On Walking in Switzerland and Growing Old

Jeff and I ran out of money on our honeymoon. We didn't go far, but we had to come home a day early. It was fun and right for that time in our lives, but we were dreamers. Jeff promised me that when we were married for 25 years he'd take me to Paris. He kept his promise.

When 30 years rolled around we decided to go to Switzerland and hike in the Alps. If we were going to see another of our dreams come true, we thought we'd better go before we got too old. That summer we flew over Paris and landed in Zurich. We climbed aboard a train at the airport and by afternoon we sat staring at the face of the Eiger in a jet-lagged stupor.

Less than 24 hours later, we tied the laces on our boots, double-knotted, and headed to a trailhead. We had planned on resting for a day before setting out, but the blue day was perfect, too perfect, we had to go. No discussion. Hiking sticks in our hands, we took off into mountains verdant with meadow grasses and sprinkled with wildflowers, their peaks crowned with snow in the middle of July. It was stunning.



We walked a mile or so along a path with little grade, but we were having to stop along the way to catch our breath. Transitioning out of a patch of woods into a pasture, the manure fertilizing the ground smelled like home, but this was not home. The mountains towering before us testified to that fact.

It seemed impossible that we’d be walking to the top of any peak within our sight, so we assumed we wouldn’t. We located a chalet perched about halfway up the mountain directly before us. Flags flew at the corners of the roof and at the apex of its gable. It was so Swiss, like a chalet printed on a chocolate box. It seemed a destination. We assumed it was the hut on our map, the place where were we planned to rest and eat and pat ourselves on the back for making it up there. 

Soon enough we realized that the trail would not take us anywhere near that chalet. We weren’t on the wrong trail, but we had become creative map readers who read the twisting lines onto the landscape before us without considering that a turn on the map might mean we'd find ourselves on the other side of the mountain.

Hours and hours after a steady climb and many pauses for rest, we came up over a little rise and there was the hut. The open porch was crowded with walkers we had seen earlier as they had passed us on the trail. They sat together chatting and gazing out at the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau. We plopped down at a wooden table and joined them.

In a country where walking in the mountains is a way of life, the process is straightforward. You find the trail to the place you want to go. A sign tells you how long it takes to walk to a particular destination (add an hour or more if you are me), and then you put one foot in front of the other until you arrive.

Jeff and I had no real understanding of the simplicity of getting to where we intended to go. Despite our lack of understanding, our willingness to go paid off. The view from the top was outstanding.

The theme of a book I had recently read came to my thoughts as we plodded along. Jean Fleming's book, Pursue the Intentional Life, doesn't have a compelling title, but the content was on point for the transition I was making into my fifties. Jean's book was a trail guide for the journey before me. Writing in her seventies, she shared her "intended wing"---her desire to live in her golden years with a vision of entering heaven having lived "in Jesus, with Jesus, and for Jesus to the end." Her prayer was one I had embraced as my own:

"Father, dear Father, only You know how many days I have left on earth and what joys, opportunities and challenges are ahead for me. I give myself to You again. Lord God, I want my remaining days to be days of ascent, days of learning You and knowing You better. Bless me and guard me for the day I make my final ascent into Your presence. Please don't leave me to myself." (Jean Fleming)

Many people have no vision for the second half of life. If they do, they see growing old as a downhill slide, a period of decline that will diminish what they value most. But what if we set our course for life as an ascent toward heaven? 

Even when our bodies fail, we can set our hearts on things above and walk a steady pace to our eternal destiny, growing in our faith and in our relationship with God as we go. 

We'll need to pick up our Bibles again in our golden years. It remains the guidebook, the map we should consult often. We can't rely on past revelation on this new path. There are new insights we hadn't noticed.

The Holy Spirit helps, strengthens, and guides as we face some of life's greatest challenges. He understands our tendency not to engage in the life we have been given. He knows we will face the temptation to settle for less than what the Father has for us thinking that the best of life is behind. This lie from the enemy is to keep us from the richness of life that can only be experienced from the heights.

We'll need beauty in our lives as make our journey. You and I don't have to go to Switzerland to find it, but we need to go to places that remind us that we aren't home. The sense of wonder awakens our senses to realities beyond this life. Beauty is necessary. We must seek it out. Wading in a creek, driving through a desert, or sitting by the sea our deepest longings awaken our spirits for our real home. It reminds us who we are and who we will be.

We can refuse to go, but what will be the outcome? Jean's insight about how she might live into old age without focused intention resonates:

"I feared living my remaining years vaguely, merely drifting in the wake of those living unconsidered lives. I desired to move into the coming years with vigor and focus. Then, too, I feared becoming a pinched and grouchy old person. The truth is that, all things unchanged, the women we will be at seventy, eighty, and ninety are the women we are at forty and fifty---only distilled....Anyone living a frittering existence at thirty will, apart from a serious course correction, end up frittering away an entire life. It is just as true that a person doesn't suddenly become a wise, gracious, fruitful old person just by reaching, say, seventy years. Of course, it's not too late to grow and change, but, more important, it's never too late to begin."

Grow. Change. Be transformed. Or be distilled.

"Lord, please don't leave me to myself."

Comments

  1. Dea, that prayer is simply awesome; a GIFT!
    It is copied into my prayer journal.

    We are at a similar stage in life, and I agree with all my heart that these latter years will be greater than the former years [Job 8.7] as we set out hearts towards ascent.

    My prayer is that something I do each day, will count towards eternity.

    Paul says: “Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).

    May I share a quote that greatly impressed me, concerning aging?

    Just as there are physical signs that reveal we’re getting older, there are signs that show we are getting better. Rather than becoming more crotchety, intolerant, and unloving, the maturing follower of Jesus grows better at forgiving, loving, and caring. Growing older is a continuation of the journey to become more like Jesus, which means that as time goes on our heart and attitudes should increasingly resonate with and reflect the compelling character and winsome ways of our Savior.
    So as we grow older, let’s embrace the opportunity to become spiritually more like Jesus. Our friends will notice that we look better with age. —Joe Stowell

    I am enjoying your writing so much, Dea. You are encouraging me and reminding me of these things, which is exactly what God knows I need today.

    God Bless you, as you bless others.

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    1. I am so grateful that we can walk the path of life together through this technology that is such a part of our lives now. Surely connecting with others throughout the world is one of its gifts. Thank you so much for sharing that quote. This is the vision that I have for the body of Christ but let it begin with me. If I get to live, then I get to grow old. I want to do that in a way that gives me life so that the life of Jesus flows through me to give hope to others who live in the broken world. I know this is your vision as well. We are going to the heights, my friend!

      And thank you for your encouragement in my writing. I had so many gremlins I had to deal with today. I wasn't even sure it posted. I'm trying to be faithful to the gifts given me. Thank you again for your encouragement and blessing.

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  2. Our visions dove-tail exactly.
    What a joy to be able to encourage one another :)

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  3. Every word, every photo -- perfection. Thank you, Dea. LOVE the quote from Jean Fleming.

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    1. Thank you, Diana, for being one of my teachers. xx

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