As we now move into the second week of November, I need to start work on writing a new set of curriculum for older adults with the United Methodist Publishing House. I have been writing curriculum for youth and adults since the mid-1980s, with hundreds of pages published – even a stand alone adult curriculum known as “Troublesome Bible Passages, vol. 2” that I wrote in the late 90s. I have to tell you it has been a fun, challenging and learning exercise, besides offering folks who want to study the scripture at least a base for beginning conversations and learning. It’s also been a real joy to hear from so many folks over the decades about their classes and their own life’s journey of faith.
Now, I get to try a new curriculum – at least it’s new to me, but I know it’s been around for some time. It’s called Christian Living in the Mature Years. I don’t know if getting the assignment means I am finally “mature” (you might need to check with Cheri about that) or whether I’m just old enough to write for those great folks who will read it. Nonetheless, I plan to get it done by the end of November, so that means probably a lesson a day. It’s due by the middle of January, but it’s always good to get the work done early, I think.
Again, I get to think about the “new things” I am getting to do, as I lay down the former things of my work life. A new piece of curriculum, a new daily blog, learning or re-learning Italian, and learning all over again what it means to live attentively, and hopefully more intentional as I move through more unstructured and more casual days in retirement.
Even though this is new thing for me, it’s not a new thing for us. Constantly in our lives we set down and pick up “new” as part of our living. New relationships, and sometimes having to set down others when folks we have loved and cared for are no longer connected to us in the way they were. New ways of getting around, when we no longer can hop and jump and crawl like little kids, or when ankles and knees and even hips have to wake up much longer in the morning than the rest of us do. New ideas and patterns of living, new habits that are almost forced on us with facemasks, and distancing and the rest. Even new and different ways our society and our government runs after an election, and the changes, so far uncounted, that may come into play for our personal and financial lives.
Some parts of “new” are so exciting! When we carve out or make a commitment to include new experiences in our lives, we find ourselves with anticipation – a great word that means, “to take beforehand,” – literally, to bring the future into the present, even before it happens. Charles Wesley wrote in one stanza of that wonderful hymn “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” – “anticipate your heaven below, and know that Love is heaven.” I would hope that for each of us: that we would know the joy of anticipation in our lives, in the big things and the little things. For us to be able to bring our future and all the wonderful parts of it into our current lives should fill us with a powerful and hopeful aura, as we see the future as something to cherish.
However – and it is very often that there are indeed two sides to the coin – when something new enters our lives, and it’s not something we have hoped for, but indeed have even dreaded to see coming, the anticipation – the bringing of that future into our present can bring a dimming of the light, a darkening of a new day. When those “new things” creep into our living, they bring fear and disgruntlement, and even sadness, which can lead to a depression. Some scientists have recorded that a significant number of people have succumbed to the coronavirus, not due to the disease itself, but due to the isolation and loneliness that it has created. Without family or friends to hold and hug, without the normal enjoyable activities of life to live, some folks have moved from integrity in their lives, to despair, and in that shadow way of living, Death becomes almost more preferable. That is perhaps the saddest thing of all, but I know it can happen.
Which way will you live? The truth is, we probably carry a bit of both into the new things that come our way – excited about what could be, and become, and dreading other things that are elbowing their way into our lives. Remember what I have said repeatedly: It’s not what happens to you, or to your friends and family that in the end is significant. Instead, it’s what you do with what happens to you that makes all the difference. This past week in the northern part of North Dakota – which is really north – a community celebrated the birthday of one of their residents. She turned 110 years old. One hundred and ten. She was born in 1910, and so was 8 years old when the Spanish Flu and World War 1 hit. She went from kerosene lamps to LED light bulbs, and from not even having a party line phone, to smart phones. Her first time of voting was in 1932. True to the nature of most North Dakotans, she doesn’t have a life motto or a secret key to long life. She simply said, “It’s no different. You live with it.” Of course, she is a bit of youngster, compared with another citizen of North Dakota, who lives near Grand Forks. This past August she turned 115, and is one of the ten oldest persons in the world. Her “secret” she says is very simple: it’s God.
It’s what you do with what happens to you that makes the difference. Whether you are young, or a supercentenarian, the age doesn’t matter. Instead, it’s a matter of the heart, and the will to live with joy and anticipating our heaven below. Time for me to go do a new thing…
Word for the day: illaborate. Pronounced ill-AB-o-rate, it sounds much like a more common word, “elaborate.” And it is – it’s the antonym. “Elaborate” comes from the Latin ex, “out of” and laborare, “to labor.” When something is elaborate, it is evident that it has been created out of hard work, and much effort. The details are clear and the work appears to have taken with great care. Even when we “elaborate” on a topic, we fill in minor details, give greater background, and just make what we say the fullest and most complete that we can.
Then there is the cousin, “illaborate.” Very simply it comes from laborare, “to labor,” but the prefix changes everything. Il or in always means “not,” like illegitimate, or ill-advised, or inopportune. When something is illaborate, it is the result of simply no care or effort being given. It looks unfinished, or finished very poorly, hastily completed, or just a real mess. Kind of like 2020. An illaborate year for almost all of us.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.