adults, and I’m still pretty much living the same lifestyle that I was living at 23 when I had them as students, although I’ve moved a couple times (but all within northern California).

It’s hard not being a normal run-of-the-mill 39-year-old.  My church is currently taking signups for new small groups that will be starting soon.  I’ve been having some big questions on my mind lately about whether or not I need to look for a new church.  That’s another issue for another time, but I didn’t want to make a final decision without checking out these new small groups.  Part of the problem is that I feel disconnected from the rest of the community, and a new small group might be the answer to that.  But I walk into the building today, I see the signup table, and the first thing I notice is that the groups are separated according to the same old tired categories that I don’t fit into anymore: couples, young couples, families, senior citizens and empty nesters, singles (the singles group at my church is a de facto divorced and widowed group, I know from experience), etc.  There were a few mixed age groups, which I ended up signing up for, but there just aren’t a lot of guys my age who have never been married at big suburban evangelical churches.

But not being at the stereotypical place in life doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  For one thing, it makes me feel like a time traveler.  It makes me think particularly of the beginning of series 7 of Doctor Who, when Amy and Rory aged a few years in between each episode.  The Doctor would bring them on another adventure with each week’s episode, but in Amy and Rory’s timeline, they had lived a few years of normal young couple life since the last time the Doctor saw them.  More importantly, though, I’m living my life on my terms and being myself.  Many of the most memorable figures in history didn’t conform to society.  I have a lot to be thankful for, and I’ve had a lot of experiences in my 20s and 30s that wouldn’t have happened if I had started a family at 25.  So I’m hoping to spend the last year of my 30s continuing to be myself and make the best of it, whatever that looks like.