God’s Gracious Provision of a Receding Hairline

Under God’s watchful eye and by sheer grace, I turned 49 yesterday. Yeah, just one more year of being able to honestly say that I am “in my 40’s.” After that, as my brother-in-law so lovingly pointed out to me, there is one label that you simply are no longer permitted to use to describe yourself. In his words (not mine) “Once your age begins with a five, it’s long past time to stop kidding yourself about it…you are no longer allowed to refer to yourself as young.”

At the risk of alienating many who struggle with the relentless march of time, I have to say that I whole-heartedly agree. I’ll even go one step further and say that it’s kind of ridiculous that the obvious need to toss out “young” as a descriptive term doesn’t come at least a few years ahead of 50, but such is our collective American desire to deny the obvious.

It’s become a cliché to say that we live in a youth-obsessed culture but – as shopworn as that observation might be – it’s clearly true. Advertisers, by and large, couldn’t care less what people over 45 are listening to, wearing or eating. Everyone in the industry knows that the real money is in the 14-40 demographic, and so it is that our magazines, TV ads and billboards tend to cater to this age range. As we baby boomers age, the trend has slid upwards some; how else to explain the ads that offer energy-supplement pills regularly spamming our e-mail accounts? Still, in Western culture the prevailing emphasis is clearly not on the process of acquiring wisdom, it’s all about a spoon-fed ideal of youth and (for lack of a better term) “hotness.”

So with the “young-hot, old-not” message blaring at us from just about everywhere, it’s small wonder that most people I run into are not all that thrilled at the prospect of getting older. I’ll admit that “The Big Five-0” seemed a long way off back in 1979 when it was my Dad’s turn to hit the half-century mark, and yet here it is, coming at me in another 365 days (Lord willing). By God’s mercy, however, I bring a slightly-different perspective to the issue of growing older.

I’m living on borrowed time anyway. For me, every single day is like playing a bonus round on a pinball machine. I’m really not trying to be dramatic or in any way embellish the facts; by all rights, I probably should have been dead a long time ago.

And I’m not even talking about my sin life when I say that. You know…acknowledging the fact that my sins against God have reached “sufficent mass” that He ought to have snuffed me out before I hit 30. While that is certainly true, I am instead talking about the cold, hard facts that make up the narrative events of my life.

Here’s just a random sample and, believe me, there’s more.

When I was three, according to my parents, I nearly died of pneumonia. In my junior year at college, my Mustang Mach II partially dropped its gas tank on Beecher Street in Adrian, Mich., spilling gasoline all over the road, the trail of fuel igniting when the metal of the tank scraped against concrete. The four of us riding in that car survived only because we crossed a set of railroad tracks before coming to a stop, the tracks halting the advance of the flames toward us. At the age of 25, on a dare, I jumped off a three-story building, aiming for a swimming pool. I misjudged the amount of thrust-off I needed to fully clear the building and missed hitting my head on the concrete rim of the pool by less than 12 inches. In May of 2000, I underwent a major brain operation that later became infected; I had to undergo general-anesthesia procedures three times to get that situation sussed. (Next time you see me in church, feel free to check out the way-cool scar on the back of my head.) Add in all kinds of successful experiments – and near-misses – with explosives, firearms-related stupidity, copious amounts of alcohol and driving under influence of the same, and you get the general picture: “Why is this guy still drawing breath?”

These are only some of the more “colorful” near-death incidents of which I am aware. I have every reason to believe that God, in His loving patience, infinite kindness and sovereign grace, has preserved me all these years with (for example) countless delays that only served to irritate me…but in fact caused me to miss colliding with the car that only 20 seconds earlier was running a traffic light. I have every reason to believe that God provides this level of protection for all of us still occupying the land of the living (Psalm 91:11-12; Psalm 139:16), yet how often do we stop to consider the miracle that any of us wake up at all, let alone day after day after day?

It was only after spending a few weeks in the hospital following the May 2000 surgery that something resembling gratitude finally sank in to the dark recesses of my soul. The basic privileges of life, the ones that most of us take for granted, were mercifully denied me for a short season. Taking a shower. Going to the bathroom unassisted. Eating food. Having no need for a morphine drip plugged into my arm. Wearing a pair of pants. There was previously a time in my life when I took these simple things for granted, but I assure you that I’ve got a solid ten years under my belt of thanking God for the ability to walk down the hallway and relieve myself without pushing an IV pole or carrying any sort of beeping electronic equipment in my other hand. Simply stated, God, in His rich mercy, gave me a taste of what it might be like to grow old, weak and unable to care for myself…and then in the fullness of time allowed me to heal back to full strength again.

Sure, like most people, I’m not at all thrilled to watch my hairline receding backwards. Nor am I wildly excited to see more gray hairs popping out on my temples. I take precious little delight in the purchase of reading glasses or the discovery of new lines on my face and hands. Like anyone else, I look in the mirror and wonder when it was, exactly, that I started to resemble my Dad. But at the same time, I am deeply grateful to a sovereign Lord who knows exactly how many of those gray hairs I have on my scalp (Matthew 10:30) and ordains when they will finally fall out. My life since 2000 has been exceedingly blessed, and I have come to settle into a deep, deep sense of awe at the rich mercy of God, allowing me to survive the extreme foolishness of my youth and several other calamities, any one of which could reasonably have killed me.

For me, “almost 50” is not an occasion for weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is instead a call to worship a God who preserves life. My life, your life…any life. The infinite possibilities for any of us to meet an untimely demise, coupled with the unimaginable record of sins we have all chalked up against a holy, righteous and just God, help me to see gray hair as the infinite mercy of a God who is to be worshipped for preserving any of us for as long as He has.

Jeremiah 29:11-14 (ESV)
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

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