The rythmic pump of oxygen is there. It’s faint, but it comes on the 5 or 6 count – unexpectedly and quietly. It’s a gentle breeze puffed into the century-old body. 100 years of life that began in 1916. Imagine that. And I steal a few moments to sit with him and draw out the golden details of years lived long. I’m looking for those silken threads amdist a haystack of memories because we all want to know how to live. And if we are vulnerably honest, maybe we want to know if we want to live that long. Is the view that close to glory worth the wait or is it too bittersweet to taste the sweet? I’m still not sure.
There’s two puffs of oxygen and a remnant of mischief in the half smile before he answers my plea for 10 decades of wisdom, “God will take care of you. Let him.”
That goes down smooth, like that first sip of dark Peruvian coffee on a crisp Autumn morning. They are simple words. But as I savor them, I realize that they are complicated. If honesty is what we are pouring tonight, then I find it difficult to be honest about aging. It doesn’t go down smooth. I find it difficult to find my way through the switchbacks of a body forming lines of history that are unwelcome highways on my skin. I’m not ready for their stories to be so boldly proclaimed on the surfaces of my being – defining me, describing me.
FIST-FULLS OF GOLDEN NUGGETS
I started wrestling with age in my thirties – looking down the road for women that were wearing their decades and shades of gray as garments of praise. Women that could inspire the fashioning of my own tapestry of time. It is an easy thing to look back and say, “I wish my body still looked like 14.” It is an entirely different journey to look ahead and embrace where my body is going. This is honesty that is hard to speak within a culture that glorifies youth so that they can market it in boxes and potions and sell it at premium prices. Our cultural narrative screams that aging is neither natural nor beautiful. But, what if aging is the precious silver produced from pain and experience and the mistakes mixed with laughter and love and the growing of marriage and family and frienship? What if our years are the currency that forms and informs the journey of the next generation? We sew a tragic flaw into the fabric of a culture that robs itself of this treasure chest of wisdom.
Bob and Annie picked through their stories over watermelon and cherries at the church potluck and I savored their sweetness. Eighty years of life and the crop is plentiful. Fifty-five grand-children, 44 great-grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren. They are more than 100 souls when they gather in one room. He, a pastor turned truck-driver and she, an assembly-line supervisor that formed the black-boxes that string moments into information in jet-liners that still track the details of how we criss-cross our globe. There is treasure in the depths of their charted journeys where Bob’s tragedy led to rebellion and broken marriages and Annie bore the heartbreak of one husband buried before finding her Bob. By the time they became one body, Bob had sewn his seeds of rough living and found his way home to Jesus. They were in their fifties.
“In twenty-four years, we have never had a fight,” Bob says and I like how the light in his eyes reflects love and joy. Annie’s short, white-as-the-clouds hair bobs in a pixie cut and my eyes don’t want to leave her spritely face. I’m captivated by the beauty of their strands and the depth of their stories, and the laughter and the compassion that boils under the time-lines written upon their faces. I don’t want to leave this table. Like a miner, I am digging. I am digging for treasure here and surfacing with fist-fulls of golden nuggets.
We talk about redemption – not just the saving of our souls, but God’s power to redeem us, our mistakes, even the wounds that our choices inflict upon our children. These are precious pearls of honesty and you don’t buy that in a box. This is earned treasure – the sweat and tears and pain of wrestling our selfish, self-serving flesh for the glory that lies beyond instant gratification.
Our polarized culture needs the birthing of this gracious discourse across the differences of years and the perspectives of politics and dogma. We are gasping for the un-siloing of the generations – a flow of oxygen to fill us and revive us. There are younger people than I who will echo my cry: Throw open the windows of your soul and unleash your voice of wisdom here. Testify your years as a tapestry of experience, and lessons-learned, and love-lost and love-won.
My ears long to hear you wear your decades with honesty, and humor and dignity. Show me how to live this procession of time with grace and let me trace with my fingers its story upon the canvas of your face. Speak to me of how to embrace and to welcome the years instead of resenting them or fearing them.
As I look at the silver strands beginning to believe that they belong amidst my own brunette treasure, I ask Jesus to breathe his grace into this piece of my journey, but maybe it is courage and vision that I really need. Courage to put the flesh and the bone of my shoulder against this door of culture and push with the same guttural force that bore 4 screaming infant-women into this world. And, vision to see what my soul whispers as truth. That as these bodies swell to birth children and then bend toward the dust from which they were formed, our souls are revealed – towers of strength and courage sinewed with the muscle and tendons of a fierce faith.
This is a call to my mighty tribe – to women of all ages and shades of gray – push with me. Like an African warrior, let the lines of the years upon our face be the tattood stories that we bear upon our brow. They are gifts to the world around us – outer markings that reveal warrior-souls steadied for battle.
Raise your voice and roar with me, “Cast your eyes here and find the markers of Jesus – his faithfulness, his lessons, his correction, his mercy.” This is the grace that breathed songs of mighty victory out of Deborah.
Women, we were fashioned to be fierce and strong and wise. Time will take our youth but it will not silence our testimony. My sisters, covenant with me to let the years stretch out from our 14 year-old curves as the garments of a fierce and unwavering faith.
This is a call to my brothers as well. We stand best, we stand strongest, we do battle as a mighty force for our cultures when we stand together as equals. Men of integrity, raise your sinewed arms and let the strength of decades feed our souls with courage.
Let it not be the curves of our genders that define our worth for the kingdom. Our ancient story tells us that at 14, her girlish curves bosomed the heartbeat of a Savior. His muscled legs woke in the night and carried them to safety. Both of us are called, like them, to bear a Savior – to be a sanctuary, a mighty fortress for our cultures, for our families, for the vulnerable who seek shelter within our gates.
Nor should our shades of gray and the tatoos of time determine whether we battle as one body. Let us battle together, you and I, to build a fortress of faith that forces open wide the arms of hospitality and hospital to the wounded of every nation and every age. Our battle cry bears witness that neither the glistened glow of our youthful bodies nor the textured format of our aging ones will be the chattle for a culture that sells sex. No. We are not for sale.
Our shades of gray, our curves, our tendons and tissue, our tattoos of time – all of this beautiful skin in all of its seasons of life enflesh a warrior’s soul that will not be purchased. So strain. Push. Bear down. Birth life.
Who will stand with me?
Who will flank my right and my left so that together as a mighty force, we fulfill our call to change nations and to birth hope with the varied generations that battle by our side and those that will come behind?
Rise up warriors. Wear your shades of gray with me. Do battle and fight well.
Listen. Do you hear it?
It’s on the 5 or 6 count that the truth rides in on a wisp of oxygen. “It’s worth the climb – worth the battle, worth the blood, the sweat, and the tears.” Here at the top, with our bodies bent low, and our souls standing strong and straight as warriors – the air is sweet. In the end, it’s sweet up here.