We want to listen to others who have wisdom to impart. We want to learn from someone with experience, with memorable stories to tell that will impact our own lives. We look to books, teachers, religious leaders, therapists, and even social media. We often forget to look closer to home. We often don't listen to the people with whom we already share a story.
My mom's mom, my "Grams" lived with us for sixteen years after my Granddad died when I was ten years old. She was like a second mom to me and I adored her (though we were too stubborn and alike so fought often as well). But it wasn't until her second battle with cancer that I realized my time with her could be short and I really started asking her about her life. I learned about how she met my granddad, what a rebel she really was in her time, and other amazing stories. But there wasn't enough time. There is so much more I wish I would have asked.
Carolyn Miller Parr, a retired judge, works as a mediator. In her mediation practice with Sig Cohen, she has discovered that families in distress more often than not experience pain from two main sources: broken family relationships, and a parent’s failure to plan for the future. Their new book Love’s Way: Living Peacefully with Your Family As Your Parents Age is their answer to this problem.
They encourage people to have difficult conversations with aging parents about practical matters like wills and their wishes. But there are other conversations we can have with aging family and elders as well.I need to learn a thing or two about listening well to those I love.
People in the last third of life have dynamic inner lives that their grownup children or grandchildren might never imagine. Next time you have an hour, here are some questions to ask your elder loved one. You may be amazed at the response.
An elder’s inner age does not comport with chronology. Inside, I’m permanently about 34 years old. It’s how I feel as I go about doing life. That’s about the age of the female characters in my dreams. When I was that age, my children were young and law school was still on the horizon, but coming into view. Today, I’m a great-grandmother and a retired judge. But I’m still shocked every time I look in the mirror.
Old people won’t usually discuss it with young people, but we’re constantly dealing with loss: career, health, physical strength, driving, memory, and even people we love. We take time to grieve and regret, but we can’t dwell in that space. To avoid falling into depression or ennui, we must develop resilience. We may become more introspective as we search for the meaning of our suffering, of our lives. Our losses can become material for deepening our inner growth.
Some people might say “helplessness,” or “Alzheimer’s,” or “being a burden on my children.” To me, those are specific manifestations of an underlying loss of control. For as long as I draw breath, I want to be able to make my own decisions about where, how, and with whom I will live and how I will die. If I have a stroke or dementia, or another serious debilitating health issue, that won’t be possible. Then, I pray I’ll be able to accept my changed reality with grace and peace.
Fear is a kissing cousin of dread, but more acute. Elizabeth O’Connor, an author, personal friend, and member of my faith community, used to say she thought everyone’s greatest fear, no exceptions, was the fear of abandonment.
Initially, I disagreed. Having been a caregiver for two close relatives with dementia, I had thought my deepest fear would be to lose my mind. I didn’t worry about abandonment because I have a husband and children I believe would care for me. If not at my home or theirs, they would at least be my advocate in an assisted living residence and visit often.
But many elders are single and childless or live far from family members. And even the most careful plans can go astray. (Mike Tyson reportedly said, “Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the jaw.”) My 89-year-old friend, “Annie” bought a house on the same block as her two married children. The children planned to share Annie’s care as she needed more help. Now she walks very slowly and painfully with a cane. But, incredibly, both of her 50-something children or their spouses have cancer, and Annie has become the default cook and caregiver for the others, to the extent of her strength.
Age, when we don’t fight it, comes bearing gifts.
People are less prone to judge me. Since I don’t have to impress anyone, it’s easy to give up my false self and be real. If I want to wear white after Labor Day, I just do it. Others may think, “She doesn’t know better,” and that suits me fine. If I nod off during a boring lecture, someone may nudge me if I start to snore but nobody is scandalized. I recognize trash talk when I read or hear it and am unafraid to call it out.
The older I get, the more comfortable I feel in both my skills – and my ability to say “no” if I want to. Some people may be surprised that I can work a Samurai Sudoku or travel unaccompanied, or grow beautiful flowers, or keep a tidy house. It’s okay for me to bring carryout to a potluck dinner. I’m invited by others without being expected to reciprocate. I can be excused from chores I don’t want, like making coffee for church fellowship. “I don’t have the energy” suffices as an excuse.
The longer I live, the more occasions I have to be grateful. When I’m having a good day I notice, instead of taking it for granted. People are less competitive and more generous or kind. I’m often the recipient of unearned graces: Young women as well as men offer me a seat on the Metro, or hold doors open for me or carry my packages. When I thank them sincerely we both feel blessed.
