Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Aging with Gratitude

Monday I groaned to my tolerant spouse, “I just don't have the energy and strength I used to have. This energizer bunny seems to be running on rechargeable batteries that don't hold a charge!” He lifted one eyebrow. “Could it be that you are just a few years short of 80!” So who said 80 is old?”

I can remember laughing at my parents when they fell asleep reading or watching TV. Now if I stay awake through a favorite program I feel as if I have climbed Mt Everest. I can remember when I needed to go places and do things to avoid boredom. Now I am content to stay at home and read, knit or quilt. But then aging really is just like the motto on one of the Office of Aging T-shirts. “Age is a case of matter over mind. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.”

Aging is a little like gardening. In the spring, we have grandiose plans and intentions but the longer the summer stretches on, the more our enthusiasm wanes. Spring's perfectionism gives way to an increasing tolerance for weeds and procrastination. A bountiful harvest is met with groans. In spite of our best intentions to stay fit, our get up and go, gets up and goes. But then, now when I don't get as much done, I don't care.

There was the day I thought I was smart and well educated. Now I there's so much I don't know that I only read what I enjoy and do what I find interesting. And I have to admit that it wasn't that long ago that I turned up my nose at invitations to join the exercise program at Fairfield's Senior Center because “that's for old people.” What did I think I was, anyway? Middle aged?

But being over the hump has it's advantages. Unlike my grandchildren who are obsessed with what others might think, how they look, and making a mark on the world, I've been there, done that. Trying to meet others expectations simply creates resentments I don't need. Sure, I've gained a lot of insights during my lifetime but if others aren't interested in what I've learned, that's their loss not mine.

They say old age is not for sissies which is all too true. But aging has some distinct advantages. Having always been fashion and cosmetically challenged, looking professional was hard work and frequently was brought before the fashion police. (My daughters and a friend.) Today everyone is satisfied when I look neat, clean and reasonably presentable. Besides, I've discovered getting older is a great excuse for releasing my inner eccentric!

It's pretty cool being able to smile when someone is rude because I can't hear what they're saying. It's a relief not having to worry about where I put something because I know I put it in a safe place. I've always had trouble remembering names but now I simply claim “senior moment,” Admitting that my sense of balance is not what it used to be allows me to substitute strolling for power walking allowing me to see so much more that way! And what a blessing that without my glasses I can shower without having to observe the competing parts of me racing for the floor.

Truth be told, even with the challenges and set backs of aging, I still find so much to do and enjoy that I don't have time to be bad tempered, judgmental, or begrudge what I can no longer do. Aging, I'm learning, like everything else, is best enjoyed by being present to the moment and grateful for each day, each experience, each friend, and the many blessings coming to me.

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I love being outside, digging in the dirt, planting and watching things grow. Even though I pastored for over 20 years I've always felt closest to God in his great outdoors. When we had orchards I reveled in the apple harvest, walking the rows, eating crisp apples, checking bins, punching picker tickets, shivering on chilly October mornings. Now that we live in Fairfield I find all kinds of excuses to be outside so I can admire piles cloud sculptures, hearty mums, scarlet maples.

Confronted with problems I pray “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” Only recently, I've started praying those same words in gratitude, recognizing that I am always surrounded by so many blessings, things, people, and opportunities that our outside of my control. I've discovered shifting my attitude to one of gratitude makes a radical difference in how I approach problems and that generally occurs when I work in the garden, transplant some house plants, take a walk, watch a sunset. I am reminded when outdoor that the world and God are far bigger than me and that I really have little control over anything other than my own attitude and response.

This summer my cousin's blueberry bushes outdid themselves, producing a bumper crop that far exceeded the pick-your-own crowd that generally strips his plants of luscious fruit. So mid August when he offered the excess berries to SCCAP gleaners for the food pantry, we jumped at the chance. Each foray resulted in buckets of sweet berries. Basking in orcharded hillsides, the soft summer sun and gentle breezes, we'd come home sticky with berry juice, but at peace. Whatever concerns we brought to the blueberry patch got left there. I find something profoundly spiritual about being outdoors, connecting with the land and our creator, seeing how I fit into the infinite whole.

Pippenfest weekend Matt Battersby's law office set up Honest Abe's Root Beer Stand as a fund raiser for the Fairfield Food Pantry. Much of their motivation came from learning that hunger in Adams County is not going away. Almost 50% of our county school children qualify for free breakfasts and lunches! The majority of the folks using the 8 SCCAP Food Banks and other church related food pantries are seniors on social security, folks on disability, the unemployed. or those working minimum wage jobs. There are precious few “free loaders” critics like to highlight. In fact, many here in Adams County go hungry rather than ask for help!

It is no accident that the SCCAP gleaners, county growers, and others who so generously donate food, time and dollars to our local food banks are people who feel a part of nature. I suspect God created us that way, as we seem to become more centered, more serene, more open to life and love when we connect with nature. Our consciousness actually expands when we experience ourselves as a small, but loved part of an immense whole. This awareness motivates us to take better care of this wonderful world God has so graciously given us. It is critical that we become compassionate and concerned about social and environmental distress because our very being depends on it.

Fairfield Mennonite is a small welcoming community, what a newcomer describes as a house church within a building.  Brenda Walter, our pastor, works part time so I am stepping up to assist her in this way.  We'd love to chat with you about what you think is important, your questions about both faith and doubts, so we'd love to hear from you.

This site will also include posts from a column I am writing for The Gettysburg Times.
Hi I'm Joyce, pastor emeritus of Fairfield Mennonite Church.

This blog is to give voice to the congregation's hopes, dreams, and concerns.