Uplifted During the Pandemic

Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

Is there reason to be feeling uplifted during this crisis?

Absolutely!

Not only is God active, He’s busy! Each of us can list numerous ways we’ve seen God at work among us.

I’m encouraged by the recently released 2020 Passion Points Study. Although neither older adults nor Christian teaching is the focus of this annual research, a single line in this year’s study jumped out: “One result of the pandemic is an increasing desire to celebrate and preserve family traditions.”

Perhaps COVID-19 has made even those in younger generations more aware of mortality. But whatever the reason, the study indicated that legacy thinking is heading downward. The emotional wiring of younger generations is changing.

Can you catch a glimpse of the opportunity? Family members might be longing to hear about the good old days, and this time, they’ll listen! During these uncertain times, we can be inspired to learn how ancestors coped with a disaster, problem or personal tragedy.

As older adults, we’ve lived through tough issues. However, we are living proof the family survived. Hope and optimism are bundled into every family legacy.  

Scientists tell us that emotion enhances memory and feelings activate the brain. Even if your memory is foggy, reach back to remember a situation or incident when you felt something. Then share that story. Resilience and the certainty of God’s promises will shine as your empathy connects and communicates.

And that’s critical, because your story reflects how God’s story is being revealed even during this crisis.

Which important relationships can you strengthen during this unexpected season?

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.

Celebrating the life & ministry of Karl Lutze

On June 24, 2020, we commemorated the life and ministry of Rev. Dr. Karl E. Lutze on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Nearly 30 years ago, as ALOA’s first Executive Director, Karl Lutze did a remarkable job of shaping this organization, providing visionary and creative leadership to a fledgling ministry to older adults. But he served a “much wider world” than ALOA, and the impact of his life and ministry was much greater.
 
As a post-war graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Karl Lutze served as pastor of African American congregations in Muskogee and Tulsa. Fourteen years later, he joined the faculty of Valparaiso University and also accepted a staff position with Lutheran Human Relations Associations of America (LHRAA), an inter-Lutheran agency focused on improving race relations. He remained active throughout his long life and ministry as parish pastor, civil rights leader, university professor and author. Karl Lutze died 5 years ago on May 7, 2015, at age 94.

On this significant day, Karl Lutze’s family has granted permission and encouraged us to share a link to his book, To Mend the Broken: The Christian Response to the Challenge of Human Relations Problems, which was originally published in 1966. With the author’s permission his wife, Gail, and her son, Christopher Blask, updated the language of the book in 2015 to make it more “correct” in today’s world. We thank them for sharing the link to the updated version that is available to read in its entirety on Christopher Blask’s blogsite

Take a look at previous posts for more inspiration for older adult ministry.

Sign of the Fish? Or, a Shy Evangelist?

Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

“Lutherans are a little shy, you know,” says Linda Widman, Ft. Myers FL.

Yet, Linda, a lifelong Lutheran, has witnessed to countless numbers through her necklace ministry.

Years ago, she started wearing the simple circle of fish around her neck. Every day, she wore the same gold-hue necklace. Linda says, “I stopped buying other jewelry, because this is the only necklace I wear.”

“Christians are in the minority,” Linda continues. “Wearing it was my way of saying, ‘I’m a Christian and forgiven sinner.’”

Now widowed, the retired nuclear medicine tech still wears a fish necklace each day. The symbol reflects an Ichthys, Greek word for fish. During times of persecution, early Christians used this sign to connect with other followers of “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.”

Linda’s not-so-silent witness often becomes the topic of casual conversation. As a result, her outreach multiplies each time she gives away the necklace she’s wearing.

“If a person promises to wear it, I’ll give it to them,” she says. But there’s one stipulation: they need to wear the necklace.

“I tell them, ‘This won’t do any good in your jewelry drawer at home,’” Linda explains. “Several years ago, at the RV resort in which I was living, I looked across the room during one of our dinners at the River Clubhouse. There were 30-40 ladies wearing the necklace. That was pretty cool.”Until recently, Linda kept a stash of the inexpensive jewelry on hand, ready to give away. However, her supplier no longer inventories the product; her stockpile is dwindling. As Linda searches for a new source, she is confident God will provide both the necklaces and the people with whom to share the message. Linda is proof that not all Lutherans are shy evangelists!

We desperately needed this Easter!

Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

My brain is exhausted. I’ve spent hours debating a question with potential life and death consequences: “Should I shop for groceries?”

Even a simple decision is so complicated. As older adults, we are acutely aware of the dangers. Many of us have medical issues which make us even more susceptible to complications from the coronavirus.

“Should I shop for groceries?” My decision weighs heavily; that choice could impact me and the elderly cancer survivor next door. The responsibility is overwhelming.