I can reinvent myself. Anyone who lives into the last third of life has overcome some hard things. My children give me pleasure and pride. I feel the satisfaction of a life well lived, of friends and family I have loved and lost, of giving and receiving forgiveness. And I still have a future, however limited it may be. Every day is more precious than the one before. But there is still time to create new friendships and deepen the ones I have. To read good books. To explore a road not taken. Still time to comfort others, to pray for others, to learn from others and maybe to share a little wisdom. I treasure my future more than I ever could when I was young, just because I know it’s limited.
So next time you’re with an older relative or friend, find a quiet corner, share a cup of tea, and settle in for a great conversation!
Carolyn Miller Parr, J.D., is a former judge and elder mediator. She writes articles on aging and intergenerational communication with her co-mediator, Sig Cohen, at www.toughconversations.net. Their book, “Love’s Way: Living Peacefully With Your Family as Your Parents Age” is coming January 1, 2019 and can be pre-ordered now. See www.amazon.com/author/carolynmillerparr.
I hope this spurs on some important conversations in your life.
We like our warriors a little wounded, flawed. It makes for a more interesting story when the hero has to overcome their demons to win the day. Wonder Woman goes on despite her broken heart and disillusionment. Odysseus had to deal with his hubris to complete his journey. Paul continued his ministry, never rid of the thorn in his side.
For a writer, this is Storytelling 101. Your protagonist should have a blemish that makes him relatable. As our own stories unfold, though, we want to glide through the battle unscathed. We think that our wounds disqualify us. We can’t let anyone see our flaws or they wouldn’t believe we are competent.
I was fresh out of my first big battle with anxiety when I interviewed for a role that eventually took me to live overseas. I talked about my coping mechanisms and downplayed my pain. I didn’t understand anxiety’s grip on me then, the way the dark worry would wrap it’s tendrils around my heart over and over again like a monster lurking in the depths for its unsuspecting victim. But still I knew that I needed to gloss over these issues if I wanted to appear capable.
A decade later we have come a long way in our collective conversations of mental illness but still I feel apprehensive every time I tell a piece of my story. I have learned the art of smiling and saying “I’m okay” when my insides feel as if the sea beast is squeezing them until they turn to dust. I know all the typical responses that will be offered, down to the Scripture verses people will quote. I know those who will insist I pray harder or those who will suggest medicine at the first anxious thought.
In some recent quiet moments amidst the ongoing war, I had retreated to tend my wounds. I was listening to the prayers of others when I couldn’t find any words of my own. These words from an examen offered on the Pray As You Go app became a salve I daily applied to the hurt:
“You love me as I am. You touch my life with healing. You call me to bear fruit. I give my wounded self to you to be a channel of healing to others, to be a wounded healer with Christ who died, and rose, and comes again.”
I started to realize that my wounds don’t disqualify me and that my scars make me like the Wounded Healer I follow every day of my life.
When Jesus arrived in Israel, even those closest to him wanted him to be something he was not. His followers were expecting the Son of David to come in fury, to throw off the yoke of the Roman Empire. They wanted a warrior King; they got a suffering Savior. They put their hands in his wounds and then watched him ascend, victorious over death.
I started to realize that not only do my wounds not disqualify me, but also my scars make me distinctly able to be a healer to others who struggle as I do. When I started talking about my anxiety and depression there were whispers, however they were not the kind I expected. I was met with the quiet admissions of “me too.” Others trusted their stories to me and we realized our wounds looked the same...
The roar of a mob of students fills my ears as I try to read. I walk over to my window to watch the protestors filing down the street carrying signs and chanting slogans about corrupt governments and unsafe roads. This isn’t an unusual occurrence. In our sprawling city, protests often shut down the roads for days and remind us of the conflict raging all around us. Some days it can feel overwhelming. Where is my voice in the din? I don’t belong on the streets with the local students. Do I have a say at all? Can there ever be peace?
Living in a majority Muslim country, some might think I live in a place that sees more conflict than most. I am not sure anymore. I see just as much conflict these days on my computer screen, from the voices in my home country, in the news coming out of Western culture. As I sat down to read Mending the Divides: Creating Love in a Conflicted World my heart ached with the truth of Lynne Hybel’s words in the introduction describing my own home country as one “increasingly polarized into divisive factions, even at war with itself.”
