Living with Pain

crying in pain

Herb was in a car accident during college. A few years later he was rear-ended. Twenty years later he fell off a 32-foot ladder. Since that time not one day has passed without pain.

Betty now in her mid-70s, calls her constant back pain “a way of life.”

Myrna has lived with pain for 35 years, the results of various accidents, illnesses, and migraine headaches. She depends on her strong faith and supportive friends to get through each day.

Georgia suffered degenerative arthritis which resulted in terrible back pain that left her mostly bedfast. In her darkest moments she focused on a little angel that said “Faith.”

Leilani developed psoriatic arthritis twenty years ago and lives with chronic permanent pain. She still works a full-time job.

Chris’ back degenerated with age and damaged discs caused severe pain and foot dragging. Severe pain kept him in bed for months, and at times he was suicidal. Two surgeries have transformed his life and he is now nearly pain free.

Sandra cannot remember being without pain even as a child. Prone to bad infections, they worsened the older she got. Gall stones, stomach disease, digestive issues, and endometriosis brought surgeries. Spinal injuries from a car accident produced terrible pain that defies diagnosis. Diagnosed with MS, she temporarily ended up in a wheelchair. Appointments with neurosurgeons resulted in three additional surgeries, but the pain continues. “On a scale of 1 to 10, I have pain that exceeds 10 many times.”

These true stories are from friends of mine. Some are young. Others are old. All have lived with pain. Most still do. All were gracious to share openly with me so I could tell you their experiences. I have not used their real names.

Me? I am a novice and five years of living with pain isn’t much. Compared to what many suffer my pain might be termed more bothersome than crippling. My pain—extremely severe aching—stems from a degenerating spine. I had surgery (laminectomy with instrumented fusion) in October of 2014. It was a success in opening up three critically narrowed vertebrae, but the pain continues and new MRIs reveal multiple problems that age likely will worsen. Injections into my vertebrae have—for now—taken care of the right-leg weakness that brought a cane into my life. I am most grateful. I can manage my pain with medication and stretching—so far. I want to explore this difficult subject because it’s likely my pain will get worse as my back ages and I want to be ready. I want to encourage everyone I can by every means I can and maybe reading this will help someone. And writing it may help me.

 

Is Pain a Gift?

Years ago I read an arresting article by Phillip Yancey, one of my favorite authors, entitled, “The Gift Nobody Wants.” Mr. Yancey collaborated with the brilliant Dr. Paul Brand, a gifted surgeon who committed his life to those with Hansen ’s disease, formerly known as leprosy. This disease with a gruesome calling card of disfiguration has been a dreaded worldwide scourge until the 1940s when a drug was discovered that kills the disease-causing bacteria. Lepra, a UK based organization (https://www.lepra.org.uk) claims that Hansen ’s disease is now is completely curable.

Why am I bringing up Hansen’s Disease? Because the disfigurement and sometimes loss of hands, eyes, and feet is caused by no pain. The infecting bacteria produce an anesthetization that keeps the infected person from noticing a sliced foot, a burned hand, or an infected eye. Left untreated, these painless wounds allow infection to rage and gangrene to set in, often resulting in amputation. So we can see the reasoning behind Philip Yancey’s assertion that pain is a gift.

Pain is the body’s alarm system that something is wrong. Pain alerts us to a bee sting, a cut finger, a dislocated vertebra, or an infected appendix. Without pain we would not know we need treatment. Usually, the worse the injury or disease, the worse the pain.

Chronic and debilitating pain

While we readily understand the benefit of pain, chronic pain and debilitating agony certainly are not gifts. Millions worldwide live with both physical and emotional pain, enduring indescribable misery at incalculable financial and relational cost. Physical pain often leads to emotional pain, sometimes with heartbreaking outcomes. Chris’s father lived in constant pain from a ruptured disc. He escaped into alcoholism and, at age 50, committed suicide. His physical pain produced emotional damage to his family. Leilani pointed out how exhausting constant pain can be, wearing patience thin and draining hope. Chris confessed that pain affected his ability to relate to God, to other people, and tempted him to think about suicide. Sandra said, “I often thought about what it would be like to shoot myself or drive my car off a bridge.”

