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Discerning Patterns in Your Life that Aren

Discerning Patterns in Your Life that Aren't of Your Own Making

    It's a luxury (and a risk) of growing older and looking back on where you have been and what you have done: discerning patterns in your days that you never planned.

    Like that afternoon recently when I found myself in a room filled with other people's children now in their fifties. We spent many a Tuesday night together in the 1960's roaming Brooklyn in search of the best milk shake (Wetson's) and the best fries (Nathan's at Coney Island).  We didn't so much retreat as advance to Camp Quinipet at Shelter Island, where, among several depredations then unbeknownst to me, serving trays from the dining hall were "borrowed" for sliding down the icy slope toward Peconic Bay.

    I've voiced the thought before, but it seemed right and true to say it again that afternoon following a memorial service for one of the "children's" Moms, that, though I didn't know it or think it at the time, God's mercy and providence sent me to Brooklyn as a pastor to be something of a surrogate father for a couple of generations of boys and girls.  I could (and probably already have in your hearing or reading) cited instances of that surrogacy. But the one that started me thinking was a funeral service twenty years ago for another Mom.  I sought to elicit from her two children, former members of the youth fellowship, just how instrumental their mother was in guiding them into a strong maturity.  "Who," I asked rhetorically, expecting Mom to be celebrated, "put in your mind the idea that you should go to college?"  They shot back without a pause, there in the funeral parlor, "You, Pastor Howard."

    The idea dawned, then and there, that I was caught up in designs bigger than any I had in mind.

    So here I am, we are, in suburban Connecticut in a house with raucous teenagers, their electronic obsessions and musical pursuits, with a little dog from which emanate loud noises every time someone passes by on the sidewalk. In my seventy-fifth year it dawns on me that my life to this point has been a preparation for this moment.

    Not always willingly or happily: in the spring of 1950 on a Sunday morning in a church in North Adams MA, surrounded with eighth graders far more interested in each other than in Jesus, I vowed silently that never again would I try to teach or even hobnob with young adolescents.  Of course, as Providence would have it, I spent the next fifty years doing just that, teaching confirmands and chaperoning junior highs across the face of the known world (i.e., New York City and Long Island).  Their "retreats" to various summer camps in fall, winter, and spring cost me many sleepless nights, not just because they were noisy and mischievous, but because I really worried about their judgment or lack of it, in matters of their own and others' safety.  But Mondays always arrived and, despite a few trips to hospitals up and down the Eastern seaboard, my charges made it safely into adulthood.

    And, among their happiest memories, they tell me, were those weekends that filled me with angst.

    When the twins' mother asks my advice or seeks reassurance from me that the nonsense the fourteen year olds are doing isn't out of the ordinary, I can tell her with a certainty many dads/grandads cannot, considering the difficulty and reluctance in retrieving memories of one's own stupidities, not to worry, my dear.  Been there, seen that, a hundred times.

    In the last year of my professional service, in the Bible class where we talked of many things and everything, I confided to them that I wasn't sure what I would do with the time I had left.  "Don't worry," counseled one of the members of the class, "God has something in mind for you."  Yes, God does,  and I never would have guessed it in 1950 with that group of obstreperous teenagers, that my job, one of them anyway, in retirement is to help shepherd (again!) a couple of souls through their unlovely years to a good maturity.

    Hey, I now know what it means to be chosen.


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