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

The gentle touch of Christmas December 21, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 9:11 am

Yesterday I hugged my Daddy’s best “guy” friend, an elderly man who has grown frail in the four years since my father passed away. A plain-spoken, salt-of-the-earth kind of fellow, he had been my Daddy’s fishing and camping buddy for decades.

In all honesty, it was a bittersweet meeting laced with both laughter and tears. He talked of missing my Dad’s friendship and of all the ways his life has changed since macular degeneration stole his eyesight. He spoke tenderly about what it is like to be the primary caregiver for his wife of 67 years.  

When I got up to hug him goodbye, I could feel his bony shoulder blades poking through his freshly-ironed shirt. He seemed so thin, so fragile. So vulnerable.

In that moment, I was reminded of the gift of touch. Of how much we need to feel the warm embrace of encouragement.

As we prepare to celebrate with family and friends, we should remember those who are homebound… those who are lonely…those who need to feel the stroke of another’s hand. 

On the way home, I began to ponder the farewell scene. My Daddy’s friend probably doesn’t even realize that he had just given me a wonderful Christmas gift in return… the gift of touch.


Missing Christmas December 18, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 7:15 am

Missing Christmas

My mind guards Christmas memories like they are Ft. Knox.  They are priceless, fragile things.

Images of pajama-clad children standing at the top of the staircase, eager for the OK to rush to the pile of gifts nestled under the glowing tree.

Memories of family gathered round the table, sitting in mismatched chairs, lingering over dessert and another funny story. 

Nostalgic remembrances that tug at my heartstrings.     

But surely there is more to Christmas than goosebump moments. 

Christmas is more than good will.  It is the Good News.

It is more than the magic of  the North Pole. It is the mystery of the manger.    

For nestled deep within holiday traditions and warm feelings is the Christ child. Waiting to be found.

 Let us not confuse sentiment for significance.

 For if we do, we will miss Christmas.


Today I’m making room December 9, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 9:29 am

Today I am not going to think about unfinished writing projects or speaking requests. I will deal with those tomorrow because December is slipping away and there is something I must do. Today I will crank up the Christmas music and pull up a chair next to the fireplace. I will finish sewing the Christmas stocking for my new grandson, born just days ago.

Last weekend I returned home from keeping the newborn’s older brother while his parents and infant sibling were in the hospital. As I walked in the door and glanced at my fireplace, I couldn’t help but notice that my husband had already rearranged the stockings to make room for the stocking of the newest family member.

I dropped my bag, suddenly realizing that the gap in the line of stockings was an image of Advent. Of making room when other important things crowd our calendars and our minds. For me, making room requires that I pause and be still. 

So today I will put the final stitches on Santa’s beard and let my mind wander through the memories of longago Christmases. I will recall when I was a teenager playing Mary in my church’s living nativity scene on a frigid night. I’ll remember the ugly towel tradition that makes our extended family unique. I’ll replay scenes of squinting in the blinding lights of Uncle Fred’s old 8mm movie camera with enough wattage to light an airstrip.

I’ll remember passing the candlelight on Christmas Eve and watching my excited, pajama-clad children pad down the stairs on Christmas morning. I’ll remember the sound of my father’s voice when he opened the door on Christmas Day and gave a festive “Ho Ho Ho!”  

Today I’m making room in my life to remember the stories of my past. To recall the details of the birth of Jesus. To let the words of the carols flood my soul. Then tomorrow as I return the calls and edit the sentences, I will glance at the stockings in a row and remember to make room.


White elephants: An Advent reflection December 4, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 7:19 am

White elephants

 It’s the season when white elephant gifts make their annual appearance.

 From the top shelves of closets and dim attic spaces, they begin their nonsensical journey

            to the Christmas tree. 

There’s the bullfighter gaudily painted on black velvet.

A battery-powered chicken wearing a Santa hat, squawking Jingle Bells as he dances.

And a personal favorite, the armadillo lamp.

They are novelties that make us laugh, at least for a moment.

Outlandish things we don’t need but keep for another year. 

