As I write this, I'm actually not there yet. Will I feel differently when that day in May really comes? Will I think I've made it, that now I can take a rest, maybe not care so much, sort of lay down my arms, as though the battle days are over?
Actually the battle days go on to the end. They did for Jesus. And we are following Him.
He knew the end was near at hand. Jesus knew His time had come. John 13 says, "for we knew that His hour had come to depart from the world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end."
His work was love. His destiny was love. He couldn't stop loving them. He kept right on living the life of love, and doing the work of love. It was why He was called. It was His great vision. It wouldn't be over until it was over. Even on the cross - in the middle of dying, He said to the thief beside Him, who had said, "Lord, remember me when you enter into your kingdom." "Verily, verily, I say to you, this day you will be with Me in Paradise."
Loving, promising healing, right to the end.
I can't see 90 as the time to stop loving, to stop caring, to stop living. God will end my life when He's ready, and when He's determined I'm ready.
I think the joy and wonder of life beyond 90, is just that: Joy and Wonder. To be alive, oh my! To see the dawn come. To look at far hills. To still have friends who want to talk and ruminate about life and its meaning. To hold Molly's hand and Jesus' hand. To do what I can. To write a letter. To say love to people. To write down thoughts, and reflections, maybe even another book. To listen to people over coffee, or by the fire. To pray with them. To be an encourager.
To have that lunch with Rachel, or that philosophical conversation with Billy. To go to Arthur's concert. To visit with big John.
So simple. Maybe that's the thing: Simplicity. The love my children need, caring about their lives. Helping as I can.
Maybe declaring as I can, the things I know to be true. To read the Bible. To hold it up. To offer it again to my dear family. To get Molly to read to me on a summer night by the fire.
At sunset time, to paddle my own canoe up Pine River. To look at flowers. To sing as sometimes they ask me, ""Ossipee, My Ossipee." "Though far from thee their feet may roam, they'll ne'er forget their mountain home. But love and guard and work for thee, Ossipee, my Ossipee."
In the days of my parish ministry many a young middle-aged parent in the church spoke dismissively of confirmation courses for 8th and 9th grade young people and raised questions about the value of "Sunday School." Some disparaged the church's effort to teach the faith to young people. "It's too academic," some said. "The world is too much with us," others said. "Television and radio with their secular biases are too seductive for the pious approach of the Church and Sunday school."
I saw very different signs in the young 9th graders who came to me weekly to learn the elements of Christian faith, the teaching of the Bible, and the history of the "Congregational Way" of church life.
These efforts to teach the Way of Jesus, were "too elementary," some said, "too simple." "Not challenging," some said. Yet I encountered in those 1970s and 1980s classes of 14-year-olds a surprising seriousness about the business of God, the challenge of the life of service of the "journey with Jesus," that "life on the trail" those three years with the Master.
When it came to their own personal commitment and decision to follow Jesus, it was serious business. When occasionally a serious young person would say, "I'm not ready," or "I am not sure of Jesus and His Way", I tried hard to take them at their word saying, "Well, confirmation is your public act of committing your life to Jesus, and we are not asking you to stand up and declare something you don't believe. You can wait and take that step in high school, or at any time in the future."
Some brave young people seriously decided. Their end of the year paper on "Why I am a Christian" became "Well, I am not ready to be a Christian."
They had the chance to be honest, to see that they were not being asked to make a show by saying that they were not ready.
Sometimes parents were dismayed and embarrassed to have their child not declare the Christian faith to be theirs. They were not ready to have their son or daughter be that serious as to decline or wish to wait.
In these later years, it has been a singular joy to have former confirmation young people - now in their 50s and 40s - declare that Confirmation was important to them. One repeatedly declares, "It laid my brick foundation."
And now a study has come to hand from Harvard University - of all places - that a significant study of theirs "found that religious parents have lasting, positive effect" on adolescent children.
Harvard's School of Public Health published important research by Tyler J. Van der Weele and Ying Chen "which evidences the positive role played by traditional religion on the development of youth and their health and welfare."
Their study "analyzed data from more than 5,000 children and concluded that teens with religious or spiritual practices lead happier and healthier lives in their 20s and beyond." "....The study specifically found that a religious upbringing greatly helps adolescents navigate life's challenges by providing them with an inner strength that brings about many positive outcomes in young adulthood (including processing and giving expression to emotions.)"
"Concluding that 'the effects of a religious community are profoundly positive' the study states, 'there is evidence that religion is an important social determinant of health over life-course.'
