I promised in my previous post to offer my blog viewers a glimpse of one of the books I hope to work on next. I've been working on this in bits and pieces for many years--I better get to writing this one or else I will "outgrow" it! The Preface in rough draft is below.
Book title: FINISHING WITH A FLOURISH
Preface: On the Launching Pad
While time is still running, live life to the hilt and bear fruit to the max.
When time is running out, run the last mile Home and prepare well for take-off.
Celebrate each day as a loving gift from God not with a thoughtless drift.
Wisely finish your life assignment from God with a flourish to glorify Him.
The FLOURISH factor
To plumb the depths of meaning in the word FLOURISH is to come upon a shiny, glinting vein of gold in a deep mine. To flourish means to prosper and be successful in every sense. At the core it means that something or someone is thriving in a vigorous, energetic, spirited state and continuing to grow or increase.
For a person it means to be in one’s prime, at the height of fame, excellence, or influence. In botany it means that a plant is sturdy, growing luxuriantly, or is in a state of blooming, flowering, and bearing fruit. In penmanship or calligraphy it means to make fancy strokes or flourishes, to add ornamental lines to writing or to embellish initial letters of a sentence. As an action it means to wave something about in the air, as to brandish a sword or weapon. In music it alludes to a trumpet call or fanfare. In history or life or beauty flourishing means the finest or most prospering state or period.
Whoa! One hardly thinks of all those analogies applied to people in their mature or advanced years. More likely antonyms come to mind: deteriorate, fade, decline, wither, dry, fail, become weak, depreciate, grow fainter, shrivel, wilt, shrink, droop, wane, become frail, feeble, fragile, go downhill.
Humanly speaking and with the physical, mortal body in mind, some of those antonyms do apply to us. But from our Father God’s perspective and expectation for His children (of whatever age) and applying it to our eternal, and never diminishing soul, the flourish factor does trump the decline.
Our key verses of Scripture are in Psalm 92: 13-16. “The just man shall flourish like the palm tree, like a cedar of Lebanon shall he grow. They that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall bear fruit even to old age; vigorous and sturdy shall they be, declaring how just is the Lord, my Rock, in whom there is no wrong.”
God’s expectations for the mature in age Christian come to their fullness in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
The dismal news first
There are some unchangeable facts of mortal life we all have to face. No matter how diligently we pay attention to good nutrition, engage in proper exercise, take handfuls of vitamins, swallow our medications, even submit to cosmetic surgeries and other attempts at rejuvenation, we can only hope to somewhat slow the physical and mental process of aging.
Our temporary bodies are created by God; because of the Fall in Eden, they are mortal and therefore terminal. Although we grow physically from the time of our conception, the visible part of us nevertheless begins degenerating (decaying, diminishing, wasting away, being destroyed, and spent, in other translations of Saint Paul’s words in the Corinthians passage above.
Sometimes I act as if I expect to live on Planet Earth forever. I shouldn’t be in denial. Even with bionic or spare parts, my mortal life is winding down. My bodily parts are definitely deteriorating along with the rest of earthlings—I’m living in my “earth suit.” As a Christian I anticipate the fulfillment of God’s promise that I will have a totally changed body—someday. I recite in the Creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.” My body will be changed similar to Jesus’ body after His resurrection. That’s something to look forward to—but it’s for later, not now. That’s good news/bad news.
By and large, the changes of natural aging sneak up on us. Every organ gradually loses its reserve capacity although we may not be aware that it’s happening. There’s a decline in ability to recover from physical and mental stresses. Bones take longer to knit, wounds to heal, and infections to clear up. The immune system starts to decline around age 30. White blood cells begin to lose their effectiveness, which makes it harder for the body to stave off illness. Surprisingly, metabolism already begins to slow at around age 25. Muscle mass gradually shrinks. Yes, tell us about it! Kidneys may lose up to 50 percent of their efficiency between ages 30 and 80. You don’t have to tell us about that one!
All that doesn’t encourage me! But there’s still more: some of the liver’s functions gradually decline. Lungs lose on the average 30 to 50 percent of their maximum breathing capacity between ages 30 and 80. So that’s why I huff and puff going upstairs! Blood vessels lose elasticity, and bone mass begins to drop by about one percent a year after peaking in one’s thirties. The senses flag: taste diminishes, the nose loses keenness of smell, hearing fades, vision begins deteriorating at about 40, and changes occur in the skin. Can I bear to hear more?
Sweat glands decline in activity, the quality of sleep changes, the brain loses an average of about 20 percent of its weight, and speed of recall and mental performance slow down. Ah, so is that why I feel light-headed sometimes? That is the verdict for humanity right across the board—every race, every culture, every generation from the time Adam stepped out of Eden to the present—everything deteriorates in the end!
Is there any good news? OF COURSE!
The upward look
How about us who are children of God on the life journey of faith, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and anticipating eternal life? We go through the same physical deterioration process that we share with all created things. But our outlook is not the same as that of the animal world. Saint Paul describes us as being both “the outer man” and “the inner man”—the former is our body of flesh, the latter is our immortal, eternal soul or spirit. That’s why we don’t “lose heart.” God’s perfect design for our spirit is a daily renewal.
