Five Actions to Embrace Aging

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

I’ll be honest: A bit of my logic for joining the ALOA Board was driven by selfishness. I wanted to learn how to grow old gracefully from people who embrace aging.

Oh, I was willing to serve. I’ve always tried to go through the doors God opens. But I wondered how I, as an early childhood educator, could contribute to an organization that fostered ministry to older adults.

Yet eight years later, God has transformed my sinful, selfish nature and those uncertainties into showers of blessings.

A long parade of incredibly competent older adults continue to model characteristics that demonstrate how to thrive, not just survive the aging process. As board president, Shirley Carpenter exuded high energy leadership that continues to fuel older adult ministry in New Jersey. Rev. Ken Holdorf turned his woodworking skills into funding to launch ALOA’s video projects. Current member Deaconess Penny Cedel sets a dynamic pace to achieve ministry goals. And the list could continue.

Here are essential qualities these faithful servants of God continue to model for me:

  1. Have a reason to get up in the morning. Whether it’s caring for a cat or serving on the church altar guild, intentionally use the time God gives. Today is a gift to use.
  2. Connect. During the pandemic, we were reminded that aging can be a lonely, isolating experience. Whether you Zoom a Bible class, Facetime a grandson or tweet about a sale at the local grocery store, reach out to others.
  3. Celebrate God at work. Look for signs of God at work to see how busy he is! Joy will overflow to fuel new energy for life.
  4. Continue learning. Engage your brain. Finish a puzzle. Research staycation or vacation locations. Play a video game.
  5. Strengthen your spiritual core. Grow your relationship with Jesus. Read a devotion. Write a prayer each morning. Keep a daily blessings log.

In your life, who has God blessed you with who is thriving, not just surviving as they age?

Check out this video for more inspiration to help embracing aging.

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

We Know Who to Trust

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

I never anticipated that post pandemic conversations would call attention to a Christian virtue. And yet headlines, like this one, have made trust a recurring topic. When someone says, “I’m fully vaccinated,” can you count on them to tell the truth?

It all comes down to trust, truth-based communication. Trust means having faith. Trust comes when you are willing to rely on others, yourself and God.

You trust the driver will stop at the red light. You trust your friend will pick you up for church. You trust the doctor who reads the x-ray. And now, you trust the person who says, “I’m fully vaccinated.”

Statistics unrelated to the pandemic say that people lie about once a day. But psychologists say that right now, because there is no verification system or punishment for lying, some people will flat out lie about their vaccination status.

It’s not surprising, then, that social trust is low. What a blessing that our trust in God can be at an all-time high!

Trust in God is one of the most prominent themes in the Bible. Simply because we have lived so long, we have had multiple opportunities to, “Trust God from the bottom of your heart.” (Proverbs 3:5, The Message)

When we trust, fear goes away. And when we trust God, others will also celebrate a new sense of hope.

EQ_play video

Check out this video to hear how God equips us in new ways in our later years.

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

Breaking Out of Our Coccoon

Dr. Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

Stay home. Wear a mask. Maintain social distance.

Messaging during the past year has been strong. Fear of the invisible, but potentially deadly SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19) has kept us home-bound and dramatically re-shaped nearly every aspect of daily life.

Fully vaccinated, we can safely visit a neighbor. While masked, we can shop for toilet paper at a fully stocked store. And finally, our hungry arms can wrap around those we love the most.

Flip the switch. Start living again.

And yet, many of us older adults are only creeping toward normalcy. We naturally cling to the routines that helped keep us safe; letting go will take time. The extended months of isolation might accentuate our age-slowed response. Anxiety that built during confinement can undermine our confidence to resume activities. We might hesitate to transition out of isolation while risks loom.

After being fully vaccinated, consider these suggestions to safely re-enter society:

  • Honestly assess your comfort level with in-person socializing. Identify elements that will allow you to feel safe while navigating beyond your house.
  • Break out with brief, in-person social moments. Intentionally reach out to your neighbor. Go outside to talk with a friend who is dog walking. Start with small moments of humanity near home.
  • Stay up-to-date. Check your church website to learn the current schedule for in-person worship and small group activities. Confirm which protocols are still in place.
  • Seek help if needed. Post-pandemic responses include anxiety, anger, depression and withdrawal.
  • Be patient with yourself and others. We have suffered social deprivation for more than a year. Initial contacts might be awkward; stretching social muscle will take time.

