Apparently, I’m middle-aged. At least that’s what the folks who categorize these things tell me. As I move deeper into middle-agedom, I’ve slowed down. I’ve lost hair. I talk about the good old days more and I have a growing desire to yell “get off my lawn” for no reason. In addition to all of these, I’m also learning to deal with aging parents.
This past spring, my mom fell and, while she didn’t seem to suffer any serious injuries at first, time has proven that the fall has indeed marked her life. Since June, she has been through two hospital stays, two rehab stints, and a couple of weeks in an assisted living facility. During the same period of time, my dad has also had two hospital stays, three surgical procedures, and a rehab stint of his own. Sadly, he then unexpectedly passed way upon returning home from rehab.
It was quite a summer.
As I’ve walked through this journey with my parents over the last few months, I have been reminded of a few things.
Plans are great, until they blow apart.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring — what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15, CSB)
More than once over the last several months, I’ve made the two-and-a-half-hour trek to my hometown to be with my parents. I came with my clothes, my iPad, and a plan. And, almost without fail, those plans never worked out. I’d get dad out of the hospital only to have to put mom back in. There were falls, insurance issues, and unforeseen events at every turn. And, while I continued to try to plan out the next week, something would always happen that completely wrecked everything. As a result, I’m trying to take each day as it comes. Yes, I still like to try and plan things out, but by God’s grace, I’m slowly learning to focus on today and not be anxious about tomorrow.
In the movie Apollo 13, Tom Hanks stars as Jim Lovell. In one scene, the crew is worried about the re-entry plan to come back to earth. As the stress and tensions mount, Lovell says, “All right, there's a thousand things that have to happen in order, we are on number eight. You're talking about number six-hundred-ninety-two.” I’m trying to learn to deal with number eight before worrying about what’s down the road.
Friends are precious. During this stretch of time, I’ve received countless texts and calls. Friends and family have reached out to offer their prayers, help, and encouragement. I’ve had people offer to help transport my parents to appointments or to bring them meals. I’ve walked into gatherings and had people drop what they’re doing to come and pray with and for me. More than one person gave up a Saturday to help me pack up the contents in my parents' home. My church family has been incredibly gracious in all of this to allow me the time to minister to my parents. All of this really makes a difference. I’ve been reminded that friends are really a blessing from the Lord.
Prayer is vital. I know we all know this, or at least give lip service to it. But, I’ve been reminded anew about the importance of prayer through all of this. I like to think I can control most of the events in my life (I know, I know. Go back and read James 4 again). But, the events happening in my parents’ lives are well beyond my control. I can’t make bodies or brains heal. I can’t make bureaucracy work faster. I can’t open up beds in facilities where there are none or make resources magically appear. All of this has driven me more and more to the only One who can.
God is sovereign. The sovereignty of God is a great theological truth. We read of it in theology texts and expound on it in theological conversations. But, there are times in life when sovereignty has to become more than a concept in a book. It has to be a reality that pierces the circumstances of our lives. Romans 8 tells us, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, CSB).
This verse is meaningless if God is not sovereign. If He’s not sovereign over the circumstances of life, both good and bad, then the best we can do is hope things work out for the best. But, if God is in control and He is working and His promise is true and meaningful, then we have the confidence that He is accomplishing something. We may not understand it or even agree with it, but we know that while things are hopelessly beyond our control, they are not beyond His.
I love these words from Tenth Avenue North:
"As I walk this great unknown
Questions come and questions go
Was there purpose for the pain
Did I cry these tears in vain
I don’t wanna live in fear
I wanna trust that You are near
Trust Your grace can be seen
In both triumph and tragedy
I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go"
As I enter this new chapter with the people who molded me into who I am, I’m resting in this Sovereign Lord. I’m looking to Him more in prayer and drawing strength and encouragement from the people He brings into my life. I’m learning to adapt to His plan for today, rather than trying to force my plan for tomorrow. It’s not always easy, but I’m trying. Like they say, getting old isn’t for wimps.
Maybe you, too, are in a season of struggle. Perhaps your season, like mine, involves helping the people you love navigate the difficulties of aging. Or, maybe your struggles fall into a completely different category. Whatever the context of your life right now, I imagine the lessons above still have relevance for you. Learn to focus on the step in front of you. Be encouraged by the people around you. Dive deep into the pool of prayer and trust confidently in a sovereign God. May He help each of us manage the difficult seasons of our lives.