12 Lessons From Life’s Second Semester

Heading to Ethiopia on the eve of their 60th birthdays, the McClaren’s reflect upon what God has taught them.

From Message magazine issue "Game Changer"

In school, the year is divided into two semesters. Mid-year becomes a natural time to take stock, figure out what’s working and what’s not, and adjust accordingly. Birthdays can also be natural landmarks that call us to assess and redirect. When my husband and I turned 50 (just 17 days apart), our kids threw us a 100th birthday party. Suddenly, the psalmist’s plea to, “…teach us to number our days aright that we may get a heart of wisdom…” (Ps.90:12) had a new urgency, and as we took stock and looked ahead, we sensed God directing us to international service. We began looking for where and how we might serve during what we called “our second semester.”

Although neither of us had ever attended a Christian university, a very wise friend reminded us that God doesn’t waste experiences. Her comment was right on, and we found that there are places in the world where even a seasoned farmer and a family physician can share in the Great Commission.

After additional training and several short-term trips to Ukraine, we were eventually directed to Ethiopia and arrived just six months before our 60th birthdays. As we celebrated our birthdays on the compound of Soddo Christian Hospital, we found ourselves taking stock of the many things God had shown us through our journey to Ethiopia:

  1. Life is a gift. Gifts are to be given and enjoyed, not squandered or hoarded.
  2. Languages should be learned by young brains! Fluency in English does not predict fluency in other tongues. Thankfully laughter covers a multitude of bloopers.
  3. Children are great tutors to technologically challenged parents.
  4. Leaving grandkids, kids, and aging parents is incredibly painful but email, FaceTime and Viber make it doable.
  5. MK’s need surrogate grandparents and the 50+ bunch needs surrogate grandkids.
  6. Taking care of our health is not just a good idea; it’s essential! Probiotics, water filters, and immunizations are not luxuries, and neither are sunscreen and insect repellent.
  7. Gray hair may help facilitate relationship building.
  8. Learning curves are steep and must be navigated in partnership with team members.
  9. Stress abounds! Friends on both sides of the pond are lifesavers — as are running shoes, music, and bits of home.
  10. Sleep is not overrated. A good mattress and comfy pillow are important investments.
  11. Our to-do lists will never be completed, but that’s okay.
  12. His word is truly “a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” – Ps. 119:105

Ultimately God is the One who numbers our days, and although our journey has not been easy, it has been good. We do not walk alone, even in our second semester.