Multiple levels of thought are needed before taking the simplest actions. Complex issues continually reshape a reality we could have never imagined. Everything is so difficult; brain fatigue is a condition of the evolving new normal.

We each crave the safety of familiar routines that gave our days such order. We hunger for the hugs that reflect personal relationships. We long for an end point to this madness. We desperately needed Easter.

Did you hear the angel’s urgent, new relevance in the message at the tomb? Adapting pandemic language, “Be mindful, not fearful,” came through loud and clear.

In the Gospel of Mark, we read that on the first Easter, “when the women ran from the tomb, they were confused and shaking all over. They were too afraid to tell anyone what had happened.” (Mark 16:8, CEV)

We now understand such paralyzing fear; coronavirus statistics soar to staggering heights. Mysterious microbes float unseen, yet land everywhere. Rumors, fact and fiction intertwine. The sheer stress of the crisis triggers irrational behavior. Yet the angel’s message so long ago is clear for us during this Easter week: “Be mindful, not fearful.” Stay in the moment, but don’t dwell on your fear.

The Resurrection vividly reminds us that “Christ died and was raised to life, and now he is at God’s right side, speaking to him for us.” (Romans 8:34) Even now, Jesus has the ear of His Father. Even now, Jesus is pleading for us with God, our father.

“Be mindful, not fearful,” for when we shift away from fear, the promise of Easter is revealed.

How to Avoid Panic in a Pandemic: 5 Steps to Stay Safe (and Sane)

Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

Stealth transmission. Self isolation. Social distance.
Our vocabulary has increased as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the United States.

Even now, as I send you a virtual high-five, the landscape is changing. Live-streamed Lenten worship isn’t the same as singing in the middle of the altos. Talking with a grandchild on FaceTime doesn’t compare with the warmth of little arms around us. Grocery delivery is appreciated, but the home shopper doesn’t always select the ripest pineapple. And after a day of quarantine baking, even calorie-laden cupcakes lose their appeal.

Although age and chronic conditions escalate our risk, we can take concrete steps to avoid the coronavirus anxiety spiral:

  1. Reframe the current crisis by thinking through a longer timeframe. How will things look next year at this time? We’ve lived through 911, the Challenger explosion, Columbine and countless other tragedies and disasters. Apply the “older adult lens” to consider the big picture.
  2. Practice critical thinking skills: see through spin. Tune into credible news sources.
  3. Find a media balance. Hearing or watching the constant stream of uncertainty only heightens distress. Be informed, but not overloaded.
  4. Tap into apps, websites or online exercises when weather doesn’t permit outdoor walking. Physical activity reduces stress and maintains health.
  5. Do pro-social activities from a distance. Phone a friend, play an online game with a grandchild; read the same book as your brother and set a time to discuss it online or on the phone; use pen and paper to write letters to your grandchildren.

We are moving through uncharted waters. Yet amid the chaos and confusion, God is present. The Old Testament prophet, Elijah, looked for God in wind that shook a mountain, in an earthquake that shattered rocks and even in a fire. But when Elijah left his cave, he heard God speak in a soft whisper.

As we hunker down in our twenty-first century caves, we too, can listen and look for God. He walks among us even now.

For the latest information from health experts:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
World Health Organization

“Usher out gray-haired members?”

Are you shocked by this headline?
Cottage Grove church to usher out gray-haired members in effort to attract more young parishioners.

Published in the January 18 issue of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, this headline grabbed my attention.

The United Methodist congregation featured in the article had suffered the shrinkage experienced across traditional denominations. A complete reset was determined to be the way to grow the Cottage Grove location. According to one member, the aging membership has been asked to “continue maintaining the church until it reopens,” probably in November. “They want us to mow the lawn and shovel the snow.” Another member said, “We are supposed to be silent partners and still give money.”

According to the report, current members, most of whom are over the age of 60, will be invited to “worship somewhere else.” A memo recommends they stay away for two years, then consult the pastor about returning.

Some of us have faced ageism when younger workers are given the most lucrative projects or best equipment. Others have been turned down for a promotion or faced recruitment policies that limit eligibility to those with less than 20 years of experience. The list of examples goes on, but the recent newspaper story was a sharp reminder that the church is not immune to ageism.

I attend an older-skewing congregation, so leaders are alert to seniors who might not drive at night, so few evening meetings are scheduled. Bathroom stalls accommodate walkers and wheelchairs on the stair-free campus.

Outreach to children and families is important, but hopefully all congregations also budget for reaching older adults. With society’s changing dynamics impacting the development of spiritually healthy children, I pray that older adults everywhere are recruited to share their faith stories cross-generationally.

Attitudes won’t change overnight. However, our personal outlook and actions can encourage others to look beyond the numbers, so we all celebrate each day we are given.