We are blessed to live in a day and age when sophisticated diagnosis, treatment, and medications are available. But even with modern medicine, pain persists. What happens when it becomes a fact of life for you?

Surviving the Pain

How we deal with pain is highly personal. We have learned that a positive attitude is invaluable and a strong will to survive carries some people for a long time. Norman Cousins was given a few months to live in 1964. He had Ankylosing Spondylitis, a rare disease of the connective tissues. He was told that he had a 1 in 500 chance of survival. He responded by choosing to live around those who believed he could survive and did not have “the culture of defeat.” Most notably, he watched comedies for hours and claimed that laughter alleviated much of his pain. He died in 1990, twenty-six years after the diagnosis.[1]

 

It’s normal to respond to long-term pain with anger and frustration. Sandra wrote that, “The longer this journey continued, the more frustrated and angry I became with God. Why hasn’t he healed me? I had family and friends who were praying. I had been anointed and prayed for by my pastor. My dad was anointed for me at his church. Why wasn’t he helping the doctors figure out what was going on? I just wanted to get my life back.” Chris was frustrated by the burden that his pain created for his wife, although she never complained. Feeling trapped by pain also leads to depression or worse.

Some people suffer silently. Others reach out for help. Being proactive is important. Sandra stressed the importance of doing what the doctors said, taking her medicine, and following through on physical therapy. Sometimes the therapy and exercise worsened the pain, but she did what she could. Become an expert on your condition. Knowing what to expect keeps you from being blindsided. Chris found meaning and a purpose to go on by volunteering at a church. I asked my doctor for antidepressant medication (after a four-year hiatus) and my emotional improvement helped me start blogging, which gives me purpose. Stay in touch with friends. Social networking on sites such as Facebook can keep your friends and family connected.

Redeeming the Pain

Those with spiritual resources do far better at managing chronic pain, both emotional and physical. Pain tests you as nothing else can test you. It reveals who you really are deep down inside. An impoverished soul provides little hope. Leilani found strength in the accounts of those who suffered in the Bible. “I think about Paul and how he suffered from a mysterious malady[2]; we don’t know if it was a mystery to him, but it’s a mystery to us. His experience often helps put things in perspective for me. Knowing the severe pain others go through…also humbles me and helps me to remember that, though my pain is chronic and permanent, it is somewhat manageable and less severe than what others have to endure.”

The Bible is honest about pain. Not only that, but God felt it important to identify with our pain by himself coming to earth to live as a human who experienced all of the emotions and pain that some of us know so well. Unlike us, he endured unspeakable torture by scourging, crucifixion, and a lingering death. Christ-followers believe his undeserving death provides forgiveness of sins and eternal life with Him. Hebrews 2:18 explains how important it is to know that we pray to a God who himself experienced pain. “Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.”

Pain is God's megaphoneC. S. Lewis famously said, “Pain insists upon begin attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone….” In our desperation to find relief which sometimes doesn’t come, we seek God’s face. Sandra says that her relentless pain opened her eyes to a deep need for God. “God began to show me that what I needed to do, and the most important things I could do, was spend time with Him.” Myrna observes, “It is for me to stand firm that God is in control. These things happen for a purpose so that I may share my faith in a quiet way and to help others in their journey in suffering with pain.”

If we will allow our pain to drive us to discover more about God and magnify our compassion and empathy for those who suffer, does it not make us better? If pain is, as C. S. Lewis asserted, God’s megaphone, could it not become an invaluable catalyst to clean our spiritual house and allow God to make us like Him? And perhaps only the desperate truly look for God wholeheartedly[3], which is the entrance to His presence and eternal companionship.

[1] http://margoparrowsmith.hubpages.com/hub/normancousins

[2] 2 Corinthians 12:8-9

[3] Jeremiah 29:13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.

Saying the Wrong Thing at the Wrong Time

Has it happened to you? A well-meaning friend or even a stranger has offered advice that you did not ask for and ended up totally baffling you or leaving you feeling worse than before. “Aren’t you married yet?” someone said to our wonderful single friend who had endured horrible relationships and yet was a positive and insightful woman. I still remember a family friend looking me up and down when I was about ten. “David, you’re too fat!” she exclaimed.

