50 Trips Around the Sun

Celebrating my first trip around the sun

Today, I complete my 50th trip around the sun. The Big 5-0. The half century mark. 50 years old. Or, as people like to say when they’re old, 50 years young.

I’m not lying when I say it really isn’t bothering me. Other ages have given me pause. 19 (my last teenage year). 30 (the end of being young). 40 (the beginning of being old). These all hit me a little harder. 50? Not that much different than 40something. In fact, 50 is the new 40, they say. And while I’m surely playing on the back 9 now, statistically, I still have a few years left. I tried out three of those “life expectancy calculators” and got the following results: 88 years, 82 years, 93 years (average: 87.7). (Interestingly, the lowest estimate was provided by the U.S. government’s Social Security site. Wishful thinking, on their part, I suppose. Not like there will be anything left when I get there anyway.) I guess I’m fairly healthy, but 93? I think the survey forgot to ask about my weakness for fried catfish (or anything deep fried), Meat Lover’s pizza with extra cheese (or anything smothered in cheese), and Graeter’s Peanut Butter Blitz ice cream.

If I had to reflect how the Big 5-0 is making me feel, however, three thoughts come to mind:

1. No one was ever supposed to be younger than me.

I was born the youngest of four children to a mother and father who were second to the youngest in their families. I was always the baby of my family—a big baby, my wife likes to say. So my brothers, sister, and virtually all my cousins, etc. we’re older than me. Growing up, the kids in my neighborhood were older than me. Many of my friends at church and school were older than me. I got married at 20 and had a baby sitter for our first anniversary, so most of our life-stage peers were older than us. When I got my first real job, I was the youngest at my ad agency. It seemed like everything I did, I was the kid in the room.

Because it often seemed like I was hitting milestones before others my age, I felt like I was ahead of the game. There were no 27-year-old Mark Zuckerbergs who had accomplished more at their tender young age than I have at twice their age or ever will. Now, on a regular basis, I discover 20somethings and 30somethings who have built businesses or churches with large staffs, making significant impact in the Kingdom of God. And while I can genuinely say that I rejoice in the Lord over that, I can’t help but wonder if I haven’t set my sights too low. And now the clock is ticking—faster and faster. Yeah, I’ve heard the inspiring stories of people who accomplished great things beginning in their 50s, 60s, and beyond. But I’ve also read the news about how a younger workforce with more up-to-date skills, willing to work at lower salaries, is replacing workers my age. It’s not something I fret over a lot. Yet. But if the world keeps changing at the same pace that it has over the past 10-20 years—or likely, even faster—will I be able to keep up?

In my quest to stay relevant, perhaps my new mantra should be: No one will ever be older than me.

2. I’m seriously concerned that I will outlive my savings.

My father retired from the federal government with a lifetime pension, which, after he died, was passed on to my Mother. Social Security was also there for them. That was pretty much the norm for the Greatest Generation. I’ve got nothing like that. I sincerely believe that Social Security will be bankrupt or minimized to a paltry stipend by the time I reach 62 or 65 or whatever age they increase it to by then. (Read my full prediction of the bleak financial future of the United States here.) And what I get in retirement will be exactly what I myself put in. Correction: minus what my mutual funds lose in the stock market. I fully expect to work until the day I can no longer physically put my arms though my blue Walmart greeter’s vest.

Not that retirement is a big goal for me. Honestly. I don’t see the concept of retirement in the Bible. I want to work until I’m unable to do so. Work is a gift from God. (Ecclesiastes 3:13, 5:18-19) (Read Your Work Matters to God by Doug Sherman and William Hendricks for an outstanding treatment of this.) And I would love it if I could work till the day I die. It would be great, however, if I didn’t have to earn a living while I was working. I’d love to be financially free to volunteer for ministry projects and missions. That’s my ultimate dream and prayer. But what if I’m unemployable—for health or other reasons—and I run out of money before I run out of years? I’ve got no lifetime pension. Probably no government assistance. And there will likely be a whole bunch of us Boomers in the same sinking ship. I’d rather die than be a burden to my children, although they will probably scold me for saying so. But at age 50 now, I’ve got to get serious about saving for the future and staying healthy enough to work as as long as I can.

