Earlier this week, I gathered with several folks that I worked with twenty summers ago (1986!) at Lakeshore United Methodist Assembly, our annual conference’s camp, conference, and retreat center. Twenty years ago, I weighed 118 pounds. Tom had hair. All of Sheila’s hair was the same color.
Four out of our six were able to attend. A lot has changed since then (except for Kathy – who we believe has made some sort of pact with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named). I now weigh 200 pounds. Tom’s hair is thin. We buried Don several years ago. Gina’s had three kids, so if nothing else her personality and disposition has probably undergone changes.
But getting old really isn’t that bad. When we worked that summer of 1986, there were six people on summer staff. Now, in 2006, there is over five times that many! Progress is a good thing; Lakeshore has grown in its mission and ministry: making more disciples.
Age is really a good thing – and it’s been a blessing in our tradition of faith for longer than just 20 years:
Abraham is going to become a large and strong nation; all the nations of the world are going to find themselves blessed through him. Yes, I’ve settled on him as the one to train his children and future family to observe God’s way of life, live kindly and generously and fairly, so that God can complete in Abraham what he promised him... Abraham lived 175 years. Then he took his final breath. He died happy at a ripe old age, full of years, and was buried with his family. - Genesis 18.18-19, 25.7-8
I think about all the changes that have been made in people who have walked the grounds of that camp: how their lives have changed, how their faith has been shaped, how their souls have been healed, and how their God-given gifts have been realized. God, being the skilled potter he is, takes us in the shape that we are and transforms us. Abused kids know that a good and caring Father loves them and claims them. Neglected kids know that there is a God who listens when they cry out and when they pray, who walks by their side. And in a camp that becomes a sanctuary to many, everyone who enters knows that they are safe, they are loved, and they are claimed. Hopefully, they leave to go into the world to be transformers, witnesses, and peacemakers.
Some things stay the same: the lake looks the same, some of the old cabins are still there. I still tell too many stories, Tom’s memory and enthusiasm is still strong, Kathy’s gentle strength is still inspiring, and Sheila’s laugh and beautiful smile is still infectious. I suspect Gina is still as gorgeous as ever, and if Don was still alive I imagine he would be shooting basketball with the best ballplayers in the camp – and still winning a few games with his unblockable hook shot. Don's final breath wasn't at a ripe old age, but I find comfort in knowing that he is with family among the communion of the saints. I'm glad to have him rooting for us.
Whether some things remain the same, or things undergo change, getting old ain’t too bad if we allow God to work through us. God isn’t finished with us yet; we have a lot to learn… and a lot to teach.