God has led us through the Valley of COVID. He has been faithful. He is still present and in control. He is preparing an eternal home for us, but our time has not yet come. Until then, safely step into a new normal. Discover fresh possibilities to learn, grow and serve. Let the promises of Jesus, which sustained you and me through these difficult months, fill your heart with hope.

Coping Change_play video

Check out this video for simple tips on coping with change as an older adult.

You’ll find a bible study to accompany this video here

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

The Gift of Volunteering, Even in a Pandemic

Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

“Habitat is starting up again,” Michael said with a smile. The thought of hammering nails doesn’t thrill me, but this long-time Habitat for Humanity volunteer was eager to resume his three-times-a-week “job”.

Michael knows the joy that accompanies donating time and talents. Volunteering propels many older adults to get up every morning. While helping others, volunteers profit from the “helper’s high” and gain other physical and mental benefits. However, the bonus for older adults is that volunteering boosts our sense of meaning. Purpose-creating behaviors become increasingly important as we age.

That’s probably why my friend Sharon told me, “The hardest part of the pandemic has been that I can’t be at the hospital.” A long-time volunteer, she recently earned recognition for donating 1,000 hours to the local medical center.

Although traditional, in-person volunteering has plummeted, non-profits have reinvented ways to serve during the pandemic. Volunteers work within restrictions, while experiencing the giving that helps others and creates happiness within.  

If you seek to serve, check the website of a ministry that matters to you. Many organizations offer new and alternative opportunities.

  • Although church potlucks have been suspended, you might work with grab-and-go meals and meal deliveries that have filled some gaps.
  • In virtual run-walk events, individuals run solo then submit results. This reconfigured fundraising still allows volunteers to build community and reach shared goals.
  • In our congregation, a cadre of talented seamstresses has made hundreds of face masks. A basket of the free, hand-made masks, some with Christian messages, sits outside the church entrance.
  • Organized programs reach out to military personnel and first responders, but a formal plan isn’t needed to drop a note or send a card to family or friends.
  • Carrying a garbage bag while picking up trash in the neighborhood is a fun way to show that being socially distanced doesn’t mean being socially disconnected.

Pandemic volunteering comes in various shapes and sizes, but still creates happy hearts.

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

How SAGY Are You?

Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

Did You Have Any Idea You Were SAGY?

SAGY. Don’t be concerned if you don’t recognize that acronym. I made it up to highlight exciting news: Seniors are growing younger. SAGY is a perfect shortcut to describe this relevant fact of life.

SAGY describes what’s happening to us and our friends. Our functional ability today is better than those who were our age 30, 20, or even 10 years ago. Functional ability characterizes what you and I did this morning:  climbed out of bed, made breakfast, dressed, reviewed the schedule, prayed, and whatever else we did to get a good start. Functional ability describes the activities that fill our day.

Functional ability tests measure and gather information that can be used to plan the support services needed as we age. And guess what? Recent data released from researchers in Finland paralleled previous reports. Among both men and women aged 75-80, muscle strength, walking speed, reaction speed, reasoning, and other characteristics continue to improve when compared with data collected from those who came before us.

When we FaceTime a grandchild, finish a jigsaw puzzle, or chose oatmeal instead of a donut, we don’t stop to think, “I contributed to my functional ability.” But as long as we continue to make those great choices, you and I will be SAGY!

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

Avoid the “Woe Is Me” Scenario

Mary Manz Simon, ALOA Board of Directors

Have you hosted a pity party recently?

Although this singular event respects social distancing – after all, group size is limited to merely me, myself and I – whining isn’t useful. Griping or going totally ballistic drains energy and takes us farther away from the positive thinking of our Christian mindset. Even worse, researchers tell us that chronic complaining can rewire our brains. Simply stated, complaining is habit-forming.

The aches and pains that come with aging offer multiple opportunities for negativity. But dreary self-talk signals the need for an attitude adjustment. Step beyond gloom and doom by taking these steps:

  • Honestly face underlying feelings. Merely pretending to be positive is a dead-end solution that can further drain our emotional banks. If you deserve to have a crabby morning, wallow in negativity for an hour or two and then move on.
  • Surround yourself with optimistic people. Scientists say our brains unconsciously mimic the moods of those around us.
  • Be alert to sudden negativity that signals a significant change. Irritability can be caused by medications, drug interactions, infections or illness. Apply knowledge of yourself to determine the need to reach out.

In the Bible, we read that Moses got so tired of hearing the Israelites complain that this mighty leader begged God to kill him! To avoid God’s complaint threshold, choose gratitude over grumbling. Your brain will be healthier, and you and those around you will be happier.

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

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.