Off the top of my head, there are a few categories of comments we make:

  1. Nitpicking (“Pastor, you pronounced Mephibosheth incorrectly. I knew you’d want to know.”)
  2. Uncalled for advice (To someone with cancer: “Well, you know the statistics. One in three will get it.”)
  3. Judgments (“She looks like she’s pregnant”), and
  4. I don’t know what to say but I have to say something. (To the pastor: “I enjoyed your little talk.”)

No one group of people is better at this than others. We’ve all put out foot into our mouths. Some people seem to live that way. As we approach another presidential election, be prepared for wild and sweeping statements by just about everyone, whether it’s the latest Hillary bashing, Hillary bashing someone else, the right wingers assigning all liberals to hell, or the liberals calling the right wingers idiots. Hey, it’s our national pastime and its Bibles are in the tabloid racks at supermarkets and the airwaves. Twitter is a helpful vehicle if you want to get the word out quickly. We all know that the truth can be gauged by the number of hits on a web posting, the number of views on YouTube, or the latest polls from the media.

saying the wrong thing-idea copy

If you want to live your life far from the madding crowd, step back from all the hype and blather, take a deep breath, and think before you speak, post, or write. Perhaps we should hit fewer “Like” buttons on Facebook and consider the true needs of the people with whom we rub shoulders day after day. Isn’t sharing posts we have not researched in 2015 like gossiping at the backyard fence in 1940? Our yearning to be the first one to communicate it trumps whether or not it’s true. Or wise. Or kind.

Think before You Speak

I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home. Our denomination leaned toward Wesley rather than Calvin (free will vs. predestination), and we emphasized unity, sanctification, and divine healing. If you don’t know what this means, hang on for a minute. Let me illustrate briefly how even the best-intentioned of people can say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

We loved the doctrine of divine healing and share stories of those who were miraculously restored to health. One of our main leaders displayed on his office wall the crutches and canes of people who no longer needed them. Without discounting any of these marvelous testimonies, let me observe that many slipped into the seat of judgment when talking to or about people who were not healed. Our theology was a little thin at this point. While praising faith we forgot grace, and sometimes assumed—and said so—that people were not healed because they had unforgiven sin in their lives. We criticized their faith as insufficient or flawed. We said they didn’t pray with the right words or passion.

We had to face it as time wore on. Not every Christian was healed. When a prominent and respected national leader’s twins died instead of recovering in spite of prodigious efforts around the world to move the hand of God, we began to relax our theology of healing and consider that God might not fit into the box we had built for him.

What the family—the one whose twins died—needed was not judgment but compassion. They didn’t benefit from the endless speculation about their failures of faith. In fact, I imagine it wounded them deeply. What they did need was arms around their shoulders and an outpouring of love and support.

A Call for Kindness and the Benefit of the Doubt

The other day one of my tennis friends returned from an extended vacation. She had not seen us in a while and wanted to catch up on everyone. When I mentioned the name of another player I knew she didn’t care for, she…let’s say she found it challenging to be positive. (I knew for a fact she had refused to play on the same court with that person.) I mentioned how well the uncared for tennis player had done in her absence, pointing out a few of her good qualities. My recently returned friend looked at me with amazement. “You’re incredibly kind!” she said. Am I? I know that I want to be

What do you say to someone you know has been diagnosed with what could be a terminal illness? Here’s where we need to stop and think before we rush in and say the wrong thing. What not to say:

  • “I’m sure you will be better soon.” This attempt to be positive is inaccurate and unhelpful.
  • “You need to try these essential oils (or organic products, bee pollen, etc.)” Thousands of popular remedies may have marginal benefit if any. Those with terminal illnesses get far too many of these simplistic solutions. Leave prescribing to the doctors.
  • “Have you prayed for healing?” If you are very close friends who share the same faith you might possibly ask this. Too often, however, it strikes the wrong, judgmental chord instead of bringing hope.

