Somewhere in the wee hours of this morning, I turned 50.
I went to bed regretting a boneheaded thing I did the night before when I was 49 – I forgot that the class I’m teaching at church started at 6:30, showing up at the 7:00 time that is normal for the other 9 months of the year. When I woke up this morning, I was a year older and it was too late to correct the error or let it waste today in regret.
Life is that way, and you don’t have to be 50 to know that. You make choices. Some are good; others aren’t. You remember things. You forget others.
And beyond whatever control you try to exercise over it, life doesn’t seem to turn out the way you expect it to.
When I was a kid, I loved writing; I loved reading the Bible – especially those passages about Christ’s return in the Thessalonian and Corinthian letters, and the colorful imagery of heaven in the Revelation. I didn’t understand it all, but I got the main points:
- Satan loses.
- God wins.
- And Jesus comes to take us home.
When I went to college, I loved reading and writing so much that I tended to overdo it, adding to that mix a good deal of conversation with my roommates about life, resurrection and the universe – and drinking a lot of late-hour coffee. My ticker began acting up around the time of my first freshman finals. I was diagnosed with Wolf-Parkinson-White syndrome – an extra pacemaker nerve in the heart which can misfire after too much stress and stimulation (like caffeine).
So I cut out the caffeine, but by the end of my sophomore year the stress caught up with me. My resistance was low and I caught epididymitis, a kind of mumps that doesn’t settle in the throat but in glands farther down. During my two-week hospital stay, my doctor told me I would never sire children of my own.
I recovered. After graduation, I married a young lady to whom that sterility didn’t matter; someone I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with. But that marriage ended badly after seven difficult years – including a tense wait for biopsy results on the kind of cancer that bikng champion Lance Armstrong suffered (at a time when there was very poor rate of survival). Fortunately, that tumor was judged to be “benign,” and excision took care of it.
I poured myself into work – which wasn’t the writing I wanted to do – but setting other people’s writing in type. I stopped going to church. Not only did I feel hopelessly tainted by what felt like the unforgivable sin of divorce, I was once again (as I had in college) having a crisis of faith about some of the very passages I had loved to read as a boy. The ones in the gospels made it sound as if Jesus’ return would occur at any moment – during the writers’ lifetimes in the first century. Why hadn’t He returned, then? Was it all a lie? My prayer life fell flat.
Occasionally, I would slink into a church for a visit. Because I had filled out a “guest” attendance card, I was visited by two young single ladies from my home church – one of whom brought a boyfriend who wasn’t a church-goer, just so that no one one would feel uncomfortable with the visit. I could tell that my divorce made no difference to them, and they assured me that I would always be welcome at my home church. They were right.
I made my church home there. I made friends who encouraged me. I started praying again. I went back to those crisis-causing scriptures, and I began to wonder if perhaps Christ’s return was more than a single cataclysmic event; if it was also, perhaps, a process. Perhaps heaven’s eternity, I reasoned, is outside of our notion of time entirely. After all, if no one comes to the Father but by the Son, how else could Jesus have met Moses and Elijah in the transfiguration? He had to be the One who had come to take them home to heaven. How else could God be the “I AM”; who was, and is, and is to come? Maybe – as Job discovered at the end of his dark time of the soul – I didn’t have to understand everything … just believe.
After all the ways that my life seemed to have gone wrong, that seemed right. And I began to experience a sense of peace in the soul again that I hadn’t felt since childhood. Not all at once, of course; and not without some times of doubt. But when I doubted, I had a church home that gathered me in with no prejudice about my marital status or my unorthodox views of eschatology.
I had become a copywriter, and felt groomed for a more advanced creative position where I was working. The job went to someone else, someone who didn’t want to retain the current writers in his stable. I had to take a position doing something other than writing just to stay employed.
But I had met a godly young lady at my home church who inexplicably consented to become my wife; someone who would fast and pray with me that God would give us children by adoption – and He did.
What an extraordinary blessing!
This morning, their three birthday cards were at my breakfast table by my coffee.
These days, I enjoy my coffee as frequently as I like and I rarely stress out – even when I forget what time I should be teaching class.
I know my story is pretty trivial compared to many others I could tell; some from among my church family that would absolutely melt your heart. But I’m convinced that “the peace that surpasses all understanding” is available to all who seek it. Life turns out the way we should expect, in the largest sense.
Because in the end, what I understood as a child will still be true for all time: Satan loses. God wins.
And Jesus comes to take us home.