Reflections on Aging Well

Author, Living with Purpose in a Worn-out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults (Upper Room) and Columnist, Aging Well, United Methodist Reporter

Youth in balcony, gray heads in pews: coming together for Christ July 28, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 7:25 am

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to deliver the message to both worship services at a United Methodist Church in North Texas.  I had been invited to speak about navigating old age and the role of the church. 

 I sat on the front pew during the hymns and prayers.  I delighted in the handful of precious kids who made their way to the steps for the children’s sermon.  But it was not until I stood up and faced the congregation to give the message that I noticed the group of youth sitting together in the balcony.  I had to smile to myself because it brought back memories of my own youth, sitting away from the authoritative glances of elders. 

 During the message, I found myself gazing up at the balcony almost as often as I looked into the eyes of the older folks sitting in the pews below.  Taking it all in, I reminded the congregation that the aging process was designed by God.  We are intended to be connected to each other, generation to generation.

 As I told heartfelt stories about older adults who had impacted my life, I began to notice several elderly folks dabbing their eyes with crumpled tissues.  Before I finished, I saw a few teens brush tears from their cheeks, too.

 I knew it wasn’t because of my speaking ability.  It was because stories have a way of moving people to think and feel differently. 

 When we really listen to each other’s life stories, our perceptions are changed.  The frail, white-haired widow becomes the adventurous woman of her youth who once rode to the Chicago World’s Fair in the rumble seat of a Model A.  Similarly, the teenager with three piercings in one ear is realized as a gifted music teacher for inner-city children on a summer mission trip.  

 By sharing life stories, we begin to see that the fears and longings of a teenager are not so unlike those of a frail great-grandmother.  

 In the balcony or in the pews below, we are all children of God.


On the floor to build relationships July 23, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 4:15 pm

Each morning for the past week, I’ve awakened before sunrise at the Colorado resort where our extended family has been vacationing.  I didn’t want to miss seeing my 8-month old grandson the moment my son brought him in to play while breakfast got  underway.    

Usually the pajama-clad little guy would break into a 200-watt smile when he first spied me.  It didn’t matter that he only had two teeth because even his body language said that  he was glad to see me. 

 Because of our past experiences, I think he knew I would happily sit on the floor and read to him. Or I’d improvise silly games with an ice bucket or a toilet paper roll.  Even when he was tired or cranky, I would sing our special made-up song and get him to laugh.    

 Time with my grandson made me think anew about Christ-like relationships.  About what it means to selflessly invest yourself in the life of another.   About how to willingly put aside your personal desires for the well-being of someone else.    

Although technology is a marvelous thing, I know it can never substitute for face-to-face time with a person.  In fact, I think authentic relationship often begins when we just sit on the floor and pay attention.


Church camp: different but the same July 14, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 4:05 pm

I have a confession.  I was one of those youth parents who preferred to drive the church van to take the kids to church camp rather than pick them up at week’s end.

 It’s really not hard to understand why.  It was the potent dirty-socks smell that wafted from suitcases and backpacks after a week of outdoor activities in 100-degree temperatures without a parent to insist on a daily bath.  And it didn’t help that the two-hour trip often took place in a church van with a malfunctioning air conditioner.  By the time my third child was headed to camp, I had mastered the art of early volunteering to get the prime “delivery-to” assignment.

 Those memories came rushing back today as I read tweets and blogs about youth groups making their annual treks to church camps all across the nation.  In fact, I found myself wandering down the dangerous path to the “good ol’ days”, recalling my own church camp experiences as a youth in the early-to-late1960’s.

 A group of us would pile into family station wagons and head to Lake Bridgeport, the Methodist Camp for the North Texas Conference.  We almost always packed a lunch of fried chicken which we ate at a roadside park along the way.  We knew it would be the last good meal for a week, but somehow we didn’t seem to mind.

 Once we arrived at camp, we would rush to check out the girls’ screened-in cabins which were separated from the boys’ by a hundred yards and a walking bridge strictly designated as the boy-girl boundary line.    

 Back in my day, we rotated seats in the dining hall.  Everyone eventually sat in the dreaded “scaper” chair which meant you had to scrape your tablemates’ leftovers, including powdered eggs, into the trashcan. 

 There was no air conditioning at camp.  Four-square was the game of choice, and water balloon fights always came on the last day. 

 But it was Vesper Hill that made me want to return year after year.  Twice a day, we would hike up the rocky path to the point that overlooked the glistening lake. Once in early morning, once at sunset.  With the lake as a backdrop to the hand-hewn cross in front of us, we’d sit on rustic benches and drink in the holiness of the moment.  There was something very sacred about that space, that scene.    

 Oh sure, times have changed.  The youth now eat at McDonalds and ride in mini-buses.  The camp has a swimming pool with water slides, a challenge course, and air-conditioning throughout.   

 But I have a feeling that  it is Vesper Hill that still speaks to young hearts and beckons them back, again and again.


Unchurched older adults: an unexpected outreach? July 9, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 1:01 pm

Every Tuesday, I spend the day with residents of the senior care center where my parents lived for several years.  Yesterday, I had lunch with my parents’ former neighbor, a 95-year old widow.  She’s a spunky lady whose mind is amazingly sharp even though her body is wearing out.        

We had pleasant conversation about the hot weather and a new pair of earrings. Then just as I took a bite of dessert, my elderly friend blurted out something that almost made me choke. “Could you get me one of those Do Not Resuscitate forms so that I can tape it to the headboard of my bed?”

I swallowed hard.  Even with the grin on her face, my friend was serious.  She is a no-nonsense woman of deep faith who talks easily about death and dying.  

When I got home, I printed a copy of the Do Not Resuscitate order for our state.  Then I called to let her know that I had put it in the mail.  She cheerily thanked me as if I had just delivered her a cherry pie.

It was a moment that was oddly sweet.  A moment that pointed me to a bigger faith issue.

I started thinking about the many unchurched elderly in care facilities or at home alone.  I wondered how many of them were wrestling with deep spiritual questions about life and death in the loneliness of their rooms.  In the darkness of their nights.  I wondered how many were alone, with no believers to walk alongside and encourage them.  

And so I pray that the church will reach out to those who are nearing the end of life’s journey.  May we be the hands of Christ that steady a stooped body.  May we be the smile that uplifts a wilted spirit.  Let us not pass by those who are frail and yet unchurched.  We are called for such a time as this.