"By setting boundaries and standards for children, 'religion provides directives for personal virtue to help maintain self-control and develop negative attitudes toward certain behaviors.'"
There's much more. But, what an encouragement to us who are trying to live this life and pass it on to those around us.
Well, it's half time in the second Semi-Final game, and only a two or three point difference between Texas Tech and Michigan State. The University of Virginia has already beaten Auburn in the first Semi-Final, by a hair.
I find myself transfixed by these fast-moving young men in their climactic NCAA Final Four games.
But, much more significant for me has been the seven hours Molly and I have spent today helping with the Pilgrim Center's retreat for 19 or 20 mostly young people at Koinonia Retreat Center in Annandale. Our task was to lift up "The Meaning of the Cross" and later share in the healing prayer time.
Over lunch two young women sat down eagerly beside us to talk about their country and their lives. They are both from South Sudan. One was born in Khartoum, capital of Sudan. The other was born in the U.S. "Our parents came to find a better life here. They had known nothing but war in South Sudan," one said. "I am a Dinka, and she is a Nuer. Yet we are friends.. We are part of the new possibility for our country. Ours are the largest tribes. They are long time enemies. But we are friends. We love each other."
Then one said, "You know, tribal hatreds are passed on from earliest childhood." Enmity and hatred are part of their heritage. But in their own friendship, far from "the home they loved" these young women are building a new and hopeful heritage.
What an honor to have been with them today. They are fashioning and living out a new life for their people.
That is what the work of the Pilgrim Center is all about: healing hurt hearts, and helping forgiveness replace hate among people who so need peace to help their families, tribes, and country build a new life.
We feel so honored to have but even this short time today with these remarkable and hopeful young people.
I will go back to the game on our TV. But what will be high in my dreams tonight, and in my thoughts these next days, will be these young people far from their home country who are living here at peace with each other, and witnessing to the peace their Lord gives them as He changes the dread heritage of war at home.
What an encouragement to Molly and me, to have had those few hours on retreat with our colleagues of the Pilgrim Center, and those who gather with them.
We went to a long and beautiful funeral service for a woman of great soul in our life at Colonial Church. She's touched everyone's life in this Christian company, by her love of Jesus, her passion for justice, her forgiving spirit as one of only four or five African-American people in Colonial's life.
She sang in our chorale. She couldn't keep still as the music kept her swinging and swaying. She sported wild dreadlocks. Her loving was tender and deep with all of us in church.
On Martin Luther King Day several years ago, she was invited to speak a word to the congregation. It was a prophetic word of truth. "My friends said, 'Why do you want to go to that white church in Edina?' but I said I go to that white church because I want to learn not to hate white people." She came as a reconciler, a woman of brave heart and an honest spirit. She has probably been a Colonial member for fifteen or twenty years. She never gave up on us.
And the service gathered white folks and black folks together to thank God for her life. She was a skilled nurse, with a servant's heart. She loved Jesus and she loved us. Her death came suddenly, as a great surprise. But with Gospel singing, our Chorale's anthems, the testimonies of her family, and a sweet, loving sermon by our dear Jeff - and, with many tears - we truly thanked God for this earnest, honest emissary of His who was our true and beloved sister in Christ.
Others died too. News came that a much younger man than Wanda died this past week. A friend of the years. A surprise. A pain in our hearts.
And, here at Covenant Village of Golden Valley, four pictures and accompanying obituaries went up in the mail room announcing the deaths of people who were just yesterday among us.
One woman, standing by, shook her head and said, "Too many deaths. Too many deaths."
For sure, we are all dying. And in fact, in our Senior Residence, the death of dear friends is almost a daily occurrence. How we miss them. How much we think of them, and lift our prayers for them.
And how much these passings of the dear ones cause us to think of our own lives, and how fragile - and yes, how short - they have turned out to be. All our lives are short. The Bible tells us that." Those "fourscore years and 10" come to an end so soon. For so many years, we thought we would live forever. But now we know every year and every day was a gift. God has been so generous with us. So, slowly in our old age, we learn to cherish each day - in our own lives, but of so many others too. Of our dear friends. Of our children. Of our wives and husbands.
Finally we get to the point of why Jesus says: Put me first in your lives. Love me the most. Then all the other loves will be fitting and right, fulfilling and forever.
Each day friends, love life, cherish the dear family and friends. And most of all, our dear Lord.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES