This month, I will turn sixty. I have been pondering where I thought I would be at age sixty when I was twenty, thirty, forty, and fifty. It’s quite revelatory. Have you pondered the same for yourself? Did your ideas and plans pan out, or are yours radically different?
Mine sure are. Here they are.
I wanted to get married and have kids. My desire was to live and work in my hometown of Montague, Michigan, the rest of my life. My American Dream was tremendously simple, yet sounded wonderful to me.
At age sixty, I would nearing retirement in the job that I would have found, hopefully when still in my twenties. I loved the idea of being a lifer at a company. Loyalty was important to me. So was stability. I wanted to put in forty years at the same place.
At age sixty, I would still be married to my wife, and would never think that I would have to add “first” to “wife,” unless I had been widowed. She would be a Roman Catholic because that’s what I was and, after my first girlfriend was not—she was a Lutheran!—I was intent on only dating Catholics.
I was married at age twenty-two. Kim wasn’t Catholic. She was Nazarene. We found the Lutheran faith together.
Four children arrived during my twenties, when I was twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-six, and twenty-nine (with one more at thirty-one). We lost our first, Johnathan, when he was a day old, certainly a twist we never envisioned.
After renting in Montague for five years, we bought an old house in town and completely restored it.
At age twenty-five, I got a job at MasterTag, located on the outskirts of Montague. By the time I was thirty, I was in the position where I thought I could be for a long time, and continue to grow from there. I loved MasterTag. I was positive that I was set for life.
At age thirty, all of my goals were fulfilled. I was as content and happy as a person could be.
So much for keeping my goals intact!
At age thirty-two, I found myself discontent with my job. I was aching for more, bigger, and new challenges. That would be the ministry. At thirty-three, I was back in college. At thirty-five, I was in seminary. At thirty-nine, I was graduated and in my first parish, two small congregations in Iowa.
Uprooting my family, three of my huge goals tumbled in one move; I left my job, we sold our house, and Montague appeared in our rear view mirror.
And life was grand! I had found THE job, the one from which I was sure I would retire at a ripe old age. Having graduated seminary at age thirty-nine, I decided that I wanted to put in at least thirty years of full time ministry, which would take me to sixty-nine.
My family flourished. Kim formed new bonds and got active with both congregations. She was a stay-at-home mom who took great care of all of us.
The kids took to each move—from seminary in Fort Wayne, to vicarage at Osage, Iowa, back to seminary for one more year, then onto Guttenberg, Iowa—and gained skills which I could have used when young. They adapted to new places. They grew as individuals.
Age forty was a reset. With this shift of jobs and location, NOW I was set for life. I was coasting toward sixty. Right?
Coasting didn’t last even halfway into my forties. At age forty-three, my marriage was ending. Before the year was out, my divorce was final, I found a new love in Julie, and we were married with one day to spare in 2001.
I had taken my second call, to St. John, Port Hope, Michigan, the other side of the state from Montague. Three of my four children had graduated high school, and one both completed college and got married. The boys still lived at home.
Four weeks after I turned fifty, I experienced the first serious health situation of my life. I had to receive two heart stents.
In the weeks that followed, our youngest graduated high school and the oldest got married. That autumn, we welcomed our first grandchild. The next year, the boys moved to West Michigan. Julie and I now were empty-nesters.
We were relishing our years in Port Hope. Julie found a good job. I loved being a pastor and there were lots of challenges at St. John. The people of the congregation and the village treated us wonderfully and we loved them back. Port Hope became home.
As I settled into my fifties, I figured I was past the age to receive any more calls to move to another congregation. That was fine by me. I came to joke that I hoped that my friends at Ramsey Funeral Home would have to come and peel my old, dead fingers from St. John’s pulpit.
Just as I had no idea what would happen in me when I was in my early thirties, so I did not have a clue as to how my fifties would unfold. At age fifty-five, I crashed in crushing gender dysphoria. At age fifty-six, I retired from the ministry and we moved to Indianapolis. I started and stopped transitioning four times when fifty-six and fifty-seven. At fifty-eight, I finally settled into living as a female. While fifty-nine, I began transitional surgeries.
All of my kids got married and had kids pretty quickly—seven grandchildren so far, all while I was in my fifties—but two have been divorced.
Last week, I finished writing the first draft of my autobiography. Its working title is, “I’m Still Me.”
Looking back over forty years of adulthood, there is no possible way I could have guessed even one of the turns my life took. If these things had been revealed to the twenty-year-old me, I would have shaken my head in disbelief. And, if I could have been convinced that all of it were true, I likely would have sought a way to avoid them.
Looking forward is an impossible task. Looking back is all we can do as we live in today. Sure, we will continue to plan our futures but, as we do, we will be wise to scribble in pencil.
And keep a big eraser nearby.