We’re Old

My memory is quite faint of that 40th birthday party. It was a party for one of my parents, or maybe a friend of theirs. Doesn’t matter. What I do recall with clarity is how old my parents and their friends seemed to me then. I was disturbed by their raucous, red-faced laughter. That couldn’t be good for their hearts. At their age they should be careful. I marveled at their stamina as they partied hearty. They must have taken a nap.

Yet, here I am, just a few days past celebrating the 40th birthday of a friend. We had a loud and wild time, strapped into four-wheeled metal projectiles riding Lake Michigan sand dunes like crazy men. My parents and their friends ain’t got nothin’ on us. We felt so young and virile – no nap required.

Yesterday, my wife and I transported our eldest child to his first rented room. On a college campus. He begins his freshman year in five days.

We’re old.

Relatively speaking, we’re just entering middle age. My wife looks terrific. Me? Seasoning right on schedule. I’m glad she’s fond of thin, gray hair.

The release of our child to adult living is a wonderful grief. This morning, the open door to my son’s bedroom left an unobstructed view of a bed in which no one slept last night. The room is clean, but lifeless. Empty but for a few visual tokens, which I mentally redeem for good memories strung along nineteen years of vivacious existence. I meander through trial, triumph, experimentation, and failure while gathering armfuls of laughter and wisps of wisdom. 

Transplanted into academia, our man-child is anxious to unfold his wings. He’s freshly immersed into quick-made community, seeking safe familiarity while curious with the untried and unknown.

My parental mind frets: “So young!” Yet, I’ve lived enough to lightly grasp the relative nature of age. Each transition in our time-stamped march grants a natural pause to reflect and remember. To grieve and be grateful. To recollect and rest peacefully in the story we each write upon eternity. To value and savor our lives.

So tonight, the second night of undesired separation, I celebrate the release of my son to the development of his person. To the expansion of his soul for his Creator’s pleasure. To the joyful stewardship of his image bearing.

And all the while I wait, with great expectation, for the gift of joy that will come to this middle-age man as I release myself – and my son – to the Greatest Good. In that relinquishment comes rich delight.

In time.

Pinch Me

Reality can be a Vulcan nerve pinch. A painful, paralyzing squeeze.

A few weeks back, I intruded upon my daughter and her friends in the midst of a hairstyling frenzy. After twisting and tying and combing and spraying they digitized their artistry via an iPad camera. I perceived this as ripe opportunity to enhance my ‘super cool dad’ image. After asking for an appointment to get my hair done, I weaseled my way into their photo shoot. I felt youthful and cool, expecting to ‘wow’ with a smoldering mugshot. Of course, my intense self-absorption blinded me to their collectively raised eyebrows and silent thoughts of, “Ummm…he’s, like, weird!” Reluctantly, they took my photo.

Mouth-covered giggles bounded among the young ladies as my photo was viewed. I pensively reached for the iPad, expecting to see an unappreciated GQ-like mugshot. I neither giggled nor grinned. I gasped. Shocked, I was, at my visible scalp-to-hair ratio. I was losing population in my hair metropolis (and I’ve been such a good mayor!). The ego-deflating snickers continued as I relinquished my attempt at ‘cool.’ No longer can I deny that my steps are firmly plodding on the ground of middle age.

Confronting the truth about who I am is a curious engagement. A tenuous mixture of pride, fear, expectation, denial, longing, and disappointment. It’s a collision of questions unanswered and uncomfortable truth. It’s thinning hair alongside relational complexities.

It’s easy to dwell on what I lack. What I don’t like. What I wish was different. How I desire more ‘this,’ less ‘that.’ Accepting my finite self is difficult. Frustration and sadness and anger can swell in discontented moments. And when I brush against my limitations, I often hear the burdening lie of inadequacy and respond with passivity and silence. At times, I do laps around the pool of self pity or fret away hours coveting the skill or ability or circumstance of another.

But I must live in my reality.


I am what I am. A special blend of the spectacular and deficient. A moldable soul, ready to be shaped – shaped divinely by the tool of grace.

Grace that can sting as it transforms through corrective words, firm nudges, providential circumstances, difficult choices, loss, and gain. In those moldable settings, when confronted with my incomplete humanity, do I reach for bricks and a trowel to build a wall of defensiveness, or submit to the all-wise care of the Gentle Shepherd? Do I embrace my short-comings and yearn to be shaped more and more into a humble, patient, grateful follower of Jesus Christ?