3. Old age is a trade-off.

If you’re still reading, you might think I have a pretty pessimistic outlook on my remaining 32 years (if the Social Security Administration has their way). But as I always say to family members who tend to be optimists or idealists, I’m neither pessimist nor optimist. I’m a realist. And the realty of beginning my sixth decade is that it’s a trade off.

I noticed beginning in my late 40s that the ol’ bean wasn’t whirring at the same MHz as it once was—like an old computer that needs to be defragged. But I’d like to think that what I’ve lost in mental quickness, I’ve made up for with wisdom and clarity of thought. I’m not the sage that I should be at this age, but usually I can arrive at the correct conclusion, though traveling more slowly; I’m taking a more direct route.

Likewise, the eyes and the back and the knees are weaker. But while the eye can’t see as sharply, it beholds more clearly. While the joints may not be as spry, the body better cherishes life at its new, slower pace. And while the dreams may not be as lofty, the gratitude for what’s been enjoyed lifts the spirits far beyond mere anticipation.

I didn’t want this post to be a retrospective of the past 50 years. Although there’s certainly so much I could say about how God has blessed me with a “Leave It to Beaver” childhood, salvation at age 19, 30 wonderful years with my beautiful, godly wife, two amazing daughters and two sons-in-love, a fulfilling career and ministry, and now “My Old Kentucky Home” back in my beloved Lexington, home of the 8-time, 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champions. But this blog is about looking ahead. And I take utmost hope in the future. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'” (Jeremiah 29:11).

My grandmother lived to be almost 100, and I have an aunt who is 102. I may be at halftime in life. Or the final buzzer may be ready to sound. And as I buckle in to begin my 51st trip around the sun, one thing I can say with certainty is that I’m a lot less certain about a lot of things than I once was. Absolutely, I’ve got regrets. I regret every sin I ever committed. And the failures are still much more numerous than I would have thought, having been on the Christian trail for more than 30 years. But if you’ll forgive the cliche, I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future. He is my Security. And where I’m headed, “time” won’t be measured anymore. And the life expectancy will be everlasting. “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). Eternity. What a mind-blowing concept!

Yes, old age—make that life itself—is a trade off. And when it’s over, each of us will trade in our old body and our old life for something new. Make sure it’s New Life—with a retirement plan that is truly out of this world. And unlimited trips to the Son.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “50 Trips Around the Sun

  1. Tina

    You are truly an inspiration to me. I love you!!!
    Tina

  2. Wayne Thompson

    Happy 50th Birthday my brother the realist! That’s where I live too, but with frequent road trips to nearby Optimistville. As one just over a decade ahead of you, I too have noticed the vigor of youth slowly slipping away. But to quote the Greatest Generation’s most trusted spokesperson Walter Cronkite, “…that’s the way it is.” Like you, I too had a childhood in Mayberry and each passing year I appreciate more and more just what a tremendous blessing I took for granted. Godly parents, loving siblings, and a safe and comfortable middle class American suburb in which to thrive. A standard of living I thought normal, but one most of the world could not imagine. Throughout my working career I too heard the dire predictions for Social Security and figured it would be a relic of the past by the time I arrived. But…. in the twinkling of an eye…. here I am… almost 62. Social Security still has a bleak outlook, but it is alive. Apparently even the wheels of destruction turn slowly in government. Maybe over the next 12 years I’ll be the one to drain the pot just before you arrive. But don’t worry about it. You and Tina will always be welcome to move into our little camper parked in the driveway, complete with bedpans and coathooks to hang your Walmart vests.

  3. Bob Johnson

    Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. (Titus 2:2 ESV)

    It’s been so long since I didn’t think of you as sober-minded, dignified, etc that I guess I’ve always considered you old. I’m so grateful to count you among my close, and most highly esteemed, friends.

  4. Ginger

    Scolded!

    Well, I would scold you, but what you said is untrue. You said it would be a “burden.” We look forward to the day we can all live in our Thompson compound!

    And I can think of time when families all lived together
    Four generations in one house
    And the table was full of good food
    And friends and neighbors
    That’s not how we like it now
    Well no I couldn’t think of one thing
    I would rather waste my time on than sitting here with you

    (And seriously, I’ve seen some other 50 year olds, and you two are the kids on the block. That’s what clean living will do for you.)

    Enjoy your catfish and Graeter’s tonight, and we’ll see you in a week!

  5. Pingback: A Weekend in Charleston « Sweet Iced Tea

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