Kindness and gentleness, two of the nine characteristics of a genuine Christian (found in Galatians 5:22-23) will guide you. Ask yourself what you would want to have someone say to you.

What to say when you don’t know what to say.

comforting hug-cropped
Being held is one of the best therapies for those enduring loss. If you don’t know the person well, ask permission as some people are not “huggers.”

When your friend is bereaved or experiencing huge loss, sometimes the most eloquent thing to say is nothing. But do not ignore them. Cry with them. Hug them. Send cards or notes. Touch them on the shoulder in passing. Pray for them and assure them of your prayers. Stay in touch. A simple “thinking about you” text from your phone can bring the ray of sunshine they need that day. Be there. Instead of asking how you can help, pick up the mail, run errands, mow the lawn, or take a casserole. People will often forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

And as for the news, political candidates, wars, and the economy? Watch and observe. Make your own judgments but don’t be quick to assume you have the answers. Name-calling is the practice of those with small minds. Keep your disdain for people private. Don’t sit in judgment. Offer the kindness of the benefit of the doubt. The greatest man who ever lived said it this way, “Be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

That was then. This is now.

Why we must accept change in our lives.

Ray, Beulah, and Ree as a baby
My mother as a baby with her father and birth mother.

My mother was a remarkable woman. Her mother died of cancer when my mom was six and her only sister, Ruth, was three. She had three stepmothers, two of whom also died while she was still at home. No one spoke to her about her losses as was the pattern of that generation. My grandfather was a wonderful man, but times were different then and he was dealing with his own grief. My mother was launched into adulthood, a naïve young girl without even the slightest idea of what caused pregnancy. A gifted pianist and devout Christian, she went to Anderson College[1]) with a strong faith in God and hope for the future

CW & Ree separate college photos finished
Mom and Dad in college

There she met my father, Clair Shultz. He was the youngest of seven children in a family hit hard by the depression. Inventive and mischievous, he went to college because a Sunday school teacher saw his potential and talked him into it. Mom fell for his pranks, like putting firecrackers under her dorm room door, and they were married in 1935 on a Christmas Day when it was four below zero.

Their ministerial career began with the pastorate of a small church in Noblesville, Indiana. Two short-term Minnesota pastorates followed, after which they decided to apply for missionary service in Trinidad, British West Indies (where I was raised). Later assignments included some time in Jamaica and then in Kenya, East Africa. They learned Swahili in their 50s.

Change everywhere.

I never realized until just before my father’s death that Mom was the strong one in the family. She endured tropical storms, tarantulas on the front porch, rats the size of housecats in the kitchen, and the near-death of her infant son with whooping cough. She taught Sunday school with flannel graphs, did the mission bookkeeping, and helped start a Bible training school. She also managed the onslaught of change that characterized the rest of her life. One of her biggest challenges was when my sister and I, each at the age of thirteen, were sent back to the States to go to school.

In every place she lived, she had to change. She changed families (thinking of young missionaries as her kids), cultures, and devastating accidents. She traveled around the world more than once, documenting her travels in aerograms written in her delicate hand on airplanes and from distant hotels.

Mom Shultz for obituary
Mom five years before she died

Her biggest adjustments came after she and Dad retired. She was diagnosed with primary lateral sclerosis, a disease which gradually robbed her of mobility: first a cane, then a walker, and finally a wheelchair for more than twenty years. We watched her and Dad downsize from a three-bedroom home (filled with shells from Barbados and zebra skin rugs from Africa) into a two bedroom condo (with spacious bedrooms), and then into an apartment in an assisted living facility. Always she went to something smaller, something less. She gave away her favorite Blue Danube dishes, her bronze flatware from Thailand, and her Chinese buffet. When Dad died at 93 (she was 92) she downsized into an efficiency and finally, no longer able to manage on her own, into skilled care; first a private room and then a double. She gave up e-mail—her lifeline to others—and her checkbook. We watched her gradual devolvement and sometimes joked about her unwillingness to relinquish a final bookshelf of Bibles and well-worn favorites. Pneumonia precipitated her move to skilled care. Now totally cared for by others, her life had shrunk from the entire world to a hospital bed. Gradually dementia shuttered even that world. She died in 2011 at the age of 97.

