Find Your People

There’s a subtle lie that haunts most of us a good deal of the time. We look at others and assume they’ve got it going on, but the truth is that underneath even the most polished exterior lies insecurity, struggle, heartache and yes, sin.

“…man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Driving to a meeting last week I was musing about the fact that I know a lot of people think I have myself “together”. I was quickly reminded of the truth, which is that I am lazy and disorganized and prone to wander. I’m a great starter and less great finisher. What has made the difference in my life is that I’ve recognized my need to be dependent on those around me who remind me to persevere.

Some of my people! Find yours!

Holding it together depends on the Body I belong to and the One who created it. No one part of this body is autonomous. A finger, a leg, a nose, an ear, a foot; they all are useless on their own. Left to our own devices we are pretty useless. We all need to be part of an active body. The individual parts produce nothing, but the parts working together in harmony bring productivity both individually and collectively. It’s why I attend services regularly and am disheartened by those who eschew it saying it’s not necessary to do so. God says it is.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

I’m thankful to acknowledge my need of those God has placed in my spheres of influence. I’ve learned to intentionally seek out people I admire and want to be like, and then sometimes God brings those I never would have sought out on my own. Through each of them, I am encouraged to press on and press in– by those who will confront me when I’m out of order. I rely on them to nudge me when I’m lazy– to get up and move! When I’m weary– I count on them to remind me to keep moving, when I’m discouraged–to press on and when I’m resting on my laurels– to continue on to the next level. When I isolate, it’s easy to convince myself that I’m doing okay–that I’ve done enough. Hence, I need to surround myself with those who spur me on to good works, who by their example remind me to press on to what is good and useful and productive.

Without those God has knit me together with, I confess, I’d be tempted to spend my discretionary hours binge watching Brit-Box far too often. So, believe me when I tell you I am ever mindful of and thankful for my community. I’m not lying. I need you. I say it all the time, but, we need each other. Isolation is always our foe. Kick it out the door. Find your people.

Proactive Aging: A Road Map to Arrive and Thrive

When I made the decision to retire, I was surprised at the number of people who expressed to me their belief that I would be bored when I didn’t have a job to go to everyday.  My response was the same, 100% of the time:  

“…only boring people get bored.”  

But– maybe also people who don’t plan for what’s ahead. If you are currently contemplating retirement, now is the time to begin building for that future. If you have already retired and feel like you’re floundering, it’s not too late to begin.

In a culture where often the first thing we are asked by a stranger after initial introductions is “what do you do?”  is it any wonder that so many of us are largely defined by our work?    I learned early on to view my work as a means to support my life vs my life supporting my work.  For me that meant that while I worked hard to give my best effort, I also endeavored to  maintain a life outside my job.  It was often challenging to manage that goal.

I have a friend who had a very successful career in a field she loved. She retired after some health issues made it difficult to continue, but has since failed to thrive and is largely housebound.  She is an example of one who was so involved in her successful career that she failed to build a life outside of it.  

If you are approaching retirement, here are 10 suggestions to consider :