That’s the good news! An “outer man,” our “earth suit,” is not all there is to the Christian. We have an “inner man” that is better than bionic. That’s why we can encourage one another to keep on keeping on. This truth enables us to live the kind of optimistic and fruitful life God planned for us without despair. Being renewed spiritually day by day, every day, can cushion that downward slippery slope that seems to accelerate with the years.
At whatever season of life we find ourselves, we need to embrace a Christian view of the aging process. Unless God calls us to Himself earlier, we’ll all get to that latter season. Aging is still only momentary and slight no matter how negative it may feel. Aging is not terminal—we are destined to live forever! Our eyes should never focus on the limitations of aging, but upon “the eternal weight of glory” in the future.
That’s the best news ever! It should give aging the proper, optimistic perspective. We shouldn’t be depressed with our normal decline or the condition of our “earth suit” body. Let’s be confident that we’re heading upward although to all appearances our physical body is going down the incline.
A PRAYER FOR WISDOM
God, grant me the wisdom of mature years:
Help me circumvent the foolishness of aging.
When You see me playing in the spiritual shallows,
Lord, beckon me out of the wading pool into deep waters.
If I feel bogged down in meaningless routine,
turn the plain water of my daily life into “the best wine saved until last.”
When I tend to resist change and settle in my comfort zone,
grant me an open spirit and a growing, receptive mind.
If I’ve lost my get up and go,
teach me how to “rise and take up my bed and walk.”
When my leaves are withered and dry,
revive me to be “full of sap and very green.”
When my fruit is scanty and sour,
show me how to “flourish like the palm tree”
If the embers of my first love for You are growing cold,
fan them into flame by Your Holy Spirit.
When my noisy activity drowns out Your still small voice,
quiet me to wait on You in contemplative silence.
If the soil of my life is depleted and lies fallow,
break up the clods, supply fresh nutrients, make straight my furrows.
When my prayers seem unanswered and my spirit is arid,
open the floodgates to let Your Rivers of Living Water flow.
Where my life is out of balance and I lose my footing,
help me restore eternal priorities to keep from stumbling.
When my vision for Your Kingdom has grown dim,
touch my eyes to see again Your destiny for me.
If I’ve become slow of speech to declare Your message,
open my lips to boldly proclaim Your Good News.
If I have difficulty hearing Your voice clearly,
send Your Holy Spirit to be my hearing aid.
If my mind and memory begin to slip,
let me remember that You never leave me or forsake me.
When I’m weary from the length of life’s journey,
draw me close to Your bosom to find comfort and rest.
If I’m laboring to bear scarcely 30-fold fruit,
teach me to abide in You to effortlessly produce 100-fold.
Where some good seed of Your Word still lies dormant,
send Your latter rain for an abundant late harvest.
When I am tired and lack motivation to press on,
restore iron to my soul and strength to my weak knees.
When I drag my feet to do Your will,
energize me with the adrenalin of Your Holy Spirit.
When I’m short of breath from life’s fast pace,
inflate my lungs with Your Breath of Life.
If I grip material possessions too tightly,
teach me to hold loosely the things of this world.
If I open my mouth to speak foolish words,
show me how to put a watch on my lips.
When I’m afraid of the darkness around me,
take my hand to walk with You in Your Light.
When my emotions roller coaster out of control,
teach me to set my affection on things above not on earth.
When anxiety about the future threatens to overwhelm me,
remind me of Your great faithfulness in years past.
If my appetite becomes jaded by the world’s junk food,
give me Yourself as my Daily Bread in the Eucharist.
When I think I’ve reached the limit of my endurance,
help me persevere to run the last mile Home.
When thoughts of my mortal end cause me fear,
tell me again of the place awaiting me in Your Father’s House.
Sound bites and special features
In film and broadcasting, sound bites are short pieces of speech taken from a longer segment. They are striking remarks or thought-provoking statements that encapsulate an important point. In television, more thoroughly researched topics are presented as special features and given a longer time slot.
In certain sections of this book, I offer brief, succinct, or catchy “sound bites” on printed pages instead of audibly. Some are one-liners, others take several paragraphs to develop—they are snippets of seasoned wisdom and inspirational quotables. In other sections, I stretch out particular subjects into longer blog-like articles or vignettes somewhat like “special features” on television. All these formats cover a broad spectrum of topics, comments, and observations focusing on the commonality and camaraderie of our maturing years.
Since God created us to sequentially grow, develop, and mature from conception to our final years on earth, these thoughts are meant for everyone. Readers of any age may look over my shoulder and find the topics meaningful because none of us know where we might be on God’s timeline of our lives. Each of us knows where we are chronologically, but we don’t know precisely when we will reach God’s predetermined finish line. That is reached by some unexpectedly when they are still very young, or in midlife’s prime, or more expectedly by those who have lived into advanced years. I write from the vantage point of more advanced years, so this book focuses on topics familiar to my peer group of readers.
The “sound bites” are also “bites” in that this book is in a user-friendly format meant to be picked up and read in leisurely snatches as bite-sized snacks or appetizers. I hope they are “sound” in the sense of being seasoned, practical, and meaningful observations on real life in real time in our advanced years.
I’ve applied these principles and precepts to myself first by writing many of them in first person. I suggest that the reader do the same and apply the thoughts to himself or herself. **