Hope for Midlife

For the first time in my life my oldest child, Jack, beat me on a long distance run. Only a dozen years ago I held my sons hands to steady him as he learned to walk. Midlife can be cruel.

I visited my dad twice this past week. He is now in hospice care — stuck in bed, catheterized, and unable to stand or walk. Only a short time ago he carried me on his shoulders, and taught me how to throw a baseball. Cancer is cruel.

midlife_crisisI am 41 years old and I stand between my son and my dad.

I did not feel old a year ago but life circumstances have changed my perspective sooner than I anticipated. For the first time in my life I no longer feel like a young man. I am loathe to admit that I’ve reached life’s summit and will begin the second half of my journey — downhill.

So I will fight. I will run for two weeks without my son, and then ask for a rematch. I will re-read chapters of an excellent book on midlife by my friend Peter Greer40/40: Vision. I will make use of tools popularized by others. Meaning, I will:

  1. Mock old age. Bob Hope cracked, “I don’t feel old. I don’t feel anything till noon. That’s when its time for my nap.”
  2. Reclaim the perspective of a child. Henry Ford said, “Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”
  3. Embrace the potential of age and silence my resentments. Pope John XXIII said, “Men are like wine — some turn to vinegar but the best improve with age.”
  4. Keep calm and carry on. Bette Davis warns, “Old age is no place for sissies.”
  5. Ponder slippery half-truths. Mark Twain claimed, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind it doesn’t matter.”

And yet old age will creep closer with each passing day and I will desire more than clichés. So, I will turn to the Bible and attempt to see things from God’s perspective. I will:

  1. Remember God as I accept the inevitable.  “Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw nigh of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’… before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened (loss of sight) and the clouds return after the rain (incontinence)… and the grinders cease because they are few (loss of teeth) and the doors on the street are shut (loss of hearing)…before the silver cord is snapped… and the dust returns to the earth as it was (death), and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-7)
  2. Rely upon Jesus to change the inevitable. “The dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable and this mortal body must put on immortality…then shall come to pass the saying, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’…Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 15:52-57)
  3. Return to hopeful living. “[Because of Jesus’ resurrection] be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. When death is defeated, life will be measured in millennia not years. When decay is reversed we will age stronger, not weaker. And when God restores his creation, all that is broken will be made new.

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What’s Better Than Being Remembered?

I recently posted about my dad’s diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer in When Terminal Cancer Hits Home. The post was read far and wide. People wrote back their prayers, expressed their sympathy, and often shared their own family’s struggles with cancer. I have been overwhelmed by people’s openness and tenderness.

A friend of my dad’s from childhood, who Dad hadn’t spoken to for over 50 years, called to see how he was doing. After hanging up the phone Dad turned to me with a disbelieving smile and said, “You don’t know how much people really care about you until something like this happens.”

On Thursdays, we sit together for hours and Dad tells me about his childhood. Growing up in Chesterown, Maryland my dad can share a lot about his mother’s side (the Kirby family) but not his father’s side from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. I asked him if we could drive together around Chambersburg so he could show me some sites. Dad is not up for traveling so I turned to google. Within five minutes, I was able to find my paternal great-grandparent’s grave while sitting comfortably in Dad’s living room. It was nicely indexed online, alongside several other family members.

On the way home from Dad’s, I phoned friends from Gettysburg who, years ago, shared they had information about the Kieffer family from the Chambersburg area. Until recently, I had been too preoccupied to look into it. The next day my friends delivered a book, five inches thick, about the earliest families that settled around Chambersburg. Apparently the Kieffer family (also spelled Keefer and Kuffer) goes way back and our surname means “barrel maker”.  Who knew!

I registered on ancestry.com hoping to make a family tree for my dad. In six hours I was able to trace our paternal roots back to Johan Nicolaus Kieffer who was born in Germany (1734) and died near Chambersburg (1818). I assembled digital files of death certificates, census registrations, probate ledgers, and gravestone pictures. I can’t wait to show my dad.

After I stayed up researching until midnight, my wife asked me at breakfast, “Why are you suddenly so curious about your ancestry?”

As an adoptive parent I care less about biological connections than most people. But I care deeply about real connections. My curiosity about our roots was rekindled as I’ve talked with Dad about his father, Jack Kieffer. I only knew my grandfather as a fun-loving Chestertown socialite who couldn’t resist stopping to talk to nearly every person we passed on the street. My grandfather loved golf, drank scotch, and told great stories. My grandfather’s dad died when was six so he barely remembered him. He told us his dad’s legal name was Crist — the name on his tombstone. Online I found Crist’s death certificate. It turns out Crist was a nickname for Christian. I don’t know how my grandfather never realized this. But, I wonder how my dad, James Crist, and my brother, Jonathan Crist, will feel about it.

Researching my ancestry has put some things into perspective. Not only was I ignorant of little things. I didn’t know the big things. Until this month, I couldn’t name my eight great-grandparents. People who lived, loved and dreamed about their future only 100 years ago.  I wouldn’t exist without them and yet I know almost nothing about them.

My great-grandkids will likely know as little about me.

Ecclesiastes warns, “There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.” (Ecclesiastes 1:11)

The sobering reality is that you will soon be forgotten. Chances are your great-grand children won’t even know your name. If you want to be remembered you must place your hope elsewhere.

God says, “Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. I have engraved your name on the palm of my hands.” Isaiah 49:15-16. The image of engraved flesh is dramatic — bloody, painful, and permanently scaring. What kind of person scars himself like that?

Only a crazy lover determined to prove His love.

After Jesus died, the grieving disciples beheld this crazy love when Jesus showed them his nail scarred hands. Jesus’ scars surpassed those Isaiah spoke about. His scars promise redemption not mere remembrance. The good news of Isaiah is God will never forget us. The better news of Jesus outshines mere remembrance. It announces resurrected life!