That was then. This is now

I first heard the phrase, “That was then. This is now,” when they started downsizing. More and more frequently she said the words as if to remind herself that change is inevitable and fighting it is pointless. One of her caregivers, who also was a close friend, marveled frequently that Mom never complained about her disease or her losses. When we asked her about missing Dad, she would say, “That was then. This is now.” To a woman who years before had sacrificed her children to serve the Lord, the scriptural pattern had become her bucket list. “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-21). I see these words as one of my mother’s greatest legacies to me.

We spend so much time resisting change and complaining about circumstances. We gripe about the neighbors who never mow their lawn and we worry about the solvency of Social Security. We desperately hope that cancer won’t knock on our door and that no one in our family will die too soon. We’re sad to think that the children will grow up, spread their wings and fly away, and then complain when they move back home. Living out my days in a nursing home with overworked nurses and hallways that smell like urine is one of my biggest fears is. I think many have that fear.

If truth be told, we cannot do much about most of these things. But a life lived in fear is no life worth living and I think we underestimate our resiliency and inner resources to adapt to change. The human race has endured the unspeakable in wars and concentration camps. Foreclosures have left us homeless, wars have left us childless, and disease and accidents have left us with lifelong pain. History teaches us, if we will pay attention, that even with such loss and pain people rise above and beyond to find meaning and make a difference. I want to be one of these people.

Things to Remember

  • Enjoy the life you have.

With all of the loss and pain you may have endured, there are good things to celebrate. Try to think about what you have instead of what you don’t have. Thank God for your body, even if it is disabled or ravaged by disease. It’s the only one you have and you need to make peace with it. I’m not saying that life is easy or that you can think positively and change circumstances. Life is hard. But you are a survivor. That was then. This is now.

  • Don’t play the “If only” game.

Many spend their lives wishing things were different. “If only I had married differently.” “If only my daughter had not been in the car with the drunken driver.” “If only…” we can do this for years and it changes nothing. We must grieve our pain—with help, if necessary—but we eventually can make peace with our past. That was then. This is now.

  • Find a creative outlet.

God made you to create. He is The Creator and has made you in His image. Creating things, whether writing a poem or rebuilding a car, is extremely healing. I have written about depression in another blog, and I will be writing about living with pain in another. What I know is that deciding to begin blogging has changed my perspective remarkably. It has given me a place to process my past and to gain perspective from all those gracious enough to respond. What creative things can you do?

  • Reestablish your faith.

Downsize your wants and stop accumulating. Beauty fades. Riches are fleeting. Anchor your life to what no one can take away. Reach out for God and you will find him. How wealthy is that person who invests in eternity!

C. S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Bingo. It is my contention that the Bible offers the best future for any of us. Those who cast their lot in with Jesus Christ are assured of life forever with him, above and beyond pain, sickness, and death. And it gives me great joy to think of Mom is heaven, lifting her coffee cup in a toast and saying, “That was then. This is now!”

[1] Now Anderson University http://www.anderson.edu/

Learning to Live without All the Answers

girl-backpack-thinking-sunset-field-fence-moment-field-reeds-hd-fullscreen 2Learning to Live without All the Answers

 I was a young pastor officiating at a funeral for an elderly man I didn’t know. I had met his wife of fifty-plus years once at the baptism of her granddaughter. Although a church member elsewhere, she asked me to do the service and her family pressed me to do so. I agreed.

I had performed maybe three funerals and was inexperienced with people, dying, and grief. At the viewing before the service the widow collapsed onto the open casket and began wailing. Her shrieking made everyone uncomfortable, especially me. I stood nearby without the least idea of who should do something and fearing I was the one. Family members hugged her and encouraged her to move on, but the ear-splitting howling continued unabated. Then I heard the dreaded words, “Where is the pastor?” as unfamiliar people looked around, no one imagining that the timid twenty-something in the corner was a clergyman.

You know, I don’t even remember what happened. Later the emotionally spent widow with streaking mascara reached for my hand and said, “Why, Pastor, why? He was a good man. How could God do this to me? I stammered something inane and looked for an exit. Somehow we got through the service and I went home, sobered and wondering what I had gotten myself into.