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gather with others

  1.  Build scheduled activities into your schedule now so that you have a reason to get up and get out when you’re no longer going to work.    I’ve attended a Monthly Bible Study with a small group of women for the last 20+ years.  In addition I’ve long attended weekly services at my church.  Once I ceased working, I added in classes at the gym three times a week and began walking one morning a week with a group of women friends.  These routine activities keep me active and involved in lives outside my own and give me something to look forward to nearly every day.IMG_4788
  2. Kill two birds with one stone.  Exercise your body while staying in touch with friends.  Instead of meeting for lunch or coffee, meet at a park and go for a walk, giving you time to catch up while keeping your body strong and agile.fullsizeoutput_add4
  3. Don’t restrict friendships to others your own age.  If all your friends are your age or older, eventually if you are fortunate enough to have long life, you will face losing many who are dear to you.  Hence, there is a great benefit to having friends of various ages.  I have found many young women who are desirous of being in relationship with an older woman who shares their values and can be a source of wisdom that comes with age.  Multigenerational activities are enriching and expand our horizons.  Spend time with grandchildren while they’re young so you’ll have strong relationships when they age.
  4. Don’t be afraid of technology/social media. While it’s true that social media can be misused, but it can also be a blessing.  Facebook and Instagram have been a means for me to stay in touch with friends all over the world.  Today I was able to converse in real time with my friend who recently relocated to Luxenbourg.  I group text with a several small groups of friends regularly.  And, my granddaughters introduced me to Marco Polo, an application that allows us to send video messages. I’ve been using it for months and recently some of my 30 something friends have discovered it.  This Senior was ahead of the curve!fullsizeoutput_7848
  5. Exercise hospitality at whatever level works for you.  You may not feel like hosting a dinner party but who can’t manage a pitcher of iced tea and a bunch of grapes?  Invite friends over for a movie night or a potluck holiday gathering.
  6. Find a place to volunteer where you can use your gifts for the benefit of others.  We all need a sense of purpose and meaning to our lives.  I spend one day a week with my grandchildren, freeing my daughter to have some time to herself.  I spend another afternoon volunteering at my church, supporting women’s ministries and events.  Wherever your interests lie, find a place to exercise them on a regular basis.  
  7. Remember that isolation is your enemy.  Don’t end up like my friend who believes retiring was the biggest mistake of her life.  Ideally you start building a life outside of your work while you’re still in the game.  But, if you can’t, make it a priority to do so soon after you leave the workplace. cookie 169
  8. Rediscover your partner and the things you enjoy doing together.  Whether it’s going to the gym together, walking your dogs, hiking, travel or movies, make time for each other and for social activities with other friends. 
  9. Rediscover your spiritual side and the faith you may have abandoned. As we near the end of life on earth we are more incline to realize that our spirits need to nurtured and stretched. For me that means reading my Bible in the morning as I enjoy a hot cup of coffee. Ive found God’s Word life giving and able to fill my spiritual tank, enabling me to live with purpose. It means gathering with like minded believers so that we may spur one another on to good work. And, it means feeling prepared for whatever may come.
  10. . Serve others. It may be a neighbor, a friend or someone in your church. Find ways to give of yourself to bless others regularly. Prepare and deliver a meal to a sick friend or a new Mom and her family. If you don’t cook, deliver take out or a gift card to their favorite restaurant. When you make soups prepare a double recipe and freeze half to share with someone later. Offer to babysit your grands overnight and give your adult children a night out sans children. Offer to pick up things at the market for someone who has difficulty getting out. Help with preparations for events you enjoy. The possibilities are endless and as you bless others you, too, will be blessed.

The beauty of retirement is that we have the freedom to choose where and when to spend our time and effort and with whom. It is NOT the time to burrow in for the winter. We are not groundhogs, people.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you’re either preparing to or are already thriving as you age.

Here’s to Blooming in Winter! With a little preparation it can be the icing on your cake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Comforts of Community

Feeling more than a wee bit smug, I  put the finishing touches on my presentation about persevering through the storms of life. (I should’ve seen those yellow warning lights flashing, right?) I was scheduled to speak  to a gathering of women at my church  in 7 days  and was elated to have completed the preparation. (‘So unlike me to be ahead of the curve)  Except for that  nagging little voice in my head  telling me  there was still  something I needed to add. Never the less,  I  had a week to polish and prune and a wide open schedule if adjustments were needed.  No problem.

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Right…

I arrived home that  Thursday evening  to find my husband in significant pain, but chalked it up to the fact that he had consumed an entire container of salsa with chips, so  we went to  bed praying he’d be better by morning.  When the sun came up, it was clear that was not the case.  His pain had intensified.  I called his physician and although he was overbooked for the day, they fit us in.   His pain was off the charts by the time we arrived at his office and his doc. urged us to go immediately to the ER for further evaluation.

We arrived to a bustling ER and were seen immediately, despite a lobby teeming  with sick and injured patients. He was quickly evaluated and though there  was “no room at the inn” he was moved into the patient area  where he was put on a gurney, in a hallway just across from the desks where nurses and physicians took calls and input information onto their computers. Eventually he was whisked off for an ultrasound and later a CT scan.  Blood was drawn and pain medication was administered.  And we waited.  For hours and hours.

The thing about an emergency room is that you are reminded that many others are far worse off than you are and that gives valuable perspective.  As results came in, it became clear that his gall bladder was the offending organ, an uncommon form of infection as most are caused by gall stones. He had none.  The CT scan showed a lot of inflammation around the gall bladder-  known as acalculous. Initially we expected surgery that night or early the next day.    It needed to come out immediately, but, because of a daily  medication he took, we would need to wait 5 days until that medication was out of his system in order to avoid excessive bleeding.   His white count was 29 which is 3 times the ideal,  indicating a serious infection was raging.  Although the surgery was impossible in that moment, the inflammation needed to be addressed.  As we approached midnight, he was moved to the med-surg  floor and prepared to be  taken into radiology, where a catheter was inserted to draw out infected fluid in order to bridge the situation until surgery was prudent.  The procedure had similar risks, but because it was less invasive there was less risk involved.  It was a short term fix.  In the days that followed, there were heavy doses of antibiotics, painkillers and  intravenous hydration.  Three days later, his  white count finally began to descend.