I’m a weak, imperfect creature. So are you. But we’ve been crafted to flourish. To enjoy and promote the good, true, and beautiful. To bask in the benevolent and powerful grace of our Creator, who lovingly shapes us with life’s grace-filled pinches.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV)

The 40’s Fork

Sparse and random were the small, black plastic discs. Stationed at ground level, most lay out of sight. Quiet. Dormant. Lifeless. They kindled little hope.
I summoned that micro-hope into energy to open a tired valve. A surge of pent-up water pushed past a squeaky groan and filled thirsty pipes. The sounds of pressurization and anticipation echoed through the plumbing. Then abruptly, silence. A good silence. Encouraging silence. Hope grew.

With renewed curiosity, I walked to the garage. Stopping at the workbench I directed my gaze upon a dim display recessed within a gray box. After stumbling through a sequence of button pushes, I grabbed the dial – and turned. Hand still firm on the control, I tensed like a cat ready to pounce. I listened. I hoped.
My grip lightened as I heard a gurgle. Then a hiss. With cautious optimism I bounded to the front of the garage. Bursts of vapor coughed and spurted from my small piece of suburban ground. It was a mini-Yellowstone landscape (sans the buffalo). From within the vale of vapor I saw silhouettes of small black cylinders worrying their way through crusty soil. They looked like guards at Buckingham Palace – tiny lawn soldiers with grassy bearskins (hats) rising to attention. Without hesitation these sprinklers in disguise began to process through a programmed choreography designed to deliver a dance of water in calculated trajectories.

I laughed. I whooped. I was giddy at this unexpected resurrection. With the joy of a child, I moved gleefully about my yard discovering hidden sprinklers like Easter eggs. I grinned at the platoon that had assembled and stood ready to bring luxuriant green to my scrubby landscape.

The surprise of an unexpectedly functional sprinkling system brings me great joy. Admittedly, my doubts were stacked high. I could see but a few clues that a system existed. Yet when called to action, the sprinklers woke from their subterranean hibernation. What appeared dysfunctional and lifeless was just waiting for activation. A call to be alive – again.

I’m in my early 40’s. Forty was a rough transition. If I’m statistically normal, I’m beyond the halfway point of life. For a guy aligned with the ‘glass half empty’ crowd, that’s tough news. The past few years I’ve thought often about what I’ve done, haven’t done, wish to do, and regret doing. The aches are starting, stamina is fading, and grey hair is blossoming. Cynicism stalks me. The big dreams of my 20’s have been buried by reason and reality. Those that survive are achieved with exceptional effort or remain elusive. This brings waves of disillusionment that pound the shore of my self-talk. It’s decision time as I stand at the fork of the 40’s: do I stay engaged, or check out.

As I reflect upon my strangely euphoric reaction to sprinklers popping-up like Prairie Dogs, I wonder what lies dormant in me? What has God yet to activate in my life? What exciting, unexpected, life-giving adventures await me in my second half? What needed to wait? What might stay dormant if I check out? Am I stealing joy from others, and myself? What fears limit my ability to foster life in my wife, children, neighbors, and co-workers? Will I bury myself and my dreams like an inactive, subterranean sprinkler or move into life’s rich depths that arrive only through passed time and collected experiences?

As I write, it’s not quite 6:30am. In the dark of the office suite my pastor whisks by my open door and exclaims, “It’s a great day, Chris!” Ah, medicine for my tumultuous 40-something soul. Today is great! It’s been sovereignly stuffed with situations and circumstances begging me to engage with courageous trust. Every relationship and task and thought and activity is opportunity to give back to the One who gifted this day.

Some say 40 is the new 30. I’m not buying that (neither is my body). What I am fully embracing is the type of life described by Thomas R. Kelly in his book, “A Testament of Devotion.” It’s the life of an active, vibrant, fully devoted follower of Jesus. Checked-in and ready. I want that life – at 43 and beyond. Here it is:

“The life that intends to be wholly obedient, wholly submissive, wholly listening, is astonishing in its completeness. Its joys are ravishing, its peace profound, its humility the deepest, its power world-shaking, its love enveloping, its simplicity that of a trusting child.”

Join me in asking God for more of Him. Let’s bask in the joy of bringing Him glory as we rest satisfied in all that He is. That’s life – at any age.