I think what baffled me was being the answer man with no answer. Why did her husband die? He was suddenly gone leaving a gaping hole in her life. I hadn’t been to seminary yet, but even when I went I don’t remember any classes on dealing with hysterical people. Or any kind of people. Too bad.

Why do we use clichés?

It’s at times like these, when we don’t know what else to say, that Christians blurt out those clichés that help no one: “God has a reason,” for example. Or when a child has died, somebody says the inevitable and embarrassing “God needed another angel.” Nowhere in the Bible are we told that God kidnaps children to make angels. We are quick to quote this well-intentioned but inaccurate bomb: “The Lord never gives you more than you can handle.” We might even share this non-biblical quote by Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music” with “When God closes a door, He opens a window.”

So why do we use clichés? Christian Piatt, a minister in Portland, Oregon, writes about this. “Christians hate loose ends. We want to end every conversation with everyone smiling and assured that everything will be just fine. But that’s not always reality, and sometimes, what people need is to grieve, wrestle or reflect rather than feel better and move on. Being a Christian is not about having all the answers at the ready.”[1]

Just like I felt I had to do something at the funeral with the distressed widow, we find ourselves ill equipped at times of grief or trouble. Yet we feel we have to provide answers. Not knowing what else to say, we share those time worn phrases that help no one and sometimes aren’t even biblical.

Another discerning writer says we feel obligated to have an answer, but, “Sometimes there simply are no appropriate words, and we just need to listen.”[2] Over the years I am learning that silence more often than not is golden. People in crisis usually are not asking for answers. What they need is from us is presence. It’s okay to be silent, cry with someone, or simply hug them.

Developing a Mature Faith

When we are insecure in what we believe we are easily challenged by crisis. Unsure of what the Bible says, we exist on maxims and a cursory understanding of God and our faith. Such childish faith collapses quickly when difficulties come: tragedies like incurable illness, family breakup, or mental illness. And they will come to everyone.

Does God allow suffering? Yes. Why? We cannot know his reasons. Does He love us? Without question! Then what do I do with this seeming ambiguity? I must learn to live with it. I must consider the life experiences of those who suffer. I must faithfully study the Bible and learn how God interacted with people throughout history and also study how He interacts with me. Faith is not easy. Faith is not a formula: so much prayer equals so many blessings. We all must grapple with tough times so that our faith will grow strong enough to sustain us and our families.

The Upside of Failed Faith

I have shared in an earlier blog about my depression and its drastic effect in my life and my family’s life. One monumental trigger more than any other pulled the rug out from under me: I lost confidence in my Christian experience. Life events swerved me off the road and I crashed. You could say it this way: the maxims and clichés that were part of my faith—not all of my faith, mind you—were revealed as stunningly inadequate

Now, years later, I say that this was the best thing that ever happened to me. My dark night of the soul has helped me come to a healthier and more balanced understanding of God and faith. I will not quote this to someone in crisis but I do believe in the truth of Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” God does work in mysterious ways. After all, He is God and light years beyond any capacity on our part to understand Him. Yet He daily reveals Himself to me and reminds me that I—and you—are precious to Him and worth far more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31).

[1] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christianpiatt/2012/07/ten-antidotes-to-christian-cliches

[2] Mary Fairchild @http://christianity.about.com/od/faithinaction/qt/Christian-Phrases.htm

Comfortable clothes. Comfortable people.

DS in sweats at piano cropped

Back in the 1980s my dad showed up for the family picnic in a striped blue shirt, plaid brown shorts, black socks, and dress shoes. Looking at him in mild horror, I whispered to my wife to please never let me dress like that. Just the other day I glanced in the mirror as I went forth to meet the day. I drew in my breath sharply. Plaid shorts, American flag T-shirt, black socks, and sandals! Oh no! What happened? I was not only more stooped like my Dad used to be, but somewhere in the last ten years I apparently had a stroke in the part of my brain that controls good taste in clothes.

