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

Sometimes you really can go home again August 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 7:26 am

This weekend I went back to the church where I was raised. I had been asked to speak for a kick-off luncheon for the United Methodist Women. When I arrived, I was warmly embraced, especially by a group of older women. Among the other unfamiliar faces, this older group had smiles that were easily recognizable. I had known most of them all my life. 

In preparation for the event, I had taken time to reflect on the very earliest memories I had of my childhood church. As I stretched my mind, I could recall the creaky hardwood floors and the wood-polish smell of the old white-frame church when I was a very young child. In my mind’s eye, I could envision the steps where I waited for my mother while she practiced the organ for the Sunday service. But one memory stood out above the others.

I remembered going with my father to check on the progress of the new sanctuary being built on land adjacent to the white-frame building. I was four years old, and I recall walking with him on the foundation with pipes coming out of the ground. Even though I don’t recall the conversation, I remember it as a holy moment that is still stuck on the walls of my mind  so many decades later.

Looking back on my faith journey, I can see how God has been at work through the lives of faithful servants to help mold my life. Some of the older women I was about to speak to at the UMW event had been my Sunday school teachers. Alongisde my parents, they had been the ones who cooked for church dinners and stayed after to sweep the floors. They had led Bible school and directed the children’s choirs.

Last week, the image of standing on the church foundation with my Dad brought unexpected misty eyes when I stood with my husband in our own church to sing the opening hymn. The song was “Standing on the Promises”.  Because of its repeating bass line, my kids had always called it a “Grandaddy song”.  As we came to the chorus, I could almost hear my Dad singing, “Standing on the promises, standing on the promises…” with a bounce in his stance and joy in his voice. The memory of standing with my Dad on the foundation that day  so long ago flooded my heart.

Back at the UMW event at my childhood church, I hugged the senior women, feeling their time-worn bodies. Though they showed physical signs of aging, their spirits were amazingly strong. I had come to encourage them in the winter of their lives. I had come to remind them that they still have purpose. Funny thing is, that’s exactly what they did for me. Sometimes you really can go home again.


Sermon at the swimming pool August 18, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 8:01 am

Last weekend, my husband surprised me with a getaway weekend for my birthday. While relaxing in the shade at the hotel’s pool, I couldn’t help but do a little people-watching, especially since there were folks of every size, shape and age.

I noticed that there were people desperately trying to disguse their shapes under billowing cover-ups and t-shirts while others seemed to bask in the attention that their well-toned bodies brought. It occurred to me that only the very young were totally carefree about body image.

I saw tattoos on unlikely middle-aged women and a few skimpy swimsuits on overweight, balding men. There were muscular young adult guys, bikini-clad pre-teens and a few women ripe with an unborn child. 

I noticed how some people seemed afraid to let go of the pool’s edge while one man selfishly commandeered a large area of the pool as if it was his alone. Then there were some who never even got wet.   

Amid the cacophony of squealing kids and splashing waterfalls, I heard the voice of a young girl, about six years-old. She was beckoning an older couple, presumably her grandparents. “Come on in! Puh-leeze,” she said in a sweet, non-whining voice, trying to lure them from their comfortable lounge chairs. 

It wasn’t long before the grandfather began to unfold himself from the lounge chair. I could almost hear his creaking bones as he slowly stood and unbuttoned his tropical shirt, revealing a large scar– a likely remnant of open heart surgery. With a bit more encouragement, the grandmother got up, too, and began to untie her long wrap. The spider web of varicose veins on her legs could not be missed. 

The young girl quickly positioned herself between the two older adults and grabbed their hands. The grandparents’ feet were careful as they walked toward the pool. The girl was patient, matching her pace to theirs. I saw broad smiles stretch across all of their faces as they stepped into the clear blue water… together.    

It was a memorable image of how love can move us from our comfort zone. Of how the young can encourage the old to live and how the old can model grace and dignity in late years. Suddenly I realized that I had just witnessed a sermon at the swimming pool. Oh the goodness of God! Amen.


It’s not your grandmother’s church… or is it? August 6, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 2:17 pm

Recently I spent an afternoon with an 85 year-old friend. She’s the sort of jovial woman every young person would love as a grandmother. In fact, I doubt that this gray-haired dynamo has ever seen a glass half-empty in her entire life.

We talked about a variety of topics, but when she mentioned that she had recently visited her young-adult granddaughter’s church, my ears really perked up. I knew this to be a non-traditional, youthful congregation that uses a full-range of the latest technology and electronic music.

I listened intently as she shared her experience. She was so impressed by the dedication of the young adults who greeted her and made her feel welcome. She thought the minister’s message was powerful and the music was uplifting and vibrant.  She was amazed by the video clips and the images on the screens. She also took special pride in telling me about her granddaughter’s involvement on mission teams.

Then she paused for a moment as if to decide whether or not to continue.  She lowered her head as if she was afaid to utter the words. Finally she said, “I feel guilty for saying this because I am so thankful that my granddaughter’s church is reaching young people, but I must be truthful. My old heart wasn’t moved during that worship service. I really tried to be open to the young people’s style of worship, I really tried to be worshipful in spirit… but I left feeling as if I had failed.  I know at my own church, everything is about attracting the youth. Some church leaders make us old folks feel bad just because we like old hymns and stained glass. It speaks to our generation. It’s not that we don’t want them to have their own services with their own way of doing things, but it just doesn’t seem right to tell us that our way is out-dated and wrong.” 

It was an insightful interaction. I certainly applaud the grandmother for stepping out of her comfort zone. She is no stick-in-the-mud, nay-saying older adult.  She understands and supports the importance of reaching out to young people.  At the same time, she feels that her church is making her feel guilty for prefering more traditional elements of worship.

The point is, it’s not a matter of one side being right and the other wrong.  What speaks to one generation may not speak to another. That’s nothing new. But can’t we be a church that can stretch its arms enough to lovingly embrace all generations? I’m just sayin’….