And that is that we will all grow older; hopefully with grace.
Lately, I’ve been lamenting this glaring gap in my education because, despite my insistence that there’s been a terrible mistake on my birth certificate, old is what I’m getting. Others have been observing it for a while.
I was offered over-60s discounts in restaurants before I turned 50. Once a repair man came to our house, met me and later asked my wife, Kay, to pass on a message to her dad, referring to me. My lovely and apparently youthful wife didn’t correct the misunderstanding. Instead, she called up the stairs: ‘Daaaad!’
So, finally conceding that the clock isn’t just ticking but racing, I’ve been grateful for one man who has been something of a distant tutor when it comes to ageing. His real name is James, but for years everyone has called him ‘Shotgun’. I have no idea why. He lives in Oklahoma, which may provide a clue.
Shotgun is 93 and has lived most of his life without wanting Jesus to be part of it. He went to church when he was 12 and told God that if he was real he would like to meet him. Nothing happened. He describes the experience as one of the most disappointing of his life. Shotgun walked out and decided to ignore God for the rest of his days. He lived the rough life of an oil worker, often getting drunk, fighting and occasionally being thrown in jail.
It went on that way for seven decades. His wife was the love of his life, so, when they were both in their mid-80s and she announced that she felt they should go to church, he agreed. A short while later, she became very ill. He was granted a rare privilege: one last night.
They lay awake for most of the night reminiscing, reviewing their lives together and whispering words of love. In the morning he awoke to find she was not in bed. She had got up and made her way to the sitting room, where he found her sitting up against the couch, quite dead.
Six months later, Shotgun walked into his pastor’s study and said: ‘I’m ready.’ They knelt down together on the floor and Shotgun asked Jesus if they could reconnect. Reconnect they have, and the result has been beautiful.
I’m going to Oklahoma again this week, but it won’t be the same because Shotgun won’t be there. He has business elsewhere and I’ll miss him. He has shown me what growing old – not just graciously, but beautifully – can look like.
He has always brought cheer to my soul. Always tearful and tender, everyone at his church loves him, and for good reason. He arrives for services early and makes the coffee. He is still full of questions and shows the rare ability for a man of his age to be able to grow and change. But the most noticeable thing about Shotgun is his kindness, which is quietly outstanding. In short, he cares, encourages, serves and learns.
But this week he’s away on other business: in heaven. I heard today that he has passed, but I talk about him in the present tense because Shotgun still is. He’s absent from the body, present with the Lord, and if there’s coffee in heaven (which surely there must be), he’s probably serving it right now with that warm, winsome smile. I’ll miss that smile, but it won’t be for too long.
Goodnight, Shotgun. See you in the morning.
Resurrection morning. And thanks for being a great tutor.
May I grow older with grace, just as you did.