Over the next several days, I spent long days that morphed into nights at his bedside.  In the midst of this I learned a little more about the meaning of persevering through storms.  I learned that there are gifts to be found.  I learned that the gifts of community are in full bloom when we are confronted by such storms.  Via text messaging, I started three prayer/update chains, one for immediate family, one with Bible Study friends and one with some cousins.  The responses and reassurances of prayers going up on Mike’s behalf were an enormous comfort for me in the long hours I waited alone. Although I wasn’t able to respond in detail, I was able to show my appreciation quickly in most cases.

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By Sunday, the word was out.  Our senior Pastor came and spent an hour with us, encouraging and praying for healing.  Over the next days multiple church staff members came to pray, deliver chocolate and bring encouragement. My girl brought hot tea.    My sister-in-law and niece came briefly, and later delivered a sumptuous meal for me to take home. And one  night when I left the hospital after nearly 12 hours, I asked a security guard to escort me to the 3rd floor of the parking structure. His name was Jesus.  The significance of that was not lost on me.

So. Much. Kindness.

So. Many. Blessings.

The hospital experience was spectacular. The nurses, the nursing assistants, the physicians, the respiratory therapists…without exception we were bathed in kindness and grace. Each new morning I was made  aware of everyday heroes, quietly doing their jobs and blessing those  in their path with  their faithfulness to the tasks given them: worker bees, all –  nursing staff, housekeepers, facility staff, volunteers, cafeteria workers, security guards, parking attendants, lab technicians and pharmacists- the list is long.   Even as I rode the elevators up and down, every employee made eye contact and spoke intentionally. Every single one.  It was like it was a job requirement.  Volunteers played piano in the lobby as I entered each morning and one such morning I found myself singing along…

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God bless the volunteers…

“Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, everything’s coming up roses, everything’s going my way.”  Bringing joy and uplifting hearts, one song at a time.

Over the next week, my  days were spent spoon feeding my patient  bland, pureed food, assisting  with grooming , adding blankets and taking them away, adjusting heat and bed up and down,  calling for more medications or to stop beeping machinery,  meeting with physicians and sending out updates to our prayer partners.  Friends and family came bearing  chocolate, hot beverages, books, cards , plants, dinner and prayers. One such angel walked and fed our pooches twice a day as I manned my post at the hospital.   Encouraging texts flowed in throughout each day, surrounding us with friendship and love even though I was hard pressed to respond with specific updates.  Prayers from Montana, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, California and more and phone calls from concerned friends and family.  We were so covered and felt so loved.

Although he was assigned a shared room, we were blessed with privacy for the first five days.  It was a blessing to have time  and space to spread out with my books and laptop and a chair to rest in.  Then, by divine intervention, an 85 year old Syrian man came in to claim the other bed.  His daughter visited her Father that night and overheard a conversation about my niece who had visited earlier. When the woman got up to leave later, she apologized for overhearing but she had heard the names I mentioned and wondered… long story short, we realized she had actually cared for my nieces two decades earlier when they were very young.  Though she no longer  lives  in the area,  she  had come to see her Father in the hospital and our Heavenly Father ordained that he should be placed in the bed next to my husband. Another reminder that our  God  is in the details of our lives.  She  shared with me that my  nieces had recently been on her mind and heart and after I updated her on their lives she vowed to keep them in her prayers, knowing the Lord is faithful to provide for all their needs. Isn’t our  God so personal  and so kind? I am astounded at His intervention in our lives.

Six days after we first arrived at the hospital, a successful surgery was performed and on day seven, the patient came home, very grateful to be sprung from the annoyances of hospital life while appreciating every individual there who made his return home possible.

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Sometimes community springs up where we are, as it did in the hospital that week. But, deep community is built in the monotony of everyday life when things are going well.  It happens in our neighborhoods, in our churches and in our interactions with others.  But, it doesn’t happen without our making the effort .  The time to build community is now, not when you’re en route to the hospital in an ambulance.  Because when you’re sitting in a hospital and day becomes night and then day again, that’s when your community will prop you up.  When you are fatigued beyond your breaking point, they will deliver a much needed cup of coffee when you don’t even realize your body is craving caffeine or,  a meal when you didn’t realize how hungry you were.  They will close the windows you left open in your mad dash to get help and they will walk your dogs when you can’t get home to do it yourself.  More importantly, they will send up prayers on your behalf when you are at a loss for words to pray yourself.  They will bring comfort by waiting with you in the surgery waiting room and be a balm to your weary soul.   These are the priceless gifts of community.

Get one.

Build one.

 

Enter one.

Tomorrow you may well reap the benefits from the one you built today.