Free Birds

The Mystery of “Purpose”

We don’t know what to do with ‘old people,'” my senior pastor declared during our first meeting over breakfast in an Atlanta suburb. I questioned, “What do you mean?” He elaborated, “We have a ‘cruise ship’ mentality, and it bothers me.”

Confused, I inquired, “Cruise ship mentality?” He explained, “We allocate money in the budget and then bus them to Blue Ridge, Atlanta, or some other place. But when you ask them to do something, their response is, ‘I did that for years; get somebody younger to do it. They are just not motivated!'”

Challenging his viewpoint, I countered, “I beg to differ. What do you mean?”

“When the alarm clock strikes sixty, you can’t delude yourself that you have lots of time left. We all want to make a difference, to know that our life mattered. We want to leave some kind of legacy. You just don’t know how to motivate them,” I explained. The pastor seemed surprised by the directness of my comment. He was fifty, and I was sixty, so I figured, to him, I was ‘old.’

“Really?” he responded. “Do you think you do?” I paused before responding, “Yes, I think I do.”

Here is the bottom line that he had yet to learn: Purpose is a moving target throughout our life. It’s not necessarily indicative of whether or not we are fully engaged in our local church. God says we have a purpose, just as he told a young boy, Jeremiah, in Chapter one, verse three.

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” His plan for us is established before we are in our mother’s womb.”

I drew a straight timeline marked by five arrows or gates on a piece of paper for the pastor. The space between the arrows represents the seasons of life, of which there are four: birth, 20, 40, 60, and home. Years later, this concept evolved into a series called the ‘Journey of 5 Gates.’

Each season shapes, trains, and prepares us for the next. However, as we approach 60, we are often advised to plan for retirement. Some approach this event with fear and trepidation, while others anticipate it with great expectations. They believe they can now travel and accomplish things they couldn’t due to prior obligations. In both cases, I suggest that this understanding is short-sighted and limited.

Referring to another scripture, Proverbs 23:7, ‘As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.’ Do you believe that being a parent, raising kids, and having a career define your life purpose? If so, you may hit a proverbial wall when those roles conclude. I propose that this perspective is short-sighted and conditioned by societal teachings. The fallacy lies in the fact that both roles typically come to an end. As a parent of grown children with grandchildren of my own, I find meaning in these connections, but acknowledging that they are my sole purpose is incomplete. I believe I have a greater impact when I remain passionate and purposeful, setting an example that they can follow.

For many, reaching their 60s, 70s, and 80s results in living without passion, purpose, or joy. This mirrors the story of the young ‘prairie chicken’ in blog #1. We never thought this scenario would repeat itself as we navigate the second half of life.

If it is true that we are called to live life with passion, purpose, and joy, can this be your testimony? In my seven decades of life, I have observed that this is not the case for many I encounter. With the advent of technology, streaming services, etc., people spend their time indoors, shut out from the world, and being entertained.

Why? Is it possible to find fulfillment and live a satisfying life until our last breath? Absolutely! 

Not only is it possible, but it is the promise that God gives to each one of us as we navigate our lives, one day at a time. So, if this is something you wrestle with, I’m excited that you have joined me on FreeBirds. It is my desire, my hope, that as a result, you and countless others will join together for this amazing, tough, mysterious journey. And that you will be able to affirm this truth for yourself! You will have the vision and understanding of all that you have endured in your life and how it has uniquely led you to accomplish amazing things in this season of life.

Our family, community, state, and nation need you intimately and passionately engaged in your journey. Everyone, including yourself, will benefit in ways that will, at times, astound you. You’ll constantly be surprised.

Here is a brief overview of the journey of 5 Gates:

Gate 1

The first season sets the stage for the years to follow. Your family, parents, siblings, community, ethnicity, economic status, culture, education, and more are all factors that influence, mold, and prepare us for the years that will follow. Their influence and impact will follow us for the rest of our lives, for both good and bad. We will learn in the future that even previous generations have an impact on us as we live out our lives. We will have much to say about this season in the future.

Gate 2

In our life, we pass through somewhere from late teens to early twenties. I call this the season of OJT (on-the-job training). During this season, we make life decisions in the early stage that often, without realizing the impact, begin to set the trajectory of our adult life. Such decisions include our value system, what we believe, career, marriage, our self-image, etc. Nothing seems to have prepared us for this season. The highs are very high, the lows are very low. We experience tough lessons, and each one tutors us. We also make decisions and respond in ways that were established in season 1 without us being aware.

