By Kelli Ra Anderson
Miley, our 12 year old goldendoodle, is a daddy’s girl. Yesterday, I was walking around in my garden, taking photos, when her wooly-headed gaze through the rain-streaked window caught my eye.
I had to take a picture. She was too cute, waiting for Adrian, my husband, to come home at his usual after-school hour. Despite her age, her inner puppy still greets him at the door with her thick nails impatiently tapping against worn wood. She waits impatiently for him to reach down and scratch her ears while her enormous tail wags slow and wide.
Dogs are one of God’s best creations. They are like our best selves but on loan for far too short a time, giving us a kind of window through which we see life run its course from enthusiastic beginning to its inevitable slower-paced, gentle end.
We hope we have a few more years with her. Her breed, at best, graces us with their faithful friendship only 12 to 14 years.
I am not yet in my twilight years but it sometimes feels like it. Sometimes, when Miley misses a step and stumbles as she climbs up the stairs, I see myself: more apt to grab the handrail and taking steps more slowly. Or rolling my eyes everytime bursitis in my left shoulder reminds me that undoing a bra-strap should be considered an Olympian event.
But praise God for imbuing His image-bearers with creativity. Praise God for e-bikes that allow me to go uphill without dying. Praise God for reading glasses (even though I can never seem to find them). And praise God for the myriad of pain-killers and therapies that keep me able to do most things, albeit more carefully or slowly than I did in my 20s.
But there is also much to embrace about aging that I am honestly beginning to enjoy. I am an introvert with a serious case of ADD. I love nothing more than to sit down with a cup of tea or coffee and to journal about the million ideas and thoughts that spin without ceasing in my head. Getting older is forcing me to live more slowly, confronting me with more time to think about what matters and to marvel at things that used to whiz by a life too filled up with three active children, a writing career and an suburban attempt at a hobby farm.
Physical decline, while not my preferred method of existence, seems to be one of God’s tools, (if I had to venture a guess) for making me slow down. “Embrace God’s gift of limits,” said Pete Scazzero to Anita Lustrea on her podcast, Faith Conversations, about his recently published book, Emotionally Healthy Discipleship. Every time we try to cross one of life’s limits, he warned, whether it is a limit of our time, our energy, our bodies or money, we get ourselves into trouble. We break something inside. And we ignore the gift that might be waiting for us, if only we have eyes to see it. The gift of time for introspection. The gift of less to discover what is more. The gift of slower lebido to discover more creative foreplay. Or maybe the gift of hot flashes? (I’m still working on that one.)
My biggest fear about physical decline, however, is fear of losing my mind. And yet, even there, I have witnessed through the decline of my friend’s mother, Ginny, to Alzheimers, that despite what the disease took from her, it could not take away her love of God. She lit up like a Christmas tree when she sang or heard a hymn. And nothing could dissuade her from loving other residents in her memory care facility. Even in decline, staff and residents were drawn to the fragrance of Christ that still hung heavy about her. In her weakness, Christ’s love was strong.
Or I think of my mother-in-law, Gerry, her last days surrounded by family to say an unexpected goodbye from the rapid onset of liver failure, whose life ended with such love that you would think Jesus himself was in hospice. And in a very real way, he was. Immobilized, in great pain, she was somehow, in that state, more able to communicate love, forgiveness and kindness, than any tent-show preacher. People came from all over the country thinking they were coming for her sake, when in reality, God brought them for their own.
God’s ways are not our ways.
Frankly, I like our ways much better. Far more comfortable. We are likely to think we are doing God a favor when we are at our most capable and able. Our most coherent. Our most “in control” (whatever that means). But as I get older and am slowing down and my eyes are dimming, I am coming to see more clearly than I did when I was 20 or had 20/20 vision, that the only things that matter are very simple. Very small. But very powerful. Things like kindness. Listening. Seeing. Reconciling. Releasing.
The hardest part is letting go.
Our lives come with so much baggage we need to examine but it is hard to know what to keep and what to let go. We often try to curate carefully created legacies, punctuating our social media with images of our or our children’s achievements. Or, we may realize we have lived too much of life in lock-step adherence to others’ expectations. We are prone to live life glancing backward, fearful we might forget who we were or, worse yet, that the world might never notice we were here.
But the joyful, freeing truth is, God knows us and will never forget who we are. And one day, in all the ways that matter, in His face-to-face presense, we will be fully known, even as we fully know Him. In that day, we will be more truly ourselves than we are now, with no need to look back or hold on with tight-fisted fear.
This life is short. Aging reminds me of that almost daily. Bursitis is painful. Fading eye-sight is bloody annoying. And life will continue to be full of curve-balls I cannot anticipate. But in the moment I am called to pay attention to what is right in front of me. And in all things, love well. Because that, in the end, is the only thing that really matters. Dogs, I suspect, have known this all along.
Kelli is a long time journalist whose articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family. The author of two devotionals, Divine Duct Tape and Life on the Spectrum, and a regular contributor to several magazines, she enjoys veggie gardening, long prairie walks and tasting the world through travels in her kitchen. Kelli is married to her best friend, Adrian, of 32 years, and lives with her two young adult sons, John and David, an 80 lb. golden-doodle (pictured above!), 2 cats and 4 laying hens in the far western suburbs of Chicagoland. You can learn more about Kelli by visiting her website, Kellira.com.