I wanted to read Mending the Divides because of the increasing conflict I see in the world and my adjacent feelings of powerlessness. What can I possibly do to help? I knew the authors, Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart, to be the founders of the Global Immersion Project. Through peacemaking workshops, webinars, and immersion trips their organization seeks to train individuals and organizations how to be everyday peacemakers in the world.
But peace—really? How can we have any part in such a lofty concept?...
Anger. Distrust. Blame. Fear. Hate.
Pointing fingers and sharp words have filled our screens in the past year as divisions in our country and world have widened. The chasm between our political parties, religions, nationalities, races, and classes has never seemed wider.
During the summer of 2016 I stepped back from writing as much to focus on my family and some big life changes. In the midst of the growing anger spewing forth in social media newsfeeds and media outlets, I found myself withdrawing from much online presence at all. I felt like all of the negativity was seeping out between each keystroke and suffocating me. Mounting anxieties in my personal life mixed with all the fear and anger were becoming just too much. As a writer whose work appears mostly online, I wasn’t sure how to continue. I wanted to retreat, to just run away from it all.
Then, in the midst of more racially-charged violence sweeping our nation, a ray of light appeared in a darkening online world. Scrolling through stories on facebook, about ready to shut it all out, I received an invite from a friend to the Prayers of the People event hosted by Deidre Riggs.
It was a simple idea. Log on at the same time or whenever you can and post prayers in this time of great need and pain. It wasn’t a huge event. About 400 people logged on. But the impact was profound, at least for my wilting spirit.
Peace. Humility. Brokenness. Love. Unity.
In that simple online space I saw hands grasping for the Father, for each other across the divides. In spite of them. Because of them.
Startled by the soft touch on my shoulder, I turned to see the concerned eyes of my seven-year-old daughter peering into my own tear-filled eyes. I scooped her up into my lap and together we read the prayers aloud and talked about the events in our country that had prompted them. We talked about the way so many were returning anger for anger and how Christ calls us to love our enemy instead.
I walked away that day with a conviction that running away wasn’t the answer. Staying and fighting is. “Prayer is how we battle,” Deidre posted. Someone commented: “Prayer is how we battle not only injustice but our own anger and discouragement.” I was broken in that moment because I realized I had been tempted to just retreat, to back away and throw up my hands. I asked God to keep my eyes open, to show me how to do battle.
I’ve been thinking about those prayers a lot these days, revisiting that facebook page to read the prayers and learn how to live them. We stand at the precipice of a change in our country that threatens to further divide us. So much fear swirls around the unknown ahead...
I stare into the gleaming white lights of the Christmas tree until they blur together and dance across my vision, that tree adorned with symbols of peace and hope:
The star that lights the way to the one who delivers. The angel that sings of peace on earth. The manger that holds the hope of the world inside.
We love to sing and ponder the wonder of this time of year, to hold the beauty of a silent night close to our hearts.
But so often our hearts are anything but at peace as the holiday draws near and the flickering lights mock us. Hope seems out of reach and a silent night is all but a story in a children’s book that we can’t imagine being our reality.
What then? Does Christmas offer anything when all is not calm and bright?
So much unknown darkens the heart of Christmas for me this year. The gloom of declining health of family members casts a shadow over celebration. The grief of a life in transition and the uncertainty of what lies ahead in the coming months hangs over all our festivities. The never-ending parade of duties overshadows the sacred Advent call to waiting and expecting.
And that’s just my tiny little world. I can’t even begin to name the darkness that threatens to overtake so many people this season — the fear of what is to come in our divided nation, the death raining down on a city under siege across the world tonight, the bombs claiming more and more lives each day.
As darkness threatens to close in, I sit in the quiet where tiny dots of light are piercing the night. It’s here in the dancing shadows cast down by the sparkling evergreen reminder of hope that I realize this: peace comes with a cost.
I think about the land the Word became flesh in all those years ago, the people Christ came to when He became a babe. The Israelites had a history of wanting redemption without the cost. So do I...
I have a secret addiction.
It started out as this little thing. Everyone else swears it is harmless, even helpful. But its influence grew stronger in my life. It became indispensable . It’s my smartphone and I want to throw it out the window!
I was pretty late to the whole world of being connected to the Internet 24 hours a day via an electronic device that makes you prefer chewing off your arm over forgetting it at home. I swore I was sticking to a paper calendar, to checking my email only at my computer.
I only caved two years ago. Now, like everyone else – I am hooked on something I both need and despise. I see a room full of people mindlessly checking social media instead of talking to those next to them and I want to burn every last phone in the room. But then I find myself sneaking my phone into the bathroom so I can just check that one email I need to get to.
