A guest blog from a retired friend of mine, written in honor of retirees.
“They will soar on wings like eagles”
While sitting on the Point overlooking scenic Payette Lake in the heart of Idaho’s mountains, I noticed movement at the bottom of the cliff. It was an osprey launching itself over the water. It worked its elegant wings until it found an updraft. Then it relaxed. Fascinated, I watched it glide in lazy circles effortlessly riding an invisible thermal up and up until it was eye-level with me. It continued to rise. High above me it headed out across the lake.
In that osprey I found a wonderful metaphor for those of us well into the third trimester of our lives. With family raised and career established, we are free to break away and soar: soar up to where new vistas of opportunity unfold, where uncharted waters can be explored, where long-cherished dreams can be pursued.
Biblical examples come quickly to mind: Abraham responding to the momentous call of God at 75, Moses launching the most revolutionary freedom movement in history at 80, and Anna the first to preach Jesus as redeemer at 84.
My life has been deeply impacted by retirees who “soared on wings like eagles.” There was Dr. H. Orton Wiley, esteemed early Nazarene leader, who at 83 filled blackboards with theological truth that still excites me today. There was Dr. Clovis Chappell, who at 85 was so feeble he could hardly totter over to the podium at a pastor’s conclave. Yet his “inner man” burned with such intensity that it set my soul on fire. On that day I was raised from the dead of disillusionment and despair at the lowest time of my ministry. I am quite sure that I would not be who I am or have done what by God’s grace I’ve been able to do apart from those two stalwart men of God who “soared on wings like eagles.”
Then there were the `big three’ in my first church: retired couples who formed the inner core of my tiny congregation. They wrapped their accepting, loving, and enabling arms around our young family, and bore us up “on wings like eagles.” And then there was the elderly District School Superintendent who not-so-gently confided that “sermons do not have to be eternal in order to be immortal.” Though a bitter pill to swallow, especially for one who thought he had to deliver “the whole counsel of God” in every sermon, he taught me one of the most valuable lessons of my preaching life: namely, that “the mind cannot absorb what the seat cannot endure.”
One of today’s most exciting frontiers are people who in the “prime time” years of their lives launch second and third careers. I have a cousin who since retirement has made 23 mission-trips to South China, continuing the pioneering work begun by our grandfather in the early 1900’s. She raises money, gathers Bibles, and collects study materials for Chinese believers. She is “soaring on wings of an eagle,” and loving every minute of it.
I have another cousin on the other side of my family who in semi-retirement felt called to resurrect the Stone Corral Community Church established by our ancestors in the 1870’s. It had fallen upon hard times and died. He secured the deed to the property, chased out the birds and animals in the abandoned building, and rounded up scattered remnants of the congregation most of whom were also retirees. Together they refurbished the building, enlisted a retired pastor to lead them, and today average well over 100 in worship. My cousin who plays the piano for their services is “soaring on wings like an eagle.”
And so it goes all across the land. Retirees are teaching classes, feeding the homeless, enrolling in seminary, refurbishing churches, going on mission trips, tutoring disadvantaged children, visiting nursing homes, writing letters of encouragement, all the while having the time of their lives.
Dr. William McCumber, pastor, educator, author, and long time editor of Holiness Today, died recently. I had the privilege of following him as pastor of Atlanta First Church many years ago. After retiring for about the third time, he accepted the call to pastor his home church in Gainsville, Georgia, at 80 years of age. He was still going strong at the time of his passing at 87.
I was thinking about him as I stepped out to begin my early morning devotional walk. I looked up. Stretched across the sky was the glowing contrail of an airplane set on fire by the rays of the rising sun. Barely able to see the glint of the airliner I thought: There goes Bill, soaring “on wings like an eagle.”
Soaring. That’s what I want to do until I too “soar up on eagle’s wings” to be with my Lord.