Three score and four

Today I turned 64. All I can think of is the Beatles’ song:

“Will you still need me…

will you still feed me…

when I’m sixty-four?”

Those words, recorded by Paul McCartney in 1966, have been on a loop in my head since I got out of bed this morning. Trying not to feel threatened by the number 64, I’ve comforted myself knowing Paul couldn’t have been very old when he wrote it. Most sixty-somethings can still feed themselves. (In researching it, I learned he was only 16. It figures.)

The Beatles song is said to have been the longing of one young lover to another, the expression of a hope that their relationship would be a marathon, not a sprint.

Feeling nostalgic, I took a look at my own young loverhood via youthful diaries. Reading through the “capers” of my teenage self dating seven boys at once, reminded me of the biblical tag, “youthful foolishness.” But that was me. In searching for the perfect date, I was really looking for the perfect mate. So did I find him?

My “Dear Diary” pages about Nate’s and my early marriage resounded with a happy “yes”. But memories of the 40 years between then and now force a tempering of that enthusiasm. Hard times have been sprinkled over happy ones, and we’ve gradually learned to find blessing in ordinary days.

Viewed in a rear view mirror, the most difficult seasons of our marriage, the times labeled “hard” or even “awful” when going through them, can now be seen as having been for our good. We didn’t learn much when life was all laughter and fun. A preacher once said, “God isn’t interested in our happiness. He’s interested in our growth.” I believe it.

Despite being able to point back to periods of sadness, disappointment and pain, Nate and I are still together as we cross the threshhold of 64, ten days apart. We see personal growth and lots of good coming out of life’s occasional “bad”.

In 1983, I hung a plaque on our bedroom wall:

“Coming together is a beginning.

Keeping together is progress.

Working together is success.”

That year we celebrated our 14th anniversary with five children around the table and an overly busy family life. The plaque exuded encouragement to keep going.

Today, having traveled 26 additional years down the marriage road, we still look at that plaque every day. And we really get it now. That middle line about keeping together is a required stepping stone to a Golden Anniversary party. In marriage there are points for just showing up.

The last line about working together eliminates the option of working against each other. Satisfying marriages get really good at side-by-side.

So, what’s the bottom line about reaching 64? Paul sang, “When I’m sixty-four, you’ll be older, too.” When a husband and wife buy into this truth, life calms considerably. Pressure is lifted, and expectations line up with reality. This has been our experience.

Looking back, I think each of us did pretty well in the search for a perfect mate. Yes, sixty-four is off to a good start. And by the way, we even ate our birthday cake without anyone having to feed it to us.

Reality sometimes bites our kids.

We gathered the kids around the dining room table. “You all know how tight the money’s been around here,” Nate started. “We’ve tried to cut back every way we could. Some of you have had to drop out of college. All of you have jobs. We don’t go on vacations or buy new cars anymore. But this stuff hasn’t been enough.

There is one thing, though, that we could do…” he faltered… “that would help us alot… that we’re going to have to do.” He paused. “We need to sell our house.”

After a hush during which I was sure I heard the roll of thunder, Birgitta, 13, responded with horror on her face.

“You mean MOVE?!”

My personal tears anticipating this moment had been shed days before, during prayer times for the kids looking at us now. My hope had been to remain tearless at that moment and speak light into the storm cloud forming.

“Maybe we’ll move to the country,” I chirped in a voice too high to be mine. “Weezi, you might get your own horse!” Our 15 year old looked at me through eyes full of tears, pursing her lips to hold back a sob… and words.

Nelson, 31, having moved out long ago, pulled toward optimism by pointing out how the four brothers could use country acreage to store rattle-trap cars and non-functioning go-carts. Although we appreciated his try, our main focus was the younger kids, and they were not doing well.

Getting through our half-hour meeting was like trying to swallow a pill that refused to go down. Reality sometimes bites, and it was biting our children. Although we’d been tempted to sugar-coat the news, we thought it better to let them have the whole truth, bitter that it was.

Five of our seven children had known no other home. The oldest two had only a handful of early memories of our prior house. As we watched their facial expressions define different inner struggles, it felt like we were yanking baby bunnies from the safety and familiarity of their snug burrow.

“Do we absolutely have to move? Who will buy our house? When will we have to leave? Will we take the animals? Will I have my own room?”

Our only accurate answer was, “We don’t know.”

The contract was formalized, and a FOR SALE sign went up in the yard. Gradually, over weeks and eventually months, resistance melted. Our address didn’t change. Other than occasional visitors marching through the rooms with clipboards, family life continued on.

Little did we know that by the time a serious buyer with a healthy checkbook would finally surface four years later, most of us would have come to believe the house would never sell, and we would never move.

Connecting the dots

“Ask, and it shall be given you.” (Matthew 7:7)

I can’t count the times I’ve quoted that Bible verse back to God while asking Him for something special.

Today I let my mind trek back to our newlywed days and an important request I made. In our first apartment there were four pieces of furniture: a card table, two chairs and a book case. We didn’t even have a bed.

But the reason we signed for that particular apartment was the Murphy, a metal fold-up bed permanently installed in a closet. At bedtime, it pulled down like the door on a dishwasher. In the morning, it lifted back into the closet, and the bedroom morphed into a living room. (We never had to “make the bed” because when it folded up, sheets and blankets slipped to the bottom anyway.)

The Murphy bed must have been named after a guy who never slept in one. If he had, he wouldn’t want his name attached to it. A bed with metal bands instead of springs is first cousin to a hammock.

As thankful as I was for Murphy, I began asking God for a real bed. Months went by, a new bed didn’t come, and I quit pestering Him.

But one day a friend called. “My grandma died, and we’re looking for a place to store her bedroom set. Are you still sleeping on the closet bed?”

Her grandmother’s exquisite furniture arrived the next week, custom made in the 1920’s, of satin wood from Australia. Movers hiked up three floors carrying not only a real bed but also a dresser, a high boy, a vanity, a night stand and a chair, each piece gleaming with polished inlaid wood designs.

As we arranged the furniture, chatting enthusiastically about its beauty, I never connected its arrival to my having asked God for a bed… until today that is, nearly 40 years later.

I was actually doing some asking for something else at the time. Although I didn’t hear God’s voice, out of nowhere the thought came: “How about less asking and more thanking… like for the bed AND FULL BEDROOM SET I sent you four decades ago, in answer to your prayer request.”

I was stunned. It was true! How negligent of me to miss the connection. But I guess that was God’s strategy, because immediately gratitude came pouring out of me in big waves.

I’m still planning to make requests but not to get stuff. Instead I’m asking God to show me how He has already answered my past requests without me noticing or thanking Him. Although I may forget what I ask for, He never does. I want to properly thank Him, even if it takes 40 years to finally connect the dots.