Taking up space until we can re-gift them to another poor soul at another holiday party. 

Like a swap meet for gag gifts and unwanted things that goes on and on.    

So we sit in a circle and laugh at the absurdity of it all. 

I must admit, I don’t recall a white elephant standing at the manger, snuggled between  Mary and baby Jesus.

I smile to myself.     

How grateful I am that God doesn’t give white elephant gifts.


A Reflection for Advent November 22, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 5:40 pm


 It’s midnight and I can’t sleep.

 The problem is not sugar plums dancing in my head.

 It’s the cookies I haven’t made for tomorrow’s cookie exchange.

 And the menus for Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day lunch. 

 What platters and bowls?  Which serving utensils and glasses? 

 How many sticks of butter?  Corn syrup, light or dark?

 Is there enough time to order photo calendars for the relatives?

 And so I look out the window, as if the answers are written in the night sky. 

 Houses have gone to sleep and it is quiet.

 There is only a strand of colorful lights on a lonely tree in the distance, forgotten by a neighbor. 

  I stand alone with my feelings, overwhelmed by so much to do.

 Then familiar words begin to creep into my restless mind.

 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

One phrase pricks my soul.  The time came. The time came.

Whether or not I am prepared, Christmas comes, just as it came for Mary.

At that moment, the light of the Christmas star illumines my mind.

Is my heart prepared to encounter the coming of Christ?

For what if I make the fudge but miss the shepherds?

What if I polish the silver but miss the angel chorus?

And so, I slip quietly back to bed.

Snuggled beneath the covers, thoughts of cookies fade away.

In this midnight hour, the Christmas star has led me once again to God’s promise. 

Christ is coming.


When grumpy older adults get it right November 10, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 12:06 pm

Yesterday I visited older adult friends at different care centers. At one of the centers, there is a resident who is known to be bitter and grouchy. The residents shy away from him because his negativity is so hard on their spirits. When I arrived, I saw him driving his power chair in my direction. I have reached out to him many times but he has always rejected my efforts.

This time he pulled his chair up close to me. He spoke in a soft, humbled voice. “I just found out I have cancer.” I put my hand on his  arm and told him I was so sorry to hear the news. We chatted a bit, then as he left, I told him I would be praying for him. His eyes filled with tears and he thanked me.

The point is, sometimes older adults have built a tough shell around them. We don’t always know what has soured them on life, but  there are moments when their grumpiness gives way to tears… and the body of Christ needs to be there to hold their hands when it does.


Two things every older adult should know October 22, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 2:38 pm

My sweet friend, Gertrude, died yesterday morning. On the day before she passed away, I had visited her in the assisted living center where she had lived the last few months. When she saw me, she gave me a slight smile. I could see weariness across her face. When I asked if she was tired, she nodded her head in affirmation.

The thing is, as difficult as these last months have been for Gertrude as she has dealt with complications of diabetes, she has  accepted the challenges with grace. She had left behind the home where she had created so many memories. When her little finger and toe had to be amputated, we teased about her not needing a pinkie ring or a toe ring. When she had to move from a one-bedroom apartment of a retirement community to a single room at an assisted living center, she shrugged and said, “I know it’s for the best even though it’s hard.” I watched her face each transition with courage.  

In thinking back, I realize that Gertrude knew two very important things that many people, including many older adults, do not know. First, she knew that her family loved her dearly. Her eyes twinkled every time she talked about her daughters or her grandchildren. She loved being with her siblings and extended family to play cards… but mostly to laugh and tell stories.  Her family loved her well, and she was blessed in knowing it. They made hard times somehow easier.

Second, Gertrude knew that her eternal future was secure. She had a deep faith in God that touched the lives of those who came in contact with her. It was not a flashy kind of faith, but a deep-abiding belief in her Creator and in his promises. She was prepared to die. 

Since Gertrude’s death, I have thought a lot about those two things… knowing that your family loves you dearly and knowing that your future is secure in God’s promises.  How I wish that every older adult could know them, too.