39.5, with Brother A–

 Half-birthday cake and photo, courtesy Ruhama.

Score one for the friends who gave me the surprise of my two score life. 

Make that 39.5 year life.

I had no clue Saturday was my half-birthday, until…

My hope of a quiet dinner with a few friends burst asunder.  Until then, I’d always secretly hankered for a surprise party. But I’m wary.

Truth be told, I didn’t think I could be so broadsided. I throw surprise parties; I’m not the, victim-er- surprisee. Thus, a 40th birthday party, six months early. Even I am not that wary.

The shock of 20 unexpected friends gathered to mark 40 was dizzying. Friends from out of town and in town came in cars now hidden; one friend Jen bearing her week-old infant and another friend Jen braving big illness to celebrate with me.

All whose presence was paradoxically humbling.

The transition was awkward. But after an hour, shock shoved off and gratitude moved in. Suffice to say, I shamelessly milked the evening; requesting my dad to lead us singing And Can It Be, and imploring my game-passing friend Pat to join the “Name Game.” Martin Luther, Joe Biden, Tinkerbell, and not one, but two, Yosemite Sam’s joined that fun.

Such a delightful gift the surprise was.

Hours later, home and in bed I basked: in the kindness of those 20, and the goodness of the Giver. Then I turned to the day’s devotion. I’ve been reading the daily readings in Lewis’ The Business of Heaven. The reading for October 4th couldn’t have been more fitting for a 40th.

Before I quote it, I will backtrack just a bit. I admit that lately I’ve become more mindful of aging.

The keepers of the house aren’t trembling yet and the strong men aren’t bent, at least not more than a half-inch or so, but I feel 39.5.

But, I’ve been noticing new ripples in my legs as I jog along. And there’s a dull ache that lingers low on the left side of my back. My heating pad has become a dear friend. Even a glance in the mirror can be jarring, depending on where I am in the ever-shortening gray to “Deeply Brown 40,” cycle. Seriously, did L’OREAL conspire?

Now you see, I hope, why the October 4th post-party reading was so apt. It was this devotion, obscurely titled, “Brother Francis,” that greeted me at 39.5.

In it, Lewis describes three historic views of the body.

First are the “ascetic pagans,” for whom the body was “the prison or the ‘tomb’ of the soul…a ‘sack of dung,’ food for worms, filthy, shameful, a source of nothing but temptation to bad men and humiliation to good ones.

Second are those- Lewis calls them the “Neo-Pagans”-for whom the body is glorious. (Our health and fitness culture at large-with its spray-on tans and facelifts, its hair darkening and teeth whitening, gyms and spas a plenty- is no doubt here.) That’s historic body view number 2.

But then third, describes Lewis,

 An Irish Brother

We have the view which St. Francis expressed by calling his body ‘Brother Ass.’ All three may be- I am not sure- defensible; but give my St. Francis for my money.

Ass is exquisitely right because no one in his senses can either revere or hate a donkey. It is a useful, sturdy, lazy, obstinate, patient, lovable and infuriating beast; deserving now the stick and now a carrot; both pathetically and absurdly beautiful. So the body.  

To my-and this is my first use of the term- fellow middle-age friends, and those in the blessed years before and the glory years after, I say let’s not despise our humble Brother. Instead, as he serves us now-however lazy and obstinate- and infuriates later, let’s look way beyond carrot and cake.

Mostly, let’s not be surprised on the day. Let’s be looking up, awaiting the Savior,

Who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body,
by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Philippians 3:21

You Come And Visit

God took Great-grandma Beth home 10 days ago.  My husband’s grandma celebrated her 100th birthday on October 15th, 2012.  Grandma was an extrovert of extroverts.  Talk about being “energized” by people.  I see her settle into her rocker and happily recount the day’s guests, “Dorothy, and LouAnn, and Lauretta.  Oh, and Linda called, too.”  

Grandma loved visitors and all manner of “company.”  Cousins, first and second and once-removed, campers from three decades ago turned beloved friends,  kind caregivers and carefree kids.  However long or short, when visits drew to a close, she’d say, 

“You come back and visit.” 

The last several weeks Gabe and I were conscientious about taking time to visit Great Grandma.  We’d talk about the boys, the latest “news”- the pregnancies and brand new babies and the next big event.  And books.  So many books. Then she’d wonder aloud why God hadn’t taken her home yet.  “Must be something for me, still,” she’d venture.   And she always loved hugs.  

The last month it struck me that Grandma was dying as she had lived.  Friendly, chatty, and ever looking on the sunny side.  

Enduring.  Faithful till death. Not, to borrow from Andree Seu Peterson’s column, “a sled painted pink on a porch.” (Read it all: http://www.worldmag.com/2013/01/sleds_painted_pink ) Not just a decoration.  Not, paraphrasing and adding to Hunter S. Thompson, 

“arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather skidding in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming”  God be exalted!

Our times are in his hands and any “exit strategy” is for Him to decide.  Our last two visits with Great-grandma were more subdued.  Though worn out, Grandma still seemed to enjoy our company.  “She sure perks up when visitors come,” we heard.  

Then last Monday came. After dropping Sam off at school, on that frigid, brilliantly bright morning, Gabe and I stopped in. We didn’t know then that it was the last morning before she came ’round. Grandma’s weak voice greeted us from her hospital bed. 

In the three quarters of an hour we stayed, her refrain was, “I’ll be comin’ round.” I smiled and nodded.  Then, with a bit of a wince and the slightest shake of her head, “Something’s just not right.”  Then, again reassuringly, “I’ll be comin’ round.” And again.  Then again, with faint smile, and,  “I’ll be comin’ around.”   

Gabe and I recited Psalm 23 to her.  She smiled and nodded appreciatively.  Maybe we should have let well enough alone, but we attempted a Doxology duet, too.  My contralto needed a restart midway.  Grandma smiled I think.  We put our coats on.  Then, Gabe took his great-grandma’s hundred year old hand in his still slightly pudgy five year old hand.  

She gripped it, and directed, as she always did, “You come and visit me.”  

We will, Grandma.  We will come ’round with you one day and visit.  In a place where all things are made new.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  
John 14:3 
Great-grandma at 100th birthday celebration, October, 2012