Gate 3

Midlife – This season arrives in the late 30s to early 40s, often accompanied by struggle and/or dissatisfaction, commonly referred to as the Midlife Crisis by culture. Here, we encounter circumstances caused by ourselves or others that appear to compel us to make crucial decisions. These decisions have the power to change the trajectory of our lives, much like the short bursts of jets altering the direction of a rocket heading to the moon.

In this third season, we begin to navigate the challenges of dealing with older children and their process of leaving home. Some of us will change jobs or start businesses, while others may undergo a divorce or simply make significant purchases like a new home or car in search of “being happy.  Many will wrestle through a season of anxiety or depression due to not feeling fulfilled. Over the 40-plus years that we have lived, we gain confidence and experience in our ability to perform, yet we also endure great hurt and overwhelming trials. Life proves effective in humbling us during this season, making us realize, unlike Season 2, that we don’t have all the answers. 

As we pass through Season 3, we become aware of the inevitability that Gate 4, marking our sixties, is fast approaching. Some approach it with dread, others with great anticipation. Both perspectives are often misguided in their expectations, but it holds the possibility of being truly amazing!

Gate 4

The process leading up to this season and living it out will be our focus in the months ahead. It is crucial for ourselves, our families, our community, and our nation that we begin to understand the process of living out this season of life as it was designed by our creator. It may surprise you to realize that our society has never been faced with “us” before. This is all new territory for all of us. Historically, cultures change very slowly. Almost doubling in life expectancy in such a short time is a staggering fact. It will take decades for laws, institutions, and perceptions to change to accommodate an entirely new and added generation of people.

Once again, life expectancy has increased approximately 1½ years each decade since 1900. Life expectancy then was 45. In industrialized countries, it is now 80+, depending on sex and ethnicity. The fastest-growing demographic is what we call centenarians.

How do you want to live out your life? Many years ago, when I was in my early 30s, I continued to ask the Lord for an understanding of His purpose for me in this life. At that time, I was overseeing a couple of divisions for a plastics manufacturer. During my morning devotions, I consistently sought to know His will for me. “What do you want?” I clearly heard. “It’s not about what I want, Father. I have given my life to serve you,” I responded. Only silence followed.

Over the next several days, I wrestled with that question. “What do I want?” Each day, I would make a short list and then, by the next day, discard it and begin again. Until one day, I wrote down five things I wanted, and I “knew” they were it. As a result, I resigned from my safe, secure position and started a business. However, the business wasn’t the objective; being able to control my time to be a full-time, devoted father was the objective. I knew that if I worked for others, they ultimately would control my time and, therefore, impact “what I wanted.” It has never been easy, but I have never regretted that decision, “for me.” The results of that decision have been profound.

Each person in their present stage of life must decide what “they want.” Because whatever your conclusion is, action will be required. Remember Albert Einstein’s quote: “Nothing happens until something moves.”

Here is the process: Once you decide what you want, the way to test whether or not it is true will be determined by the actions you take as a result. No one else needs to understand your reasoning but you. Don’t look to others to affirm your decision. If it includes risk, they will usually advise you to reconsider, especially if they think you are “old.”

You have the choice and must decide that rather than being a “prairie chicken,” you and I will be an “eagle” that soars (Blog 1). We are to live out our lives with passion, purpose, and joy until we take our last breath.

What’s God got to do with it? In the coming weeks, I will mention God. Additionally, I will include stories about my journey as well as scriptures. I hope this will not deter you from joining our ranks. However, I must be honest and forthcoming. The story of my own journey is what I will be drawing from in the coming months. My relationship with God, my faith, my desire to understand this journey of life has been ongoing, intensely for decades. What I will be relating to in the future is not something I am creating to generate content. This blog is the result of the ongoing process of living my own life. My relationship with God is the very foundation from which I have gained understanding and insight. I say this because I know that some of the stories I will tell in the future may stretch you a bit. Please hang in there with me. Even if you cannot relate to my life story, the overall content of this blog is to inform, encourage, and hopefully empower you to be a pioneer in your own second half of life.

The “big idea”

In this present world and the conditions we find ourselves in, it is critical and imperative that those in the second half of life become fully engaged in their God-given purpose and live it out.

My motivation is to provide understanding and insight. My hope is that many people will engage and take action. What does that mean? The possibilities are endless. Over the weeks and months to follow, I invite you to join our community of FreeBirds. We are going to shock the world, impacting one person at a time if that is what it takes. We are the very people that society says, “Go play, focus on yourself.” Instead, we are going to be fully engaged in ways that not only bring us joy and fulfillment but also provide a sense of purpose. This will result in being “salt and light” to those who struggle and will raise a standard of strength and resolve that will not retreat when confronted.

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