When you’re young it never occurs to you that someday you’ll walk differently or visit a podiatrist (“What’s a podiatrist?” we said.) When your energy levels are surging and body responds without a hitch every time, you cannot imagine stumbling along or have trouble getting out of a chair. And, I suppose, you never think that someday you might develop different standards for life that place a low priority on many of the things you’ve admired your whole life.

The older I get the more I find myself wearing comfortable clothing. I used to buy fashionable shoes, often from Florsheim; now they hurt my feet and I wear tennis shoes and gardening clogs. I wear socks all of the time (because my feet are cold) and my farmer’s tan now stops at my ankles. Sweatshirts and sweatpants do well around the house in the winter. I used to dress in the current style; but have you noticed what’s in style these days? All the stores in the mall cater to young people and, even I could find something I liked, it would not fit my body that long ago lost the fight with gravity.

I value clothes that fit easily. I wear clothes a long time, until they wear out, actually. Why spend money on new clothes when you’re on a fixed income and you have plenty of things to wear (even if the garments you think of as new were purchased ten or more years ago)? Let me assure my children, lest they worry, that I will not go out in public in pajamas and slippers or wear clothes so old they advertise Eisenhower for president (“Ike, Ike, he’s our man!”). Nor will my photo appear on the web site, “People of Walmart.”

Here’s my point: aging brings us far more benefits than liabilities, even as we lose vision and mobility. It has taken me a long time to be comfortable inside the body I have, and I want to keep that perspective.

What other perspectives have come with age?

  1. We are more accepting.

Here’s an example: we’re a part of a wonderful church where we are totally welcome as we are. The 8:30 a.m. service is one in which we sing old hymns and I play the piano (something I haven’t done since I was in high school). Acceptance in this group has been immediate and unconditional. At our potlucks we commiserate about back surgeries and unashamedly bring pillows to sit on. We pray for each other’s children and never think about whether what someone is wearing is fashionable or not. We’ve been through the war, sat at deathbeds, and cried over wayward family members. We’re survivors who celebrate life together and rejoice in our wonderful God, who loves us.

  1. Experience provides a clearer perspective

When you’ve lived a long time you understand what is valuable and what is not.

  • Friends, for example, are important. Popularity is not.
  • Family, both by blood and by choice, are priceless.
  • We listen to news broadcasts differently. Jesus said we would hear of wars and rumors of wars, that famine would come as would times of plenty. The important thing is that we belong to God and it’s his world. We won’t get out of it alive, anyway, and when we leave this world, a better one is waiting.
  • We value people with integrity and have no use for pretense, showmanship, or politicians who create their belief systems based on public opinion polls.
  1. We recognize true heroes.

The media loves to give attention to those who “accomplish” things. But is it an accomplishment to reach my one hundredth birthday or is that a genetic hiccup? I’m happy for those who are still running marathons into their eighties, but most of us can’t achieve this and it falsely labels youthfulness as success. Recently ABC aired a nationally televised awards program in which someone who had recently undergone surgery to switch sexes was given a standing ovation for heroism. Please!

The elderly see through this utter nonsense. We may use wheelchairs and Depends, but we know that heroes are motivated by a love for people and respect for truth.

We have made peace with our past.

The perspective of years helps you separate and discard painful experiences because we know they do not define who we are. Only recently did my wife, Karon, help me see that I still clung to put-downs and thoughtless hurts in the past. I now realize that nursing that pain only hurts me and not the persons who did those things. I have chosen to lay aside my victim mentality and no longer focus on the pain of my past, my failures, or poor decisions. We are so much more than abuse, job loss, or bullying.

Forgiving everyone in your life, even those now dead, will bring you unimagined freedom and joy. In the New Testament, Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone. Jesus answered in the vernacular of his day, “without number!”

I thank God for my past and everyone I’ve been privileged to meet. Some have brought me pain. Others have been uncommonly kind and generous. All have enriched me and helped to shape me as I am today. I thank God for his grace that forgives me and his endless love and optimism that ceaselessly encourage me day after day. Not everyone will like me, marvelous as I am. Life’s experiences continue to stretch me and build my faith. And tomorrow will be a wonderful day!