Technology is supposed to make our lives simpler, right? A smartphone is a minimalist's dream. You can have your contacts, books, calendar, directions, work, shows, and even your Bible all in one place. So much in one little device. Right at your fingertips.
It may have everything I think I need in one shiny little computer that tucks neatly into my purse, but I find that it creates more chaos than it eases in my life. My phone may save me space for all the functions it does for me, but it is my mind that has become a tangled mess of more junk than I need. The clutter in my soul has become overwhelming.
The voices I let into my head have been magnified and are just one little swipe away. There are really only a few voices I need to listen to every day.
I have this pretty little print by Lysa TerKeurst on my mirror that reminds me of the voice I need to seek first: “We must exchange whispers with God before shouts with the world.”
I don’t look at those words often. I usually glance past them to the phone sitting on the counter. It’s this little portal to all the to-do lists screaming for my attention, the dings from my calendar telling me I better get moving or I’ll be late, the opinions waiting to shove their way through all the noise to assert themselves as the right ones.
Then there are those little voices that don’t shout above all the noise. They just quietly try to edge their way into all my mental chaos, the million things running through my mind that I have to attend to. They are the voices that ask, “Mommy, look?” or “Honey, how was your day?”
Being connected to the world all the time is easy, but it is anything but simple. It’s complicated and tiring. We are not designed for constant connection. I know this but I am ever so slowly learning to live it...
Do you feel overwhelmed with all the voices shouting for your attention, find yourself hating the chaos and longing for peace and rest? Join me in the Mudroom for a look at cleaning out the clutter in your soul. Join me there?
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
I didn’t realize until I started looking at the qualities of a quiet heart, just how clear it is in Scripture that fear is the opposite of peace.
Listen to any message on the well-known story in the gospels of Jesus calming the storm and it usually focuses on the actual act of calming the storm. One thing I have noticed as I have been looking at the gospels through the lens of what Jesus was doing is that Jesus’ peace was never broken. There He was sleeping in the middle of the storm, not taken by surprise by it.
In fact, it was Jesus’ idea to go to the other side of the lake. He knew what was coming and He led the disciples straight into the storm.
So often, I think I treat God as if He must not know the storm I find myself in the middle of, forgetting that He knows all and leads me every step of the way. Instead, I scream at Him, “Don’t you care about me in the middle of this storm?”
Not only did Jesus lead His friends knowingly into the storm; He went with them. He didn’t send them out into a frightening encounter with the wind and waves alone, but He went right along with them, the power to command the elements in His grasp.
I’ve got some burdens on my heart in the moment, some storms brewing in my heart. It is so natural for me, like the disciples, to forget that Jesus is right there in the boat with me. He is not troubled because He knows what is ahead and He knows who holds all the power. And He’s right there with me.
Fear will lead to a lack of faith and a heart that is raging against the storm, yelling at God to come save us.
A quiet heart will trust that He already has saved us, knowing we might have to pass through a storm or two. But we won’t do it alone.
Quiet is something I only know in the late moments of the day when the two wild ones are asleep. Many days I am awoken by four year old wonder, a steady stream of words and questions in my ear. All day they fight for our attention, a tangle of words tumbling over one another. They want to be heard and to make their presence known.
Even in the final hours of the night, he creeps into her bed and we hear hushed laughs coming from her room. Only when they both drift off to sleep is all quiet in our home.
Sometimes I crave those moments but even then, all is not quiet in my mind. To-do lists and deadlines loom, tomorrow's worries tease the corners of my thoughts and replays of today's mistakes linger.
Real quiet is more than the absence of noise. It is something inside the heart.
It is peace.
Look up the definition of peace and you will see the words quiet, tranquility. Quiet and peace are one and the same in the heart and mind.
So often I spend my time looking for the absence of noise instead of perfect peace. All of the busyness of life can stop and still there be no peace. Avoidance and distraction can masquerade for a while but only God can really bring the perfect peace I am looking for.
Isaiah 26.3 says, "you will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!" Keeping my thoughts off of my fears or my worries isn't going to bring peace. Keeping my thoughts fixed on God and His truth is where the quiet will start to take hold of my heart.
"God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing," said C.S. Lewis. Today I need to stop looking for peace in the world, for an absence of chaos and noise. There is no such thing. If a quiet heart is at perfect peace, a quiet heart is stayed on Him.