I sneak out early to the deck, before anyone is awake. There’s an old plastic lawn chair, and beside it an antique white and black enamel table where I set my first cup of coffee. I bring my Bible, but instead of reading, I watch the lake and talk to God.

There is a slight downhill meandering path from the cabin through grass and wood ferns, which I take to watch the morning wake with fog that dissipates in ghostly swirls with the sun’s arrival. This picture is forever burned into my mind. I can call it up in the dead of winter when I need some peace. I can dream up plans for cabin renovation, year after year in spite of those six children and six sets of braces… Still, I know it’s there. My comfort, a place we call our own.

By the water to the right are four hemlocks that reach upward to 60 feet—old trees that have harbored generations of songbirds. One has a birdhouse, which has never been used. To the left are three cherry trees just as tall. One died last year due to a hungry beaver. Until then I had never seen a beaver on the lake, but it chewed the circumference of the cherry tree’s trunk, a foot and a half up from the ground.

The dock stretches slightly to the right, to counter the wave action. One post is cut off short and the boards are old and dark. The center of the dock dips slightly lower than the rest.

It is a small lake, not quite a mile across its widest section. Only canoes and kayaks stir the waters. A rowboat or two appear occasionally with fishermen and trolling motors.

Here is where we spent 31 summer vacations, watching our children grow up forever, we thought. It became our official home, since our lives were lived out in several homes called “the parsonage.” The parsonage was not the same one, not the same town, people, or schools.

At some point in my 40s, having always lived in a parsonage, I longed for my own home—one that I could tear out carpet or a wall and no one would care. I wanted a place that all my children could always come back to.  All the while I had hoped for this, our home became that rustic 1930s cabin on a tiny lake in Upstate New York.

As last year progressed, we found it necessary to sell our cabin on the lake. It was harder to stay in, hauling water and carrying necessities down the hill. The pilings are crumbling, the taxes going higher. But mostly we felt leaving it to our children would be a burden. How would they find tax money, time, and money for repairs? What if the burden fell to a few and not all? The ultimate fact was that we needed more retirement money.

How do you talk about selling “home” to your grown children when it’s too hard to even think of it? Being practical had no place in the conversation. The loss of this place is still fresh in our minds.

***

Our lives are similar to that winding path from cabin to lake. We make a life plan and God takes us the long way around. We are impatient and unseeing of his path.

While homeschooling six children, I tried to keep my eye on older women, but there was barely a moment to wonder about the rocking chair life. I learned well from my grandmothers, who knew the satisfaction of getting a job done—the planting and tending of a garden and presenting it at the table. All the excess went into the freezer or jars on a shelf. It always felt good and right.

Society puts older people in age brackets and labels, such as senior citizens, aged, elderly, middle aged. I never cared for the words. What does the word, old, mean?

My Uncle Larry says instead, we are “seasoned.” I like this: a bit of wisdom and spice mixed together. And there’s nothing old about that.

I look back and see more years behind me as markers of growth, many times stumbling along and believing I knew best. Could I understand God and how my path was not always his, those places God grew me when I was in denial or total confusion? In the most difficult times when I felt alone, he was closest. Many times, I wanted to go another way or be released from the pain of something hard, but now I see his path for me is remarkably clever.

I began to know God’s road as intimate and perfectly suited to me. Now I have lived much of it; and in the living have found patience, understanding, and grace to live future days with uncertainty. The wisdom from looking back is the gain. It’s a smooth motion as if relaxing into God…something akin to the trust of a child.

The years went swiftly, and I realized that older women had nothing to do with a rocking chair life. Some of those women were running marathons, zip lining and going back to college. Others worked in the nursery at church, sewed for the mission group, took meals to shut-ins, and watched grandchildren. The only time they were in a rocking chair was to rock a baby to sleep.

At the same time some women are stepping on the dance floor, hiking trails and watching grandbabies, others have had difficult lives and it shows up in deep crevices. They wear permanent frowns. Deep down they had dreams from their 20-something lives, but those dreams turned sour and bitterness showed up. Some dreams ended in divorce, poverty, or barrenness.

I wanted to look at those older women and see examples of Christ. I wanted to see spiritual growth and not stagnation—to see women who never let their lives grow dull in Christ. Did their spiritual lives excel beyond that of a baby believer? Do thoughts of mentoring younger women make their eyes twinkle, make their excitement rise?

I find myself past menopause. I have watched women grow old with age and grace. I want to be that woman whose smile is twinkling, who is willing to mentor, to pray, to help, until God calls me home. I want my life to show growth and grace.

Do we count things lost in our lives as disappointment? Do we count it loss when we have lost our youth? If our goals and dreams are never met, does it mean we have never arrived? Does it mean we went off God’s path and drove on our own road taking no varied or winding way?

Youth and energy are in the past, but there is gain as well. There are children, grandchildren, and extended family. The pace of life slows and gratitude swells for the little things in life.

Are the losses of life easier because I am older, or just because I have seen so many losses? Losses are never easy, but I never want to give up because I’ve aged and it’s someone else’s turn to pick up the fight. I must always let my overflow from Christ go out to others. Even when the feeble days come and my light is not so bright, I will still pray.

Diane McElwain

Diane began writing as a teenager, after the tragic death of a young person she knew.At fourteen, her testimony was included in a religious publication. She wrote stories and creative non-fiction for publication, articles, and children’s stories for a local newspaper while at college.With years of mothering and homeschooling past her, Diane has time for more writing pursuits. With encouragement from her daughters she began writing a nature and photography blog in 2011. She is currently editing her first book.
Diane McElwain

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