Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
- Psalm 90:10-12
“Growing old has been the greatest surprise of my life. The young live for the here and now. Thinking ahead seems to be in the form of dreams that promise fairy-tale endings. Though I am nearing ninety-three, it doesn’t seem so long ago that I was one of those dreamers, ﬁlled with great expectation, planning a life that would satisfy my every desire. Since there were few things in life that I loved more than baseball, as a young man I dedicated myself to the sport and hoped that my passion for the game would lead me straight to the major leagues. My goal was simple: stand at home plate, with bat in hand, immersed in an important game. I often pictured myself hitting a big-league grand slam into the stadium seats and hearing the crowd roar with thunder as I ran the bases—nearing home.
“I never would have guessed what lay in store. After giving my heart to the Lord Jesus Christ—repenting of my sin and putting my entire life into His hands—I laid down my dreams, along with my bat, and fully embraced God’s plan by faith, trusting that He would lead me all the way. He did, He is, and He will.
“As I look back, I see how God’s hand guided me. I sense His Spirit with me today, and most comforting is the knowledge that He will not forsake me during this last stretch as I am nearing home. If that doesn’t give me a sense of hope, nothing else will.”
- Billy Graham, Nearing Home
At the beginning of the book, Billy Graham quotes Vance Havner.
“Remember that as a faithful child of God you await promotion.”
- Vance Havner
I am not as advanced in years as Billy Graham was when he wrote this book, as he approached his 93rd birthday. He was nearly 100 when he passed away. But I can echo the concept of the “surprise.”
I fought being called middle aged until people never referred to me as being middle aged. I did not think about it until one day, someone a lot younger was doing the math. They doubled their age and said that they had plans to stick around longer than that and please do not call them middle age. At that moment, I doubled my age and said softly, “Yikes!” I started wondering where middle aged had gone.
I then realized why no one was calling me ‘middle aged’ anymore. I had passed it by, and I had never noticed. I can echo Billy Graham’s words, “It was a surprise.”
I wanted to play football, not really liking baseball that much – I could not hit the ball. I wanted to be a running back or wide receiver, which in those days was running back. We played the T formation. We had one play in the playbook for the Wing-T, but with two tight ends. The play was a reverse with me blocking the linebacker to the left of the formation and the other running back running from off the far end past the quarterback and, if I blocked well, he could make a few yards of progress. I never got the ball except on punt returns, which I was good at, or on dives up the middle. The dives up the middle led to someone three-times my size hitting me in the face (no face masks on old leather helmets) and I would fumble the ball – thus rarely trusted in the open where I might have a chance. Okay, I would usually get knocked out and thus drop the ball. The umpire and referee never saw what hit me, a mystery to them, but one of the times that I broke my nose to prove it happened.
The next year, we moved to Tupelo, Mississippi, and I was the new kid in town, which meant, I stayed on the bench, never being assigned to any position, mostly practicing on defense as the free safety. The following year, I did not try out. That dream had become a nightmare. I began kicked field goals over a swing set at home and then advanced to kicking them over the house from 60-70 yards away, but that was before “place kicker” was a position at the high school level – according to my Dad. To him, if you did not play every down, you were not allowed to kick the ball.
In my old age with very interesting new pains on occasion, I wonder what had been set in motion 50-60 years ago that was just now starting to hurt.
I shifted my dream to something involving science and stuck with that, but I always thought God was calling me for something. I studied science. I wrote crazy, nonsensical stories, starting about ten-years old. And I muddled through life. Only in retirement did the joy of writing return with a purpose in mind and God directed me to where I could be used.
I pray that I can make a difference in people’s lives. I am not “nearing home” as Billy Graham wrote in his book, but then again, I have no guarantee that tomorrow will be my last day. I am not old enough to say what my mother’s father once told me. “I have lived past my life’s expectancy, so it could be any day now.” That was his joke for “I have cancer and my days are numbered.”
But I doubt if Moses (yes, Psalm 90 is a psalm of Moses) meant that we number our days in such a fashion. He meant that we use the numbered days that we have in glorifying God. I may not do as well as Billy Graham did, but I want my days to count for something that advances God’s kingdom in maybe a little way.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.