Photo by arthouse studio from Pexels
Crossing into the sixth decade of life is often a jolting experience. Your mailbox (both snail mail and email) is flooded with information about your age and retirement even more than when you entered your mid-50’s. For many it points to retirement within a few years and what that can hold. Some have planned on it and move to warmer places to enjoy golf and other warm weather pleasures. Some downsize their homes to be able to travel more easily. Some begin to experience physical challenges unknown to them, and still others plan to retire with no clue what they will do and sometimes a sense of losing who they are without the title, position, and structure of the whole of their adult life.
Some of us are conflicted about letting go of the life of doing and pursuing and getting. Others of us feel the freedom that comes from no longer having the demands of schedules so now we can do those things we never seemed to have enough time to do before. We can take that art class we always wanted to try, grow a larger garden, audit a class at the local community college, or build and finish that project we started and never had time to finish.
If we are fortunate, we begin understanding the truth we may have missed before.
“Because by now, we have learned that the things we amassed to prove to ourselves how valuable, how important, how successful we were, didn’t prove it at all. In fact, they have very little to do with it all. It’s what’s inside of us, not what’s outside of us that counts. It’s what we learned along the way, what we meant to other people along the way, what we became inside – along the way – that is really who we are.”Joan Chittister
Photo by m venter from Pexels
But for some of us this sixth decade opens up a new landscape and role built on all the other roles we have had. And the Lord leads us to yet an unexpected new path instead of hitting the golf course or the retirement community. That would be my course of learning, creating, growing, and building.
By the sixth decade of my life we would be blessed with 3 grandchildren and by the end of it there would be 3 more after grieving a miscarriage in each of our two children’s lives. That added joys and more travel to see them multiple times a year on as many weekends as we could manage. The adventure of getting to know each one was a discovery as well with different personalities and play choices among what became 3 boys and 3 girls. There were times we were also needed when mishaps, accidents, or surgeries were in the middle of it all as we navigated watching our adult children and supporting them as young parents building careers and families.
There would also be trips to recitals, a swim meet, a national high school basketball tournament, musicals and fine arts festivals as well as belt tests for karate that we couldn’t miss that added to mileage and memories we cherish with grandchildren as they grew their gifts and talents. Then before we knew it graduations began to pop into the mix.
Photos of our six grands on those trips by Pam Ecrement
My camera went with me everywhere and soon I was the photographer for the sporting events my husband was a part of. This love affair with looking through the lens of a camera to tell a story had begun decades ago when I was writing for that newspaper and was equipped with a Polaroid camera to add to stories I wrote.
Along the way, my husband and I still made vacation travel a priority to what became some of our favorite places such as Banff National Park in Canada, Vermont in peak autumn color, a special resort in the mountains south of Knoxville, TN, the beauty of Ashville and Black Mountain, NC, and the discovery of the charm of Savannah, GA. Each one gave us opportunity for quiet walks and reflections on the family we had raised and this new season of our life together.
Photo by Pam Ecrement
My husband and I were still enjoying good health which not everyone in the sixth decade experiences. I continued my loves of reading, photography, good movies, walks, and lingering conversations over lattes with close friends. I also hired a personal trainer to work on trying to get my “not so young body” into a better place.
“What we are inclined to forget as we are tempted to mourn the end of middle age, the loss of youth, is that they were, in fact, quite uncomfortable times. As young people, we worried about being popular or bright or accepted. In the middle years, we worried about getting it all, having it all, enjoying it all. But there is no doubt about it: whatever we have become at sixty, we are.”
It was this decade that opened the invitation to become a full-time staff member of the church we had been a part of for 8 years. It was not at all what I anticipated. I was doing well in my clinical private practice and finding great satisfaction with that career path. I expected to continue for quite some time in that role as a clinician, but then the church founding pastor asked me to consider this new direction to provide professional clinical counseling as a paid staff member for this large body of believers who could not always afford this service. As I prayed about it and considered this with my husband, I felt the Lord’s nudge to accept.
The hardest part was doing it incrementally over 6 months while I was slowly letting go of my clients in private practice. In retrospect, I would not have agreed to do it that way because by midway through I felt like I was working almost two full-time jobs.
The discovery in this new path was encouragement to explore and expand other areas of ministry that would improve relational health and train laymen in ministry to become more effective. Some of these areas had a small ministry started but there was the possibility of developing new ones. My background as a teacher as well as a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and Independent Marriage and Family Therapist on top of typically being a “possibility person” had my mind buzzing with ideas. Beyond this my husband was invited to be an elder of the church and later I would be as well. My love of relationships seemed to be a perfect fit in this diverse body of believers who had known wounds and disappointments by others like me.
This would be the fullest, hardest, and most rewarding season of my life over the 13 years I worked there. It would result in a premarital and marital program with mentoring, grief programs, small groups to address struggles with alcohol, drugs, pornography, past abuse, past abortion and more. It would include major marriage conferences with well-known speakers I had come to know through the American Association of Christian Counselors. Yet, my greatest joy was walking around the church on Sunday mornings greeting people, talking to them, and listening to their stories as well as praying for them. What a privilege this unexpected decade had afforded me.
Life was full indeed during this sixth decade and then as it was coming closer to the next decade, I sensed the Lord nudging me to lay it all down and retire. I loved what I was doing and the people I cared for and was surprised at this leading. I had no plans for what life would be after this, no bucket list waiting for me. Nonetheless, I shared with the staff I loved and served with that at 70 I was going to retire.
What happened then was as unexpected as any other path had been.
Photo by Pam Ecrement