We can join with one of the Cottage Grove church-goers who was quoted by the Pioneer Press, “I pray for this church, getting through this age-discrimination thing.”

Moving from worry to peace

Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

2019 year-end numbers have been tallied. For the third consecutive year, “worry” came out on top. The words of St. Paul in Philippians 4:6 were shared, highlighted and bookmarked more than any other verse in YouVersion, an online and mobile Bible app.

Is that surprising?

Finances, health and independence issues are top of mind for older adults. Many of us lie awake at night as those problems and other concerns buzz around in our heads.

Some of us actually use worry as a coping mechanism. We might think, “If I’m worrying, at least I’m doing something instead of merely wasting time.” Worrying might not be enjoyable, but at least we feel productive!

Experts tell us there are better solutions. We can use mental gymnastics, or self-talk, to shift negatives to positives. Or we can apply calming skills, like walking, playing a musical instrument or sewing. Some people learn to identify their worry triggers, then immediately look for distractions to divert attention away from unpleasant thoughts. Successful solutions allow a person to move beyond the worry.

Being older is actually a plus when dealing with worry. Research shows that older adults have learned to disengage from feelings of negativity. Millennials are known for their mindfulness, but as older adults we, too, have learned to focus on present situations. We can be totally “in the moment.” Some of that ability comes because we are aware of our shorter timeline.

Statistics tell us the YouVersion users who read 35.6 billion chapters of the Bible in 2019 had an even better idea. They turned to God. Those Bible readers prioritized Philippians 4:6. In The Message, veteran scholar Eugene Peterson describes a comforting image of that verse: “Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.” 

I can visualize God, our Father, gently lifting heavy worries from our hands. Can you picture that?

Using this modern translation, St. Paul continues, “Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.”

That’s what every worrier craves: to move forward to a place of peace. And that’s what God offers.

We can’t anticipate what problems we’ll face in 2020. We can’t predict what issues might lead our thoughts to spiral downward into worries. However, we can be confident one coping mechanism will work. We can shape our worries into prayers, letting God know our concerns.

Will you Be a “Memory Architect”?

By Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

Who clicked fast forward?

We are quickly moving toward the season when memories are made.  As older adults, we can look back over decades of Hallmark moments. We cherish the traditions that connect the miles and years. What a privilege!

Researchers say that such “exercises in nostalgia” have actual benefits. Memory psychologists indicate that reminiscing can positively impact our mood and outlook. So even before the holidays, today can be a good day. Simply look back and smile.This holiday season, many of us will be among the oldest at family gatherings. But instead of merely recalling the past, intentionally create memories that will stick in the future. Become a “Memory Architect.” Plan moments that you and others will treasure:

  1. Add something new. Researchers say that older people have a decreasing number of new or novel experiences. That’s unfortunate, because when we think back, we remember a lot of “firsts”: first car, first job, first house. Something new forces us to pay attention. A novelty also creates mental activity, a key weapon in our aging arsenal. This Thanksgiving, break the boredom. Serve alternate nut butters on sprouted whole grain dinner rolls or substitute bison burgers for turkey. Instead of pumpkin or mince pie, serve brownies made with coconut flour. Guests will remember your meal for years to come!
  2. Focus on people. People continually leave or enter the circle of life. Individuals are key elements in making memories. Ask your grandson to bring his college buddies for Thanksgiving, then buy a bigger turkey! You’ll fondly recall this holiday. Or, does your church have a growing number of widows? Invite them to bring their holiday stories when they come to dinner. These women will discover what researchers know: reminiscing has a positive impact on mood. Your guests will gratefully recall what could have been a difficult holiday, and you’ll be blessed for your thoughtfulness.
  3. Re-live, review, reprise. Consciously focus on the memory as it unfolds. Stay in the moment, but in a mental note to self say, “I want to remember this.” Snap a photo with your mental camera: Quickly scan your senses: What do you hear, smell or taste? Who’s in the picture? Sensory connections trigger memories. Of course, you can always grab your phone to take an actual picture. Later, if you thank God for these experiences during your bedtime prayer, you’ll automatically force recollection of the people and events from earlier in the day. These intentional actions will help solidify the memory.

Take time now, before getting buried in holiday hoopla, to prepare small touches that will add depth to memory-making. Unroll a completed family tree to use as a table runner. Display family photo albums to trigger cross-generational conversations. Plan to show old family videos on your Smart TV.  Purchase a plain, pre-baked gingerbread house for each family to decorate and then take home.

Being a Memory Architect has a bonus. You not only have the promise of creating a holiday to remember, but you’ll celebrate a meaningful Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2019. So let me be among the first to wish you a memorable and blessed holiday season.